The reeds win!

The reeds win!

February 18, 2018  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The reeds win!

Grace and peace to you

President Zuma has resigned. It happened on Wednesday. Wednesday was Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance. Repentance means to turn around. It does not mean to “be sorry”. That is remorse. Remorse is not repentance. Often remorse and repentance may go together, but not always. On Wednesday they did not go together! But no doubt about it there was a huge turn around between Zuma’s delusional and defensive rant in the afternoon and his resignation in the evening. Regardless of the cause and reason for the change and regardless of him showing zero sign of remorse, we can be grateful that there was in fact a turn around that I have no doubt saved lives.

When a person is completely out of touch with the truth of their living they become a danger to everyone around them. When the anchor of their conscience has pulled loose from their moorings they float any way the pre-dominant wind blows and self-interested tide determines. They inevitably bump into anything and everything in their way causing great damage. When principle ceases to determine direction the engine may continue to roar but there is no constructive movement – certainly no movement forward, like when a propeller is entangled in the reeds.

Reeds! Reeds are thin and scrawny strings reaching up from the depths ever-seeking out the light on the surface of the waters. They appear quite insignificant, especially in the face of a powerfully spinning propeller. Yet when a couple of them get together they have the capacity to stall and stop the most powerful of engines. They are smart and wily and above all endlessly courageous. They are not naïve. They know some of them will be cut up and spat out but they also know with cement-like conviction that it is the propeller’s own spinning that will tie itself up in a nasty knot. It is only a matter of time and pressure. The reeds trust through their many doubts that in the end history will smile gratefully on them.

This week I smile gratefully at the journalists, judiciary and activists who with cement-like conviction in their depths courageously searched for the light. Some, at great cost and having to overcome huge waves of fear and intimidation stretched themselves, reaching up reed-like, into the spinning turbulence of corrupting power.

We have witnessed the purring engine begin to splutter…to slow…to stall…to stop?

The reeds win! As in ancient times the Hebrew slaves scampered through the Red Sea to freedom. Interestingly, another name for the Red Sea is the Reed Sea. The reeds win! As it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever amen.

This does not mean we have arrived. To stop going in the wrong direction does not mean we are going in the right direction. But it does give us a moment – an Ash Wednesday moment – that invites us to repent. To turn around and to reset our sights on what is just and true.

Written with reed-like certainty,
Alan

A Sermon of Music

A Sermon of Music

February 11, 2018  |  Sunday Letter, Transfiguration Sunday  |  Comments Off on A Sermon of Music
CMM’s Latest Yellow Banner

Frustrated in the traffic?
Imagine not being able to get to work.
Fix our trains so that we can get to work
safely and on time!
Get MetroFail back on track. 

 

Grace and Peace

Today we are doing something totally different. Today the sermon and prayers will come to us through song!

It is a great joy to welcome two choirs who will be leading worship today. The Swarthmore College Alumni Gospel Choir brings with it national and international tours and prestige in the venues of gospel music spirituals and soul. The choir of First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG) has performed extensively in our native area, including appearances at the Kimmel Center in 2017, one of a few church choirs to attain that honour. Furthermore, FUMCOG has taken its mission of social justice throughout the world, including Johannesburg, South Africa in 1993, forming a delegation to stand in solidarity with Nelson Mandela, in a voice of freedom to end apartheid.

Today is the last day of their mission pilgrimage to South Africa and it is really a privilege to have them at CMM.

The choirs will present a full 60 minute programme of various American music. There will be three 20 minute sets as follows: 20 minutes for Swarthmore; 20 minutes for FUMCOG; 20 minutes combined.

The repertoire from Swarthmore to be determined, out of the gospel and soul traditions while the FUMCOG repertoire to include: Salmo 150 – Ernani Aguiar; Spirituals by Moses Hogan: I Want to Thank You, Lord; Hear My Prayer; William Billings: Easter Anthem; Mark Miller: I Believe; Oh for a Thousand Tongues; Aaron Copland: Tis a Gift to be Simple; Zion’s Walls. Combined they will do: Freedom Trilogy – Paul Halley; Hope for Resolution: A Song for Mandela and De Klerk – Sean Ivory/Paul Caldwell; Praise His Holy Name – Keith Hampton.

Grace,
Alan


Another water saving suggestion

This picture shows 60 litres of water that was used for one machine wash on a 28 minute “daily express” cycle!

Please unplug your washing machine’s outlet; check how much water is being used; collect this water for re-use (like flushing toilet).

Listen to 28 January‘s sermon to “Getting to the source of the water crisis”.

 

 

Be God's Partner

Be God’s Partner

February 4, 2018  |  Harvest Festival, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Be God’s Partner

Grace and Peace

Thank you for all the food that has been brought to CMM this morning for Harvest Festival. This food will find its way into the tummies of children at Stepping Stones Preschool in the form of delicious recipes cooked by their awesome chef.

Back in the day people would have brought the food for Harvest Festival straight from the land and not via the shop. Their fingers would still be soil-stained on Sunday morning. The miracle of their gift would not have been lost on them because they were intimately present to the wondrous mystery of a seed dying and resurrecting as plant and life-giving food:

A seed … hard and tiny buried in the depths of darkness … still … absorbing, stretching, splitting, bursting, ground-breaking, light-receiving, oxygen-sharing, tongue-tasting and stomach-nourishing.

Way back in the biblical days the people would offer their first fruits as a gift of gratitude to their Creator. This was completely counter-cultural. Instead of enjoying the first fruits themselves (imagine the temptation to do that!) or storing the first fruits to secure a food-filled future, they gifted the Giver of the gift. Regardless how much they toiled in the sun with bent back and burnt neck they knew that the resurrection of food from seed was beyond their doing. They knew it was by grace and not by their work alone.

On offering their first-fruited-gifts they would recite a liturgy reminding them that the land itself was a gift from the Great Giver. They would remember and recite their history as a slave people set free by the Great Liberator [See Deuteronomy. 26]. This liturgy of grateful memory released them of fear and greed to give and share. Herein we learn the truth about generosity: Generosity is rooted in gratitude not wealth; it is a matter of the heart not the wallet. It is always a response: We give because God first gave to us. The purpose of our generosity is one and the same as Jesus’ purpose: to bring LIFE in all its fullness.

At Central Methodist Mission [CMM] we are encouraged to be generous beyond the boundaries of the Church, knowing that the “world is our parish” rather than the parish being our world. Our giving to God not only includes that which we put into the Sunday offertory, but it also includes every act of generosity we do in our daily living that aims to protect and promote LIFE and thereby partner God in mending this broken, yet God-so-loved-world.

To help us to be deliberate about growing in generosity we are invited to make the following commitment: Yes, God – Great Giver and Liberator – I want to partner you in mending this broken world by growing in generosity in all areas of my life. I therefore make this monetary offering in “hilarious celebration” [2 Corinthians 9:7] of your generous gift of grace. 

I know that my money is not my own, but yours. Forgive me for being inclined to act like it is my own. Please help me to use the money entrusted to me to make a LIFE-giving difference in this world you so love.

I therefore commit:
A monthly gift of gratitude R______________ to partner you in mending the world through Central Methodist Mission.
A monthly gift of gratitude R______________ to partner you in mending the world through the people and / or organisations.

Grace,
Alan

Banana or Orange?

Banana or Orange?

January 28, 2018  |  Covenant Sunday, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Banana or Orange?

1956: “A young 16-year old Hugh Masekela leaping in the air, clutching the trumpet that had been sent to him by Louis Armstrong.”

Photograph by the late Drum photographer Alf Kumalo.

 

Grace and peace to you

The other day I read an article in the Harvard Business Review about how to get people to change. The article explains the “Banana Principle”. It goes like this: On the office counter there are two bowls of fruit for all employees to freely help themselves. A bowl of bananas and a bowl of oranges. Every day without fail the banana bowl is emptied first. And many of the staff who arrive after the bananas are finished, choose to leave without taking an orange even though there are plenty of oranges still to be had. On reflection and research they realised that the reason for this is not because bananas are deemed that much more delicious than oranges, but rather that they are easier to eat. They are easier to manage. Easier to peel. Bananas are less messy than oranges.

So according to the authors, if you want people to start doing something that they are not – give them a banana-like-option. In other words make it easy. And if you want people to stop doing what they are doing – give them an orange-like-option. Make it more difficult or costly, because people employ the principle of the least effort. This is obvious in each of our lives I am sure.

But it raises this question for me: what if the change needed is not easy and cannot be made to be easy? What if the change needed is messy – like much meaningful change is.

This raised another question: is easy really what we want? Surely we have enough insight into our lives to know that easy seldom hits the spot within us that is crying out for transformation.

More than easy I think we desire truth. The truth that we can change. The truth that it is difficult. The truth that it is costly. The truth that it may happen in hidden ways over long periods of time. The truth that we will be helped along by grace again and again.

This is why I think the Covenant Commitment still holds our attention over 250 years after it was first prayed. It holds our attention because it holds the real desires of our heart. In our depths we want truth, not easy. As it states in the introduction: “Christ has many services to be done: some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honour, others bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests, others are contrary to both; in some we may please Christ and please ourselves, in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.”

Grace,
Alan

 

Covenant Prayer

We are no longer our own but yours O God. 

I am no longer my own, but yours.

Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;

put me to doing, put me to suffering*;

let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,

exalted for you or brought low for you;

let me be full, let me be empty;

let me have all things, let me have nothing;

I fully and freely yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer,

You are mine and I am yours. So be it.

And the Covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.

Amen.

*NOTE: “Put me to suffering” – does not mean that we are asking God to make us suffer! Rather it means that we are even willing so suffer if that is a consequence of being faithful.

Humility and Honesty

Humility and Honesty

January 21, 2018  |  Epiphany, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Humility and Honesty

Grace and peace

Two essential ingredients necessary for continued learning are humility and honesty. Humility keeps the door open to learn more and honesty makes sure that, that which comes through the open door, is genuine and true. Humility is knowing that we don’t know everything. Honesty is knowing that not everything we know can possibly be 100% accurate. Humility is knowing that we don’t know what we don’t know. Honesty is knowing that what we know will need to be corrected and re-corrected.

Humble and honest people have a high sense of curiosity.

The opposite of a curious person is someone filled to the brim with assumptions about this and that and everything else. Making assumptions about other people make it less likely we will ever get to know them for who they are. Making assumptions about different cultures or countries does the same.

Some assumptions are very difficult to spot because they have been so deeply accepted by the dominant culture in which we live that few of us ever think of questioning them. They are the invisible building blocks of society. They are promoted and protected by the systems they embed – like religion and education, entertainment and law, etc. Like a computer virus these assumed values attach themselves to every file of our lives corrupting them without us sometimes knowing, until of course life becomes more and more sluggish and eventually stopping altogether.

Think of the assumptions (perpetuated through education and sports, etc.) in “their preference for competition over cooperation; for self-promotion over humility; for analytical over holistic thinking; for individual rather than collective success; for direct rather than indirect communication; for hierarchical rather than egalitarian conceptions of status. So in school we urge our children to strive to be better than their friends and we praise them publicly if they succeed, where many other societies would consider this to be extremely bad manners. We focus on our children directly and tell them exactly what we want them to know, where in many other societies adults expect children to observe their elders closely and follow their example voluntarily. We control and direct and measure our children’s learning in excruciating detail, where many other societies assume children will learn at their own pace and don’t feel it necessary or appropriate to control their everyday activities and choices. In other words, what we take for granted as a “normal” learning environment is not at all normal to millions of people around the world.” [An extract from www.schoolingtheworld.org]. 

One of the reasons Jesus was crucified was that he brought to the surface and challenged the hidden assumptions and values of his day. This too is our calling.

May we: Do Justice. Love Mercy. Walk HUMBLY.
Alan

 

We are one

We are one

January 14, 2018  |  Epiphany, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on We are one

Grace and peace to you

Last week by the rivers of baptism we heard how the heavens were “torn apart” enabling Jesus to hear the heavenly voice declare his belovedness. The long-thought-of divide between heaven and earth has been torn apart and the false dualism between heaven and earth forever exposed as a lie. Heaven and earth are one. Therefore, all of space is sacred. The earth is heavenly. The water and air are hallowed. The land – all the land – every land – is holy and to be treasured. Now our work is to live on earth as in heaven.

There are many people in the world who arrive at this conviction through different routes – using different languages to describe it and different rituals to honour it (or no rituals at all). That we arrive at the same place is to be celebrated and the route we took should not be cause for argument.

A beautiful example of this is Albert Einstein who from a different angle reaches the same unified conviction. As someone has suggested, this was Einstein’s other great equation, namely a formula for the survival of the living world and its people.

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He (sic) experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish it but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.”

Other versions have Einstein state:

“This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” 

How we come to this conviction is less important as what we do with it. When we accept, trust and live into the truth of our oneness with every living creature and all the universe, it is then that our fear diminishes and our compassion deepens – as is the case every time our sense of connection to something or someone grows. Sadly we live in a world where the narrative of separateness dominates all other narratives – so it is not easy to hold on to the deeper truth of our connected oneness. Therefore, “the striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion”.

This is where religious practice comes in. [Remembering that the word ‘religion’ comes from Latin and its most prevalent roots take us back to the Latin word “Re-Ligare” meaning to ‘bind’ or to ‘connect’.] Therefore religious practice is to result in binding, bridging and connecting us with the Divine, the creation, others and ourselves. In other words, religious practice is to affirm our connected oneness. It is to widen “our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty”. To the extent it does this, is to the extent it facilitates life within us and through us. When religious practice builds barriers rather than bridges it is no longer religious in the true sense of the word, and would be better if put aside.

Each Wednesday evening from 18h30 – 20h30 there is an opportunity to grow in our religious (bridging and connecting) practice. Please consider coming to practice.

Grace,
Alan

Baptised in grace

Baptised in grace

January 7, 2018  |  Epiphany, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Baptised in grace

Grace and peace to you

When Jesus came up from the Jordan waters his identity was affirmed as Beloved Child from the Heavens. As we remember Jesus’ baptism so we re-affirm our own Baptismal Belovedness.

One of the reasons why we baptise infants (who obviously don’t have a clue about what is going on other than feeling cold water on their forehead) is that we announce for all the world to hear that this child is beloved. Beloved even before they understand they are beloved. Beloved before they have done anything to merit being beloved. Beloved before they believe this or that about God or Jesus. Beloved simply because the Heavenly Voice declares this to be so. It is called grace. Great grace! Grace is love that cannot be earned, achieved, manufactured or manipulated. It just is. Grace is the primary building block of the cosmos and the original essence of each one of us.

This great grace is for all. For the baptised and for those who have never been baptised. In other words Baptism does not manufacture grace or capture it, rather it celebrates and announces it for one and for all.

During a baptismal service we as a community commit to living life in such a way as to inform and remind the baptised among us of their beloved status. This understanding of Baptismal Belovedness is unsurprisingly confirmed to be at the heart of growing self-acceptance in others which psychologists would insist on as necessary for a person’s mature and healthy sense of self. As Jungian therapist, James Hollis writes:

“Jung has so eloquently written of this biblical admonition: Acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the acid test of one’s whole outlook on life. That I feed the beggar, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ—all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least amongst them all, the poorest of all beggars, the most impudent of all offenders, yea the very fiend himself—that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of the alms of my own kindness, that I myself am the enemy who must be loved—what then?” 

James HollisFinding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up

Remember you are beloved,
Alan


“What would happen to our lives, our world, if the parent could unconditionally affirm the child, saying in so many words: “You are precious to us; you will always have our love and support; you are here to be who you are; try never to hurt another, but never stop trying to become yourself as fully as you can; when you fall and fail, you are still loved by us and welcomed to us, but you are also here to leave us, and to go onward toward your own destiny without having to worry about pleasing us.”

James HollisFinding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up

Longing for newness

Longing for newness

December 31, 2017  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Longing for newness

Grace and peace to you

Time does what time does: it ticks on. Time ticks and dates click over, but New Year is not really about dates and times. New Year is about an inner longing within each of us. That longing is for newness. We long for more than a calendar change – we want our lives to change. We want our relationships to heal and deepen. We want our neighbourhoods and world to be peaceful and just. Even those of us who refuse to make any resolutions don’t escape this longing.

The first day of a new year is like a new page in a schoolchild’s exercise book. Crisp and clean inviting us to be a little neater than we were the year before. The empty page dares us to be creative and generously calls us to make a mark – our mark. It also boldly promises to hold whatever we throw at it. Surely a child pauses, be it even for a split second, in the realisation of the wonder and expectation of the blank page? So it should be for us today.

Below are two Jewish prayers that promise to stir our inner longing for newness at this time.

Grace,
Alan


Days pass and the years vanish and we walk
sightless among miracles.

Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds
with knowing.

Let there be moments when your presence,
like lightening, illuminates the darkness in
which we walk.

Help us to see wherever we gaze,
that the bush burns unconsumed

And that we, clay touched by God, will reach out
for holiness and exclaim in wonder

‘How filled with awe is this place and
we did not know it’.

   ~ Mishkan Tefilah – from the Jewish Sabbath Prayer Book.

 

On Rosh HaShanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed:

That this year people will live and die,
some more gently than others
and nothing lives forever.
But amidst overwhelming forces
of nature and humankind,
we still write our own Book of Life,
and our actions are the words in it,
and the stages of our lives are the chapters,
and nothing goes unrecorded, ever.
Every deed counts.
Everything you do matters.
And we never know what act or word
will leave an impression or tip the scale.
So, if not now, then when?
For the things that we can change, there is t’shuvah, realignment,
For the things we cannot change, there is t’filah, prayer,
For the help we can give, there is tzedakah, justice.
Together, let us write a beautiful Book of Life
for the Holy One to read.

~ Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler

 

 

 

 

Whispered moments of grace

Whispered moments of grace

December 24, 2017  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Whispered moments of grace

Grace is something that moves in our lives like the wind. It comes in moments when we least expect it and we recognize it for learning the whisper of it that reminds us of all that is good, all that is true, and all that is love in the world. We can in our lives become people who are Grace Whisperers, ones who rest in the light of God’s love so much so, that we move with the grace of God in ways that bring light, love, and wholeness to the others we encounter in the world. To move with Grace requires a catch and a release. We catch the waves of God’s grace and we release all power that is our own, this movement leaves us in a whirl of vulnerability, but it is in that place of vulnerability that God’s power becomes our own.

It should teach us something that God’s grace in its fullest form enters into the world into the skin of something as vulnerable as a newborn child. If the God of the Heavens lived cloaked with robes of majesty, this God undresses and takes on the most exquisitely vulnerable reality. The one powerful enough to speak all creation into being, also chooses to exalt one who the world would believe to be unworthy. Grace whispers to Mary, “you are worthy, you are a wonderful, beautiful, child of God. You are more than enough to carry the love of God!” Grace whirls within Mary, she releases any insecurity that might have been gifted to her by her community and the Power of God is remembered by her and through her as the grace of it lifts up into the air in her song.

Mary teaches us with three words how to release oneself to the greatest power in all the world. When Mary says, “Let it Be,” she recognizes that the safest place for her to find herself in her life, is held in the promise of God’s grace that is whispering sacred truths all around her. Mary catches those waves of grace and releases all hold, all power, any sense of need to control. She releases herself into vulnerable, sacred, trust. Mary is one of the most powerful women in all of scripture, not because of the way she sings words of power and might, but because of the way she lives in the humble space required of one to be a receiver of them. Her power is in the vessel she allows herself to be.

So often we cling to power, cling to a need to control. Grace whispers to us, “release.” So often, we get dressed up in our own power, our designs of how things in our lives and the lives of others should be, but grace says to us, “shed all of that. The love of God entered into the world as a fragile, naked, little baby. You have no idea the power that is held in this sort of vulnerability, but watch love as it rises.”

Love sits with the meek, the lowly, the outcast, the oppressed. Love honors women and children and all of mankind. Love shares meals with those cloaked in sin and washes the feet of those who stumble along their way. Love reaches across every boundary to stand in solidarity. Love does not walk alone, love circles, and multiplies. Love pierces lies with truth and humbles oneself in vulnerable honesty. Love walks in poverty and love sits under trees, on mountainsides, and by the sea–teaching about the abundance held in sacred, creative, space. Love sleeps in hospitality. Love forgives, not once, but again and again and again. Love sings, love laughs, love is patient and kind, and love is the prophetic song calling each of us to humble ourselves in order that we might in God’s grace, like Mary, be empowered to rise.

As always, it has been a gift to be…

With you on the journey,
Michelle

 

Go with me, God

Go with me, God

December 17, 2017  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Go with me, God

Go with me, God

A prayer for God to find us where anger takes us, by Ted Loder (My Heart in my Mouth).

O God, I know it’s a long, hard trip out of anger and retreat to any repair of the breech, and beginning degree of a longed-for intimacy.

Go with me, with us, as you went with Adam and Eve and all the us’s ever since, some to healing avail.

Go with me, God, through honest self-knowledge to a proportioned humility, from fevered accusation to accurate apology, from delicious aggrievement to a shared cup of forgiveness, from stunting addiction to my biases to crediting the other’s side, a glimpsing of the larger, inclusive view seen by four eyes or more, instead of two.

Go with me, God, on this long trip of listening and letting go, all the winding ways toward seeing myself truly, seeing where I am and who, and how I got here, seeing all my misbegotten pride, all my blighting misperception of others, and mostly of you.

Go with me, God, on this walk on the narrow ridge, enabling me to stand my ground without betraying it in passivity or disguising it in manipulating, or in false modesty, an hypocrisy worse than blind pride; to stand my ground humbly so as not to deny others theirs, or invading theirs with ridicule.

Grant me courage to say what I mean and honestly mean what I say, without judging what others say or mean, and so making myself trustworthy, transforming anger into the energy to make new things possible.

O God, it is not just a way back that I’m praying for, but a way to a different place than habit has worn out, a home I never had before. I sense it takes a trip of many turns, returns and many years to make, remake, and make again.

Go with me, to keep me from getting lost, or being too reluctantly ashamed to take the first demanding steps that will be the beginning now of that lifetime journey to the self I so passionately long to be, to those I love and lost awhile, and so to those in the shimmering web of this human family I’m in for good, and so to you, who, I am praying, waits close to welcome and go limping home with me. Amen.