The courage to be

The courage to be

July 2, 2017  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The courage to be

The phrase “do not be afraid” occurs in the bible 365 times. It alerts us to the truth that life caught up in the ways of God leads to realities that have the capacity to evoke within us a sense of fear. Fear is an emotion that has a target. We are afraid of “the dark,” afraid of “heights,” afraid of “dogs,” afraid of “speaking in public,” afraid of “going to a place we perceive to be unsafe” or “doing a thing that God seems to be putting before us to do.” Paul Tillich in his book, The Courage to Be, talks about how anxiety, which he names as something different than fear, can hold us back from true “being.” Anxiety is for him, “the state in which a being is aware of its possible nonbeing.”

There are three types of anxieties that are named: the anxiety of fate and death, the anxiety of emptiness and meaninglessness, and the anxiety of guilt and condemnation. To learn more about each, you have to read the book, but the point is, there is a lot of anxiety in the world around us and much worry about the possibility of “nonbeing.” Tillich names that the “whole of the spiritual life is about learning to die.” Learning to let the anxiousness die and the courage to be to rise.

The world around us and events of our days locate so many in an anxious state. The questions are hard to answer: “How can my life make a difference with the world-wide water crisis?” “What are we to do about the gangs initiating children and giving them guns & drugs to deal?” “What will happen under this current political climate?” “How do I raise my children in the way they should go?” “Should I have children?” “How do I find my feet on the path that leads to wholeness, healing, and health in myself and the world around me?”

When one living with the courage to be hears the words Mary said, “Let it be with me according to your will,” they ask, “What is the will of God in my life?” When one living in the trap of anxiety hears the words, “Let it be with me according to your word,” they ask, “what is IT?” There are many reasons we find ourselves in anxious states. The reality is that within the landscape of each of our lives there is brokenness and pain to be walked through that is real and can cause a state of ongoing anxiety that we cannot manage on our own. For Tillich, it is of the utmost importance for us to recognize the spiritual aspect to states of anxiousness.

Peter was anxious when people asked him if he was one of Jesus’ followers. His life changed markedly once he received the power of the Holy Spirit. He was able to stand in the middle of a crowd in the power of the Holy Spirit and speak a truth that would have shaken the foundations around him. In the midst of these days when so many are living with a higher level of anxiety about the struggles of the world, let us remember that it is the job of the Holy Spirit of God to take the lead.

When we find within ourselves the “courage to be,” the hard questions don’t go away, but our means of navigating through them changes. Wendell Berry puts it beautifully when he says, “Then what I am afraid of comes. I live for a while in its sight. What I fear in it leaves it, and the fear of it leaves me. It sings and I hear its song.” May the Holy Spirit guide us in ways that our fears and anxieties of living in these present days become a distant song so that we are able to truly be.

With you on the journey,
Michelle

 

 

Set the prisoners free

Set the prisoners free

June 25, 2017  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Set the prisoners free

Grace and peace to you and through you

Jesus’ first sermon is a list of the areas God declares freedom from oppression, including freedom from poverty, ill health, and economic injustice (Luke 4:16–21). Within this passage, Jesus specifically states “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.” Jesus is not only saying prisoners should be free; he is declaring that prisoners already are free and that it is not God but humankind who tries to deny this freedom through imprisonment. Yet, when people first hear about efforts to abolish the prison systems around the world, they commonly respond by writing it off as a utopian fantasy. There is a belief that we need prisons and the suggestion that we do not need systems to confine or punish people seems too far-fetched, and in general, people aim lower than the call of freedom Christ issued.

At times in history, the church has even reinforced the idea that some people need to be removed from society; it was Quaker and Methodist penitentiary models that birthed solitary confinement from a belief that those convicted would be humanly rehabilitated through “penance” for their crime. But such a perspective reinforces the view of empire which tries to designate some as “good” and others as “bad,” some as “worthy” and others as “undeserving” be it of freedom, housing, health care, or even another chance. In her fantastic book, Are Prisons Obsolete Angela Davis reminds us that prisons also serve an ideological function, relieving communities of their responsibility to address the problems of society by scapegoating particular people as the cause problem and then isolating them from society.

If we find our self asking “but what is the alternative to prisons?” then we have yet to escape the belief that the world cannot operate without punishment and isolation. We see this at a social level but also within our relationships. How often have we said relationships with those unlike us are too hard or that we don’t want to be associated with that person who is “nothing but trouble”? Often it is easier to isolate ourselves from, or punish others, rather than do the hard work of addressing problems of society or relationships. What we are saying in these actions is that institutions, relationships, and people are beyond God’s redemptive reach. We sell God short, not because God cannot, but because we have trouble imagining beyond the possibilities currently before us.

We lack a long-term imagination, but throughout scripture, we are invited to see the world beyond what we are currently experiencing. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The biblical call is to love ones’ neighbors (Mark 31), free the captives, care for the oppressed (Luke 4:8, James 1:27). The disciples did not live in a world where each of these calls were lived out by the entire community. But the vision scripture puts forth is one they could, and we may, participate in when we can imagine life being different than how we currently experience it — not in the afterlife or a different place, but here on earth within our and future generations.

A handbook, Instead of Prisons explains that abolitionists believe “Imprisonment is morally reprehensible and indefensible and must be abolished. In an enlightened free society, prison cannot endure for it to prevail. Abolition is a long term goal; an ideal. The eradication of any oppressive system is not an easy task. But it is realizable, like the abolition of slavery or any liberation, so long as there is the will to engage in the struggle.”

Be it the struggle for prison abolition, or imagining a world without anxiety, unemployment, or relational breakdown, faithfulness is a willingness to engage in the struggle for the world Jesus has already proclaimed, with an assurance that one day a freedom we can currently only imagine will be our experienced reality.

Grace, Mia

Pay it forward

Pay it forward

June 18, 2017  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Pay it forward

Grace and peace to you and through you

Just in case you missed this story in the press recently, I want to share it with you. It is too beautiful. It is a story of grace and generosity. It is a story of dedication and integrity. It is a story of memory and surprise. It is a story of gratitude and humility. It is a story about our new Deputy Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, Judge Raymond Zondo and how in 1977 he asked the supermarket owner in Ixopo, Suleman Bux, for food for his family as he sought to study to become a Lawyer.

Earlier this year during Judge Zondo’s interview with the Judicial Services Commission he spoke of his years growing up; and a video of the interview became available as a result of Zondo’s new appointment. In the video Judge Zondo shares:

“When I finished matric I was confident I would get an exemption and qualify to go to university. I was confident I was going to get a bursary too but my problem was at home — the situation was quite bad. My mother lost her job two years before my matric, and my… mother had exhausted all her savings. Somehow I felt that the community had seen how my mother struggled to raise us on her own and expected me to look for work after matric to support her. I wanted to go and do Law and was determined but I felt I couldn’t do that unless I made arrangements to ensure my mother and siblings would have something to eat.”

That was when he approached Bux and asked for a loan. “Very interestingly he didn’t ask many questions and agreed to help me. He said he can’t give me money but will give me a voucher to give to my mother for groceries. Each month my mother would collect groceries up to the value of R20 at his shop until I finished my degree. When I asked him what arrangements we could make so I can repay him, he said don’t worry, Do to others what I have done to you. I thought that was very important and in my own small way I try to do that,” said the Judge.

This seed of generosity and grace was planted 40 years ago! The planter had no clue what had become of the seed. Now there stands a huge tree that is able to provide the shade of justice for a nation where there are too many who cannot afford food and education.

Sometimes it takes 40 years (that beautiful-biblical-birthing number) before we see the trees of our planting and in fact there is no guarantee we will see them at all. Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely give.”

Grace, Alan

 

My Nakedness

My Nakedness

November 13, 2016  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on My Nakedness
This Sunday the service will be a play – Ubuze Bam –
a worship experience with a difference. 
As a result there will be no recorded sermon.

 

UBUZE BAM

One Reviewer of Ubuze Bam had this to say …

“Literally translated as ‘my nakedness’, Ubuze Bam is a theatrical interpretation of the life events of four ex-inmates, all of whom have spent 10 years or more behind bars. 

Theatre Arts Admin Collective has joined arms with the programme Young in Prison to create this searingly honest piece in which the performers – Lazola, Eric, Ntsika and Bongani – have spent just over a month rehearsing under the direction of Thando Doni. Prior to this performance, the young men had never acted, let alone witnessed a theatre production. 

Young in Prison is a rehabilitation initiative which assists former inmates to transition back into society. The theory is that many ex-cons can learn a number of life-skills which will positively impact their behaviour, and thus reduce the reoffending rate. Originally, the project was meant to engage with youth and young adults who were still in prison, but due to the rat infestation and quarantine at Pollsmoor, the current post-release programme was conceptualised.

The initiative focuses on revisiting the past in a healthy and productive environment. Through a focused, five week-long process, these four participants have been encouraged to engage with and creatively express their stories, and have learnt more about what it means to a powerful piece of art also helps to break down their own negative perception of themselves. And this was made so evident when, as the show ended and the lights went out, above the cheering of the crowd we could hear the actors shouting celebrations of victory from behind the scenes.

As a prologue, the young men explain that the play is “about me and my friends; it’s our secrets”. And the resonating truth of that statement was only fully felt after the show was over. When meeting people, we often only reveal the best parts of ourselves for fear of being judged or ridiculed. So to find myself easily conversing with these men – just minutes after they been describing the violent crimes they had committed – was revelatory. I didn’t see former prisoners; I saw four lionhearted men who are breaking society’s mould which states that you have to wear a mask in order to be accepted.

Despite their lack of experience on a stage, the performance from the young men was deeply emotional and often chilling in its rawness. The level of bravery needed to admit their crimes and their failures and to show their vulnerability was awe-inspiring. While the show itself is artistic, impactful and astonishingly truthful, the greatest significance lies in the road these men have taken.

The heart behind the performance is something to be reckoned with as these young men undergo a journey of breaking chains in every sense.”
Reviewer: Public Spirit

To find out more and to support/donate:
Young in Prison | www.younginprison.org.za

Theatre Arts Admin Collective www.theatreartsadmincollective.weebly.com
Next Performances at Theatre Arts Admin Collective:
18 November at 19:00: Made in India | A Performance Lecture by Amrita Pande
29 November – 3 December at 20:00: Reparation directed by Ameera Conrad

Tickets: R50.00


Methodists Call for Prayer and Fasting
in the Wake of State Capture Report

For Immediate Release | 8 November 2016

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa joins the South African Council of Churches in expressing our shock at what appears to be calculated “intrigue” in the goings on catalogued in the “State of Capture” report.

We acknowledge that the report is preliminary and inconclusive and that the Public Protector has recommended further investigation by a Judicial Commission of Enquiry. We support this call and hope that due processes will be expedited post haste. We find it very unfortunate that as mentioned in the report, the position of the Head of State is becoming increasingly untenable.

We call on all Methodists to commit to prayer and fasting for the nation of South Africa and all creation. We ask that church bells throughout South Africa be rung at 12 noon for 7 days from Sunday 13 November, culminating in concerted prayer on Sunday 20 November 2016. We will, at this time, also pray for President Zuma and all those implicated in the report to interrogate their consciences and do the honourable thing by voluntarily stepping down for the good of the country should they be founding wanting. We acknowledge that in the event of their resignations, this will not dig us out of the political and economic quagmire we find ourselves in today but it will send out a clear signal to a commitment to a new dawn of statesmanship and political accountability.

We further ask all our members to engage in courageous conversations as we pray and seek to discern God’s will for the country, irrespective of our narrow and partisan political persuasions.

Statement released by the office of Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa
Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa

More Information : Bongie | 011 615 1616 |078 131 5137

 

A thread of Love is enough

A thread of Love is enough

October 30, 2016  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on A thread of Love is enough

Grace and peace to you and through you

You have heard me say over and over again that “God is very, very Big”. God is so big that no doctrine, or church or denomination or religion or all the religions combined can have a monopoly over God. All efforts to try and capture God within our language, rituals, traditions or institutions are foolish and futile. At best – seriously – at best we get to see a tiny piece of the hem of God’s garment and by grace we may have within our reach a thread…a single thread…and you know what? That is enough…a thread of Love is enough.

Today however, I want to let you know that God is also very, very small. God is even as small as a four year-old’s little hand. I know this for a fact. Let me explain…

This past Wednesday I spent much of the day in the hot sun. I was surrounded. To my right there was a diesel-spewing Nyala police vehicle irritatingly idling. To my left and behind there was a dehydrated crowd of singing students – angry and passionate and determined. In front of me were Kevlar-clad Police holding see-through-scratched-shields and who were heavily sweating from under their blue helmets. It was a long day for everyone. 

At times I felt tense and anxious, disconnected and desperately helpless especially when things began to break up under the sound of stun grenades. And at other times I had a deep sense of gratitude to be part of an active citizenship courageously calling the powers to account, as I too believe that education should never be a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder. There were speeches spoken with prophetic power and compassionate clarity
and others that were inflamed with unhelpful rhetoric. Even as I was trying to process it all I rejoiced to be living in a country where people could speak freely regardless of whether everyone agreed with their every word or not. Sadly the peaceful day ended less peacefully and we were just very fortunate not to have any serious or even fatal injuries.

All in all it was an energy sapping day, both physically and emotionally.

As evening approached I made my way to Stepping Stones Preschool to chair the AGM. We gathered to honour the achievement of getting through another year – which is no small accomplishment in the light of what it costs to provide quality early childhood education. It was my delight to thank the hard working parents of the 104 children for their faithful contributions of fees that keep the school going as well as thanking all the dedicated staff.

The afternoon and the evening couldn’t have seemed more different from each other and yet they were inextricably linked – for pre-school education is a complete game changer when it comes to providing a solid foundation for the rest of a child’s educational endeavours.

After the meeting I walked home with a parent and her 4 year son who has only recently joined the pre-school and who still live semi-homeless lives. As we began walking the little boy looked up at me with his arm outstretched: “Hold my hand…” he said to me. His tone was a mixture of telling me and asking me. So I did. I held his little hand.

At first I thought he needed me to hold his hand. Perhaps he did. After a little while I realised that it was I who needed to hold his hand. And then I wondered whether he knew that I needed to hold his hand and that is why he said: “Hold my hand”.

Holding his little hand filled me with hope. Holding his little hand reignited my commitment to working for a more just future in the present so that the four year olds of today have greater access to life’s crucial resources when they turn twenty.

I now know for a fact that God contracts to the span of a 4 year old’s hand, especially on days when we are tempted to give in to despair for a world ever echoing with stun grenades.

Grace,
Alan

 

The hierarchy of disagreement

The hierarchy of disagreement

October 23, 2016  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The hierarchy of disagreement

Grace and peace to you and through you

Sadly, we know how it goes: We have a grievance. Let’s say with a person. A person close to us. So we raise the issue we have with the person. And it is not well received.

There are any number of reasons for the issue not being well received. Sometimes it’s because of the way in which we raised the issue: which can simply be the accusatory tone of our voice, or that the time and place in which we raised the issue is deemed insensitive and inappropriate. Sometimes the issue is not well received because of the recipient’s position that could be anything from ignorance, defensiveness, distraction, hurt or stress.

As a result the recipient responds in one of two ways:  fight or flight. Fight could simply be to accuse and counter attack and flight could come in the form of silence, avoidance and passive aggression. Both responses are unhelpful to finding a resolution to the issue and restoration of the relationship.

Then often the conversation shifts away from the issue to the way the recipient has responded which in turn provokes another response and it is not long before voices are raised, ugly words spoken, doors slammed or a cold walkout or lights out and going to bed. This deepens the hurt and enlivens the anger. Now we not only have the original issue to address, but we also need to address the hurt caused by the way the original issue was (mis)dealt with. So the agenda gets longer. Each time this happens the list of grievances grows and the sense of hope in ever resolving the issues and restoring the relationship diminishes. Hurt and anger lead to mistrust and where there is no trust it is very, very difficult to hear what the other person is actually saying. Mistrust leads to miscommunication which leads to further conflict.

When the conflict has reached this far it is almost impossible to break the deadlock without the assistance of a mediator who is able to help each party to hear each other. Mediators help people to “speak in such a way that they are heard and to listen in such a way as to enable others to speak”.

Most of us need to learn this skill – in our homes, marriages, relationships with our children or parents or colleagues. It seems to me that this is equally true regarding what is playing out on campuses around our country.

Grace, Alan

*Illustration: The Hierarchy of Disagreement by Paul Graham.

 

Pain and Hope

Pain and Hope

October 16, 2016  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Pain and Hope

Grace and peace to you and through you

A number of years ago I used to regularly participate in what we called: Pilgrimages of Pain and Hope. These pilgrimages included entering into different social spaces over a few consecutive days. For example we would meet with the homeless on the streets for conversation. We would visit the paediatrics ward in a public hospital and a Catholic-run home for people with severe physical and mental handicaps. We would spend time with Aids Hospice Volunteers and spend a weekend living in an informal settlement. Sometimes we would also include having a meal at a fancy restaurant – creating a sharp sense of social whip-lash. Our task was to feel – not to fix. With the ultimate aim of becoming a more compassionate people awake to the truth of our context of which we are often ignorant and numb.

The name was crucial. They were called Pilgrimages of Pain and Hope. To fulfill our feeling task we were invited to be attentive to both the pain and the hope. This was challenging. It was easier to focus on one or the other than to hold and honour both. Being in a diverse group helped. When some of us were drowning in despair others helped us to find hope and when we were tempted to get high on hope some others quickly sobered us up by conveying a splash of ice-cold pain. To focus only on the pain is pointless – leading to defeatism and despair with cynicism sprinkled on top. To focus only on the hope is truthless – leading to dangerous ignorance and naiveté soaked in apathy.

All followers of Jesus are by definition pilgrims of pain and hope. Pilgrims of the Cross and Resurrection is another way of saying it. To focus only on the Cross is to deny the power of Jesus. To focus only on the Resurrection is to deny the suffering of Jesus as well as to deny the need for resurrection in the first place – namely death.

With everything that is happening in the world and in our country at this time, we may be tempted to divorce pain from hope or hope from pain. I encourage you to hold them tightly together because the truth comes from their union.

I find the following words helpful in this endeavour: “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” (Václav Havel, in Disturbing the Peace).

Grace, Alan


“I remember Mr. Bartlett…

In biology class he discusses the transformation of caterpillar into butterfly.

‘What’s the process that goes on inside a cocoon?’ he asks. ‘Has anyone ever seen a picture of the insect at the halfway point between caterpillar and butterfly? Does anyone know what it looks like?’ No one has or does.

The next week, Mr. Bartlett finds a cocoon in the woods and brings it to the classroom. We crowd around as he takes a razor blade and neatly slices it in two. The cocoon looks empty.

‘There’s nothing in there,’ says one of the kids.

‘Oh, it’s in there,’ says Mr. Bartlett. ‘It just doesn’t have a shape right now. The living, organic material is spun right into the cocoon. Caterpillar is gone; butterfly is yet to come.’ We stare in wonder.

‘Real transformation,’ says Mr. Bartlett, ‘means giving up one form before you have another.

It requires the willingness to be nothing for a little while…”

~ From Too Much Is Not Enough, by Orson Bean, page 33

What lies hidden in the cave of our hearts

What lies hidden in the cave of our hearts

October 9, 2016  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on What lies hidden in the cave of our hearts

Truth is not something that will stay hidden for long. Truth needs air and light. Truth needs to be free. We can try and cover truth, but it will always battle to get what it needs. Truth will battle within us fighting to be heard and seen, to live and breathe. We will feel this battle in the cave of our hearts and if we choose to release truth, there becomes for us the possibility to experience living in the real and breathing air that is deep enough for peace.

In 1976, Simon Wiesenthal released a book called, The Sunflower. In it he tells of the story of his experience in the Lemberg Concentration camp. He was called to the bedside of a dying Nazi soldier who was dealing with a battle within. The soldier told him stories of the horrors he had participated in. He told him about the death of a family and how their faces haunted him. Then he asked Simon if he would forgive him on behalf of the Jewish people. Simon did not know this man. Though he was a Jewish man, he did not know what to say to him, so he said nothing, turned and left him alone in his hospital room.

Simon later questioned his decision. Within his book, The Sunflower: On the Limits and Possibilities of  Forgiveness, he asks the question, “What would you have done?” to 52 incredible minds from around the world. The answers shared by these great thinkers provide for us insight on forgiveness. Yet, Simon’s project in and of itself is a recognition that within the cave of his heart there was truth that he needed to get out just as much as the soldier needed his story to be let out and his question of forgiveness to breathe.

There is a reality we live with as human beings. It is true that we will harm one another, disappoint one another, and often times pretend we have not. So often, we lock up our truth and live as if all of our wrongs will simply evaporate and never see the light of day. This sense of denial will leave us to deal with a quiet growing battle within—one we have no hope of winning unless we see our truth for what it is, face it, and give it air to breathe.

Confession has become a lost art today. Many people struggle to say, “I am sorry” for in doing so they admit what they know to be true and what the person they wronged often knows to be true, and that is that they were wrong. “I am sorry” are words so many people need to hear. This is what the dying Nazi soldier was expressing from the cave of his heart, “I am sorry, for all the wrongs I have done. I am sorry.” Whether it was for Simon to forgive him in that moment or not, the soldier’s words were breaking free. In letting them loose, he was moving closer to understanding his own humanity and opening up the potential for him to experience real peace. Confessing reminds us God is God and we are not.

It is good for us to reflect over the living of our days searching out the ways we have brought about harm in the life of another. As we tell our stories that lie hidden in the cave of our hearts we witness waves of peace and a greater understanding of who we are as human beings. As we confess to one another and to God, we can know that though others might struggle on the journey of forgiveness, God’s arms are always open to receive.

With you on the journey,
Michelle

Windows to the world

Windows to the world

October 2, 2016  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Windows to the world

People say so often that, “the world is a small place.” It is not really small, but our ability to connect in this present age across geographical lines of division has become much easier than in the days before social media and mass communication. When I was in the US visiting, I hoped to purchase some Florida oranges. You can imagine my amazement when I picked up an orange in the store with a sticker that read, “South Africa.” The impact of the ever increasing globalization of our world will be measured in positives and negatives for years to come, but one of the gifts it brings with it, is the ability for us to grow for being exposed to the stories of other places and people.

In 1986, Peter Storey preached at the World Methodist Conference. In the crowd, was a man named Jim Harnish. Jim later invited Peter to Florida to help him with a church he was starting, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando, Florida. The building was ready, but Jim wanted to make sure that the people were as ready as they could be for the journey they would be embarking upon. Peter went to St. Luke’s and invested time, energy, and relationship with a group of people he did not know on the other end of the world.

The Bishop of the Cape of Good Hope District, Bishop Michele Hansrod, was able to spend a day with some of the people at St. Luke’s in Orlando, Florida while he was in the United States for the World Methodist Conference just a couple of weeks ago. Many of the people remember the days of Peter Storey’s teaching and they remember how it opened up for them a witness they needed during their beginning years as a congregation. Today, St. Luke’s is a strong congregation leading the Church at large in new directions at every turn.

Jim Harnish was later sent to a community called, Hyde Park UMC in Tampa, Florida. Hyde Park UMC is the church I still call home. Peter visited Hyde Park UMC as well and so did Alan. Alan was the retreat leader at my Disciple I Bible Study retreat in 2000. I remember him showing pictures of his country and engaging the young adult class I was a part of about learning as much as we could about the world. His message in the end was for us to understand the importance of living as disciples in the place where we were.

I did not know until recently how long the relationship between Peter Storey and my Pastor, Jim Harnish, goes back. I am thankful for their friendship because the people of South Africa have been a part of my story, from the very beginning of my journey of faith. When Alan shared stories about his country, I had to “come and see.” I am not the only one though, just last week, there was a group from Hyde Park UMC that had to “come and see.” Doug and Cheri Roland are two members of Hyde Park who volunteered with Seth Mokitimi Seminary to help develop a field education program for the students. My hope is that the connection back and forth will continue to give birth to growth on both sides.

Over the next couple of weeks in our sanctuary, there will be stories arriving. We will have the opportunity to hear about life and ministry in other places on the continent of Africa that are within the boundaries of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and we will receive stories from those beyond the boundaries of the connection. My hope is that the stories and prayer requests coming in will create for us a thread of connection to a work we are engaged in with our lives that is bigger than the place we live and bigger than ourselves. May we stand stronger where we are for knowing the ways we are bound in ministry around the world.

With you on the journey,
Michelle

 

Relationships Matter

Relationships Matter

September 25, 2016  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Relationships Matter

We are living in times when every day is another story of violence and political unrest, not just in South Africa, but all over the world. People are sharing that it is hard to read the morning paper and live with hope. The leaders who used to be–the Nelson Mandela’s, the Martin Luther King Jr’s, the Gandhi’s are sorely missed in the world today. Yet, if we want a better tomorrow, we can’t complain it into being. We must join in the work of building it. In the building of a better tomorrow, relationships matter.

Relationships across boundaries of division can be like the bell in Central Methodist Mission that rang years ago. It no longer rings today, because if it did it would shake the foundation underneath the buildings all around Greenmarket Square. Relationships across lines of division shake the foundations of the constructs in our minds. They allow for the texture of difference to be realized in ways that have potential to grow us in our ability to recognize our need of one another. An unnamed author penned these words “the best feeling in the world is that you actually mean something to someone.” “Yes!” We need to be engaging in relationships where we are saying with our commitment to be with, to work with, that “Yes!” you mean something to me and to the world and I am with you! I am with you in ear, in heart, in voice, and feet!

There is a story of a beautiful working relationship that was born in Durham, North Carolina, the city Alan Storey just happens to be teaching in right now, between a PhD level theologian the Rev. Canon Dr. Samuel Wells and a community activist Marcia Owens. Marcia represents an organization called the Religious Coalition for a non-violent Durham. She organizes vigils for homicide victims that die by gunshot wounds. Together they worked with one another to write a book called, living without enemies—Being present in the midst of violence. Their work is a beautiful gift to the world in that it illustrates commitment even beyond the penned word. They have stood together in the midst of the violence of the world—a symbol of light and hope to those who feel alone in their struggle for justice and forgotten in their pain and loss.

In their book, Sam Wells shares different ways of engaging with people across lines of division and in particular with those we perceive to be in need. One way is working for. This would be doing something on behalf of another like taking them to an appointment or serving them a meal. Another way would be to work with them. An example might be planning and implementing a community event alongside members of the community, this would be working with. The third way he mentions is simply being with members of your community you might not normally come across. The purpose would not be to serve, but to simply build relationships, to be with fellow pilgrims in the journey of life. The fourth way Sam lifts up is being for. We can learn through organizations like Marcia’s or Gun Free South Africa how to advocate for victims of violence. In our advocacy we use our voice in solidarity with movements that bring change.

Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and Gandhi all were individuals who gave themselves to a particular way of living that they believed would bring change towards a good they might not ever see realized in their lifetime. Their vision of what they were living for must have been so real in their minds eye that the taste of it was the sustenance that sustained them on their journey. They gave their lives to the understanding that relationships matter. The nostalgia of longing for leadership does not give rise to leadership and so it is upon us all to live with greater discipline each day in the ways in which we follow Jesus and the way He marks out for us that leads to life. Jesus was a multiplier of leadership. Jesus invested in twos and threes and then twelve. Jesus teaches us what it means to be with—to work with. Jesus named for those who followed him that the greatest calling upon them was to live with love for God  and love for others. Jesus lived, died, and breathes new every day the truth that relationships matter.

With you on the journey,
Michelle