Humility is the foundation

Humility is the foundation

October 11, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Humility is the foundation

St Augustine 354 – 430

“Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence,
in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any
other virtue except in mere appearance.”

~ Augustine of Hippo


Grace and peace to you,

The Augustine Confessions is, next to the Bible, the most widely read book in history. It is also the first autobiography as we know them. It is devoted to telling Augustine’s story of faith, his dramatic journey from wild student to church father.

Feel his passion and love for “his true Love” seep through the page:

Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so…

O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: “I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me”.

Accordingly I looked for a way to gain the strength I needed to enjoy you, but I did not find it until I embraced the mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.

Clear is your response, but not all hear it clearly. They all appeal to you about what they want, but do not always hear what they want to hear. Your best servant is the one who is less intent on hearing from you what accords with his own will, and more on embracing with his will what he has heard from you.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!

You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all.

You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.

I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

When at last I cling to you with my whole being there will be no more anguish or labour for me, and my life will be alive indeed, alive because filled with you. But now it is very different. Anyone whom you fill you also uplift; but I am not full of you, and so I am a burden to myself. Joys over which I ought to weep do battle with sorrows that should be matters of joy, and I do not know which will be victorious. But I also see griefs that are evil at war in me with joys that are good, and I do not know which will win the day.

This is agony, Lord, have pity on me! It is agony! See, I do not hide my wounds; you are the physician and I am sick; you are merciful, I in need of mercy.

Grace, Alan

Be pro-courage

Be pro-courage

October 4, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Be pro-courage

Grace and peace to you …

On Tuesday evening I was privileged to be at the launch of Sober and Sexy – Fiona McCosh’s naked calendar exhibition celebrating the journey of recovery from addiction. The courage it takes to pose naked in front of a camera was symbolic of the much greater courage it takes for people to strip away the blankets of denial and come clean about being an addict. The courage to lay one’s life bare about the things we are powerless over in the presence of others is huge. This is the courage of the recovery movement that includes Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous as well as other 12 step programmes. I continue to believe that these movements are some of the most faithful expressions of what Church is meant to be. A community so full of grace (non-judgment forgiving love) that we can risk being more truthful about our own lives. This alone will heal and set us free from our inner prisons of guilt and shame. We need grace (embodied in a person or group) to en-courage us to face what we experience as the shame-full truths of our living. And ultimately it is this grace that siphons away the power of our shame.

Then on Wednesday some us were part of the Unite Against Corruption march to parliament. I was struck by what Archbishop Thabo Makgoba said:

“It’s time to stop marching against corruption. Yes‚ you heard me right. It’s time to stop marching‚ having discourses and debates‚ writing and repeatedly speaking about being anti-corruption. Why? Because it’s not about being anti-corruption… It’s about being pro-courage.” Courage was the single most important ingredient in the success of the old Struggle. Yet‚ today‚ those same leaders who showed such courage in the old Struggle have not only abandoned the concept of courage; today they punish anyone who tries to uphold the principles of courage. Today we shouldn’t be here rallying against corruption. Today we should be asking… Aren’t we ready to fulfill our country’s destiny‚ by showing the same level of courage that won our liberation from apartheid?”

To be set free from the many social ills that beset our land it is going to take courage! So too overcome the demons within and without we must pray for courage.

“Courage, then, is the place where change begins. As Katharine Butler Hathaway wrote, “If you let fear of consequence prevent you from following your deepest instinct, then your life will be safe, expedient and thin. Courage is the first requirement to start a new life…”

Graced to be courageous, Alan


Corruption within and without … Statement from the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa joins all our partners in faith in endorsing the anti-corruption marches set to take place on 30 September in Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban.

Corruption is rampant in every aspect of our lives including the private sector, business and government; it is a silent cancer that is mercilessly eating away at the very soul of our nation. Materialism at whatever the cost has become the dominant culture and impunity a way of life. Enough is enough!

We repent of any corruption that may exist within our ranks and call for reform within the church as we commit to pray and act against this pervasive evil that if not curbed will be the downfall of all our institutions and eventually our very economy.

In the wake of the numerous scandals that have bedevilled South Africa with no evident resolutions, the time has come for all citizens to take back their power and hold everyone in any form of leadership accountable to promote good stewardship and good governance.

We, call all Methodists to exercise their consciences in support of the march and other anti-corruption campaigns and to speak out against dishonesty, fraud and any forms of duplicity at every opportunity.

May the Lord help us,
Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa

Hinges of History

Hinges of History

September 27, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Hinges of History

Grace and peace to you …

Phyllis Tickle died this past week at the age of 81. She was known for her teaching on emerging Christianity and dedication to marked hour prayer. The image of Phyllis is taken with another well-known Christian thinker, Nadia Bolz-Weber who is often called the tattoo-loving Lutheran pastor. What I love about this image is that it shows two leaders from different generations embracing the beauty of the other. There is a sense that what these two women did to cross their generational and experiential divides is prophecy for the Church at large today.

God is always turning a page in every generation and our work is to be listening for the direction God is moving, so that our way does not get lost from the way that God is giving birth to in the new. When the hinges of history turn in communities of faith, the door opens with the work that begins on our knees in prayer and unfolds through a journey that shapes the next course of human history. It is exciting stuff!

Many of those who shared comments about Phyllis in celebrating her life named that she lived with hope always believing that the Holy Spirit was up to something just around the corner. I believe this too! Around every corner is an opportunity for us to witness a beautiful expression of the love of God alive in the world.

Before Phyllis died, I was in the midst of reading the Mystic way of evangelism by Elaine Heath. She and Phyllis are similar thinkers. They are both strong believers in the practice of prayer and both understand the Church to be most alive when it engages in community and is at work on the margins. Heath communicates an understanding of the Church being in what she describes as the dark night of the soul. She argues that what is needed are leaders who can lead their congregations like the Mystics of old to re-imagine the present and future for the Church.

There is a sense that the Holy Spirit is doing something new in the life of the Church at large as well as in the life of Central Methodist Mission. I know this without a doubt because the Holy Spirit is always stirring up something new. There is a rich history connected to this place that is the DNA — the dust in the ground that God will draw from with anything new born along the way. As a community, we have an opportunity coming up in October to gather as a church family, listen to some of the stories from the past, and allow space for what God might be speaking to us today. Phyllis Tickle was also described to have eyes that danced. May we find our eyes dancing with dreams of all God is calling this community to in the days ahead!

With you on the journey, Michelle.


We thank God for the gift of over 150 people walking to celebrate recovery on Heritage Day!

May the journey towards new life continue for all of us!

Vulnerability

Vulnerability

September 20, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Vulnerability

Grace and peace to you …

The Bible begins with humanity settled in the Garden of Eden, all their needs sorted and nothing to hide behind — they were naked. Physical nakedness marked an innocence that was lost when Adam and Eve took that first tempting bite. Their work to cover their nakedness alerted God that they had chosen their own way, rather than walking in the way that was marked out for them. They worked quickly to hide the decision they had made, but they were not created to hide. Humanity was made to be found — to be swept up in a love that promises to never leave or forsake us.

The vulnerability experienced in the Garden of Eden is something that we as human beings struggle to return to. Brené Brown released a Ted Talk years ago on the power of vulnerability. She shared that fear and shame keeps us from being vulnerable. Vulnerability, she shared, is the birthplace of many emotions. We are able to experience grief, shame, and disappointment as we lean into vulnerability. Yet, too often we work to numb those emotions and she shared that in seeking to numb grief, shame, and disappointment we then numb the other emotions that are also born out of vulnerability — joy, gratitude, and happiness.

To be vulnerable is to be comfortable with the naked truth of life. The church has so much to learn from the Recovery Community in learning how to be vulnerable. People who struggle with addiction and live within the 12 Step Programs that the recovery community offers have a way of living with an authenticity rarely seen in the world around us. Part of the work they do is to name right away that they have a problem and that they are not going to be able to manage this problem on their own. They are charged with giving an honest assessment of their lives to understand how the patterns of addiction in their lives have harmed themselves and others. One can understand how this work reveals the naked truth of life.

One of the members of the recovery community that meets at Central Methodist Mission, Fiona McCosh, has wrestled with the negative perceptions people have of those in the Recovery Community. Fiona has worked to document the naked beauty of several of the members of the Recovery Community here in Cape Town in order that the beauty of who they are might be revealed. I hope that we as a community will work to support her work at her exhibit, which opens Tuesday, September 29, 6 p.m. at the Issi Café, 130 Bree Street.

Question for reflection: In what ways am I hiding in my life? How might I embrace the vulnerability that will give birth to a more authentic life?

With you on the journey, Michelle.

Listen and be brave

Listen and be brave

September 13, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Listen and be brave

Grace and peace to you …

As Anna Quindlen writes: “Acts of bravery don’t always take place on battlefields. They can take place in your heart, when you have the courage to honor your character, your intellect, your inclinations, and yes, your soul by listening to its clear, clear voice of direction instead of following the muddied message of a timid world.”.

One such brave person in our land is Advocate Thuli Madonsela, the Public Protector. Amanda Khoza from News24 reports about Madonsela’s keynote address on Women’s Month at the University of KwaZulu-Natal:

“Women and female animals are the most vicious when you threaten what they love,” said Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, responding to questions about how she handles the constant barrage of attacks from politicians. “Just threaten a woman’s child or an elephant’s offspring and you will see fire… I understand that sometimes humans kick because they are afraid. So when they kick me, I know that they are doing the best that they can and the driving force is fear… Instead of being angry at them, I just have compassion and hope that they will stop being fearful and instead act from a position of power…”

Madonsela said it helped her to focus on what she loved, rather than on herself: “When you put the attention on yourself, you see yourself as a victim and once you see yourself as a victim, you are a danger to yourself and to society because victims tend to do nothing wrong…

“As the public protector I make important decisions that are based on facts. I know that when those matters get to court, they will see that it was 1 + 2 = 3 not 1 + 2 = 5.

“When somebody starts insulting you, just know that you have won and that they are surrendering their power to you. It is the same thing when people stop discussing the issue at hand and start discussing you. They do it in soccer when the player starts playing the man instead of the ball, it is because they are desperate and they are losing the game.”

Be brave, Alan


A friend texted me while he was en route to Hungary by train to compete in the Canoeing Marathon World Championship: “On a train loaded to the gills with Syrian refugees.”.

This is an amazing parable of life. We’re all on the same train. Maybe even in the same compartment. But can we really speak of being on the same train? Some of us are on the train living a dream while others are experiencing a nightmare.

Ultimate Reality

Ultimate Reality

September 6, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Ultimate Reality

Grace and peace to you …

Over the past two weeks we have reflected on the gift and the danger of religion. First is was Solomon “building a house for the Lord” and then he realised that the Lord is way too big to fit into any human made house. The problem arises when we forget that God is bigger than any of our attempts to define or name. The gift and purpose of the temple was to remind people that God is present and accessible to all, yet the danger was that God would be trapped in the temple and controlled by those who run the temple.

Throughout history there are those who are sent to us to remind us that “nothing in heaven or on earth can contain the Lord”. Thomas Keating is one such person. He is a Trappist Monk and is known as one of the “fathers” of the Centering Prayer Movement. I would recommend anything that he has written – he is a faithful guide for any who want to journey into the depths. The depths of ourselves and the Divine. Keating has been inspirational in the Snowmass Interspirituality Dialogue which has convened over a thirty-year period with religious leaders from the major world religions. Here is a short list of the points of agreement that they believe all religions share, and which I find very helpful:

  1. The world religions bear witness to the experience of Ultimate Reality, to which they give various names.
  2. Ultimate Reality cannot be limited by any name or concept.
  3. Ultimate Reality is the ground of infinite potentiality and actualization.
  4. Faith is opening, accepting, and responding to Ultimate Reality. Faith in this sense precedes every belief system.
  5. The potential for human wholeness – or, in other frames of reference, enlightenment, salvation, transcendence, transformation, blessedness – is present in every human being.
  6. Ultimate Reality may be experienced not only through religious practices, but also through nature, art, human relationships, and service to others.
  7. As long as the human condition is experienced as separate from Ultimate Reality, it is subject to ignorance and illusion, weakness and suffering.
  8. Disciplined practice is essential to the spiritual life; yet spiritual attainment is not the result of one’s own efforts, but the result of the experience of oneness with Ultimate Reality.

Grace and peace, Alan


Read – Reflect – Renew

In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know,
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess,
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not,
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

~ TS Eliot

 

God is big

God is big

August 30, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on God is big
And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Grace and peace to you …

Simply put, there are three main stages in human development. They include infancy, adolescence and adulthood. Friederich von Hugel shows that healthy religion must take account of and nurture the predominant needs and activities of each stage, and so concludes that religion must include three essential elements:

“An institutional element corresponding to the needs and activities of infancy, a critical element corresponding to adolescence, and a mystical element corresponding to adulthood.”

This does not mean that the needs of infancy disappear in adolescence and nor do the needs and activities of adolescence disappear in adulthood, but they should cease to be predominant if we are to grow. Healthy adulthood should also never completely exclude the infancy and adolescence aspects.

In broad terms infants enjoy boundaries that provide them with comforting protection, while teenagers question boundaries and kick at them at every turn, and adults realize that boundaries are necessary but more complex than first thought — even incommunicable — and if the boundaries are to be honoured in adulthood it will be out of love and no longer fear, a delight and not a duty contributing to one’s freedom, and not captivity. Adulthood can see the value of the institution and the critical voice at one and the same time.

There is a danger that we find the comforting protection of infancy so satisfactory, or the questioning teenager so conveniently non-committal, that we get stuck and never venture towards the terrifying freedom of adulthood. When the institutional element predominates to the exclusion of the other two aspects, the result will be an immaturity of faith, and increased superstition and a loss of freedom. When the critical element dominates “it is liable to produce rationalists rather than religious persons, people whose devotion to an intellectual system replaces their devotion to God.” There is also a danger if the mystical becomes unhinged from the other two elements. In doing so personal experience is “canonized as the only legitimate source of discernment – opening widely the door to self-deception”.

All three elements are necessary for a healthy church/community/organisation. We are called to discern where one is dominating at the expense of the others and make the necessary adjustments. Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for humanity and not the other way round, reminding us that the structures/systems/rules/institutions are not ends in and of themselves but they are rather servants/scaffolding or conduits to a greater good and a deeper fullness of life.

God is bigger than any word or concept that we have come to use to hold or understand God. That is why the Hebrews of old were not allowed to have the name of G-d on their lips, (they weren’t allowed to write it out in full either), because it was both too holy and too large. In other words they recognised that God (and God’s name) broke out of all human categories not least our human vocabulary. There are some today who even decide not to use the word ‘God’ perhaps because they find it is too small, too limiting, too bound to a sense of religious institution and choose rather to use other words. A current favourite is “the universe”, that I imagine is used either consciously or unconsciously to counteract the contamination of God by the small.

So may our religion never become our God and may we never worship the way we worship. May our spirits remain fluid and our hearts ever open to being surprised by God. God is big.

Grace and peace, Alan


Read – Reflect – Renew

In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know,
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess,
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not,
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

~ TS Eliot

Learn to listen

Learn to listen

August 23, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Learn to listen

The picture above is of a tablecloth. This tablecloth has pairs of feet representing the 42,000 marchers demonstrating for civil rights. Look closely and you can find the shoes of Mrs Rosa Parks. True to form she stands out. She is the only one who did not take her shoes off for them to be traced. So look for the only pair of shoes… and, with Rosa Parks, dare to be different.

Displayed at The Safe House — Black History Museum, Greensboro, Alabama


Grace and peace to you …

Over the last few weeks I have been reading up on the “new monastic movement” slowly growing around the world. One such book is a modern paraphrase of the ancient Rule of Saint Benedict by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

Jonathan writes in the introduction: “In a moment of clarity, Benedict saw that the system of education that had been designed to prepare him for a world that was passing away could only lead to a dead end. While it could teach him what had worked in the past, the system did not have the resources to present a way forward. A different school was needed. Benedict had a hunch that the Desert Mothers and Fathers were creating it. He went to a cave, built himself a prayer cell, and so matriculated in the “university” of the world to come… Benedict decided that we need a school for a new way of life… A school for the Lord’s service… [to help] the world see more clearly what it means to become truly human in the way of Jesus.”

This is what Church is meant to be. A school for a new way of life that sets people free to be truly human in the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus being a way of life that is good news for the poor and which works release for the captives, sight for the blind and freedom for the oppressed. A way of life that is rooted in justice where all people are honoured as precious. A way of life that brings life.

Benedict’s first word in his prologue for his “new-life-school syllabus” was “LISTEN”.

“Listen my child. I want you to place the ear of your heart on the solid ground of the Master’s wisdom… Listening is hard work, but it’s the essential work. It opens you up to the God that you’ve rejected when you have only listened to yourselves. If you’re ready to give up your addiction to yourself, this message is for you: to listen is to equip yourself with the best resources available to serve the real Master, Christ the Lord.”

This word/instruction “Listen” is repeated throughout Benedict’s syllabus. The Jesus way of life that brings life is shaped around learning to listen to God and to other people because “an authentic search for God leads to life with other people”.

This is our task: To learn to listen.

Grace and peace, Alan


Read – Reflect – Renew

In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know,
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess,
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not,
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

~ TS Eliot

 

Love God and Neighbour

Love God and Neighbour

August 16, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Love God and Neighbour

Grace and Peace to you …

Today marks the anniversary of the Marikana Killings. Yesterday, the church was open for people in the community who wanted to be together to remember and reflect on this day in the history of South Africa. Candles were lit in memory of each of the persons that were killed and the documentary telling the story of the events was viewed.

Today we will take time to hang a yellow banner calling the community to remember, reflect, and be a part of working for a community that lives for something different than the violence that occurred on that day.

The banners that hang at Central Methodist Mission are viewed on computer screens in other parts of the world. The message we send is a message to a world of people calling them to stand for a different way of living together as neighbours in this world. This will be the first banner I have witnessed being hung, but I have seen the pictures of them and they have strengthened me in my own life and ministry.

The call to love God & Neighbour can be interpreted for each of us in different ways, but in the midst of a time when people live with questions, fears, and doubt. I am thankful for this community and the witness we are to the world around us. As we depart from this place today, my hope is that each of us will continue to reflect on the ways in which we can be a sign and symbol of God’s love to each other and our neighbours around the world.

Question for reflection: Who are people around me that God might be asking me to take notice of in a different way? How might I live more fully into this commandment to love God and neighbour this week?

With you on the journey, Michelle


For Love of God & Neighbour

What does it mean to love God and love our neighbour? This is a question that has been asked over and over again by people of God in every generation. The greatest commandment calls us to this:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Matthew 22:37-40

As we struggle with this question in our individual lives, we must also struggle with it in our corporate lives together as well.

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
Edith Wharton

 

Fault Lines

Fault Lines

August 9, 2015  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Fault Lines

Grace and peace to you …

Seismologists are those who study the quakes that occur in the earth — earthquakes. There are many reasons for the occurrence of earthquakes, but one of them is movement along a fault line — or crack underneath the earth’s surface.

Seismologists work to predict earthquakes by tracing the activity of seismic waves or pings of energy that vibrate out as the plates begin to shift along a fault line or crack in the rocky ground beneath us. Throughout the course of human history, prophets have served in this same capacity for the people of God. The voices of the prophets name for us the places in our life together where there are cracks.

On August 9, 1956, 20,000 women marched in opposition to the pass laws in South Africa. They held in their hands over 100,000 signatures opposing this law that would give strength to the Apartheid System that was the fault line of the day — the crack that was killing true community. As the women protested, they sang a song and the words translated to, “Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.” This phrase now represents the courage and strength of women in South Africa. Today and tomorrow, South Africans will honour all women as we celebrate National Women’s Day.

There are fault lines beneath us in our life together still today. What might the women of 1956 have to say to the reality that 1 in 3 women worldwide will suffer some sort of violence in their lifetime and that more than 57% of the women who are murdered are murdered by a loved one? The women of 1956 demonstrated with their march the need for us to gather around the places where there are cracks in our life together as children of God. Injustices need to be named and work must be done to make right the fault lines that shift beneath our feet.

Question for reflection: Take some time to name the fault lines or cracks that exist in the world around us where injustice exists. What might you do to stand and name these injustices like the women of 1956 and many others throughout the course of history have?

With you on the journey, Michelle