Grateful to the faithful

Grateful to the faithful

May 7, 2017  |  Fourth Sunday of Easter, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Grateful to the faithful

Grace and peace to you and through you

Earthlife-Africa Johannesburg (ELA) and the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) launched their nuclear court case against the South African government in October 2015 when they realised that the government was preparing for a nuclear power procurement deal in secret. The court case has been pivotal in exposing arrangements for government’s proposed R1-trillion nuclear deal that they believe was entered into unlawfully. Furthermore they believe the deal to be both unaffordable and unnecessary.

On the eve of Freedom Day the Western Cape High Court delivered its judgement in favour of ELA and SAFCEI. It declared the government nuclear plan as unconstitutional and therefore invalid because among other things it did not follow due process.

We owe ELA and SAFCEI a great deal of gratitude. They have saved us! They have saved us, and our children, from deathly debt. And because nuclear waste is extremely difficult to dispose of they have also saved the environment that we are dependent on. For example: the highly radio-active fission products produced from uranium and plutonium during reactor operations can have a half-life of anything between 220,000 years and 15.7 million years.

If you have met any of the people from ELA and SAFCEI you will know that they are very ordinary people. So ordinary that many of us don’t even know who any of them are. They have never made it onto a giant billboard and I am pretty sure that not one of them has ever been asked for their autograph like some TV personality or popular sportsperson because of their NGO work. I am also certain they have never been called Messiah or Anointed One. And yet in some real sense that is exactly who they are. They are people (the Bible would call them Angels or Saints or Anointed Ones) who have secured life (even temporarily) in a world determined to dish up death. Regardless of their religion (or lack thereof), in securing life, they follow in the footsteps of Jesus who came to bring Life in all its Wonder.

ELA and SAFCEI have helped roll the stone away exposing a deathly secret stench. Their work is like the Easter Earthquake we read about in Matthew 28 that releases us from our tombs that we may have another chance at choosing life.

As Jesus lived out and Margaret Mead taught, we see again through this successful court action that we must “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

The bad news is that there are many tombs in our land and world that testify to our decisions that favour death. But the good news is that there are so many small groups of thoughtful, committed citizens for us to join up with … and begin changing the world from death to life.

Grace,
Alan

Living in the in between times

Living in the in between times

April 30, 2017  |  Easter, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Living in the in between times

Before the invention of artificial light, humans were said to sleep up to fourteen hours in the night. Bodies followed the cycle of light provided by the sun and the moon. Today, it is a miracle for many to achieve the much hoped for eight hours of sleep. Yet, interestingly, what we lack today in comparison to the sleep of ancient of days, is the time in between wakefulness and deep sleep. The fourteen hours of rest experienced before the invention of artificial light, were not consecutive hours of deep sleep. It would be common for a window of a couple of hours of rest before sleep, one would wake up in the night and lay in a restful state, and wake again in the morning early with a window for rest before the sun would rise. 1

During this time, in between wakefulness and deep sleep, the meanings of dreams were said to be woven into being. It was a time where the mind was breathing, weaving, creating because it had found rest. Rest is something we are not oriented towards. It might be for some that it is the uncomfortableness of stillness. For others, it might be the fear of what people will say if we pry ourselves away from the wheel of busy-ness ever whirling before us in the world of work. Finding ourselves at rest in the in between times is important in that it is where wisdom for being is born.  Wisdom is heard in the quiet moments, it is where deep is able to call out to deep. It is about how we sleep, but it is also about how we find our rest.

There is a rhythm of life in the Christian faith that honors quiet, stillness, centered moments of finding our very being at rest in the mighty hands of God. Richard Rohr, in an interview with Krista Tippet for her “On Being” podcast shares that being a contemplative is about “learning how to live in Deep Time—learning how to rest there and not be wrapped up in chronological time. What we learn,” he names “is that it all passes away.” Rohr talks about the importance of finding ourselves living in “Kairos time” instead of chronological time, the importance of understanding that moments of significance happen when we find ourselves living deeply now. This is so counter-intuitive to the way the world is oriented in these days. Busy-ness to the point of no time for rest, is affirmed.

The researcher who determined the likelihood of four-teen hours of sleep before artificial light, Clark Strand, claimed that the state in between, the space of rest, was like a “fossil of human consciousness.”2 Rather than trying to return to fourteen hours of sleep though, he shares that those who want to experience a move towards the consciousness of the restful state, should spend time where “darkness and sleep are set free from artificial light.” He is essentially, suggesting the importance of finding ways to unplug, in order to find true rest. Allowing our minds to rest, allows for the possibility of the fullness of time, the Kairos time, or what Richard Rohr named “Deep Time” to be what we experience in the now. More sleep is good, but it is more about how we find our time of daily rest in the in between. Busy-ness, artificial light, and distractions of every sort, can keep us from the quiet that used to be woven into the night. It can keep us from experiencing the awakening of true light.

O weaver of life, of sleepfulness and wakefulness, may our minds quiet and our spirits find deep peace in the place where we are able to find our rest in you. Awaken us for the living of these days, with your true light. Amen.

With you on the journey,
Michelle

____________________________________________

1Strong reliance on Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark
2Clark Strand, “Turn out the Lights”

 

More expensive to be poor

More expensive to be poor

April 23, 2017  |  Easter, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on More expensive to be poor

Occupying Woodstock Hospital

Picture: Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp (Creative Commons License CC BY-ND 4.0) 


Grace and peace to you and through you

Over the past few weeks Reclaim the City has occupied the vacant Helen Bowden building and Woodstock Hospital as an act of peaceful civil disobedience. The purpose of Reclaim the City is to challenge and change the Apartheid spatial planning that continues to shape our lives through the development of affordable housing within the city of Cape Town.

Affordable housing in well-located areas are a necessity if we are ever going to seriously address the legacy of Apartheid politics and economics. This is true especially in Cape Town, which remains more segregated than other cities in South Africa.

For those working in low wage jobs to be living miles away in places like Blikkiesdorp and Wolwerivier, is to stretch their minimum wages beyond breaking point. They are not only far from their place of work but also good schools and reliable medical care.

This points to the double whammy of being poor: it is more expensive to be poor than to be rich. Those with the least amount of money live furthest away from work, which means that they spend more money on getting to work. The far distances affect the prices of just about everything they need to purchase to live. A loaf of bread in Blikkiesdorp is more expensive than in the city. Therefore the poor have less to save and as a result it is less likely for their situation to ever change. While the opposite is true for the wealthy! This stretches the inequalities of yesterday into the future.

In this situation it is difficult not to become hopeless. Hopelessness is the absence of any reason why tomorrow will be any better than today. And hopelessness ignored will end in rage! And then…

And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away.

And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need.

And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.

The great owners ignored the three cries of history. The land fell into fewer hands, the number of the dispossessed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression. The money was spent for arms, for gas to protect the great holdings, and spies were sent to catch the murmuring of revolt so that it might be stamped out. The changing economy was ignored; and only means to destroy revolt were considered, while the causes of revolt went on.

The tractors which throw men out of work, the belt lines which carry loads, the machines which produce, all were increased; and more and more families scampered on the highways, looking for crumbs from the great holdings, lusting after the land beside the roads. The great owners formed associations for protection and they met to discuss ways to intimidate, to kill, to gas.

And always they were in fear of a principal–three hundred thousand–if they ever move under a leader–the end. Three hundred thousand, hungry and miserable; if they ever know themselves, the land will be theirs and all the gas, all the rifles in the world won’t stop them.

And the great owners, who had become through their holdings both more and less than men, ran to their destruction, and used every means that in the long run would destroy them. Every little means, every violence, every raid on a Hooverville, every deputy swaggering through a ragged camp put off the day a little and cemented the inevitability of the day.

~ John Steinbeck: Grapes of Wrath

Praying that our conscience be resurrected lest our crucifixion be inevitable.

Grace,
Alan

Christ is risen!

Christ is risen!

April 16, 2017  |  Resurrection Sunday, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Christ is risen!

Grace and peace to you and through you

We read…‘After these things, Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.’ (John 21:1)

On this Resurrection Day we celebrate the world-changing news “Christ is risen!” And we celebrate how Jesus shows himself again and again … and again. In different ways Jesus shows himself and the result is always the same … life unlocked.

One example of Jesus showing himself again is found in Acts 10, which is one of the set readings for today. Here we find Peter struggling to pray (who doesn’t?). He is distracted by a spread of food (who isn’t?) – and most disturbingly this food was not Kosher. Peter hears a voice commanding him to eat. He protests because this food was deemed unclean by long held belief and tradition. An argument ensues leaving Peter puzzled as the voice reprimands him saying: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Just then the doorbell rings and Peter welcomes into his home three visitors who had been sent to invite him to visit Cornelius. Cornelius was not a Jew. Up until that minute Peter would have considered the invitation to visit Cornelius as a profane act and yet the stone is miraculously rolled away from the tomb of his prejudice and fear. Peter is resurrected from the false belief that some people are more precious to God than others. Foreigners are discovered to be family and he declares: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality …”

Here Jesus shows himself even through distracted prayer and the surprise visit of strangers at the door. But more importantly we must see why Jesus shows himself again and again? Jesus shows himself to resurrect us from our tombs of death as well as the tombs we lock others into.

In Acts 10 Jesus shows himself to both the perpetrator of prejudice and the victim for the sake of setting them both free. Peter is resurrected out of the tomb of prejudice and into the house of Cornelius. He is resurrected to new life – to new relationship. In the world today and in particular in South Africa today we desperately need to be resurrected from our prejudice, fear and suspicion of people who look,  speak, vote, love or pray differently to us.

May Jesus disturb our prayers and gatecrash our homes!

Grace,
Alan


Nothing is lost on the breath of God

Nothing is lost for ever;
God’s breath is love, and that love will remain, holding
the world for ever.
No feather too light, no hair too fine,
no flower too brief in its glory;
no drop in the ocean, no dust in the air, but is counted
and told in God’s story. 

Nothing is lost to the eyes of God,
nothing is lost for ever;
God sees with love and that love will remain,
holding the world for ever.
No journey too far, no distance too great,
no valley of darkness too blinding;
no creature too humble, no child too small for God
to be seeking, and finding. 

Nothing is lost to the heart of God,
nothing is lost for ever;
God’s heart is love, and that love will remain,
holding the world for ever.
No impulse of love, no office of care,
no moment of life in its fullness;
no beginning too late, no ending too soon,
but is gathered and known in God’s goodness. 

 

Colin Gibson 1996 Hope Publishing Company Used by permission CCLI Number 78945 

The Faith We Sing

The Faith We Sing

April 9, 2017  |  Palm Sunday, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The Faith We Sing

Right now, in this point in history, there are people naming that the movements organizing for change are different than they were during the Civil Rights years or in the height of the Anti-Apartheid Struggle. The Black Lives Matters Movement describes themselves to be a “leader—full” movement and the students organizing through Fees Must Fall are organized in a similar fashion. There is something about this type of organization that speaks to a hope for decentralized power, for more voices at the table, for a multiplication of message. If these movements sustain themselves in this fashion, we will be witnessing the birth of something very new in the world.

There is always the need sometimes for one—one voice—one message—one call—that leads a people towards “the good” even if it is a nestled voice in the midst of many.

This one that I speak of must have space to rise in the midst of the many to be heard. Tracing through human history, the voices that rose to be heard were the voices of the marginalized. From the depths of the crucibles of their lives wisdom rose and was known in the world. The great struggle songs were born in the trials of life where people were formed and shaped in communities that knew what it was like to share life together, no matter the challenges before them, and they knew what it was like to have a song alive inside of them.

“We Shall Overcome” was a slave song. They would sing it in the fields as they worked. The first use in a political nature is traced to 1945 in Charleston, South Carolina in a strike against the American Tobacco Company. The workers were fighting for higher wages. They were being paid only 45 cents an hour. Some of the leaders from Charleston went to meet with leaders in Tennessee at a center called Highlander. The philosophy of Highlander was that “the people who have the problems are the ones who have the answers.” They organized groups to listen across lines of division and they would always sing together. It was at Highlander that “We Shall Overcome” was birthed into a Movement Song.

One of the young people at the Justice Conference sang an amended version of a South African Hymn that some of the students are using when they organize. They have changed it to make it their own. This young woman was hesitant to sing the song when asked by the group, but when she stood and lifted her voice, the pain she was relaying, the struggle for air, for space, for freedom was evident. Movement songs have this quality about them, in that they are born in the journey of life and wrestled into being.

We gather in worship on Palm Sunday morning to sing “Hosanna.” Do we know what it means when we sing praises to the one who leads us in the crucible way? Do we know what we say when we name we will follow? There are songs that bind us together in the Christian Faith, but let us always remember that God is always giving rise to new songs. May our ears always be listening for the new God is giving birth to in the world and our spirits be open for the change it will require in us.

With you on the journey,
Michelle

Look to See

Look to See

April 2, 2017  |  Fifth Sunday in Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Look to See
“We can only be satisfied and happy when: 
every child wakes up in a warm house, 
has a good nutritious breakfast, 
is able to say a loving good-bye to both working parents, 
goes to school in safe and reliable transport, 
is met at school by teachers who are there on time, 
ready and able to teach."
21 August 2012 in Kliptown

Grace and peace to you and through you

Imagine for a second an elephant – a huge bulky elephant walking on her or his tip-toes. It strikes me as a ridiculously humourous picture. And yet, you won’t believe it, but it is true for every step an elephant takes. In Lyall Watson’s beautiful book, Elephantoms he describes how elephants have the
uncanny ability to appear out of nowhere and disappear into thin air without a sound:

“This is made possible, for a start, by the construction of their feet. The digits of each limb are so steeply angled that elephants walk almost on tiptoe with a very pliant step. Behind each heel lies a large spongy pad of fatty tissue that not only supports the fingers and toes, but distributes the great body weight evenly across the wide horny sole of the foot. This inner sole forms a shock-absorbing cushion that behaves like a lightly inflated tyre. When the foot is lifted, it bulges from the underside, but as soon as it is set down, the pad splays out and smothers leaves and twigs beneath it, muffling sound and giving even these giant animals an elastic step and the stealth of a cat.”

Not only is this fascinating about elephants, but it reminds us more broadly that we need people who can help us to see. We need guides who open our
eyes to what is. We need people to help us to pay attention. For this reason, when roaming the bush it is most helpful to have a game ranger at our side to point out to us what we do not see or to help us understand what we do see.

We need guides to help us to see what we are blind to in our world and country. As Former President Kgalema Motlanthe said this past week at the funeral service about one of the great guides of our fresh democracy, Ahmed Kathrada:

“Today is the day on which we close the eyes of comrade Ahmed Kathrada, permanently; because during his lifetime he opened ours forever and saved us from the blindness of the heart. Along with countless men and women of a higher order of consciousness with whom he cast his lot in pursuance of deep ideals, comrade Kathy helped unleash human possibilities.”

Similarly we need guides to help us to see what we do not see about ourselves and to help us understand what we do see. Among other things Lent is traditionally a time of reflection. A time where we take time to look at ourselves and within ourselves. Some of us can only see the worst within ourselves while others of us exclusively focus on the best. This is why a guide or mentor or therapist or wise friend is needed – to help us to see and understand the deeper richness of who we are.

I am hoping each of us will honour this Lenten time by taking time to connect with someone who can help us to see.

Grace,
Alan

 

 


 

Be Salt & Be Light

Be Salt & Be Light

March 26, 2017  |  Fourth Sunday in Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Be Salt & Be Light

Grace and peace to you and through you

I am sure you have been called many names in your life. Some you would probably prefer not to remember, while others you hang onto for dear life as they anchor your depths. Well, I want to remind you of an occasion when Jesus called you two names. Jesus said you are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” {Matthew 5:13-20}. Pause a moment to absorb the amazing affirmation and responsibility of these names. First, you are the salt of the earth. Jesus calls and trusts you to bring flavour to the world – his flavour of gentleness and justice. As salt you don’t do everything but you make everything you mix with more tasty. Yes you are tiny, yet your power is not connected to your size, but rather how willing you are to lose yourself for the sake of the whole – for the sake of the common pot – the common good.

In a world where power loves to be “on show” your power is only released and experienced to the extent that it is hidden. You know not to stand out. You are called to humbly hide. You spoil the taste when you can be seen shining on the surface, but you exquisitely enrich the taste when no one can see you. You are called to make that which surrounds you flourish with flavour. There is no limit to what you can achieve for good if you are willing not to take credit for it.

Second, you are the light of the world. At first this may sound like it contradicts the non-attention seeking salt, but think about it: who ever turns on a light in order to stare at the light? To do so is pointless because to stare at the light makes one blind. We turn on the light not to see the light but to see what the light reveals. Light is not the creator of what is but rather the revealer of what is. You are the light of the world says Jesus and as light the focus is not on you but on what you enable others to see because of you. True light, unlike the limelight, deflects attention rather than seeks it. Some things can only grow in the light while other things cannot survive in the light. What grows and what dies in our presence is a question worth carrying.

Now just to spin things around for a moment, the psalmist reminds us that “the darkness is as light to you O God” {Ps 139} and the prophet Isaiah states ‘I will give you treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places that you may know that I am the Lord…” {Isa 43:3}. So as we wrestle with what it means to be called the salt of the earth and the light of the world we do so not on a crusade to extinguish all darkness but with an inquisitive spirit open to discover the treasures of darkness. To help us do this here is a poem by David Whyte:

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone,
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your home tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

Grace, Alan

Suffering of the Ignored

Suffering of the Ignored

March 19, 2017  |  Sunday Letter, Third Sunday in Lent  |  Comments Off on Suffering of the Ignored
Masiphumelele protesters blocked roads at the weekend, cutting the Cape Town Cycle Tour short.
(Photo: Ryan Johardien, GroundUp)

Grace and peace to you and through you

Last Sunday would have been the 40th Cape Argus Cycle Tour – but at about 6:55 am we were notified that wind had stopped play. There have been enough video clips of cyclists being blown over by the foreshore wind – making us gasp and laugh. A good advert if there ever was one for #WindPower.

An earlier message that most people have forgotten about or may not even have known of, came at 5:39 am: “The cycle tour will be diverted over Glencairn Express Way due to protest action en route. Distance now 78km.” Because of the wind as well as the devastating fire in Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay, the protest action from some of the residents of Masiphumelele has fallen off the social radar. The unavailability of land, as well as a terrible lack of basic services is the root cause of the rock throwing anger that blocked the cycle route. People are angry because they have not been listened to or taken seriously for years and years. Not only is there enormous suffering which is mostly ignored, but life seems to carry on in a jolly-old-fashioned-way around them … in fact some people – like me – are out riding their bicycles in their very neighbourhood. Surely any reasonable person would snap under such contradictory conditions. As Parker Palmer says: “Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering”.

Take this as a small taste of what life is going to be like in SA for the foreseeable future! The lives of the rich will be constantly disrupted because that is the only way the poor will secure a moment’s attention. And in this country there is no way to re-route every race or event to escape this … and nor should there be.

Saul Alinsky makes a challenging point in his famous book Rules for Radicals:

Concern for our private, material well-being with disregard for the well-being of others is immoral according to the precepts of our Judaeo-Christian civilization, but worse, it is stupidity worthy of the lower animals. …We now live in a world where no man [sic] can have a loaf of bread while his neighbour has none. If he does not share his bread, he dare not sleep, for his neighbour will kill him. To eat and sleep in safety man must do the right thing, if for seemingly the wrong reasons, and be in practice his brother’s keeper. I believe that man is about to learn that the most practical life is the moral life and that the moral life is the only road to survival. He is beginning to learn that he will either share part of his material wealth or lose all of it…

Let’s be clear that the suffering of the people of Masiphumelele is far more demanding of our attention than wind-swept-cyclists.

Grace,
Alan

Blessing the Way...

Blessing the Way…

March 12, 2017  |  Second Sunday in Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Blessing the Way…

Lent is a time where we lean into the work of sacrifice. It is a deepening time during our journey in the life of faith because we are committing ourselves in a more intentional way to journey with Jesus in quiet, in release, and in taking on a pattern of life that shapes us for the remainder of our days. It is something we participate in willingly, so the way that unfolds is a way we say, “yes” to even before knowing what lies ahead. Our yes is a “yes” that must be true no matter the turns, no matter the costs.

The image on the front cover, was painted by a woman named Jan Richardson. Jan illustrated Peter Storey’s book, Listening at Golgotha. She is such a beautiful human being. Her husband died in 2013. They were collaborators in so much of life, from the stories she shares. Jan writes about the gift of being able to walk back and forth in their home sharing the process of her painting with him. After his death, she took time for herself, but once she was ready, she began to turn her energy towards creating not just art, but blessings.

There is a holiness that lives in her blessings because they were born during a journey that we know was painful and the wrestle to the words must have been so alive in her, but they rose and found their way to the surface and she used them as a means of showering others with a sense of the divine that was alive in her even during a time of darkness for her in her space of loss. It is the same with her art. I find her art inspires me in an elemental way that opens movement within my spirit.

The blessing below came from her book, Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessing for the Seasons.

 

Blessing that meets you in the wilderness

After the desert stillness.
After the wrestling.

After the hours and days and weeks of
emptying. After the hungering and thirsting.

After the opening and seeing and knowing.

Let this blessing be the first sweetness
that touches your lips.

 The bread that falls into your arms.
The cup that welcoming hands press
into yours.

Let this blessing be the road that returns to you.
Let it be the strength to carry the wilderness home.

 

If Jan’s life through her grief was a wilderness, her blessings demonstrate the reality that she was held along the way until the blessing of healing began to shimmer gently through. That is the journey of the Christian faith, we cannot know the beauty, the pain, the road before us, but we can know we are held in such a way that strength will rise for us to meet every turn.

Journeying with Jesus is not an easy road. We fool ourselves if we believe it to be. We are living in days where it is important for us to be awake to the reality of what it means to walk in pain with others, to sit with someone who has questions we are not the answer for, and to be in the journey with Jesus—in it.

May you be strengthened for the journey throughout these 40 days and may the wilderness be a place you find yourself coming home to again and again.

With you on the journey,
Michelle

Sponsor a Cyclist

March 8, 2017  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Sponsor a Cyclist

Please help raise funds for  Stepping Stones Children’s Centre by sponsoring Alan Storey for this year’s Argus cycle tour.

Sponsorship can be paid directly into CMM’s banking account:

Name of Bank: First National Bank
Account Name: MCSA Central Methodist Mission
Account Number: 62126493204
Branch Name: Long Street
Branch Code: 201 709
Swift Code: FIRNZAJJ

REFERENCE: ARGUS CYCLE