The fruit of suffering

The fruit of suffering

July 19, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit  |  Comments Off on The fruit of suffering

Grace and Peace to you …

Within the books of the Old Testament prophets, one encounters the theme of suffering time and time again, including both human and divine suffering, or theopassionism. Why would God devise a system in which God chooses to suffer? It seems that the Divine should be exempt from suffering because God is the epitome of agape love. Yet having chosen to be in covenantal relationship with creation, God vows to never separate or withdraw love, grace, and forgiveness. So just like the Hebrews during the Exodus story, who were stubborn, full of gripes and complaints, and unsuccessful in learning the first time, God’s people, within modern context, find themselves in similar positions. For Christians, the emblem synonymous with suffering is the cross: the symbol of the good news.

True gospel authority however, the authority to heal and renew things and people, is not finally found in a hierarchical office, a theological argument, a perfect law, or a rational explanation. The Crucified revealed to the world that the real power that changes people and the world is an inner authority that comes from people who have lost, let go, and are re-found on a new level. Twelve-step programs have come to the same conclusion in modern time. Such an ability to really change and heal people is often the fruit of suffering, and various forms of poverty, since the false self does not surrender without a fight to its death. If suffering is “whenever we are not in control,” then you see why some form of suffering is absolutely necessary to teach us how to live beyond the illusion of control and to give that control back to God (Romans 8:28).

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.

As Nadia Bolz-Weber writes, “God simply keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves through our violence, our lies, our selfishness, our arrogance, and our addictions. And God keeps loving us back to life over and over.” I pray that you receive this love, over and over.

Chris

Your weakness is your strength

Your weakness is your strength

July 12, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Your weakness is your strength

Grace and peace to you …

Jesus said: “My grace is sufficient for you …” Grace is God’s Original Love. The LOVE before all other love. The Love that exists for us … before us. Yes before we even exist, grace waits to welcome us. It is the canvas upon which all other love finds expression. God’s Original Love holds everything together – everything! Every aspect of life is infused by grace. Our lives originate by grace. They are sustained and supported by grace; educated and corrected by grace; inspired and challenged by grace; nurtured and nourished by grace; renewed and resurrected by grace. Grace is Life’s DNA.

We don’t always do life with this grace-full realisation and that is why the paradox of Paul regarding his strength in weakness is so true. We are strong in our weakness because it is in our weakness that we discover that grace is holding our life together and not any strength of our own. By all means let us pray for the “thorns in our flesh”/weaknesses to be removed, but until they are let us pray that they will gift us with the truth that Jesus’ grace is sufficient for us.

Or as Johann Christoph Arnold writes:
“The more confidence we have in our own strength and abilities, the less we are likely to have in Christ. Our human weakness is no hindrance to God. In fact, as long as we do not use it as an excuse for sin, it is good to be weak. But this acceptance of weakness is more than acknowledging our limitations. It means experiencing a power much greater than our own and surrendering to it. Eberhard Arnold, a founder of the Bruderhofs, said, “This is the root of grace: the dismantling of our power. Whenever even a little power rises up in us, the Spirit and the authority of God will retreat to the corresponding degree. …”

So regardless of how strong we are – we are weak. Not in an inferiority-complex-kind-of-way, but just as a fact of our human condition. Accepting this truth about ourselves helps us to see the grace that holds us and in this we are strengthened.

In weakness. Grace, Alan


Welcome to Rev. Michelle Shrader

Michelle is an Ordained United Methodist Elder who will be based at CMM for the next three years as a Missionary Pastor. She will be a full member of staff at CMM, preach and teach here and in the Circuit from time to time and will also share her skills with the District and MCSA. Travels to various African countries on behalf of the wider Church are also on her agenda.

We welcome Michelle from Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina — her most recent place of ministry where she was the Minister of Mission & Outreach.

Michelle brings to CMM a wealth of experience in social justice related ministries and matters such as ensuring that conversations around religion and race take place and that justice is sought. She was actively involved in prison ministry, started support groups for those caught up in domestic violence and many other issues which Jesus calls us to take seriously. In short, Michelle has a heart for helping others grow in their faith and deepen their engagement in the world around them — a ministry sure to enhance community life.

Welcome to your new home Michelle. We know and trust that through CMM and the wider Church you will continue to serve God wherever you are called!

Closing heaven

Closing heaven

July 5, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Closing heaven

Three years ago we opened the doors of Heaven Coffee Shop. This past week we sadly had to close them. It was simply not covering its costs. The purpose was never about making money, but we had hoped that it would at least cover its running expenses.

Those of you who only come to CMM on a Sunday may not realise how much we are going to miss Heaven. The Sanctuary has felt quite dead this past week without it. I have bumped into a few regulars and they have told me how they miss Heaven already and Ken who has been the barista for the past three years. (Ryan would temp when Ken was not around.)

The purpose of Heaven was to remind everyone of the good news that Heaven really is open to all – that anyone can “get in” – that no one is rejected – as Jesus lived and taught.

Our challenge remains to be a radically welcoming place of sanctuary in the city. May we constantly seek ways to give people an experience of joyful welcome and a comforting place to rest a while. May we never underestimate the desire for silence amidst the city noise and beauty amongst the city grime. And perhaps most importantly, a place where people can find encouragement by the lighting of a candle and the offering of a prayer.

We spoke a while ago about opening up the sanctuary at night during the very cold spells of winter to offer shelter to the most vulnerable of the city. We are ready to begin this now on a small scale. We will pilot by offering shelter to 20 of the most vulnerable people and see how it goes. Our prayers and participation in this ministry are greatly coveted.

Grace and peace, Alan


things to remember on earth as it is in heaven

you are born in love by love and for love • you are beautiful • your enemy is also beautiful • the stranger is actually a member of your family – in fact everyone is family – all 7 billion of us • all violence is family violence • forgive • the real heroes are those who wrestle with addiction in truth and grace • widows orphans foreigners are the holy trinity • hunger is a weapon of mass destruction (disarmed by generosity) • you can’t have love without truth • seek silence • love casts out fear • God is not a possession of the church • start over often • food comes from the earth and not from the shops • the holy land is not a place to visit – it is every place to value • forgive again • plant some seeds • breathe and smile • JC rode a donkey not a car • the gentle inherit the earth • repeat out loud: “I am beautiful” • now tell someone else that they are beautiful • homeless people are people first • humankind: be both • we own nothing – everything is a gift • when you throw rubbish away, ask yourself where away is • forgive yourself • to listen is to love • explore the mystery of prayer • to say that some people are saved and others are not is hate speech • walk back to your office the long way round • make time for music • difference is divine • it is difficult for the rich to enter the Kin-dom of God – affording to pay for this coffee means you are rich – uncomfortable? now you know why JC was crucified • don’t worship your religion • grace makes the world go round • touch the earth lightly • you – yes you – are the light of the world • there are no ordinary people • cry • God enjoys you • you are forgiven – like completely forgiven • go in peace …  [The above is printed on the Heaven Coffee sleeves.]

Tell your story and see!

Tell your story and see!

June 28, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Tell your story and see!

20 June was World Refugee Day — another of Brandon Stanton’s photos (Humans of New York) was of this cabbie’s story … and part of his story …

“Everyone who sees my resume asks me why I drive a cab. Back in Niger, I was a French Teacher. But the government stopped paying us for a few months, so I decided to quit my job and move to America. That was twelve years ago.

I thought I could teach French here, but I had no idea how hard it would be to get a job without papers. The only place I could find work was a car wash. Back in Niger, kids would wash my car for me. Now all day long I was washing cars for other people. I was very depressed. But I was too embarrassed to go back home …

After the car wash, I became a stock boy. Then, a delivery driver. Five years ago, I got my papers and became a citizen, so now I’m able to work at the airport. At night, and on my days off, I drive a cab. Just this year I graduated from Brooklyn College with a Master’s degree in French. I finished third in my class. Now I think I can become a professor.”

Isn’t this person easier to love … now that we know a little of his story?

Grace and peace, Alan


A Remarkable Book

Learning to draw is a bizarre and wonderful process in the sense that in order to really learn to draw you have to first learn how to see …

Brandon Stanton sees very well through the view finder of his camera. He captures (and releases) photos of “Humans of New York”.

Brandon’s work helps people to see people. To see the wonder and the glory of humanity. Brandon is more than a photographer — he is a spiritual guide. The deepest spirituality is all about seeing — especially how we see one another. That is why Jesus was so passionate about opening the eyes of the blind — and there are none so blind as those who say they see. The other day I listened to a talk by the author Sam Keen. He shared about how it is only possible to love someone when we know their story. Brandon’s work helps us to fall in love with people as a tiny flash of their story becomes known by us.

Parenthood

Parenthood

June 21, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Parenthood

Grace and peace to you …

I went to the Book launch of 21 at 21 The Coming of Age of a Nation on Thursday evening. Written by Melanie Verwoerd and Sonwabiso Ngcowa who travelled across the country collecting the life stories of people born in 1994 — the year of our Democracy. At the launch it was mentioned that so many of the young people interviewed had mentioned their ambition to be a “good parent one day”.

One chapter in the book is entitled: I want to be a good dad one day — the life of Marcellino Fillies. Here is some of his story:

“Ja, it was a bit tough when I was young,” he says. “We moved around a lot. I was born in Mitchells Plain, then we moved to Lentegeur, then to Delft, then back to Lentegeur, then to Strandfontein, and then … back to Lentegeur and then to Heideveld.” “Why did you move so often?” He shakes his head and his broad smile disappears. “My dad died when I was three.” “What happened?” I ask gently. “Well, my father also did not grow up with his dad. He had a stepdad. I recently went to see my dad’s stepdad and he told me that my dad was on the boats — fishing, you know — and there was a fight between him and another man. They fought, and then someone threw my dad overboard … they found his clothes a long time afterwards, but not his body. The fish had eaten his body.” I look slightly horrified; he responds quickly, “So I never knew him. You know, I have no memory. I don’t even have any photos.”

[He then shares briefly about his stepfather and the subsequent breakup between his mom and stepfather.]

“That time was very, very tough. My brother was about three or four years old and I was about seven. My mum had to work to provide for us. She would go into Cape Town every day and only come home very late at night. So I had to look after Ethan. After school at around five o’clock, I would go and fetch him at his crèche. We would walk home. I would make him supper, wash him, play with him, and then put him to bed. In between, I would try and do my homework. Then after eight o’clock, my mum would come home.”

As Melanie so insightfully pointed out at the launch — Marcellino who wants to be a good dad one day — has already been a good dad. He was a good dad at age 7.

On this Father’s Day we pray for the children who themselves are fathers to their siblings in countless child-headed homes.

Grace and peace, Alan


MenCare: Involved fatherhood leads to gender equality and child development, 16 June 2015, Nairobi.

Encouraging and supporting fathers to play bigger roles in the lives of their children through innovative global health and social initiatives is vital if real gender equality is to be achieved, finds a new MenCare report, State of the World’s Fathers (SOWF).

“Despite the fact that around 80% of the world’s men and boys will become fathers in their lifetime, engaging men in caregiving is only just beginning to find its way onto the global gender equality agenda,” says Wessel van den Berg, Child Rights and Positive Parenting, Sonke Gender Justice.

The SOWF report reveals long-lasting disparities in Africa where women do more unpaid care work than men, which negatively affects women and girls. However, 55 percent of African countries do provide paternity leave, which is higher than the global percentage (47 percent), but the uptake falls short.

The landmark SOWF report reveals that women continue to spend between twice and 10 times longer than men caring for a child or elderly person. These inequalities persist despite the fact that women today make up 40% of the formal global workforce and half of the world’s food producers. While improving year on year, men’s caregiving has not kept pace with women’s overall participation in the job market, and caregiving dynamics across Africa reflect this imbalance. Men’s presence at prenatal care also ranges vastly – from 14 to 86 percent.

One woman dies every 2 minutes from complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth. Across the globe, 34 of 1,000 babies alive at birth, die before the age of 1, and 46 of 1,000 die before the age of 5.

The involvement of fathers before, during, and after the birth of a child has been shown to have positive effects on maternal health behaviors, women’s use of maternal and newborn health services, and fathers’ longer-term support and involvement in the lives of their children.”

A recent analysis of research from low- and middle-income countries found that male involvement was significantly associated with improved skilled birth attendance, utilization of post-natal care, and fewer women dying in childbirth.”

For more information see Sonke Gender Justice: www.genderjustice.org.za

Jesus stood with the outcast

Jesus stood with the outcast

June 14, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Jesus stood with the outcast

Grace and Peace to you …

Gregory Boyle is a Jesuit Priest and the founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries – a gang intervention programme in L.A. In his book, “Tattoos on the Heart” he shares his twenty years of experience with us. I highly recommend you get hold of it. Here is an extract from the book, enjoy …

“Success and failure, ultimately, have little to do with living the gospel. Jesus just stood with the outcasts until they were welcomed or until he was crucified — whichever came first.

The American poet Jack Gilbert writes, “The pregnant heart is driven to hopes that are the wrong size for this world.” The strategy and stance of Jesus was consistent in that it was always out of step with the world. Jesus defied all the categories upon which the world insisted: good-evil, success-failure, pure-impure. Surely, He was an equal-opportunity “pisser off-er” in this regard.

The Right wing would stare at Him and question where He chose to stand. They hated that He aligned Himself with the unclean, those outside — those folks you ought neither to touch nor be near. He hobnobbed with the leper, shared table fellowship with the sinner, and rendered Himself ritually impure in the process. They found it offensive that, to boot, Jesus had no regard for their wedge issues, their constitutional amendments or their culture wars.

The Left was equally annoyed. They wanted to see the ten-point plan, the revolution in high gear, the toppling of sinful social structures. They were impatient with His brand of solidarity. They wanted to see Him taking the right stand on issues, not just standing in the right place.

But Jesus just stood with the outcast. The Left screamed: “Don’t just stand there, do something.” And the Right maintained: “Don’t stand with those folks at all.” Both sides, seeing Jesus as the wrong size for this world, came to their own reasons for wanting Him dead.”

Grace and peace, Alan


Self Portrait

It doesn’t interest me if there is one God
or many gods.
I want to know if you belong

or feel abandoned.
If you know despair or can see it in others.
I want to know
if you are prepared to live in the world
with its harsh need to change you.

If you can look back with firm eyes
saying this is where I stand.

I want to know if you know
how to melt into that fierce heat of living
falling toward the center of your longing.

I want to know if you are willing to live,
day by day, with the consequence of love
and the bitter unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

I have heard, in that fierce embrace,
Even the gods speak of God.

~ David Whyte from Fire in the Earth
©1992 Many Rivers Press

 

 


The Hierarchy of Disagreement

The Hierarchy of Disagreement

June 7, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The Hierarchy of Disagreement

The Hierarchy of Disagreement by Paul Graham


“Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.”

“Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly,”

“People wonder why the novel is the most popular form of literature; people wonder why it is read more than books of science or books of metaphysics. The reason is very simple; it is merely that the novel is more true than they are.”

“Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”

“The word “good” has many meanings. For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of five hundred yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man.”

“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”

“The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

“There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”

“To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.”

“Music with dinner is an insult both to the cook and the violinist.”

Grace and peace, Alan