Vulnerability

Vulnerability

September 20, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Vulnerability

Grace and peace to you …

The Bible begins with humanity settled in the Garden of Eden, all their needs sorted and nothing to hide behind — they were naked. Physical nakedness marked an innocence that was lost when Adam and Eve took that first tempting bite. Their work to cover their nakedness alerted God that they had chosen their own way, rather than walking in the way that was marked out for them. They worked quickly to hide the decision they had made, but they were not created to hide. Humanity was made to be found — to be swept up in a love that promises to never leave or forsake us.

The vulnerability experienced in the Garden of Eden is something that we as human beings struggle to return to. Brené Brown released a Ted Talk years ago on the power of vulnerability. She shared that fear and shame keeps us from being vulnerable. Vulnerability, she shared, is the birthplace of many emotions. We are able to experience grief, shame, and disappointment as we lean into vulnerability. Yet, too often we work to numb those emotions and she shared that in seeking to numb grief, shame, and disappointment we then numb the other emotions that are also born out of vulnerability — joy, gratitude, and happiness.

To be vulnerable is to be comfortable with the naked truth of life. The church has so much to learn from the Recovery Community in learning how to be vulnerable. People who struggle with addiction and live within the 12 Step Programs that the recovery community offers have a way of living with an authenticity rarely seen in the world around us. Part of the work they do is to name right away that they have a problem and that they are not going to be able to manage this problem on their own. They are charged with giving an honest assessment of their lives to understand how the patterns of addiction in their lives have harmed themselves and others. One can understand how this work reveals the naked truth of life.

One of the members of the recovery community that meets at Central Methodist Mission, Fiona McCosh, has wrestled with the negative perceptions people have of those in the Recovery Community. Fiona has worked to document the naked beauty of several of the members of the Recovery Community here in Cape Town in order that the beauty of who they are might be revealed. I hope that we as a community will work to support her work at her exhibit, which opens Tuesday, September 29, 6 p.m. at the Issi Café, 130 Bree Street.

Question for reflection: In what ways am I hiding in my life? How might I embrace the vulnerability that will give birth to a more authentic life?

With you on the journey, Michelle.

Listen and be brave

Listen and be brave

September 13, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Listen and be brave

Grace and peace to you …

As Anna Quindlen writes: “Acts of bravery don’t always take place on battlefields. They can take place in your heart, when you have the courage to honor your character, your intellect, your inclinations, and yes, your soul by listening to its clear, clear voice of direction instead of following the muddied message of a timid world.”.

One such brave person in our land is Advocate Thuli Madonsela, the Public Protector. Amanda Khoza from News24 reports about Madonsela’s keynote address on Women’s Month at the University of KwaZulu-Natal:

“Women and female animals are the most vicious when you threaten what they love,” said Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, responding to questions about how she handles the constant barrage of attacks from politicians. “Just threaten a woman’s child or an elephant’s offspring and you will see fire… I understand that sometimes humans kick because they are afraid. So when they kick me, I know that they are doing the best that they can and the driving force is fear… Instead of being angry at them, I just have compassion and hope that they will stop being fearful and instead act from a position of power…”

Madonsela said it helped her to focus on what she loved, rather than on herself: “When you put the attention on yourself, you see yourself as a victim and once you see yourself as a victim, you are a danger to yourself and to society because victims tend to do nothing wrong…

“As the public protector I make important decisions that are based on facts. I know that when those matters get to court, they will see that it was 1 + 2 = 3 not 1 + 2 = 5.

“When somebody starts insulting you, just know that you have won and that they are surrendering their power to you. It is the same thing when people stop discussing the issue at hand and start discussing you. They do it in soccer when the player starts playing the man instead of the ball, it is because they are desperate and they are losing the game.”

Be brave, Alan


A friend texted me while he was en route to Hungary by train to compete in the Canoeing Marathon World Championship: “On a train loaded to the gills with Syrian refugees.”.

This is an amazing parable of life. We’re all on the same train. Maybe even in the same compartment. But can we really speak of being on the same train? Some of us are on the train living a dream while others are experiencing a nightmare.

Ultimate Reality

Ultimate Reality

September 6, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Ultimate Reality

Grace and peace to you …

Over the past two weeks we have reflected on the gift and the danger of religion. First is was Solomon “building a house for the Lord” and then he realised that the Lord is way too big to fit into any human made house. The problem arises when we forget that God is bigger than any of our attempts to define or name. The gift and purpose of the temple was to remind people that God is present and accessible to all, yet the danger was that God would be trapped in the temple and controlled by those who run the temple.

Throughout history there are those who are sent to us to remind us that “nothing in heaven or on earth can contain the Lord”. Thomas Keating is one such person. He is a Trappist Monk and is known as one of the “fathers” of the Centering Prayer Movement. I would recommend anything that he has written – he is a faithful guide for any who want to journey into the depths. The depths of ourselves and the Divine. Keating has been inspirational in the Snowmass Interspirituality Dialogue which has convened over a thirty-year period with religious leaders from the major world religions. Here is a short list of the points of agreement that they believe all religions share, and which I find very helpful:

  1. The world religions bear witness to the experience of Ultimate Reality, to which they give various names.
  2. Ultimate Reality cannot be limited by any name or concept.
  3. Ultimate Reality is the ground of infinite potentiality and actualization.
  4. Faith is opening, accepting, and responding to Ultimate Reality. Faith in this sense precedes every belief system.
  5. The potential for human wholeness – or, in other frames of reference, enlightenment, salvation, transcendence, transformation, blessedness – is present in every human being.
  6. Ultimate Reality may be experienced not only through religious practices, but also through nature, art, human relationships, and service to others.
  7. As long as the human condition is experienced as separate from Ultimate Reality, it is subject to ignorance and illusion, weakness and suffering.
  8. Disciplined practice is essential to the spiritual life; yet spiritual attainment is not the result of one’s own efforts, but the result of the experience of oneness with Ultimate Reality.

Grace and peace, Alan


Read – Reflect – Renew

In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know,
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess,
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not,
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

~ TS Eliot

 

God is big

God is big

August 30, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on God is big
And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Grace and peace to you …

Simply put, there are three main stages in human development. They include infancy, adolescence and adulthood. Friederich von Hugel shows that healthy religion must take account of and nurture the predominant needs and activities of each stage, and so concludes that religion must include three essential elements:

“An institutional element corresponding to the needs and activities of infancy, a critical element corresponding to adolescence, and a mystical element corresponding to adulthood.”

This does not mean that the needs of infancy disappear in adolescence and nor do the needs and activities of adolescence disappear in adulthood, but they should cease to be predominant if we are to grow. Healthy adulthood should also never completely exclude the infancy and adolescence aspects.

In broad terms infants enjoy boundaries that provide them with comforting protection, while teenagers question boundaries and kick at them at every turn, and adults realize that boundaries are necessary but more complex than first thought — even incommunicable — and if the boundaries are to be honoured in adulthood it will be out of love and no longer fear, a delight and not a duty contributing to one’s freedom, and not captivity. Adulthood can see the value of the institution and the critical voice at one and the same time.

There is a danger that we find the comforting protection of infancy so satisfactory, or the questioning teenager so conveniently non-committal, that we get stuck and never venture towards the terrifying freedom of adulthood. When the institutional element predominates to the exclusion of the other two aspects, the result will be an immaturity of faith, and increased superstition and a loss of freedom. When the critical element dominates “it is liable to produce rationalists rather than religious persons, people whose devotion to an intellectual system replaces their devotion to God.” There is also a danger if the mystical becomes unhinged from the other two elements. In doing so personal experience is “canonized as the only legitimate source of discernment – opening widely the door to self-deception”.

All three elements are necessary for a healthy church/community/organisation. We are called to discern where one is dominating at the expense of the others and make the necessary adjustments. Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for humanity and not the other way round, reminding us that the structures/systems/rules/institutions are not ends in and of themselves but they are rather servants/scaffolding or conduits to a greater good and a deeper fullness of life.

God is bigger than any word or concept that we have come to use to hold or understand God. That is why the Hebrews of old were not allowed to have the name of G-d on their lips, (they weren’t allowed to write it out in full either), because it was both too holy and too large. In other words they recognised that God (and God’s name) broke out of all human categories not least our human vocabulary. There are some today who even decide not to use the word ‘God’ perhaps because they find it is too small, too limiting, too bound to a sense of religious institution and choose rather to use other words. A current favourite is “the universe”, that I imagine is used either consciously or unconsciously to counteract the contamination of God by the small.

So may our religion never become our God and may we never worship the way we worship. May our spirits remain fluid and our hearts ever open to being surprised by God. God is big.

Grace and peace, Alan


Read – Reflect – Renew

In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know,
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess,
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not,
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

~ TS Eliot

Learn to listen

Learn to listen

August 23, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Learn to listen

The picture above is of a tablecloth. This tablecloth has pairs of feet representing the 42,000 marchers demonstrating for civil rights. Look closely and you can find the shoes of Mrs Rosa Parks. True to form she stands out. She is the only one who did not take her shoes off for them to be traced. So look for the only pair of shoes… and, with Rosa Parks, dare to be different.

Displayed at The Safe House — Black History Museum, Greensboro, Alabama


Grace and peace to you …

Over the last few weeks I have been reading up on the “new monastic movement” slowly growing around the world. One such book is a modern paraphrase of the ancient Rule of Saint Benedict by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

Jonathan writes in the introduction: “In a moment of clarity, Benedict saw that the system of education that had been designed to prepare him for a world that was passing away could only lead to a dead end. While it could teach him what had worked in the past, the system did not have the resources to present a way forward. A different school was needed. Benedict had a hunch that the Desert Mothers and Fathers were creating it. He went to a cave, built himself a prayer cell, and so matriculated in the “university” of the world to come… Benedict decided that we need a school for a new way of life… A school for the Lord’s service… [to help] the world see more clearly what it means to become truly human in the way of Jesus.”

This is what Church is meant to be. A school for a new way of life that sets people free to be truly human in the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus being a way of life that is good news for the poor and which works release for the captives, sight for the blind and freedom for the oppressed. A way of life that is rooted in justice where all people are honoured as precious. A way of life that brings life.

Benedict’s first word in his prologue for his “new-life-school syllabus” was “LISTEN”.

“Listen my child. I want you to place the ear of your heart on the solid ground of the Master’s wisdom… Listening is hard work, but it’s the essential work. It opens you up to the God that you’ve rejected when you have only listened to yourselves. If you’re ready to give up your addiction to yourself, this message is for you: to listen is to equip yourself with the best resources available to serve the real Master, Christ the Lord.”

This word/instruction “Listen” is repeated throughout Benedict’s syllabus. The Jesus way of life that brings life is shaped around learning to listen to God and to other people because “an authentic search for God leads to life with other people”.

This is our task: To learn to listen.

Grace and peace, Alan


Read – Reflect – Renew

In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know,
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess,
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not,
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

~ TS Eliot

 

Love God and Neighbour

Love God and Neighbour

August 16, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Love God and Neighbour

Grace and Peace to you …

Today marks the anniversary of the Marikana Killings. Yesterday, the church was open for people in the community who wanted to be together to remember and reflect on this day in the history of South Africa. Candles were lit in memory of each of the persons that were killed and the documentary telling the story of the events was viewed.

Today we will take time to hang a yellow banner calling the community to remember, reflect, and be a part of working for a community that lives for something different than the violence that occurred on that day.

The banners that hang at Central Methodist Mission are viewed on computer screens in other parts of the world. The message we send is a message to a world of people calling them to stand for a different way of living together as neighbours in this world. This will be the first banner I have witnessed being hung, but I have seen the pictures of them and they have strengthened me in my own life and ministry.

The call to love God & Neighbour can be interpreted for each of us in different ways, but in the midst of a time when people live with questions, fears, and doubt. I am thankful for this community and the witness we are to the world around us. As we depart from this place today, my hope is that each of us will continue to reflect on the ways in which we can be a sign and symbol of God’s love to each other and our neighbours around the world.

Question for reflection: Who are people around me that God might be asking me to take notice of in a different way? How might I live more fully into this commandment to love God and neighbour this week?

With you on the journey, Michelle


For Love of God & Neighbour

What does it mean to love God and love our neighbour? This is a question that has been asked over and over again by people of God in every generation. The greatest commandment calls us to this:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Matthew 22:37-40

As we struggle with this question in our individual lives, we must also struggle with it in our corporate lives together as well.

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
Edith Wharton

 

Fault Lines

Fault Lines

August 9, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Fault Lines

Grace and peace to you …

Seismologists are those who study the quakes that occur in the earth — earthquakes. There are many reasons for the occurrence of earthquakes, but one of them is movement along a fault line — or crack underneath the earth’s surface.

Seismologists work to predict earthquakes by tracing the activity of seismic waves or pings of energy that vibrate out as the plates begin to shift along a fault line or crack in the rocky ground beneath us. Throughout the course of human history, prophets have served in this same capacity for the people of God. The voices of the prophets name for us the places in our life together where there are cracks.

On August 9, 1956, 20,000 women marched in opposition to the pass laws in South Africa. They held in their hands over 100,000 signatures opposing this law that would give strength to the Apartheid System that was the fault line of the day — the crack that was killing true community. As the women protested, they sang a song and the words translated to, “Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.” This phrase now represents the courage and strength of women in South Africa. Today and tomorrow, South Africans will honour all women as we celebrate National Women’s Day.

There are fault lines beneath us in our life together still today. What might the women of 1956 have to say to the reality that 1 in 3 women worldwide will suffer some sort of violence in their lifetime and that more than 57% of the women who are murdered are murdered by a loved one? The women of 1956 demonstrated with their march the need for us to gather around the places where there are cracks in our life together as children of God. Injustices need to be named and work must be done to make right the fault lines that shift beneath our feet.

Question for reflection: Take some time to name the fault lines or cracks that exist in the world around us where injustice exists. What might you do to stand and name these injustices like the women of 1956 and many others throughout the course of history have?

With you on the journey, Michelle

Tokens of Trust

Tokens of Trust

August 2, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Tokens of Trust

Grace and Peace to you …

I have been spending quite a bit of time in the District Six museum over the last couple of weeks. I know that the museum holds stories that connect to this congregation’s roots and so I have been visiting the museum to learn as much as I can. I find it to be a place that stills me in my spirit, but I always find strength and light there as well. I like that I can hear the pitter patter of children’s feet on the ceiling up above and I like knowing those children are learning to live life together honouring all others no matter what might seek to divide them. I find myself rising in my own spirit when I stand in front of the sculpture of the street signs rising up from the ground. The visits have caused me to question what it means to be Christian community in a time when people still are hesitant to trust.

This question also arose during the re-reading of a gem of a book by Rowan Williams called, Tokens of Trust. Essentially he shares that people out in the world have wrestled with their ability to place trust in institutions. Institutions have a tendency to let us down. Whether it is the institution of education, medicine, or what some call the institution of the Church, people struggle to reach their lives out in trust.

Christian community in particular is grown out of a deep trust in God and the people who circle around that truth are then called to be like Rowan Williams put forth, “Tokens of Trust”. We walk together in the moments when “Alleluia” can be shouted from the mountaintop, we walk together when the challenging valleys appear where no end seems to be in sight, and we walk together in all the spaces we find ourselves in between. The way in which we walk with each other and with God is our shared story, our testimony, or song to a world in search of a place to put their trust. The love and forgiveness we are called to live with is a sign and symbol of the greater love of God.

I believe God is always trying to sing a new song through us. What song is the Holy Spirit singing through the stories of those who have been the anchors for the community in this place? What song is God singing through the people who wander in the doors of this place looking for a moment or two of sanctuary? What song is God singing about through the people who come through the doors looking for a community to place their trust? What is the new song God is calling out to each of us? I am enjoying hearing the stories of those who call this place home. You are a beautiful people, with a rich history, and I look forward to witnessing all God will do with the new song rising within each of us.

With you on the journey, Michelle


“I want to be outside with the misfits, with the rebels, the dreamers, second-chance givers, the radical grace lavishers, the ones with arms wide open, the courageously vulnerable, and among even — or maybe especially — the ones rejected by the table as not worthy enough or right enough.”

Sarah Bessey


Generous in love – God, give grace! Huge in mercy – wipe out my bad record. Scrub away my guilt, soak out my sins in your laundry. I know how bad I’ve been; my sins are staring me down. You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen it all, seen the full extent of my evil. You have all the facts before you; whatever you decide about me is fair. I’ve been out of step with you for a long time, in the wrong since before I was born. What you’re after is truth from the inside out. Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life. Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean, scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life. Tune me in to foot-tapping songs, set these once-broken bones to dancing. Don’t look too close for blemishes, give me a clean bill of health. God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life. Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me. Bring me back from gray exile, put a fresh wind in my sails!

 Psalm 51:1-12 The Message

 

 

I thirst

I thirst

July 26, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on I thirst

Grace and Peace to you … 

We all know about “load-shedding” in relation to power supply, but how many of us know about “water-shedding”? I don’t think it will be long before we all find out. Having 24/7 access to clean running water will one day be viewed as an impossible luxury.

Last week after teaching at the Methodist Seminary in Pietermaritz-burg I spent an evening with old friends in Ballito Bay. In December last year there was a two week period when Ballito had no water and since then they have had severe shortages. So my friends bought a 4 500 litre “JoJo” tank and had planned for the municipality to come and fill it with grey water (recycled sewerage water) later in the week at the cost of R960. However that very evening after the JoJo was connected up to the gutters from their garage (85 m2) the rains came; measuring around 90 mm which nearly completely filled the 4 500 litre JoJo. As my friends said: “God filled it for us! Praise be to God our Provider”.

Here is the thing: God actually does provide us with enough water but we waste it as well as fail to catch it! My friends have subsequently reduced their water consumption from 40 000 kilolitre to 14 000 kilolitre per month.

Even if we are unable to make use of a JoJo, we can get creative in our use of water. I know for myself it takes between 4 – 5 litres for the water in my shower to get hot. This water is easily bucketed and then used to flush the toilet or to water the plants. The idea of using crystal clear drinking water to flush the toilet is ludicrous and I have no doubt will be a criminal offense in the not too distant future.

The crucifying cry “I thirst” is sure to be on the parched lips of a growing number of people around the world, not least in our own land. Giving someone a cup of water really will be seen as a great gift done in Jesus’ service.

Let’s do it…

Grace and peace, Alan

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!