Jesus of the outcast

Jesus of the outcast

July 7, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Jesus of the outcast

As a young artist, Timothy Schmalz faced some tough times. For the first few years he says he lived on a wooden bench in an old warehouse without heating or running water. He knows what it feels like to be on the outskirts of society. So he wanted to create a Jesus that the poor and outcast could relate to. Schmalz’ Jesus lies on a park bench. His face and hands are hidden under the folds of a heavy blanket. The only evidence of the Bible story is the statue’s pierced feet.

In these cold winter wet days we are reminded that Jesus had nowhere to lay his head. He was a refugee at birth and died on a state-owned cross at death. Jesus was homeless from Alpha to Omega. A park bench may have been his only option on occasion.

I invite you to use this picture of Timothy Schmalz’ ‘Homeless Jesus’ as an icon. Take time to reflect on what you see. Maybe imagine yourself sitting on the bench next to Jesus. Are you moved to speak to him or do you sit in silence? How do you feel?

Peace, Alan

Who takes care of us when God goes on holiday?

Who takes care of us when God goes on holiday?

June 30, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Who takes care of us when God goes on holiday?

During a recent lesson series in Sunday School,
the children explored the healing hands of Jesus and
also how they could use their hands in the service of Jesus.
Drawing their own hands helped the children explore the possibilities.

 

Some of you may recall a programme “Children say the Darndest Things”, aired on Springbok Radio on a Saturday morning. We would interpret that as “out of the mouths of babes”.

Through Bible stories I have read to our children over the past three years, these are some of their questions and comments:

The Bible says Sunday is a day of rest, so why do we come to Sunday School on a Sunday?

Instead of letting people die and making new ones, why doesn’t God just keep the ones he’s got?

Is God really invisible? I think he just likes playing ‘hide and go seek’ with us.

How does God know he is God and who made him?

Who takes care of us when God goes on holiday?

These are profound questions that only God can answer and interacting with these little ones can be both joyful and challenging. Their view of life is uncomplicated and simplistic and is it fascinating to observe and listen to their thought processes and what delights their curious minds. They live ‘in the moment’, where the small stuff of only the “Now” matters.

Children are a reminder that to view life through their eyes is to see a beautiful, colourful world, devoid of angst and lived with joy and a sense of wonder. Sadly, this is not the reality for many children in our society today.

For those in my care on a Sunday morning, it remains humbling to help them grow in the grace of Jesus, and they keep me focused on the God of the Small Stuff.

Grace and peace,
Malia Parker (Sunday School Co-ordinator)

Joyful and carefree creativity

Joyful and carefree creativity

June 23, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Joyful and carefree creativity

By using a handmade cardboard tool and a few strips of leather, Ashton learnt to knot a leather bracelet in a short space of time.

The places and ways in which we experience God are diverse from the mundane to the miraculous; for me it’s in the wonder of human resilience, hope and sheer enjoyment in life. Late on Sunday night I was woken from a deep sleep by a sound I couldn’t quite place. Eventually I realised that it sounded like a band. I stumbled out of bed and onto the balcony; there in the dark I saw movement. It was indeed a band, a dancing, moving band of people from little toddlers to older folks, playing a range of musical instruments, joyfully moving through the neighbourhood. It was a lovely sight. In that moment I thought of God, I saw God in the joyful, carefree movements of these people giving their neighbours a beautiful gift, albeit at an unorthodox time.

Tsidi who is responsible for much of the [needle] craft work available at African Image, corner Church and Burg Streets, has gifted our community with her ability to craft. She and I meet with the youth on Friday afternoons to create; and as we work together we find the ability to see beyond our self-limitation and into the potential of creating something from nothing. The “I cant’s” are gradually replaced by a product made by our hands, imagination and shared knowledge.

Together we gain the skills to create something to gift, sell or keep. We learn to see beyond the old bicycle tyre, string, plastic bottle or newspaper and see something which can be used to sustain us or benefit another. The mundane becomes functional, useful, maybe even beautiful — new life is breathed into the item and indeed into the maker. Tsidi says that she finds God in the spaces she creates in her life through craft. Whether we experience God in others, in creation, in creating, in the mundane or the miraculous, our experience is unique, ready to be shared and gifted into our communities.

Peace, Sarah (Youth Co-ordinator)

Be kinder than necessary

Be kinder than necessary

June 16, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Be kinder than necessary

Happy Father’s Day

The first Father’s Day celebration took place on 19 June 1910 at the YMCA in Spokane, Washington, USA, when Sonora Smart Dodd wished to acknowledge her father, William Jackson Smart, an American civil war veteran and single parent, who raised six children.

 

What a wonderful privilege it is for me to share with you this morning.

I give thanks to God for your grace and your hospitality. I have had the privilege of visiting with you several times and experienced the warmth of your welcome. I have seen too your works of love and justice and I pray that your ministries will grow.

We live in a world and times where our own pain and the enormity and regularity of the pain of others can overwhelm us. It is very easy to be numbed, to stop noticing, to stop being bothered. In a world where most of us encounter homeless and the helpless people every day, it is easy to be insensitive, if not oblivious to the obvious pain in our midst. In a world where so many of us are wounded, it is oh so difficult to be wounded healers. But we have to be “kinder than necessary because everyone we meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

It is my prayer that this community will continue to be emissaries of love in the lives of the people who are battered and bruised by systems of this world. We are all called to confer dignity on every life — all life, no matter what form it may take. All lives are sacred, and we are to hold them as such. May this community be agents of healing in this city and beyond. As William Blake puts it:

“… we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love.”

May it be so.
Peace, Siphiwe Ndlovu
(Our Guest Preacher for this Sunday)

Rules we can live by

Rules we can live by

June 9, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Rules we can live by

“I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease
to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they
first set out.” ~ John Wesley

Two weeks ago we met as a Synod and, as always, we closed proceedings with the reading of John Wesley’s 12 rules of a Helper. I am always struck by how they move and challenge me. I share them with you here …

Wesley laid out twelve rules for preachers who wished to serve as Methodist itinerants. Wesley’s name for his itinerants was “preachers” or “helpers.” Wesley’s twelve rules of a helper are still cherished as the guiding principles of a Methodist preacher:

  1. Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed. Never while away time, nor spend more time at any place than is strictly necessary.
  2. Be serious. Let your motto be, ‘Holiness to the Lord.’ Avoid all lightness, jesting, and foolish talking.
  3. Be guarded in your conversation and friendships lest you be led into temptation.
  4. Take no step towards marriage without solemn prayer to God and consulting with your colleagues.
  5. Believe evil of no one unless fully proved; take heed how you credit it. Put the best construction you can on everything. You know the judge is always supposed to be on the prisoner’s side.
  6. Speak evil of no one, else your word, especially, would eat as doth a canker; keep your thoughts within your own breast till you come to the person concerned.
  7. Tell everyone what you think wrong in him, lovingly and plainly, and as soon as may be, else it will fester in your own heart. Make all haste to cast the fire out of your bosom.
  8. Do not pretend to be of high station. A preacher of the Gospel is the servant of all.
  9. Be ashamed of nothing but sin; no, not of cleaning your own shoes when necessary.
  10. Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time. And do not mend our rules, but keep them, and that for conscience’ sake.
  11. You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent in this work. And go always, not only to those who want you, but to those who want you most.
  12. Act in all things, not according to your own will, but as a child in the Gospel, and in union with your colleagues. As such, it is your part to employ your time as our rules direct: partly in preaching and visiting from house to house, partly in reading, meditation, and prayer. Above all, if you labour with us in our Lord’s vineyard, it is needful you should do that part of the work which the Conference shall advise, at those times and places which they shall judge most for His glory.“Observe, it is not your business to preach so many times, and to take care merely of this or that Society, but to save as many souls as you can, to bring as many sinners as you possibly can to repentance, and, with all your power, to build them up in that holiness without which they cannot see the Lord. And, remember, a Methodist preacher is to mind every point, great and small, in the Methodist discipline. Therefore you will need all the grace and sense you have, and to have all your wits about you.”

_____________________________

Well, did any of the rules especially challenge you? If so I invite you live with it in the coming days — allowing it to shape your living.

Grace and gratitude for a rich heritage, Alan

Begin again slowly

Begin again slowly

June 2, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Begin again slowly

Last week during Synod we joined people across the globe wearing black as a personal and public protest against gender-based violence and discrimination. Together we stand in solidarity with victims of violence and discrimination, demanding a fairer world for all.
Join in every Thursday.

 

Well I am about to get on my bicycle — literally speaking — as I begin my 3-month sabbatical. I will be back on 1 September which is “Spring Day” as well as the 17th anniversary of my ordination. It will be a great day to begin again…

You will know that my e-mail address is: ASlowWalk@… this encapsulates my desire more than my reality. During sabbatical I hope to live into it more fully and faithfully with slow walks and slow rides. The gift of slowness is to be present in the moment. It is to welcome ‘what-is’ without needing a ‘what-will-be’. In slowness interruptions cease to be interruptions — instead they are the holy moments of rich encounter that they really are.

This past week a person arrived unexpectedly in my office. I was so busy with my agenda that I nearly missed out on what he came to share with me. All he wanted to do was to sing me a song … The beautiful melody of life is playing all the time but only those who do not rush around hear it.

Simon and Garfunkel sung about it years ago… “Slow down you move too fast, you got to make the moment last…” I know you don’t have three months sabbatical but I do invite you to slow down and to do something deliberately slowly.

I would also like to encourage you to join a Warm Winter Worship group. Find the home group nearest to you and connect with others on Wednesday evenings over supper during June, July and August. When we gather we trust that we will meet God in the connections we have with each other, remembering that: everyone is wonder-full. Everyone has something wonder-full to share.

I feel that I am entitled to my share of lightheartedness and there is nothing wrong with enjoying one’s self simply, like a boy. ~ Leo Tolstoy in response to criticism for learning to ride a bicycle at age 67.

The bicycle is a curious vehicle. Its passenger is its engine. ~ John Howard

Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I have hope for the human race. ~ H.G. Wells

When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me. ~ Emo Philips 🙂

_______________________________________________

Below follows four resolutions passed at the 2013 Synod which will be go before Conference later this year:

Four of the 2013 Synod Resolutions

The Synod of the Cape of Good Hope District calls on Conference to [1] support the Palestinian Kairos Document’s call for divestment of Israel to end the occupation by Israel in Palestine [2] to instruct all Circuits and Societies within the MCSA to ensure that if taking part in “Holy Land tours” that the arrangements include realistic engagement with the Palestinian community.

The Cape of Good Hope District reaffirms the decision of the MCSA that “ministers do not assist people to gain firearm licenses” and that “all Methodist Property are to be Gun Free Zones”.

The Synod of the Cape of Good Hope District notes with horror the continued violence against gay and lesbian people because of their sexual orientation. The Synod calls on all members and leaders within the District to speak out against this specific form of violence whenever it occurs, so as not to give the false impression that the Christian faith in any way condones such acts.

The Synod of the Cape of Good Hope District requests Conference to determine whether the position of Chaplain of any political party is a “party political post and compromises the necessary independence of the church in its witness to the Gospel in society.”

Grace, Alan

Called to something smaller

Called to something smaller

May 26, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Called to something smaller

This past week I have been in Belhar attending the 184th Synod of the Cape of Good Hope District.

Amongst other things, Synod is the body that reminds me of my calling as well as holding me accountable. While reflecting on our ordination vows we reflected on the following words from Methodist Church of Singapore’s Ordination Liturgy:

Called to Something Smaller

We are not ordaining you to ministry; that happened at your baptism.

We are not ordaining you to be a caring person; you are already called to that.

We are not ordaining you to serve the Church in committees, activities, organisation; that is already implied in your membership.

We are not ordaining you to become involved in social issues, ecology, race, politics, revolution, for that is laid upon every Christian.

We are ordaining you to something smaller and less spectacular: to read and interpret those sacred stories of our community, so that they speak a word to people today; to remember and practice those rituals and rites of meaning that in their poetry address human beings at the level where change operates; to foster in community through word and sacrament that encounter with truth which will set men and women free to minister as the body of Christ.

We are ordaining you to the ministry of the word and sacraments and pastoral care. God grant you grace not to betray but uphold it, not to deny but affirm it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Below is a letter addressed to the Editor of the Cape Times in response to the article that appeared in the Cape Times on 22 May 2013:

Dear Editor: (Cape Times)
Your Wednesday, 22nd headline, Lesbian pastor vs church refers:
As a former leader of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA) I grieve to see a great Christian denomination, with a strong record of witness for compassion and justice, brought to this. Had the matter been handled with more care and wisdom in the councils of the church, it would not today be in a secular court.
It is important, however, to emphasise that the MCSA is not united on this issue. A growing body of Methodist clergy and laity fully support Rev Ecclesia de Lange’s right – and the right of other gay and lesbian persons  to marry the person of their choice, and are working for change. Far from being in conflict with our Christian convictions, we regard this as a further necessary step in the Spirit’s work of breaking down barriers of prejudice that have stood too long. We are not without sympathy for conservative members in the church who struggle to come to terms with new insights into human sexuality, because old teachings and attitudes die hard. But those teachings and attitudes have inflicted such cruelty, pain and exclusion on gay and lesbian persons that they cannot be justified on the basis of a few Biblical proof-texts. The Charter of Compassion is right: for all religions, ‘any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate.’
I am confident that the MCSA will become an open and including church, honouring the love of gay and lesbian persons and blessing their unions. The journey to openness, however, just as with the struggle against racism, will not be easy. With that struggle the MCSA and other faith communities gave moral leadership in resisting injustice. On this issue we lag sadly behind secular institutions and the Constitution of this country. I can only hope that this court case will help, rather than hinder the road to true inclusiveness.
Rev Prof Peter Storey

Peace and grace to you, Alan

That stuff about love

That stuff about love

May 19, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on That stuff about love

Can anyone remember these?
They were collectable stickers from (I think?) the late 70’s and 80’s.

 

It is Wednesday morning and I am at the Carpenter’s Shop sitting around a table with a group of mostly young men between the ages of 20 and 30. There is one woman in the group and 3 or 4 older men. We open our time together by checking-in about the week that was.

I ask: “How was Mother’s Day?” “Like any other day”, someone replies. Only two out of the group of 20-odd people had any contact with their mothers. I took the gap to ask how many of them connect with their fathers and learnt that not one person had contact with their father – either because he had died or because they were estranged from him.

We then moved on to speak about love. I asked: “What happens when you fall in love with someone? Let’s make a list together…” At that, I noticed the corners of some mouths begin to stretch into a smile as their mind’s eye focused on a love moment in their recent or distant past.

Love is sharing… yes that is what love is.” Others agreed with the opening speaker – “Ya sharing … sharing your bodies…” This provoked some laughter and some less quotable talk. So I chipped in, “OK, love is sharing. Sharing what?”

Sharing time… yes when I am in love and I am meant to meet her at 8 o’clock I make sure I get there at 7 o’clock”. Followed by some more laughter as well as a couple of “Ya me too … you waste lots of time in love but it’s not really a waste if you understand?”

Love is sharing your money… ya you spoil them too much when you in love.” Everyone agreed. “Love is not cheap.” We went through a quick list: “I buy for her a cool drink on a hot day”, “new shoes” “or we hire a DVD to watch together”.

Love is sharing secrets…” added another. This seemed to resonate with everyone, “… when you love someone you not scared to tell them everything – you don’t hide anything … you tell the truth…” Someone interjected, “Ya, but you don’t tell the one girl about the other girl.” More laughter. “That is sex, not love. You can have sex with many but you can only love one.” another argued back.

This then led to a conversation about how men can “have many” without the woman knowing but woman cannot do so without the man knowing. It was a serious conversation based on “logic”. I found it a terribly disturbing understanding of masculinity and couldn’t help making the link between it and the huge violation (especially sexual violation) of women in South Africa.

And then the same person who started us out on this bumpy road of disturbance turned sharply onto a new path taking us all with him. “Hey pastor, ag I mean Alan, where in the Bible does it say that stuff about love… read it to us… I think it was Petros who said it.” “No you idiot it was Paulos” someone enjoyed correcting him. “Well read it anyway…” he pleaded.

I started to read from 1 Corinthians 13…”Love is patient, love is kind”. “Ya that is the one… read it… you “ous” listen to it… hey shut up and listen… it is telling about love…” So I continued to read: “Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…”

We finish our time together by holding each other’s hands – heads bowed – held by the silence. We ask God to help us to trust that we are loveable and to show us that we have love to share with others.

In love – by love and for love, Alan

The Silencing of Lady Justice

The Silencing of Lady Justice

May 12, 2013  |  Easter, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The Silencing of Lady Justice

The Pain and Praise of our Birth…

“For it was you who formed my inward parts, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know every well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”
Psalm 139: 13-15

 

 No wonder there is a Jewish proverb that goes something like this:
“God could not be everywhere and therefore God made mothers.”

 
On Ascension Day I officiated at a wedding. The couple have been in love for a long time and finally decided to come out in the open and get married.

The ceremony took place at the World Economic Forum between Big Business and Government. To our surprise we walked right up to the entrance of the CTICC to where all the delegates were getting out of their cars. (Then again, others have recently managed to land a commercial aeroplane at a military base filled with wedding guests – so perhaps we should not be too surprised.) Then the cops moved us to the perimeter – after removing the “shower head” that was hovering over the beautiful bride’s (Government) head. Five SAPS vans, one Nyala and three Metro Police then followed us.

There were a number of corruption scandals who gathered to witness and celebrate the wedding.

Big Business and Government then exchanged vows: “I call on all the corruption scandals here present to witness that I Government do take thee Big Business to be my (un)lawful wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better and NOT for worse, for richer and NOT for poorer, in sickness (of others) and in health (of us) to love and to cherish, and forsaking all others (especially the poor) till death us do part (or until the money runs out).”

Lady Justice tried to voice her objection but was quickly silenced by the Secrecy Bill and the Key Point Legislation Act. All the scandals applauded when I gave the couple permission to kiss.

Ascension Day reminds us that God alone has ultimate power and calls us to hold the powers of this world to account and to mock their belief that they have absolute power. To call them out every time they ignore the vulnerable who they are called to serve. In 2012 R30 billion was stolen through corruption. We say “No to R1 – one vote”.

This is one marriage that should dissolve. Alan

No more hurting people. Peace.

No more hurting people. Peace.

May 5, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on No more hurting people. Peace.

This is 8 year old Martin Richard.
Martin was killed in the Boston Marathon bombing.
His poster reads: No more hurting people. Peace.
At the time his second grade class was studying non-violent
resistance through the lives of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
Bobby Constantino (who took the photo) came to speak to the class about his protest march modeled after James Meredith’s 1966
“March Against Fear”. Constantino invited the class to become ahimsakas — a Gandhian term for activists committed to
“doing no harm”.

Every six years Methodist ministers are given a three month sabbatical. A sabbatical is not so much to rest from work as it is to rest in order to work. Of course we all need to rest and that is what holidays are for. Yet a sabbatical is more than a holiday. It is really a wonderful gift that offers the opportunity for one to be renewed, re-charged and re-aligned. Re-aligned to one’s core calling.

I am often surprised when my car goes in for a service to be told that the wheels need to be re-aligned. I am surprised because I didn’t notice they were out of alignment. That’s just it. Our living can be out of alignment with our core purpose or calling and yet we may not even notice it. Quite often we have learnt to compensate for the defect and therefore keep it hidden for longer. The tyres do not escape damage though — with some areas being worn dangerously smooth. The same applies to our lives that become dangerously thin in the very places that should provide us with tread to live. So from June through August I am booking my life in for a “service” – sabbatical.

Stephen Covey – the bestselling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – reminds us of the necessity of “Sharpening the Saw”. Covey tells the story of how a woodcutter became increasingly less productive in his work. So the woodcutter extended his working hours and increased his effort – but his production continued to decline. Why? Because he never stopped to sharpen the saw. So as I plan to sharpen the saw during sabbatical I hope you too will be deliberate to stop and sharpen the saw within your own life.

Sabbatical is not only a gift for the minister but also for the congregation. During my sabbatical you will be given the opportunity to hear the hearts of other preachers. This is so important as it reminds us that we all have a story of God’s grace and truth to share and that no single person has the complete truth. It has been said that a preacher only really has one sermon in them that they find different ways to share over and over again, which means that during my sabbatical you will be gifted with multiple opportunities to engage with truly different sermons. I promise you that you will hear new things and I trust that the change will sharpen the saw of this community.

I have nothing really planned for sabbatical (which is awesome) except that I do hope to take a few days to cycle to Knysna along Route 62. May there be enough oxygen in my lungs and air in my tyres.

In hope of resurrection, Alan