Engaging the gospel story

Engaging the gospel story

September 4, 2016  |  Holy Communion, Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Engaging the gospel story

Grace and peace to you and through you

Thursday the 1st September was the 20th anniversary of my ordination. Some would say ordained as Reverend or Minister or Priest. I prefer ordained as Gospel Story Teller.

On that day back in 1996, together with all other ordinands I was given a bible. Over the years my bible has needed replacing but what has remained is the prayer that my parents wrote to mark the day – I have cut it out and stuck it in the front of each replacement ever since.

I share the prayer with you today – praying that you make it your own…

To   [your name]   Beloved of God.

May the God who loves you,
Always do new things when you read,
Stirring in you again God’s dream
Of a new humanity and a mended universe.

May Jesus who called you
Hold you always with tender hands,
And even as you share his tears for the world,
May you find laughter and celebration in his company.

May the Spirit who lives in you always give you life,
Birthing in you words of healing, truth and power,
Deeds of mercy, hospitality and courage,
And the peace that none can take away.

May our great God, Creator, Son and Spirit,
Always do more for you than we can ask,
Heal more in you than we can pray,
And work more through you than any can dream.

With much love.

Thank you people of CMM for the privilege of engaging the gospel story with you,
Alan


Ordination Prayer

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.

Ordination vows from Church in Singapore

 

Be like Jesus and cross social boundaries

Be like Jesus and cross social boundaries

August 28, 2016  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Be like Jesus and cross social boundaries

Peace and grace to you and through you

Those of us who have access to the Internet have access to almost every contour of every country of every culture on the planet. Without moving out of our home and office we can visit the homes and offices of others regardless of where they are located on this Google globe. We can even explore outer space and witness close-ups of stars exploding. Never before has the rich diversity of the world and cosmos been within the reach of our fingertips to explore as it is today.

And yet research tells us that instead of using the Internet to expand our worldview we use it to shrink it. We do this by searching for and following and befriending people or projects that affirm our existing worldview. This is how birds of a feather flock together in today’s world. The Internet becomes little more than an echo chamber of our own viewpoints. This emboldens us to falsely believe that our way of seeing the world is the only right way – after all everyone agrees with us. The Internet becomes a self-affirming loop akin to what philosopher’s call “a circular argument” in that we assume in the beginning what we are trying to prove in the end. Oh! and woe to anyone who breaks into this circle of agreement with a different view … they will soon be shot down by the birds-of-a-feather-flock-together’s deadly sharp tweets.

In the Gospels we see Jesus crossing social boundaries all the time – moving from the margins to the center and back again. Hanging out with outcasts one minute and leaders the next. Eating with law-breakers today and policy makers tomorrow. The employed and the unemployed are known by Jesus, as are the hungry and the well fed. To be a follower of Jesus is to be a person who seeks out diversity. Jesus followers are people who use every means at our disposal to cross over to the other side to repeatedly learn that the other side is less “other” than we originally thought. May we be filled with the Holy Spirit of exploration.

Grace, Alan


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 womb
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.

~ David Whyte

 

Imagining Grace

Imagining Grace

August 21, 2016  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Imagining Grace

Grace and peace to you and through you …

 

Things indescribable…

 

Imagine joyfully expecting a baby.

The dreaming, the planning, the preparing…

Filled with an excitement that overrides any pregnant discomfort. The screaming and gasping-for-air-baby is like music to your ears. Indescribable joy!

Then imagine your baby going missing from the hospital crib. Missing. Stolen! Gone without a trace. Indescribable terror and trauma.

Imagine living every day with the absence of your baby ever present. Imagine imagining your missing baby growing up … from toddler to teenager. Indescribable torture.

Then imagine years later your baby is found, now a young adult. Indescribable joy.

Imagine meeting the one who stole your baby-now-a-young-adult. Indescribable anger. A fair exchange for the indescribable hurt.

Imagine the desire to punish. To teach the thief a lesson. To send out a clear message to all that this crime is not without consequence.

Imagine now believing that you are going to be the family that you always dreamed of being. Indescribable hope.

 

But…

 

Though you missed your baby every second of every day … your baby did not miss you.Your baby did not miss you because your baby did not know to miss you. Your baby is not to blame. It feels as if your baby were taken away from you again. Indescribable pain.

Imagine that the one you call baby-thief is the one your baby innocently calls mom. Indescribable wrong. Though your baby is not to blame.

Imagine knowing that there is no reset button. That today’s justice is powerless to restore the past. To lock away the thief of your baby does not return your baby to you. Indescribable irony.

Imagine in seeking justice, you end up doing to your baby the very thing that was done to you. You steal from your baby the one she loves. Indescribable predicament.

Oh please can’t you imagine another way?

Another way that does not deny the anger and hurt and wrong, and yet at the same time a way that is not determined by the anger and hurt and wrong. Another way that does not pass the pain on. A way that surpasses the limits of the law.

 

A way of indescribable grace.

 

Imagining Grace,
Alan

PS: Read 1 Kings 3:16-28

“You strike the women, you strike the rock”

August 14, 2016  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on “You strike the women, you strike the rock”

This past week we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the women’s march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Sixty years ago, on August 9, 1956 20,000 women took to the streets with a petition signed by 100,000 people calling for the end to the pass laws. The march was led by Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams. When the women arrived, they began to chant words that women still chant today, “Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo!” They translate to, Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock. The phrase has evolved to what we often hear today, “You strike a woman, you strike a rock” and it represents the courage and strength of women in South Africa.

The women of 1956 also stood for thirty minutes in silence with their hands raised in a congress salute. Anyone who practices silence knows that thirty minutes is a period of time that one often works up to. It is not easy to achieve thirty minutes of silence right away. Yet, it is as if these women used the silence to speak for them. In the quiet of their stand together, their message was clear. It was as if in the quiet things could be heard, “We are here. We are serious. We have strength you know nothing about.” Their silence spoke volumes.

Simamkele Dlakavu, Tinyiko Shikwambane, Naledi Chirwa, and Amanda Mavuso are the names of four women who recently engaged in a silent protest during a press conference where Jacob Zuma was announcing the election results. They stood silently dressed all in black, holding signs that read: Remember Khwezi, Khanga, Ten years later, and I am 1 in 3. Their protest they named was against patriarchy and the culture of rape of women, where 1 in every 3 women in South Africa are likely statistically speaking to have been raped. They were remembering “Khwezi” the pseudonym given to the woman who accused Jacob Zuma of rape ten years ago.

One does not even have to support the cause of these four women to recognize the power of their witness. They used their creativity to give voice to their convictions and their message was broadcast worldwide. The South African Police share that a woman is raped every 36 seconds in this country, while many activist groups challenge that data naming it is closer to every 26 seconds. For four women to silently |protest such a culture in the midst of a political event, hats off to Simamkele, Tinyiko, Naledi, and Amanda.

The women of 1956 were persecuted for the ways in which they organized for change in the world. Lilian Ngoyi spent 70 days in solitary confinement and lived with bans placed on her for 11 years. Helen Joseph was arrested several times and had her last ban lifted when she was 80 years old. She was the first person to be placed under house arrest under the Sabotage Act and was a constant target with bullets smashing windows and a bomb even exploding at her front gate. During the Truth & Reconciliation Commission she was quoted as sharing, ““How a weary old girl, an ou tannie like me can be a threat to state security only they can say.” Yet, threat often comes from those who know how to organize for change.

Silence is a discipline that is held across many faith traditions. It is not a comfortable place to be, for in silence things bubble to the surface. In silence truths become clear, actions become visible, and words become sharpened. I encourage us all this week to sit in silence remembering the people who have inspired us in the ways they have worked for change. In our silence may we reflect on the world around us and the ways we might be called to be involved in the work of bringing much needed change. Silence roots us in the place of depth that brings strength, conviction, courage, and a peace we can’t explain. May our time of reflection root us for the work of change.

With you on the journey,
Michelle

 

Do not fear, you are favoured

Do not fear, you are favoured

August 7, 2016  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Do not fear, you are favoured

Grace and peace to you and through you …

Last week I wrote about the short and simple nature of “conversations with God” as portrayed in the Gospels. They go something like this: God says, “do not fear … you are favoured … now live my vision of a new society in which everyone can know that they are priceless”.  In other words live life so everyone may know they are favoured and have nothing to fear. I concluded by saying that to honour this conversation with God will demand much contemplation and much action on our part: Contemplation, i.e. trustfully sitting in the knowledge of our fear-expelling-favour and action in our daily reshaping of the structures of society to value the pricelessness of all people. It will include silence and raising our voice. It will include stillness and marching. It will include a profoundly personal exploration of self and a serious analysis of society. It will be personal and political and discovering that they are inseparable. Which brings me to the elections.

Last week we had the privilege to vote. It is a privilege to participate in how society is shaped without having to kill the person who thinks differently to us. This is the great gift of the social experiment we call democracy. Shaping society without killing people who want to shape it a different way to us. Now voting doesn’t provide all the solutions, as Judith February says, “it merely provides the space to find them”. That is what we did last Wednesday. By voting we created the space to work out solutions without killing each other in a winner-take-all frenzy.

Now for us to work out the solutions on how we do life together we are going to need to return over and over again to conversations with God. Why? Because Democracy is risky. It doesn’t guarantee that we will find the solutions. Often the space created by Democracy can be hijacked to secure power and privilege for the few at the expense of the many, as our present experience teaches us. We need to be reminded that God longs for family fairness to be fixed into the fabric of society – our laws and policies – so that all will know they are priceless – that all are favoured and have nothing to fear. The work of fixing family fairness into the fabric of society is not easy. It is difficult and dirty even as it is too beautiful to describe. It is slow and exhausting even as it gives life. It is dangerous and despairing even as it is secure in faith, hope and love.

To sustain us in this work we need to rest in the truth that we are born in love, by love and for love … and so too are those who oppose us. To be protected against cynicism we need to trust that people do not have to change so much as they have to become who they really are. To be kept from self-righteousness we must  be reminded that we are all one. To be spared from despair we need to accept that we are part of a much larger story – God’s story – the end of which we may not see but the end of which we can contribute to now in the way we follow Jesus.

On Wednesday evening at 7 pm we will gather to sit in silence … to contemplate our favour … and be released of fear … to live life revealing the pricelessness of all.

Grace, Alan

 

Conversations with God

Conversations with God

July 31, 2016  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Conversations with God

Grace and Peace to you and through you …

In the Gospels we notice that conversations with God follow a particular pattern. They are brief. They are simple. And they are ultimately about what God wants to do through them rather than to them. The conversations all start the same way: “Do not be afraid”. That is the very first thing God is determined to tell people. “Do not fear”. God knows fear makes us deaf to the Divine voice. Only until we get through our fear will our hearts be open to hearing anything else and will we be able to honour what we have heard. Fear is the great stumbling block to living faithfully, because fear casts out love.

The converse is equally true: Love casts out fear, therefore the second thing God is determined we realise is: “You are favoured”. In other words, we are graced, i.e. un-deservedly and un-reservedly loved. We live in a world however, where some people are valued more than others. This is the great lie. The Divine wants all to know that our lives are priceless. We are set free from our fear the moment we accept that we are favoured, priceless and held in Love. We are invited to trust that nothing can separate us from this Love, because we live and move and have our being in Love – Divine Love. Jesus teaches us that the ultimate authority in the universe (heaven) is a Loving Parent – a Loving Parent who we do not need to fear and a Loving Parent who we do not need to impress in order to love us.

Thirdly, what comes next is the “Jesus move”. In order to respond to the love of our Loving Parent, Jesus calls us to love our neighbour.
In other words the way we love God is by loving our neighbour. The “Jesus move” is returning our love to God by directing our love towards our neighbour. As Jesus said, God desires mercy not sacrifice. We can’t love God by perform-ing rituals – no matter how sacred we deem them. We can only love God by showing mercy to our neighbour and all of creation. When people like Mary heard that they were favoured and therefore had nothing to fear, they were given a vision of what life should look like according to our Loving Parent’s own heart – a life where all are valued including the lowly and poor. This involves correcting past injustices and restructuring of society through its laws and policies fixing fairness into the fabric of society.

So in the Gospels we see that conversations with God follow this flow: do not fear … you are favoured … now live my vision of a new society in which everyone can know that they are priceless. To honour this conversation will demand much contemplation and much action on our part: Contemplation, i.e. trustfully sitting in the knowledge of our fear-expelling-favour and action in our daily reshaping of the structures of society to value the priceless-ness of all people.

Grace, Alan

All life is valuable

All life is valuable

July 24, 2016  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on All life is valuable

Grace and peace to you and through you …

This past week Charlize Theron spoke at the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban. She spoke the truth not simply about HIV / AIDS but about the stubborn state of our world and humanity that enables HIV to continue to be a death-sentence when it needn’t be:

“I think it is time that we acknowledge that something is terribly wrong. I think it’s time we face the truth about the unjust world we live in. The truth is we have every tool we need to prevent HIV in the world … and yet in SA alone 180 000 people died of AIDS last year. …let’s ask ourselves why haven’t we beaten this epidemic?

The real reason we have not beaten this epidemic boils down to one simple fact: We value some lives more than others. We value men more than women. Straight life more than gay life. White skin more than black skin. The rich more than the poor. An adult more than adolescents. I know this, I know this because AIDS does not discriminate on its own. It has no biological preference for black bodies, for women’s bodies, for gay bodies, for youth or the poor. It doesn’t single out the vulnerable the oppressed or the abused. We single out the vulnerable the oppressed and the abused. We ignore them. We let them suffer. And then we let them die.”

She then called on the next generation of youth to end it. #GenEndIt

“I just want to be clear what the ‘it’ is. ‘It’ is not just AIDS. ‘It’ is the culture that condones rape and shames victims into silence. ‘It’ is the cycle of poverty and violence that traps girls into teen marriages and forces them to sell their bodies to provide for their families. ‘It’ is the racism that allows the white and the wealthy to exploit the black and the poor and then blame them for their own suffering. ‘It’ is the homophobia that shames and isolates LGBT youth and keeps them from life-saving healthcare and education.

HIV is not just transmitted by sex. It is transmitted by sexism, racism, poverty and homophobia. And if we are going to end AIDS we have to cure the disease within our own hearts and within our own minds first and I believe the young people can do it.”

In line with the biblical prophets Theron did three things: First, she correctly highlighted the core issue of our idolatrous faithlessness: that we value some lives more than others. Second, she drew attention to the vulnerable who suffer as a result of our idolatry – and the multi-layered nature of vulnerability that some endure. Third, she reminded us that the most public and political issues are at one and the same time the most intimate and personal. To transform the streets we must also transform our hearts.

Grace, Alan

Practicing Love

Practicing Love

July 17, 2016  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Practicing Love

To love, really love is the most vulnerable thing. There is an openness we enter into, a gift we give, and one we are invited to receive. There is a standing there in that love and a breathing in of something that we know has caught us in a net of life that must then widen beyond ourselves in a risky norm shattering way. To commit to love is to trust, really trust and that is an incredibly hard thing sometimes to do.

Yet, this is the love that God calls forth from us. “Trust in me. Trust in my ways. Trust in the truth that is larger than your fears. Trust in the promises that will sustain longer than your days. Trust that it is worth dying for, the abundant life. Trust that all the change that comes with it, will lead in the end to the good.”

One of the women in my life who I always seek counsel from told me that strength to stand in love comes from the fire.

There is a sense that learning to love and love well is like learning to dance in fire. Sacrificial love that pours out oneself for others, that meets people in the middle, that pulls in the claws of harsh words and retributive actions, and stands in all that is right and just in the world catches us in a life changing heat that we have to learn to live in or we risk not really living at all.

To speak words of forgiveness to an enemy, to admit the ways you are wrong, to be quiet and let another speak, to risk harm coming to the skin of your body in order that the skin on another’s body might be honored as beautiful as yours, to stand in the threat where lines of division are cast, to know the cross is before you and to still carry on. Where does the strength come from for that?

We are more and more able to live love as we kneel for it and receive from the one who knows us better than we know ourselves, who can strip away illusions that we live with, rattle our skeletons till our closets are bare, and who chooses not to leave us in that vulnerable place alone, but chooses to enter in and love us from strength to strength in order that we might more and more be love in the world.

Strength comes from learning to dance in the fire of life. Finding our way in prayer, risking to stand in love in moments when it would be easier to sit, and trusting that strength rises in us as we risk a life that is more about God and others than ourselves. There is great vulnerability in this work of practicing love, we yield to it our very lives, and receive back from it life that makes more sense, for it is life lived in truth.

Martin Luther King Jr. named that “the ultimate measure of a man (woman) is not where he (she) stands in comfort and convenience, but where he (she) stands in times of controversy.” Our lives must be shaped by disciplines that allow us to be ready to live love in the moments of controversy, to be ready to stand for justice in the moments when we see it, and to know that practicing love takes strength and strength is raised up within us in the fires of living.

We are never without places to stand and practice love. The question is will we be vulnerable enough to enter each day more fully into the Jesus way of living? Submitting ourselves to the shaping fire is a vulnerable move that leads to great change in our being. As we allow the change in ourselves we do become part of the change needed in the world and I don’t know about you, but I don’t imagine the sidelines are the place we would find Jesus today. So, I encourage you to enter the dance in the fires that bring change.

With you on the journey,
Michelle

I hope to see some of you this Wednesday as we are led through the Lord’s prayer by Emily Dao.

Love your enemies ...

Love your enemies …

July 10, 2016  |  Ordinary Time, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Love your enemies …

www.GroundUp.co.za (link to GroundUp)

Grace and peace to you and through you …

Last week in our reading from 2 Kings 5 we were introduced to two people. They couldn’t have been more different from each other yet we found them laying side by side, separated only by a tiny punctuation mark. In verse 1 we met Naaman, the commander in chief of King Aram’s army. In verse 2 we met a nameless slave girl. These two are polar opposites and yet connected. Connected in how Naaman was the cause for the girl’s capture and slavery and connected in how the girl was the catalyst for Naaman’s healing. I guess that is how it goes: we are either contributing to people’s oppression or liberation.

From Naaman we learnt that if we take any verse of our life and read it carefully we will discover contradictions. Naaman was successful and sick at one and the same time. Naaman was victorious on the battlefields of war and defeated in the secret chambers of his heart. We are always saint and sinner across every verse of our life. We see that a perfect CV does not a perfect life make. There are areas of our life that stubbornly refuse to be polished. Healing and liberation will escape us until we accept this unsatisfying fact, rather than anxiously try and fix it. Some things cannot be fixed. Some things thrive especially when we try and get rid of them. Some things feed on being fought. Some things only evaporate when we acknowledge them. Some things leave only after we have welcomed them. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he said: “Do not resist an evildoer.” Jesus then went on to instruct his followers to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Well long before Jesus spoke these counter-cultural-words, this slave girl lived them out. She lived them into being in relation to Naaman. She knew that part of the death that Naaman carried within his body resulted from the death he had caused to other bodies. So she wisely and bravely medicates him: “Go back across the border – this time not to pillage and murder – but to ask for help from those who have every reason to hate you.” Who doesn’t have places and people to return to because we left part of our humanity there?

She knew that if Naaman were to find healing it would be by grace alone and the healing itself would be grace. Grace is love we don’t deserve. Grace is most acutely known through the love of those who have every reason not to love us. If there are parts of us that can only be healed by grace then it means there are parts of our being that can only ever be healed by our enemies because our enemies have experienced us at our most sick, our most brutal and our most deadly. It is our enemy’s forgiveness that reaches to the depths of our dis-ease like no other. Their mercy manages to extract every last fiber of tumor twisted around our stone-like heart. The best surgeons are our enemies who have exchanged their knife of revenge for a scalpel of healing. No wonder Jesus says we should love our enemies.

May we find both Naaman and the slave girl within us.

Grace, Alan

Words and Actions

Words and Actions

July 3, 2016  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Words and Actions

Grace and Peace to you and through you …

South Africa is an extremely violent society. We cannot stand to absorb the full extent of this truth. To preserve our sanity we blot large parts of it out. We have become numb by necessity. As a people we carry high levels of trauma, and anger is never far from the surface of our living. A gun in this context can only spell death. There are many factors that contribute to our extreme levels of violence. Guns are one key factor. Removing the gun does not guarantee ending the violence but it does drastically reduce the lethality of the violence. Easy access to guns makes killing easy, more likely and more frequent, while strong gun laws have been shown, including within recent South African history, to reduce gun violence.

In such an extremely violent society it is a no brainer to legislate more stringent restrictions on gun ownership. Yet sadly this remains a struggle to achieve. Once again there are multitudes of reasons for this. The most basic reason is the continued belief that guns keep us safe. Sadly, because people are moved by fear more than the facts people acquire guns to keep safe, yet in the process place themselves in greater danger with the increased risk of accidents, fatal suicide, family-murder, femicide, as well as creating an incentive for crime that ends up arming criminals making society a whole lot less safe. Guns in the home place people within the home 3 to 4 times at greater risk in becoming a victim of gun violence.

The evidence shows that guns are excellent instruments of attack but are very poor instruments of defense. A 2015 FBI study shows that successful defense is outnumbered 34-1 by successful attack. And what is more, for every successful use of a firearm in defense there are 78 suicides and 2 fatal accidents by firearms. Even though this is what the evidence shows however, it is not what common logic holds on to.

I write about this for two reasons. First, because I have been attending a Gun Free SA seminar in Johannesburg this past week. Second, because I think we can transfer this behaviour of “common logic versus the evidence” into multiple areas of our life. We would all do well to check ourselves and better still to invite others to check us (because quite often we are blind to ourselves) on how our words and actions perpetuate the very things we hope to eradicate. In other words how we are part of the problem while we think we are part of the solution.

Grace, Alan


There’s Something

You can stop me
drinking a pepsi-cola
at the café
in the Avenue
or goin’ to
an Alhambra revue,
you can stop me doin’
some silly thing like that
but o
there’s somethin’ you
can never never do;
you can stop me
boarding a carriage
on the Bellville run
white class
or sittin’ in front
of the X-line
on the Hout Bay bus,
you can stop me doin’
some silly thing like that
but o
there’s somethin’ you
can never never do;
you can stop me
goin’ to Grootte Schuur
in the same ambulance
as you
or tryin’ to go to heaven
from a Groote Kerk pew
you can stop me doin’
some silly thing like that
but o
there’s something you
can never never do;
true’s God
you can stop me doin’
all silly things of that sort
and to think of it
if it comes to that
you can even stop me
hatin’
but o
there’s somethin’ you
can never never do –
you can’t
ever
ever
ever stop me
loving
even you!
~ Adam Small