“Take care of God”

March 25, 2018  |  Palm Sunday, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on “Take care of God”

Grace to you

We can tell a great deal about someone by the prayers they pray. This is true especially when trouble is in the air or in the soul.

In last Sunday’s scripture reading [John 12] we read that no sooner had Jesus spoken of being troubled – did he begin to pray. He prayed not to be saved from his troubles, but rather: “Father glorify your name”. He refused to center his prayer on himself, but rather on the true center of his being – the one he knew as Father – the Parental Love that holds all life together.

Last week I read out the prayer of another who lived during troubled times – Etty Hillesum – a young Jewish woman from Amsterdam who was killed at age 27 in Auschwitz in 1943. She too refused to center her prayers on herself. She prayed not to be saved but rather to “take care of God” and to “guard” that place in her where God dwells.

A week before she was killed, Etty prayed:

“I shall promise you one thing, God, just one very small thing: I shall never burden my today with cares about tomorrow, although that takes some practice. Each day is sufficient unto itself.

I shall try to help you, God, to stop my strength ebbing away, though I cannot vouch for it in advance. But one thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that you cannot help us; that we must help ourselves. And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of you, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well.

Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much you yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold you responsible. You cannot help us, but we must help you and defend your dwelling place inside us to the last … You are sure to go through lean times with me now and then, when my faith weakens a little, but believe me, I shall always labour for you and remain faithful to you and I shall never drive you from my presence.“

Perhaps we can begin to pray for our prayers to center less on ourselves and more on others and the Divine Lover of all. A simple prayer may get us going: “Make my prayer less about me …” Perhaps this will lead us to salvation. Salvation as in: saved from the need to be saved – which is what this next week – Holy Week – is all about. If we want to save our life we will lose it, but if we can give it away for Love’s sake – we will find it.

Grace and gratitude,
Alan

Start something beautiful

Start something beautiful

March 18, 2018  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Start something beautiful

Grace to you

Thank you to all those who sponsored me to ride the Cape Town Cycle Tour on behalf of Stepping Stones Children’s Centre. Together we raised R43540.00!

Truth be told, I get a bit anxious about the ride each year. It’s a bit manic and the crashes that one inevitably witnesses don’t do the nerves any good. I prefer the solitude and silence of cycling on my own. Yet on Sunday something beautiful happened to me. Let me try and explain: Arguably one of the most import skills in cycling is the ability to secure a position behind another cyclist. This is called “slip-streaming” or “drafting”. This is the reason cyclists form bundles – ever-seeking a place behind the next and “shelter from the storm” [as Bob Dylan would say]. Slip-streaming not only shields one from headwinds [thankfully there was no wind on Sunday], but actually “sucks” the drafting cyclist along. Drafting typically saves about a third of a following rider’s energy. If three or more riders are in single file, the riding gets easier the farther back you are. When the speed is up, the bundle thins out into a long train and if you are out of the slip-stream it will pass you by in a flash. And here is the real frustrating part: they fly past you while using less effort. This would even make a Zen Monk lose their sense of mindfulness.

So, on Sunday around 10 km into the ride when the “bundle” was long and thin and fast I was watching the train steam past me. While trying my utmost to keep up next to it, I was pretty much going backwards. Then I heard a voice from behind me: “Hey Alan you want to come in? Slip in in-front of me…”. A cyclist made room and the next second, I was in the train going faster while using less energy which is equivalent to the joy of a Zen Monk reaching full enlightenment.

Now I know that this is quite a trivial event, but it touched me nevertheless. For a second, I forgot that my name was printed on my race number on the back of my jersey, so when I heard my name I was very surprised. To have a complete stranger be thoughtful enough to call me by my name made this act of kindness an act of intimacy. Suddenly, the race and the position and the speed was transcended by something truly beautiful. Yes, beauty caresses way above its weight.

I noticed two things that flowed from this truly beautiful something: First, I found myself smiling each time it came to mind – even while going up parts of Suikerbossie (obviously not all of it because I am not a Zen Monk). Second, for the rest of the ride I looked for opportunities to let other riders onto the train, inviting them by name to get on board.

For the people who start something beautiful within us and through us I am grateful…
Alan

How are you feeling?

How are you feeling?

March 11, 2018  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on How are you feeling?

Grace to you

If for any reason you are feeling torn or stuck or lost or simply drifting along or disconnected or uprooted or in-between, I hope you will take comfort in this poem by Judy Brown:

Trough

There is a trough in waves,
A low spot
Where horizon disappears
And only sky
And water
Are our company.

And there we lose our way
Unless
We rest, knowing the wave will bring us
To its crest again.

There we may drown
If we let fear
Hold us within its grip and shake us
Side to side,
And leave us flailing, torn, disoriented.

But if we rest there
In the trough,
Are silent,
Being with
The low part of the wave,
Keeping
Our energy and
Noticing the shape of things,
The flow,
Then time alone
Will bring us to another
Place
Where we can see
Horizon, see the land again,
Regain our sense
Of where
We are,
And where we need to swim.

Judy Brown

In the dips of life Brown invites us to rest. She reminds us that our lives are not the only moving parts – that if we still ourselves we will still be moved. It’s counter-intuitive.

The trough is not to be denied, but nor is it to be feared. Brown reminds us that fear is fatal and being lost or overwhelmed is manageable. 

Rest and silence gift us with insight. We see and observe and notice. We are given fresh perspective as we come to discover our bearings. The wave doesn’t deliver us – we still need to swim – but at least now we have energy and clarity of direction.

Grace,
Alan

 

There is still lots of time …

March 8, 2018  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on There is still lots of time …

Rocking foundations

Rocking foundations

March 4, 2018  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Rocking foundations

Grace to you

The bell in the CMM steeple has not sounded since 1897. Apparently when the 3.5-ton bell rings it shakes the foundations of the nearby buildings. Deemed a safety risk, it was silenced. The bell is a reminder of what a Church is meant to do, and that is to shake the foundations of the surrounding society as it sounds the Divine call for justice and mercy for all.

Seeing as we are not allowed to ring the bell, we decided a few years ago to use the well-positioned steeple in a different way, yet hopefully in a way that still shakes the foundations of our society. We decided to hang bright yellow banners from the steeple to call attention to various issues of injustice and suffering. Often we would partner with civil society organisations that were involved in engaging the particular issue we were addressing. We also seek to address the issue from a uniquely theological perspective. This week is no different.

It is crucially important for the church to join the call for the de-criminalisation of sex-work for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that the scriptures are very clear that we are to safeguard the lives of the most vulnerable and stand in solidarity with those that society in general treats as outcasts. To state the obvious, sex-workers are some of the most vulnerable people in our society who are consistently treated as outcasts.

The basis of our protection and care for the well-being of sex-workers is rooted in the theological fact that all human beings are engraved with the indelible image of God and therefore are to be treasured as the priceless gifts they are. In other words, our care for another has nothing to do with how they live and everything to do with the mere fact they are alive.

The Gospels are full of Jesus doing exactly this, over and over again. The outcasts of his day were so grateful for his welcoming invitation, affirming word and loving touch, but this caused much displeasure among the religious of his day as it does to this day. Yes the church is often better known for its judgement and rejection of the social outcast than loving solidarity. In other words, the church is often the one who throws the first stone! Sadly this is often done in the name of Jesus – the same Jesus who saved a woman whom the law had criminalised – from being stoned by religious men. By intervening, Jesus effectively de-criminalised her in that moment.

Now, if we are to protect the vulnerable and stand in solidarity with the outcast, then surely we must also oppose that which contributes to their vulnerability and outcast status. The criminalisation of sex-work does just this, and more, including violent abuse. For example, sex-workers are often abused by law enforcement (SAPS, Metro Cops and even security guards) by demanding sexual favours for sparing arrest, or securing early release.

The criminalisation of sex-work also disempowers the sex-worker to demand clients to practice safe-sex, thus adding to the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. [In fact according to research in the Lancet Medical Journal the de-criminalisation of sex-work could prevent between 1/3 and almost ½ of all new HIV infections globally in the next 10 years among sex-workers and clients.] Furthermore the criminalisation of sex-work contributes towards increased prejudice against them from both individuals and also service institutions like healthcare facilities. This may cause some not to seek out care when they are sick or injured placing their lives at great risk.

Finally on a simple level of logic: The criminalisation of sex-work has not eradicated sex-work as it intended to do and nor will it ever do so. So why would anyone continue to support a law that cannot ever do what it aims to do, yet in the process of repeatedly trying it causes such terrible harm?

Grace,
Alan

For the love of children

March 2, 2018  |  Notices  |  Comments Off on For the love of children

Each year Alan Storey cycles the Cape Town Cycle Tour (previously known as the
Cape Argus) to raise much needed funds for Stepping Stones Children’s Centre.

This year is no different – Alan cycles, generous people donate (no amount too small or too big) and 100% of every cent received is given to Stepping Stones. Your donation enables all the staff members to continue to devote their love, time and energy to the approximately 100 children who attend the school, some of whom come from challenging backgrounds.

One of Stepping Stones’ founding principles in 1976 was not to classify children according to race, and so throughout the apartheid years the school received no funding from the State and depended solely on the generosity of the community and it is still standing strong! So we know the world is full of very generous people.

Banking details are on the pamphlet below as well as on our website.

Thank you for your generosity.

Yellow banner theology

March 2, 2018  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Yellow banner theology

Our latest yellow banner (Jesus was the first to decriminalise sex work) is causing quite a stir.

CapeTalk: Koketso Sechane interviewing Alan Storey on 1 March

Visit our facebook page for more …

Merry-go-round-wonder

Merry-go-round-wonder

February 25, 2018  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Merry-go-round-wonder

Grace to you

Titus Masika lives in the small village of Yatta in Ukambani in Eastern Kenya. The Yatta catchment area is a semi-arid area and long considered to be one of the poorest in Kenya.

Between the years 2000-2005 he began a process of reflection over the plight of Africa and the people of Ukambani.

“My Kamba community was caught in the web of stagnation. We have become reliant on relief food, and political contestations were often around who would supply food in order to get our votes. We had become reliant on rain-fed agriculture and the erratic nature of rainfall had closed our eyes to new possibilities.”

As a priest, people from the village would often ask Masika to pray for rain. They would also question him on why God had not blessed them with enough rain. “Was God or the spirits punishing them?” – they would ask. Masika’s reply was that God does send us enough rain but the problem is that we fail to catch it.

So at the heart of Masika’s transformation plan was to “catch” or harvest the little rain that did fall by building numerous dams. Perhaps ‘dam’ is too big or deep a word to use. We are talking swimming pool size holes in the ground – that could be easily dug out by a family using picks and spades. Some that were built through the collective effort of the whole community were a little larger.

The first to embrace this idea of ‘catching’ the rain were the elderly women of the community. “We believed that we could do it ourselves through the merry-go-round approach, we went around each homestead assisting one another to dig up water pans. Slowly we moved from digging a few earth dams to more than 3000 water dams in 4 years.”

The number of women involved in the project had also grown from 45 to around 3000 of all ages from all over Yatta. The dams became a stable source of irrigation.

“These dams have made it possible for us to plant and harvest and sell crops all year round. We have enough food to eat and extra to sell and earn a decent income. Our crops include: sweet potatoes, pumpkins, cassava, watermelon, mangoes, paw-paw, sunflower among many others…”

From an impoverished semi-arid region to an all year round provider of a rich variety of food, is a story in the biblical class of water into wine.

In the last week we were told that “Day Zero” has been pushed out even further – now in July. I wonder if we are not witnessing the biblical promise of abundance that takes place when those who have much (too much!) faithfully fast which enables there to be enough for all. The water through our taps will continue to flow like an eternal spring as long as we take only what we need. Need and not want. Need and not greed! This is another form of the merry-go-round approach. A fasting so all may have enough. This is what Lent is all about.

With merry-go-round wonder,
Alan

The reeds win!

The reeds win!

February 18, 2018  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The reeds win!

Grace and peace to you

President Zuma has resigned. It happened on Wednesday. Wednesday was Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance. Repentance means to turn around. It does not mean to “be sorry”. That is remorse. Remorse is not repentance. Often remorse and repentance may go together, but not always. On Wednesday they did not go together! But no doubt about it there was a huge turn around between Zuma’s delusional and defensive rant in the afternoon and his resignation in the evening. Regardless of the cause and reason for the change and regardless of him showing zero sign of remorse, we can be grateful that there was in fact a turn around that I have no doubt saved lives.

When a person is completely out of touch with the truth of their living they become a danger to everyone around them. When the anchor of their conscience has pulled loose from their moorings they float any way the pre-dominant wind blows and self-interested tide determines. They inevitably bump into anything and everything in their way causing great damage. When principle ceases to determine direction the engine may continue to roar but there is no constructive movement – certainly no movement forward, like when a propeller is entangled in the reeds.

Reeds! Reeds are thin and scrawny strings reaching up from the depths ever-seeking out the light on the surface of the waters. They appear quite insignificant, especially in the face of a powerfully spinning propeller. Yet when a couple of them get together they have the capacity to stall and stop the most powerful of engines. They are smart and wily and above all endlessly courageous. They are not naïve. They know some of them will be cut up and spat out but they also know with cement-like conviction that it is the propeller’s own spinning that will tie itself up in a nasty knot. It is only a matter of time and pressure. The reeds trust through their many doubts that in the end history will smile gratefully on them.

This week I smile gratefully at the journalists, judiciary and activists who with cement-like conviction in their depths courageously searched for the light. Some, at great cost and having to overcome huge waves of fear and intimidation stretched themselves, reaching up reed-like, into the spinning turbulence of corrupting power.

We have witnessed the purring engine begin to splutter…to slow…to stall…to stop?

The reeds win! As in ancient times the Hebrew slaves scampered through the Red Sea to freedom. Interestingly, another name for the Red Sea is the Reed Sea. The reeds win! As it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever amen.

This does not mean we have arrived. To stop going in the wrong direction does not mean we are going in the right direction. But it does give us a moment – an Ash Wednesday moment – that invites us to repent. To turn around and to reset our sights on what is just and true.

Written with reed-like certainty,
Alan

A Sermon of Music

A Sermon of Music

February 11, 2018  |  Sunday Letter, Transfiguration Sunday  |  Comments Off on A Sermon of Music
CMM’s Latest Yellow Banner

Frustrated in the traffic?
Imagine not being able to get to work.
Fix our trains so that we can get to work
safely and on time!
Get MetroFail back on track. 

 

Grace and Peace

Today we are doing something totally different. Today the sermon and prayers will come to us through song!

It is a great joy to welcome two choirs who will be leading worship today. The Swarthmore College Alumni Gospel Choir brings with it national and international tours and prestige in the venues of gospel music spirituals and soul. The choir of First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG) has performed extensively in our native area, including appearances at the Kimmel Center in 2017, one of a few church choirs to attain that honour. Furthermore, FUMCOG has taken its mission of social justice throughout the world, including Johannesburg, South Africa in 1993, forming a delegation to stand in solidarity with Nelson Mandela, in a voice of freedom to end apartheid.

Today is the last day of their mission pilgrimage to South Africa and it is really a privilege to have them at CMM.

The choirs will present a full 60 minute programme of various American music. There will be three 20 minute sets as follows: 20 minutes for Swarthmore; 20 minutes for FUMCOG; 20 minutes combined.

The repertoire from Swarthmore to be determined, out of the gospel and soul traditions while the FUMCOG repertoire to include: Salmo 150 – Ernani Aguiar; Spirituals by Moses Hogan: I Want to Thank You, Lord; Hear My Prayer; William Billings: Easter Anthem; Mark Miller: I Believe; Oh for a Thousand Tongues; Aaron Copland: Tis a Gift to be Simple; Zion’s Walls. Combined they will do: Freedom Trilogy – Paul Halley; Hope for Resolution: A Song for Mandela and De Klerk – Sean Ivory/Paul Caldwell; Praise His Holy Name – Keith Hampton.

Grace,
Alan


Another water saving suggestion

This picture shows 60 litres of water that was used for one machine wash on a 28 minute “daily express” cycle!

Please unplug your washing machine’s outlet; check how much water is being used; collect this water for re-use (like flushing toilet).

Listen to 28 January‘s sermon to “Getting to the source of the water crisis”.