Brave faith

October 16, 2011  |  Sunday Letter, Words  |  Comments Off on Brave faith

If you have access to the internet I recommend the following blog by Rachel Held Evans.  Here is one of her latest offerings that I have been challenged by:

“Some like to say that the bravest thing Christians can do is defend their faith, to stand their ground and refuse to change.

But it’s easier to defend our faith than to subject it to scrutiny. It’s easier to dig in our heels than to go exploring. It’s easier to regurgitate answers than to ask good questions. It’s easier cling to our beliefs than to hold them with open hands. It’s easier to assume we’re always right than to acknowledge we may be wrong.

I don’t want an easy faith, I want a brave faith.

I want a faith that takes risks, that asks questions, that experiments, that evolves, that thrives amidst change and obeys amidst doubt. I want a faith that engages both my heart and my head, a faith that operates out of love, not fear, a faith that leaps when it needs to and crawls when it has to. I want the kind of faith that moves mountains precisely because it is small: small enough to need, small enough grow, small enough to surrender to a God that is much bigger than it will ever be. I don’t want an easy faith.”

Nor do I … Alan

A religion of kindness

October 16, 2011  |  Sunday Letter, Words  |  Comments Off on A religion of kindness

Quotes by the Dalai Lama …

In our struggle for freedom, truth is the only weapon we possess.

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.

When you think everything is someone’s else’s fault you will suffer a lot. When you realise that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy.

If you don’t love yourself, you cannot love others. You will not be able to love others. If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able of developing compassion for others.

Through violence you may ‘solve’ one problem, but you sow the seeds for another.

With these words from the Dalai Lama I think we can safely say that Jesus would have given him a visa into Galilee.


Be present to the present

October 2, 2011  |  Sunday Letter, Words  |  Comments Off on Be present to the present

My travel diary for the past week or so has been quite hectic. I started out in Port Elizabeth presenting the 2nd Barry Marshall Memorial Lecture. Some of you will remember that Barry, my friend and colleague, died two years ago while surfskiing in Algoa Bay. I spent time with Elaine and felt her pain that doesn’t go away. Oh that God’s promise of comfort may be real for her and all those who grieve. I was also again reminded how unpredictable life can be and that we should treasure each moment.

Then I went to Johannesburg, picked up a car and drove to Ladybrand through the beautiful Bethlehem and Ficksburg rock outcrops (too big to be hills yet too small to be mountains) — grateful for the reminder of God’s solidness.

From Ladybrand I drove to Maseru in Lesotho to attend the Methodist Conference and participate in the Ordination Service. The Presiding Bishop called us to join the “Revolution of Love” — and really, that is what the Gospel is all about. Which begs the question: “When last were we accused of being revolutionaries?” Or is there not enough evidence to make such an accusation?

I then returned to Johannesburg to catch a flight back to Cape Town, only to catch another flight to Port Elizabeth the next day to plan our October Indaba that will involve 250 clergy in discussion and reflection on where we believe God is calling us as a Church. As a Planning Committee we resisted the temptation to have a list of outcomes. Rather we are concentrating on the authenticity of the process by remaining truly present to all the participants — trusting that if our means are authentic so will the ends be. This is really all we can do — remain present to the present moment in grace and truth — and then be attentive and honest about what flows out of that. Anything else is a forced and manipulated agenda.  Alan

Unhurried listening

October 2, 2011  |  Sunday Letter, Words  |  Comments Off on Unhurried listening

I came away from the camp last weekend grateful for the opportunity to connect with people who I see  every week but don’t really know.

It takes time to get to know someone.  Unhurried time to listen and to learn enables understanding and connection.  It therefore stands to reason that it takes time for authentic community to be created. This is a challenging area for our life together at CMM,  because for the overwhelming majority of us we only see each other for an hour-and-a-half on a Sunday morning.  So I remind you of Wednesday Church as another opportunity for us to connect together. This Wednesday we are going to go on a brief walk-about through the city — starting at 7 pm.

Now some of us struggle with our temper and we need help with anger management. Others of us struggle with our passivity. This passivity is often done under the guise of “I am a follower of Jesus and must love everyone and forgive”. I found the following thoughts by my colleague John van de Laar insightful in this regard:

“In my work as a Methodist minister I have seen the lack of response used in relationships as a passive-aggressive strategy to “get under the skin” of a partner or friend. Disengagement gives us the power of control over the relationship, and leaves the other person powerless to make us connect. However, this refusal to engage seldom brings good outcomes. There may be times when it is wise to move away from one another and create space to think about how to respond, but this is not disengagement. It is engagement in a more careful way. When we disengage in order to hurt, manipulate or punish another person, the relationship is always set back, and trust is damaged.”

May God give us insight into ourselves!

Peace, Alan

There is no rush

October 2, 2011  |  Sunday Letter, Words  |  Comments Off on There is no rush

 It is a great pleasure to welcome  Beulah Durrheim to CMM this morning.  Beulah will be sharing the Good news today.  I am away (with 70 or so others from the congregation) in Simon’s Town for our annual congregation camp. We will be worshiping this morning with a towering mountain behind us and rolling seas before us and fresh air within us. We will bring pictures to show you next week.

While we are away this weekend our time will be punctuated with prayerful reflection. We will have 6 opportunities of 30 minutes each to sit silently and to practice Sabbath time keeping.

As Wayne Muller writes in There is No Rush:

“The [way] of progress forces us to act  before we are ready. We speak before we know what to say. We respond before we feel the truth of what we know. In the process, we inadvertently create suffering, heaping imprecision upon inaccuracy, until we are all buried under a mountain of misperception.

But Sabbath says, Be still. Stop. There is no rush to get to the end, because we are never finished. Take time to rest, and eat, and drink, and be refreshed. And in the gentle rhythm of that refreshment, listen to the sound the heart makes as it speaks the quiet truth of what is needed.”

Be still. Stop.

Peace, Alan

Satan cannot cast out Satan

September 11, 2011  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Satan cannot cast out Satan

If we need to learn anything 10 years on from 9/11 it is that Jesus spoke the truth when he said that “Satan cannot cast out Satan” [Mark3:23]. Translating those words into the 9/11 context we can now clearly see that violence cannot cast out violence. Terror cannot cast out terror. War cannot end war. All George W. Bush achieved with his “we will destroy the axis of evil” was enlarge the axis and turn the USA into the largest perpetrator of terror on the planet without enhancing the safety and security of the USA one bit — in fact just the opposite. The world is more polarised and divided than before and on a daily basis people are still being killed in Iran and Afghanistan yet barely making the headlines. With each killing the ground is made fertile for future revenge. On this 10th anniversary it would be wonder-full if the USA asked the world for forgiveness for its terrorising response.

Tit for tat is an endless, pointless and deathly spiral. Jesus taught that forgiveness alone would break the spiral and turn death into life.  Jesus not only taught this but he lived it. He chose rather to forgive than to retaliate, rather to be killed than to kill. Here in lies the salvation of the world as we are given a new way to live life — a way of living life that starts a spiral of life rather than death. This really is the crux (from crucifixion) of what it means to follow Jesus. Above all else a follower of Jesus is a person who loves those who do not love her or him. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have…” [Matt 5:46]. A follower of Jesus is a forgiver not a fighter.

Now like the USA we ourselves have not been very good at this — our response to hurt and wrong-doing is often to hurt in return and in doing so we multiply the wrong — and become the very image of the one who has hurt us.

To become a forgiving people begins with knowing that we are a forgiven people. “For we love because God first loved us…” [1 Jn 4:19].

We are forgiven to forgive.

Peace, Alan

Disciplined daily devotions

September 4, 2011  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Disciplined daily devotions

I saw a yacht in the stormy seas the other day. The wind sent spray everywhere as the yacht punched through the huge swells. The sailors must have been drenched! It was fun and impressive to watch from my warm, dry car. I started wondering about how amazing it was that the yacht did not capsize. Obviously there was an experienced skipper at the helm, but there was also a huge keel beneath the boat.

A keel is the first part of the construction process around which everything else is built. The keel runs in the middle of the ship, from the bow to the stern, (front to back) and serves as the foundation or spine of the structure. It is literally the backbone of the boat and provides not only strength and stability, but it also helps the boat to move forward by preventing it from slipping sideways. Further, if the yacht actually does capsize it is the weight of the keel that will right it again.

The keel is not only the most important part of the boat it is also the only part of the boat that is totally submerged in the water and out of sight.

My understanding of the way of life that Jesus calls us to live is that we will be kept stable in the storms, and be kept from slipping sideways by our hidden work of disciplined daily devotion. The work of prayer, silence and solitude as well as the work of reading and reflecting on the life and teachings of Jesus is the foundation around which everything else will be built, or not. And even if we do end up capsizing, this keel-work is designed to self-right us again.

Disciplined daily devotions is hidden work — but the results of doing it or not, is open for all to see — especially in a storm! If we keep capsizing all the time we really should have a look at the strength of our disciplined daily devotions.

This September — as new life springs forth all around us — we are invited to pay special attention to this most hidden, yet most important area of our living.


Get real or get out!

August 22, 2011  |  Sunday Letter, Words  |  Comments Off on Get real or get out!

“Get real or get out!”  This is a slogan that is displayed in a drug rehab centre. It is direct and to the point as one would expect in a place that exists for the sole purpose of  facilitating life-saving change within a person. And if you think the slogan is a bit harsh, it may be because we fail to realise that life is going to get a whole lot harsher for them if they don’t get real.

I thought it would be a good slogan for a church, after all we too are in the business of life-saving change, namely the radical business of resurrection. Yes, that is exactly the job description Jesus gave to us: “cure the sick and raise the dead” (Matt 10:8). As has been said, “Jesus did not come to make bad people good.  Jesus came to make dead people alive.” [Ravi Zacharias].

Life-saving change will escape us if we do not get real, get open, get honest.  Resurrection will elude us if we do not get truth-full.  To be truth-full is to risk.  Resurrection is therefore risky business, for in opening the tomb others may smell the stench of our decaying lives.  I have a sense that we will only be truth-full to the extent that we trust that we are held in the hands of a grace-full God. This is the Good News that Jesus lived and died proclaiming — God is Grace-full. As Church we are given the joy-full responsibility to make God’s grace-full-ness known, with the hope that we will all risk realness more readily. And in doing so we get to rejoice in each other’s resurrection.

Sadly, we must admit that the Church is often more closely associated with judgment than with grace. When this is a reality we can be sure that the Church is filled with more pretence than truth, and with more death than life. So if we’re feeling stuck or even dead, it is time to get real. We have nothing to fear for we are held in the grip of God’s grace.


Live the Word

August 22, 2011  |  Sunday Letter, Words  |  Comments Off on Live the Word

This past week I read an article by one of SA’s preeminent social commentators — Justice Malala — entitled “What does SA believe in?” The powerful point he was making is that on paper (the constitution) we declare our belief and trust in the most compelling values of compassion and justice yet we have failed to internalise these values.  This failure is heard in the divisive public dialogues that fill the newspapers and it is seen in the moral ambivalence of our foreign policy, as well as the blatant lack of accountability within public office. He held up our relationship with Swaziland as a sad example of our silence concerning one of the King’s wives under house arrest.

All this is very disturbing as our hypocrisy is exposed. It reminds us that a new constitution does not make a new country. The real problem does not lie outside us but within us. We have new laws but we need new hearts and minds to incline ourselves towards these laws.

What Malala is saying about our nation could easily be said about us as Church. We have the most radically liberating words and testimony of Jesus — that some of us may even be able to quote off by heart, but whether these same words are at home in our hearts is another story.

For example, what if the words of Jesus “What you do to the least of these you do to me” actually took over our heart — how would our living change — knowing that each time we encounter the poor and vulnerable it was a sacred privilege to be in the presence of the Holy One?

We are called not only to read the Word but to live it. This is not easy but it is what we are designed by God to do. We start living the word by naming those words which we are not living.

Towards a deeper integrity, Alan

Confession as gift

August 22, 2011  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Confession as gift

Confession simply understood is truth-full talk to God in the presence of a witness. We confess not to get ourselves into heaven or to secure forgiveness. This is grace-fully given to us by God already. We confess in order to be healed. Confession is a healing act insofar as we place our brokenness beyond denial (secured by the presence of a witness) and by doing so, experience our messed-up-ness being heard and held in love. Confession (as truthful talk to God in the presence of a witness) is a gift for us to use especially if the following quote from Richard Forster connects with us in any way:

We have prayed, even begged, for forgiveness, and though we hope we have been forgiven we have sensed no release. We have doubted our forgiveness and despaired at our confession. We have feared that perhaps we had made confession only to ourselves and not to God.

The haunting sorrows and hurts of the past have not been healed. We had tried to convince ourselves that God only forgives the sin, God does not heal the memory, but deep within we know there must be something more. People have told us to take our forgiveness by faith and not call God a liar. Not wanting to call God a liar, we do our best to take it by faith. But because misery and bitterness remain in our life we again despair. Eventually we begin to believe either that forgiveness is only a ticket to heaven and not meant to affect our lives now; or that we are not worthy of the forgiving grace of God.

If these words ring true I would invite you to seek out someone you trust and respect to witness your truth-full talk to God.

Courage, Alan
Sunday 7 August 2011