May God protect our people

May God protect our people

January 22, 2017  |  Sunday Letter, Third Sunday after Epiphany  |  Comments Off on May God protect our people

Grace and peace to you and through you

At the start of another year I invite you to re-read the preamble of South Africa’s Constitution. These words could have come straight out of the mouth of Jesus. They embody so many of his priorities and they do so in such a helpfully contextualised way…incarnating Jesus’ call among us.

The words of the preamble begin with “We” and not “I”. A bit like the Lord’s Prayer starting with “Our” and not “My”. In other words, we cannot live out these words on our own—we will do it together or not at all. The first injunction—to “recognise”—reminds us of how Jesus used to open people’s eyes to see anew. We are called to recognise injustices (our sin) in the past…and present. Sin is the choice of death over life. The words that follow after recognising the injustice, places us on the path of repentance and reparation beginning with the honouring of those who have suffered for justice and freedom, and ending with the truth that we are all fundamentally one family with the rest of the world.

We, the people of South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to

Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;

Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law; 

Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and

Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

May God protect our people.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba
sa heso. God seën Suid-Afrika.
God bless South Africa.
Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika.
Hosi katekisa Afrika.

I share this with you not only to remind us of our contextualised task, but also to remind us that Gospel comes to us through the Scriptures and through many other texts—for the Spirit blows where it wills…and she refuses to be captured. May we be able to discern the Spirit’s life-giving invitation in South Africa today.

Grace, Alan

Trust

Trust

January 15, 2017  |  Second Sunday after Epiphany, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Trust

I was walking up Kloof Street some time ago after presiding at a communion service for Good hope MCC’s evening service. I had my clergy collar on and was stopped several times by people on the street. Some of them were people who I saw every day as I walked to and from work, but they didn’t know I was a Pastor until they saw me in the collar. They asked questions that made me laugh. The common one was had I stocked up on Doom. Yet, many shared the same thing, that they had lost interest in Church. I was fascinated by how many were drawn to ask me questions though they were naming a disinterest in Church. It is the mystery of the collar.

I sat for some time with a woman who when she saw me asked if she could ask me some questions. As she shared her questions, her story of deep pain and struggle unfolded. I shared a coffee with her, listened and sadly had no real answers for her other than the truth that God was with her, she was not alone, that there was no darkness in the world that God’s love was not able to break through. I still see this woman on the streets almost every day. Her life is still challenging, but I see it in her eyes that the connection we made no matter how brief and the daily seeing of one another on the streets has helped her to feel less alone.

There is a real hunger and thirst for God that I recognize in the world around us, though the lack of trust in the Church is real. That might be why different models of what it looks like to be church are arising in the world around us. Trust is something that is earned and it builds over time by the investments we make. There are people in the world that feel that the Church is not investing in them and they are the ordinary people out in the world around us. I am not a fan of clergy attire in general, but that evening reminded me of the power of the Church being present in unexpected places in the world.

I have a t-shirt that says, “Church can happen anywhere.” Sometimes I wear it to marches in the city and I get the same response as I did when I wore my clergy collar. People want to know where I got the shirt. They want to know what Church I belong to. They want to know my thoughts about God and the things that are real. It is amazing to me how God can use us in the most amazing of ways and in the most interesting of places. My walk to and from home every day is one of the times when I am constantly surprised. Car guards will stop me to ask questions, taxi drivers will shout out “hey lady Pastor”, and people bless me constantly.

Trust in God is not something people out in the world are readily willing to do. Yet, they are intrigued by the people who do. So, my question for us all is how can we be a people who those around us witness as people of faith. It is a great question to live with as we continue in the living of this New Year. As you live in the question, remember the words of Proverbs 3:5&6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge God and your paths will become straight.”

With you on the journey,
Michelle

Restore Compassion

Restore Compassion

January 8, 2017  |  First Sunday after Epiphany, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Restore Compassion

Grace and peace to you and through you

Today we remember our Baptism as we reflect on the Baptism of Jesus. Baptism is to be washed – more like soaked – in the ways of Jesus. One aspect of Jesus’ character that the world desperately needs to soak itself in – is compassion. Compassion is the willingness to suffer with. The root of the word is connected to womb – wombishness. This reminds us that the suffer-ing we are willing to share is what enables new birth – new life. It may come as a surprise to you, that apathy is in actual fact the opposite of compassion. We under-stand apathy to mean – uncaring, which it is – but apathy’s root-meaning actually means the fear or refusal to suffer … with others.

A number of years ago Karen Armstrong co-ordinated the writing of the Charter for Compassion which is especially directed towards the religious. As we renew our baptism vows today let us renew our commitment to the Charter of Compassion again:

Charter for Compassion

“The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all reli-gious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.”

Grace, Alan

The Wisdom of Trees…

The Wisdom of Trees…

January 1, 2017  |  First Sunday after Christmas, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The Wisdom of Trees…

On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, there is an old tree that is called the Friendship tree. It is a Live Oak tree that is believed to be five centuries old. It has weathered the test of time and many a windy storm. The first time I came upon this tree, I felt as if it was drawing me in preparing to tell me a story. Any living part of creation that survives five centuries certainly must have a story to tell. There are trees that line the Gulf Coast that are younger, but they survived the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina and I call them the Grandfathers, for they carry the damage of the storm in their bark and in the shaping of their limbs. You can feel their weathering standing next to them, but you can also feel their strength.

Psalm 1:3 shares that “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not whither. In all that they do, they prosper.” The they in the psalm is meant to be the Israelites. They were likened to trees—trees that would find life giving water and strength. I remember sharing one day with a friend how much I loved the trees in the Company Gardens here in Cape Town. I was astonished to learn from him that the trees in the gardens grow so beautifully because underneath their ground flows a river of water from the mountains. Some of that mountain water is carried away and wasted, but the trees are situated strategically to receive and they witness to the truth of what it means to be catchers of that resource and in their lives be refreshed by it.

Live Oak trees have lateral roots that can grow ninety feet from the trunk line and from the lateral roots extend what are known as sinker roots, which create the anchoring that gives the trees such strength. Where are our anchors? Are our anchors in busy-ness? Are our anchors in the electronic maze? Are our anchors in the climb to the top of we don’t even know what or where? A tree searches for nutrients, that will bring it sustenance and strength. For the people of God, we find sustenance in God’s word. It is the best place for us to anchor ourselves, for in the Word of God is where we come alive.

There is a type of Fig tree called the Banyan Tree that bears multiple fruit. They are a tree that has a system of roots underneath, while they also drop roots from their limbs. The network of the roots pushes the tree to grow further in its life. There is a Banyan tree in Fort Meyers, Florida that was planted at four feet tall and now covers the span of an acre of land. To bear fruit in our lives that creates such growth not just in ourselves, but in the world around us, this is what it means to truly live! Revelation 22:2 speaks of a tree of life that stands in the middle of the city with a river of water flowing on both sides and the leaves of the tree, we are told, are for “the healing of the nations.” In this New Year, I invite you to find a tree. Examine its bark, wonder at its height, and work to emulate its network. Trees don’t simply reach up; they also reach out. Receive the gift of their majestic truth.

With you on the journey,
Michelle

 

Time is a gift of friendship

Time is a gift of friendship

December 18, 2016  |  Fourth Sunday in Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Time is a gift of friendship

Grace and peace to you and through you

One of the means of grace that holds our lives together is friendship. Friends who know us and love us for knowing us. To be known is one of our greatest needs. To be loved is another one of our greatest needs – if not the greatest. Yet these two great needs often clash as we wonder to ourselves: “if they really knew me would they still love me?” This is the haunting question that true friends answer for us. Friends by definition both know us and love us and herein lies the grace that holds us.

The poet and philosopher David Whyte explores friendship in his book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.

Whyte writes:

FRIENDSHIP is a mirror to presence and a testament to forgiveness. Friendship not only helps us see ourselves through another’s eyes, but can be sustained over the years only with someone who has repeatedly forgiven us for our trespasses as we must find it in ourselves to forgive them in turn. A friend knows our difficulties and shadows and remains in sight, a companion to our vulnerabilities more than our triumphs, when we are under the strange illusion we do not need them. An undercurrent of real friendship is a blessing exactly because its elemental form is rediscovered again and again through understanding and mercy. All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy all friendships die.

In the course of the years a close friendship will always reveal the shadow in the other as much as ourselves, to remain friends we must know the other and their difficulties and even their sins and encourage the best in them, not through critique but through addressing the better part of them, the leading creative edge of their incarnation, thus subtly discouraging what makes them smaller, less generous, less of themselves.

The dynamic of friendship is almost always underestimated as a constant force in human life: a diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble: of overwork, of too much emphasis on a professional identity, of forgetting who will be there when our armoured personalities run into the inevitable natural disasters and vulnerabilities found in even the most average existence.

Over this holiday time – gift your friendships with your time.

Grace,
Alan

Look out for the Divine among us

Look out for the Divine among us

December 11, 2016  |  Sunday Letter, Third Sunday in Advent  |  Comments Off on Look out for the Divine among us

Grace and peace to you and through you

The service today is being recorded by the SABC in order to be broadcast throughout
SA on Christmas Day. So in other words we get to celebrate Christmas early. Happy Christmas today!! At first I thought that this is a little odd, but then I realised that the followers of Jesus are to live life in the constant celebration of his birth among us.
“Joy to the world – the Lord is come…” should be on our lips everyday! Everyday
we should be on the look-out for the Divine among us.

If Jesus is consistent (which he certainly is) his presence among us will be undercover, just as his first coming among us. I mean what could be more “undercover” than a baby
of an unmarried peasant girl cradled in the feed trough of a cattle shed? Even the wisest
of sages went to the wrong address to look for him. We are always told to “follow the money!!!” Well that is exactly what the so-called wise men did and all they found was an ignorant and paranoid head of state. Following the money doesn’t lead to Jesus … it leads to the powers of death.

Jesus was homeless. He was the child of humanity without anywhere to lay his head. He was rejected and ridiculed. He was accused of having an evil spirit. Spat upon and beaten…

Many of the homeless people of our city have similar stories to tell. Very often treated like trash. Sometimes they are mistreated by security guards … who themselves are not treated much better. Homeless people are told to “move on” all the time – convincing them that they do not belong.

Thank you to everyone who each Sunday provide lunch for around 300 people at the Service Dining Rooms. Today we all get to join in this act of service as we occupy Church Street to host a Christmas Banquet for the people who are marginalised within this city. There will be over 500 people for the seated meal and around 200 takeaways – so please we need all the help we can get.

Be on the lookout for Jesus – for the Divine is come to be our guest today.

Grace,
Alan

Peace

Peace

December 4, 2016  |  Second Sunday in Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Peace

This morning marks the second Sunday of Advent. The word before us is Peace. Peace has become a political word, where when spoken of, one is hoping for the end to wars and the great conflicts of our day. Yet, peace is also a gift we can receive within. Jesus names for the waters in a stormy sea to, “Peace be still” naming the link to stillness and peace. To be centered enough in our life of faith to experience stillness within, no matter what is going on around is a true gift. It is not a quality that we can will within it is one that arises as one lives in their center trusting in God’s great truth.

There have been Peace and Justice witnesses serving on the University campuses during the exam writing. Reports came in that a petrol bomb was set off in one of the buildings at CPUT (Cape Peninsula University of Technology) where students were writing. The debris was cleared, security heightened, and the exams continued. One has to wonder how the students were able to manage to stay focused while the outbreaks were occurring. Many of them shared their thanks for the presence of the witnesses who were there to observe and work to bring a de-escalating peaceful presence on campus.

There are over 200 witnesses who have been trained to serve on campuses. A couple of weeks ago, I served myself at the CPUT Belleville campus. It was the night of the super moon. The mediators who have been negotiating during the education crisis were able to reach an agreement at Belleville that day for the private security to be removed and the old CPUT security to come back. The students were so excited they worked to man the security gate until the CPUT security made their way back.

The witnesses who were serving at Belleville that evening were all ones who had been serving quite consistently. I worried about our ability to sustain the effort. You can imagine the gift when a taxi full of clergy from Khayelitsha showed up to serve as the night shift. It was amazing to see them prepare for their time of service. One of the witnesses took out her guitar and began singing songs. It was one of my favorite memories. The beginning of our time on that campus was to be present in the midst of communication between parties that was disintegrating. On this night, it was as if peace was witnessing to us.

As I have served with the Peace and Justice Witnesses, I have grown more fully in my realization that we must be a people who work to stand in the midst of great divides witnessing to another way. The inner peace that is gift in this work is the fruit born to those who learn how to wait in the center of their being, trusting in the ways of God.

In Advent, we strengthen ourselves in the wait for the promise of something more that is held in the life and teachings of Jesus. Advent is meant to be a journey in the darkness of our unknowing. As we acknowledge that we don’t know the way forward becomes known to us, and we commit simply to walk in it.

With you on the journey,
Michelle

To imitate Christ is to worship Christ

To imitate Christ is to worship Christ

November 20, 2016  |  Christ the King Sunday, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on To imitate Christ is to worship Christ

Grace and Peace to you and through you

Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is also the last Sunday of the Christian Calendar. Yes, the Christian year ends with Christ on the Throne. It serves to remind us that all of creation is hemmed in behind and before by Christ who is the Alpha and the Omega. Christ is the enfleshment of love, truth, justice, gentleness, forgiveness, generosity, compassion and joy. Therefore to say Christ is on the throne is another way of saying love, truth, justice, gentleness, forgiveness, generosity, compassion and joy reign above all else (despite headlines to the contrary) and warrant our worship through our own enfleshment. To do so is to imitate Christ. And to imitate Christ is to worship Christ. This alone is our task. Not only is Christ the start and the finish, but Christ is also the bond that holds everything together. As we read in Colossians: “Jesus is the firstborn of all creation… Jesus is before all things and in him all things hold together…”

Col. 1:15. Enfleshed love, truth, justice, gentleness, forgiveness, generosity, compassion and joy are the authentic center that holds…

This reminds me of William Butler Yeats’ (1865-1939) poem: The Second Coming that he penned in 1919 in the aftermath of the First World War:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Next Sunday is the first week of Advent and it is always dedicated to the second coming of Christ… surely some revelation is at hand!? A revelation that exposes our false centers that cannot hold and calls us to recommit to the true center that always holds – Christ.

Open and vigilant to grace,
Alan

 

 

My Nakedness

My Nakedness

November 13, 2016  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on My Nakedness
This Sunday the service will be a play – Ubuze Bam –
a worship experience with a difference. 
As a result there will be no recorded sermon.

 

UBUZE BAM

One Reviewer of Ubuze Bam had this to say …

“Literally translated as ‘my nakedness’, Ubuze Bam is a theatrical interpretation of the life events of four ex-inmates, all of whom have spent 10 years or more behind bars. 

Theatre Arts Admin Collective has joined arms with the programme Young in Prison to create this searingly honest piece in which the performers – Lazola, Eric, Ntsika and Bongani – have spent just over a month rehearsing under the direction of Thando Doni. Prior to this performance, the young men had never acted, let alone witnessed a theatre production. 

Young in Prison is a rehabilitation initiative which assists former inmates to transition back into society. The theory is that many ex-cons can learn a number of life-skills which will positively impact their behaviour, and thus reduce the reoffending rate. Originally, the project was meant to engage with youth and young adults who were still in prison, but due to the rat infestation and quarantine at Pollsmoor, the current post-release programme was conceptualised.

The initiative focuses on revisiting the past in a healthy and productive environment. Through a focused, five week-long process, these four participants have been encouraged to engage with and creatively express their stories, and have learnt more about what it means to a powerful piece of art also helps to break down their own negative perception of themselves. And this was made so evident when, as the show ended and the lights went out, above the cheering of the crowd we could hear the actors shouting celebrations of victory from behind the scenes.

As a prologue, the young men explain that the play is “about me and my friends; it’s our secrets”. And the resonating truth of that statement was only fully felt after the show was over. When meeting people, we often only reveal the best parts of ourselves for fear of being judged or ridiculed. So to find myself easily conversing with these men – just minutes after they been describing the violent crimes they had committed – was revelatory. I didn’t see former prisoners; I saw four lionhearted men who are breaking society’s mould which states that you have to wear a mask in order to be accepted.

Despite their lack of experience on a stage, the performance from the young men was deeply emotional and often chilling in its rawness. The level of bravery needed to admit their crimes and their failures and to show their vulnerability was awe-inspiring. While the show itself is artistic, impactful and astonishingly truthful, the greatest significance lies in the road these men have taken.

The heart behind the performance is something to be reckoned with as these young men undergo a journey of breaking chains in every sense.”
Reviewer: Public Spirit

To find out more and to support/donate:
Young in Prison | www.younginprison.org.za

Theatre Arts Admin Collective www.theatreartsadmincollective.weebly.com
Next Performances at Theatre Arts Admin Collective:
18 November at 19:00: Made in India | A Performance Lecture by Amrita Pande
29 November – 3 December at 20:00: Reparation directed by Ameera Conrad

Tickets: R50.00


Methodists Call for Prayer and Fasting
in the Wake of State Capture Report

For Immediate Release | 8 November 2016

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa joins the South African Council of Churches in expressing our shock at what appears to be calculated “intrigue” in the goings on catalogued in the “State of Capture” report.

We acknowledge that the report is preliminary and inconclusive and that the Public Protector has recommended further investigation by a Judicial Commission of Enquiry. We support this call and hope that due processes will be expedited post haste. We find it very unfortunate that as mentioned in the report, the position of the Head of State is becoming increasingly untenable.

We call on all Methodists to commit to prayer and fasting for the nation of South Africa and all creation. We ask that church bells throughout South Africa be rung at 12 noon for 7 days from Sunday 13 November, culminating in concerted prayer on Sunday 20 November 2016. We will, at this time, also pray for President Zuma and all those implicated in the report to interrogate their consciences and do the honourable thing by voluntarily stepping down for the good of the country should they be founding wanting. We acknowledge that in the event of their resignations, this will not dig us out of the political and economic quagmire we find ourselves in today but it will send out a clear signal to a commitment to a new dawn of statesmanship and political accountability.

We further ask all our members to engage in courageous conversations as we pray and seek to discern God’s will for the country, irrespective of our narrow and partisan political persuasions.

Statement released by the office of Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa
Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa

More Information : Bongie | 011 615 1616 |078 131 5137

 

Hope in the Dark

Hope in the Dark

November 6, 2016  |  All Saints Day, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Hope in the Dark

Grace and peace to you and through you

Hope in the Dark – Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, by Rebecca Solnit is an amazing book. A Gospel book. A book about Resurrection that refuses to deny or skirt around Crucifixion. It is a book that reminds us how social change and how history is made: It happens mostly from the margins, incrementally and incompletely while enabling small shifts that are mostly unnoticed multiplied by further small shifts that eventually are noticed with the accompanied declaration: “Things have changed”. Paradoxically change does not feel like change while it is taking place. Change is known in hindsight, and even then very briefly, because when the change is for good it soon feels like things have always been like this.

Just this week an organisation called Right 2 Know secured an unnoticed victory for us all. For two years it has worked to overturn the Parliament’s Intelligence Committee decision that CVs of candidates for Inspector General should remain secret. I love their letter to the Committee: “We invite you to reverse your view taken … kindly advise us by not later than close of business on Thursday 3 November 2016 as to whether these documents will indeed be made available. If not, we will pursue all legal options to ensure their disclosure so as to ensure a properly informed and fair selection process.”

They received a reply before close of business 3 November 2016: “The Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence has since reversed its decision with respect to the CVs of the candidates for the position of the Inspector General of  Intelligence. Consequently the CVs will be available on Parliament’s website.”

Now you may not have noticed – but since last Thursday – the sun is shining more brightly over SA.

Thank God for those who steadfastly work for social change. Securing small victories for our freedom that take many years and with little or no public acknowledgement.

Grace, Alan


A Brief for the Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.
~Jack Gilbert