Tribute to Roy Smith

February 20, 2015  |  Tribute  |  Comments Off on Tribute to Roy Smith

Themba Mntambo – minister at CMM from 2004 until 2008 – paid the following tribute to Roy.


Roy Smith, one of the best human beings I have ever met in my life. A person with a deep understanding of human life, its weakness and frailty, its feebleness and fickleness, its darkness and ugliness. Yet never ever dwelt on those. He chose to see the other side; strength and boldness, resilience and fortitude, light and glory. With Roy, every human being deserved respect, dignity, love and care. He would not bow and scrape to power and authority, he would honour and respect those who had it, but more than that, he would rather bow and scrape to those who did not have it, so that they may, for those moments he met them and they met him, feel just as powerful, just as strong as those who already had it.

He would walk across to me every Sunday and say “the view was great on Chapman’s Peak this morning”, inviting me to join him in cycling. Much as I tried to ignore him, he persisted until I bought a bike and started cycling – I can remember, I can almost see the light on his face when I let him know that I had bought a bike, the helmet, the top and shorts. He invited me to join him “on the road”. Then I called him “coach”. He was there with me, giving me tips, guiding me through traffic, always encouraging and helpful, certainly enjoying time on the road, side by side with his own convert to cycling.

He walked across to me one Sunday and declared “we need to have a singing group together”. So we got together, a small group of men to sing: When I survey the wondrous cross (the Welsh version), Ntyilo, Ntyilo (a South African Jazz song), Maria (from West Side Story), Roy was the leader, the coach, always encouraging, always inspiring, giving and sharing his gifts and talents. We sang well because Roy led us well.

He walked across to me, every Sunday, “that was a great sermon, thank you…” Even when I knew it was not so great, he knew that I tried my best. For him it was not so much the perfect end product that was important, it was the great effort put into the task that impressed him most. After such affirmation and encouragement, would anyone not seek to do better, would anyone wish to let him down? No, no one wanted to let him down. I knew where he and Rae sat on Sundays; right at the back or thereabouts. One could cast one’s eye in that direction and there he was, listening intently, in order to find something in what the preacher said that would enable him to say “that was a great sermon, thank you”.

I was his pastor, he was my friend. He had a great sense of humour, he could laugh; he never laughed at people, he laughed with people. He loved his family, was proud of all of them. Rae, he was all these things to me, I know he was much more to you; he was everything! You were everything to him too! He would walk across to me and say’ “Rae baked some bread yesterday; you must come over and taste her bread”. I did one day, and I never stopped asking for your bread… You were the perfect hostess in your home, he was the perfect host. Together you made everyone in your home the perfect guest. We will miss Roy; I know you will miss him more. I pray that you will know God’s comfort and love at this time. Post Tenebras Lux (After darkness, light).

Grace and Peace
Themba Mntambo
18th February 2015

Contemplation

Contemplation

February 15, 2015  |  Sunday Letter, Transfiguration Sunday  |  Comments Off on Contemplation
André Brink died this week.

 A Dry White Season – André Brink

“I had never been so close to death before.
For a long time, as I lay there trying to clear my mind, I couldn’t think coherently at all, conscious only of a terrible, blind bitterness. Why had they singled me out? Didn’t they understand? Had everything I’d gone through on their behalf been utterly in vain? Did it really count for nothing? What had happened to logic, meaning and sense?
But I feel much calmer now. It helps to discipline oneself like this, writing it down to see it set out on paper, to try and weigh it and find some significance in it.
Prof Bruwer: There are only two kinds of madness one should guard against, Ben. One is the belief that we can do everything. The other is the belief that we can do nothing.
I wanted to help. Right. I meant it very sincerely. But I wanted to do it on my terms. And I am white, and they are black. I thought it was still possible to reach beyond our whiteness and blackness. I thought that to reach out and touch hands across the gulf would be sufficient in itself. But I grasped so little, really: as if good intentions from my side could solve it all. It was presumptuous of me. In an ordinary world, in a natural one, I might have succeeded. But not in this deranged, divided age. I can do all I can for Gordon or scores of others who have come to me; I can imagine myself in their shoes, I can project myself into their suffering. But I cannot, ever, live their lives for them. So what else could come of it but failure?
Whether I like it or not, whether I feel like cursing my own condition or not — and that would only serve to confirm my impotence — I am white. This is the small, final, terrifying truth of my broken world. I am white. And because I am white I am born into a state of privilege. Even if I fight the system that has reduced us to this I remain white, and favored by the very circumstances I abhor. Even if I’m hated, and ostracized, and persecuted, and in the end destroyed, nothing can make me black. And so those who are cannot but remain suspicious of me. In their eyes my very efforts to identify myself with Gordon, with all the Gordons, would be obscene. Every gesture I make, every act I commit in my efforts to help them makes it more difficult for them to define their real needs and discover for themselves their integrity and affirm their own dignity. How else could we hope to arrive beyond predator and prey, helper and helped, white and black, and find redemption?
On the other hand: what can I do but what I have done? I cannot choose not to intervene: that would be a denial and a mockery not only of everything I believe in, but of the hope that compassion may survive among men. By not acting as I did I would deny the very possibility of that gulf to be bridged.
If I act, I cannot but lose. But if I do not act, it is a different kind of defeat, equally decisive and maybe worse. Because then I will not even have a conscience left.
The end seems ineluctable: failure, defeat, loss. The only choice I have left is whether I am prepared to salvage a little honour, a little decency, a little humanity — or nothing. It seems as if a sacrifice is impossible to avoid, whatever way one looks at it. But at least one has the choice between a wholly futile sacrifice and one that might, in the long run, open up a possibility, however negligible or dubious, of something better, less sordid and more noble, for our children…”

____________________________

There are so many aspects of this piece from A Dry White Season that deserve our attention, but I would like us to pay attention to Brink’s ability at pay attention. His insight into himself and his relationships as well as the socio-political history and immediate context in which he lived is piercingly insightful. This does not come easily or quickly. It comes as a result of the longest of journeys — the journey within.

Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living”. The journey of self-examination demands much contemplation (as Thomas Merton invites); as well as great courage to connect with others who see the world from a different angle to ourselves. And because they see from a different angle they will help us to see shadows where we only see light and help us to see light where we only see shadows.

The season of Lent more than any other invites us on this journey of self-examination. In other words, Lent calls us to deepen our contemplation and stretch our connections with others. This is not easy and nor can it be rushed but it is essential if we want to live life in ways that honour Jesus.

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

“Contemplation cannot construct a new world by itself. Contemplation does not feed the hungry; it does not clothe the naked … and it does not return the sinner to peace, truth, and union with God.

But without contemplation we cannot see what we do in the apostolate. Without contemplation we cannot understand the significance of the world in which we must act. Without contemplation we remain small, limited, divided, partial: we adhere to the insufficient, permanently united to our narrow group and its interests, losing sight of justice and charity, seized by the passions of the moments, and, finally, we betray Christ.

Without contemplation, without the intimate, silent, secret pursuit of truth through love, our action loses itself in the world and becomes dangerous.”

~ Thomas Merton

Training together

Training together

February 8, 2015  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Training together

Grace and Peace to you

A few weeks ago I was attending a conference. After a long day’s session of sitting I had decided that it would be good to go for a run before dinner. Wearily walking back to my room it felt that a snooze would be more appropriate. Anyway, just before I got to my room I overheard a fellow participant ask another if he was going running. After answering that he was going for a run he proceeded to invite me to join him. It was all that I needed to be motivated: An invitation to do what I knew would be good for me and that which I really wanted to do.

So I went running and skipped the snooze.

I ended up running faster and further than I would have had I gone on my own (which was still not very far or fast). We decided to run together every day for the duration of the conference. Each time forgoing the tempting snooze before dinner. Each time running faster and further than I would have on my own.

The result: I became a little fitter than I would have either snoozing or running on my own. I also got to know my running partner who has since become a supportive friend.

In this small way I was reminded again how we are made to be in community with others. We will do life more faithfully if we deliberately do it in the company of others who “watch over us in love”.

Remember the African proverb: “If you want to go fast … go alone. If you want to go far … go together.” There is no meaningful spirituality that is “fast”, so there is no meaningful spirituality that is done alone. It’s a contradiction in terms.

When Jesus walked he walked with others — slow, steady, far and faithful. In two weeks’ time we begin the season on Lent — the painfully long journey to the cross. A journey we will not complete unless we link hearts and hands especially in prayer.

Some of us fasted for Ramadan last year — I hope we will be deliberate about fasting and praying together during Lent. Find someone to watch over in love. Ask someone to watch over you with love.

Grace, Alan


To assist you during load-shedding … 


Prayerful Preparation

“I shall look at the world through tears.
Perhaps I shall see things that dry-eyed I could not see.
The tears streamed down, and I let them flow as freely as they would,
making of them a pillow for my heart. On them it rested.”

– St Augustine

The Gospel according to Yellow and Stripe

The Gospel according to Yellow and Stripe

February 1, 2015  |  Covenant Sunday, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The Gospel according to Yellow and Stripe

Grace and Peace to you

Hope for the Flowers was one of the first books I remember my mom giving to me. I have never stopped reading it and never stopped trusting in its truth. It could have been called The Gospel according to Yellow and Stripe.

It is about two caterpillars named Yellow and Stripe. Yellow and Stripe were in love with each other. They decided that there was more to life than getting to the top of the caterpillar pile and decided to journey in a new direction. To live for each other instead of themselves and to focus on loving. For caterpillars this meant that they did a lot of hugging – well actually caterpillars don’t hug, they curl. They really are good curlers!

I won’t spoil the whole story for you … but just to say at some point they had to make a big decision. It was full of risk. The decision terrified them both. They had to give up the only life they knew in the hope of a new life they barely thought possible and yet somehow they could not give up the belief that it was possible. They had to die … in order to live more fully — yes even fly.

For me this is the most beautiful and clear picture of the new life that Jesus invites us into when he invites us to walk in his ways. It is a huge risk and it is terrifying. It involves dying to oneself and giving ourselves to each other in love. Just the idea bubbles with promise within my belly — how about yours?

In today’s Covenant Service we are invited to risk giving up our lives for Love’s sake. When we do we die. When we do we are re-born. When we do, we soar like on the wings of eagles … or is it butterflies?

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

“I shall look at the world through tears.
Perhaps I shall see things that dry-eyed I could not see.
The tears streamed down, and I let them flow as freely as they would,
making of them a pillow for my heart. On them it rested.”

– St Augustine

 

 

Why judge?

Why judge?

January 25, 2015  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Why judge?

Grace and Peace to you

Jesus said: “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For the judgment you make you will be judged and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” Mathew 7:1-6

I can’t tell you how often I hear people quoting this scripture — well parts of it at least — especially the first three words: “Do not judge…”

I hear it most often used in response to someone who makes their opinion known about some or other matter. The “do not judge” comment tends to silence the objecting opinion as if we should not judge whether something is right or wrong, but this was not Jesus’ intention at all. Sadly this false interpretation can result in us simply copping out from the responsibility to stand up to wrong doing. It can also be used to stop uncomfortable but necessary conversations from happening.

Jesus is not saying that we should stop discerning right from wrong. However, he is saying that we are never in a position to judge ourselves as better human beings than others.

Living with the truth that we are no better than anybody else should humble us but not silence us when we witness abuse or injustice or corruption taking place.

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

O God, who am I now?
Once, I was secure
in familiar territory
in my sense of belonging
unquestioning of the norms of my culture
the assumptions built into my language the values shared
by my society.

But now you have called me out and away from home
and I do not know where you are leading.
I am empty, unsure, uncomfortable.
I have only a beckoning star to follow.

Journeying God,
pitch your tent with mine so that I may not become
deterred by hardship, strangeness, doubt.
Show me the movement I must make
toward a wealth not dependent on possessions
toward a wisdom not based on books
toward a strength not bolstered by might
toward a God not confined to heaven
but scandalously earthed, poor, unrecognised…

Help me to find myself
as I walk in others’ shoes.

~ Kate Compston

 

Recovery of Innocence

Recovery of Innocence

January 18, 2015  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Recovery of Innocence
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.  Psalm 139.


Grace and Peace to you

Some weeks leave us feeling a little more frazzled than others. You know that feeling when the thread that you have been meaning to cut gets hooked on the splintered side of the kitchen chair and the entire hem is pulled out before you can stop it? Well it has been one of those unravelling kind of weeks for me. I guess we all have them from time to time.

When I am feeling more threadbare than usual I am often drawn (sometimes it feels like I am being pushed) back to the bare basics of my life and the fundamentals of my faith. I return to what I know I can trust to hold my weight, especially when it feels I can’t.

The most concise summary of what I have come to trust to hold my weight is called the Principle and Foundation from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius which is not too dissimilar to our annual Covenant Service. A number of years ago I had the privilege to be led through the Exercises (which I don’t have space to explain now) suffice to say that the Principle and Foundation is both the root and the fruit of the entire spiritual journey. Each retreat participant is encouraged to express the Principle and Foundation in their own words. So here is what I trust holds the weight of my life … and yours:

  • God has freely created humanity in love, by love and for love, yet also with the freedom not to love, and for this, God is to be joyfully praised and humbly served.
  • God created the entire universe as a good place to experience God’s love and to exercise our own love, all for the purpose of becoming who God has already designed us to be.
  • Hence, we should appreciate and make use of everything that sets us free from the fear to grow in love and rid ourselves of everything that is a hindrance to this.
  • Therefore, we must hold all things loosely and with open hands. Consequently, as far as we are concerned we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honour to dishonour, a long life to a short life, but rather rejoice in all things.
  • From now on, our one desire and choice should be to love Christ and know the power of his resurrection and share his sufferings, whether by life or by death.

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

O God, who am I now?
Once, I was secure
in familiar territory
in my sense of belonging
unquestioning of the norms of my culture
the assumptions built into my language the values shared by my society.

But now you have called me out and away from home
and I do not know where you are leading.
I am empty, unsure, uncomfortable.
I have only a beckoning star to follow

Journeying God,
pitch your tent with mine so that I may not become
deterred by hardship, strangeness, doubt.
Show me the movement I must make
toward a wealth not dependent on possessions
toward a wisdom not based on books
toward a strength not bolstered by might
toward a God not confined to heaven
but scandalously earthed, poor, unrecognised…

Help me to find myself
as I walk in others’ shoes.

~ Kate Compston

 

Fear casts out love

Fear casts out love

January 11, 2015  |  Epiphany, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Fear casts out love

Grace and Peace to you

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear;..” from 1 John 4:18. This insightful verse of Scripture warrants a lifetime of pondering.

If true, it allows us to make two further statements:

[1] Perfect fear casts out love.
[2] The opposite of love is not hate, but fear.

This then helps us to understand something of the loveless acts of terror that we witnessed in Paris this week.

Acts of terror are not rooted in a religion or a sacred text. They are not even rooted in hate. They rest in fear. Fear first! Only when a person or group of people feel fear-full will they be prepared to commit an act of terror. Feeling under threat justifies the need to “defend” ourselves, which is the second step towards terror. It is not long before “any means” is acceptable to defend ourselves, including pre-emptive measures which is step three and close to the final step which is to seek out a “blessing” for these measures from an accepted source of authority. This fourth step is where religion often comes into the picture. The aim is to find a sacred text that can be used to justify the decisions already made. This transforms (at least for those involved) hideous acts into holy deeds.

Fear is the motivating factor and religion or an ideology of sorts is the justifying factor. With these two factors in place terror is unleashed and the innocent casualties will be put down to the accepted arithmetic of war.

If we want to reduce terror in the world we must ask who is terrified and why, and seek to address the causes of that fear. We can start by refusing to live in fear ourselves as the Bible continually commands us to “Fear not!”

Gandhi knew this, he said: “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is fear.”

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

O God, who am I now?
Once, I was secure
in familiar territory
in my sense of belonging
unquestioning of the norms of my culture
the assumptions built into my language the values shared by my society.

But now you have called me out and away from home
and I do not know where you are leading.
I am empty, unsure, uncomfortable.
I have only a beckoning star to follow.

Journeying God,
pitch your tent with mine so that I may not become deterred by hardship, strangeness, doubt.
Show me the movement I must make
toward a wealth not dependent on possessions
toward a wisdom not based on books
toward a strength not bolstered by might
toward a God not confined to heaven
but scandalously earthed, poor, unrecognised…

Help me to find myself
as I walk in others’ shoes.

~ Kate Compston

Images:
Break one, a thousand will rise: Lucille Clerc
A call to arms: Francisco J. Olea

 
Have a Blessed New Year

Have a Blessed New Year

January 4, 2015  |  Epiphany Sunday  |  Comments Off on Have a Blessed New Year

Have a Blessed New Year

May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths
And superficial relationships
So that you may live
Deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression
And exploitation of people
So that you may work for
Justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain
Rejection, hunger and war
So that you may reach out your hand
To comfort them and
To turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can
Make a difference in the world
So that you can do
What others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness
To all our children and the poor.

In God’s great grace we say “Amen – so be it”.

A Franciscan Blessing which is used as the Benediction at CMM.

Image: Jason Fowler www.sustainabletraditions.com

Justice, mercy and humility

Justice, mercy and humility

December 28, 2014  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Justice, mercy and humility

CMM’s latest Yellow Banner mounted on the steeple!


Grace and Peace to you

Every Sunday newsletter carries the words from Micah 6:8 “What the Lord requires of us: To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God”. The prophet Micah sums up the purpose of life perfectly. It really is as simple and as difficult as that.

Jesus certainly took this to heart. If we look at Jesus’ living and teaching — it all fits into these three ways of being. If we are not sure about this “God stuff”, do as Micah says and God will smile. If we question what we should be doing with our one little life or find our living meaningless then following Micah’s advice should do the trick.

As 2014 turns to 2015 we are given another opportunity to pause and reflect on what we are doing with our time and our life. To explore how we can act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God more faithfully in the coming year is at the core of the being a follower of Jesus.

To act justly is to learn and name the ways that social, political, economic and religious systems oppress; to work to transform them, refusing to give in to apathy or cynicism. It is to believe that “unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word” – MLK.

To love mercy is to live in solidarity with those who are marginalised, despised, forgotten and ignored. Those that society considers to be the least. To offer relief and healing for those suffering and who carry upon themselves the sin of the world. To live out the truth that we are all family.

To walk humbly with God is to embrace practices of prayer, meditation, fasting, confession, Bible study, spiritual direction, recovery and therapy; to be sustained by the God made known in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

O God, who am I now?
Once, I was secure
in familiar territory
in my sense of belonging
unquestioning of the norms of my culture
the assumptions built into my language the values shared by my society.

But now you have called me out and away from home
and I do not know where you are leading.
I am empty, unsure, uncomfortable.
I have only a beckoning star to follow.

Journeying God,
pitch your tent with mine so that I may not become deterred by hardship, strangeness, doubt.
Show me the movement I must make
toward a wealth not dependent on possessions
toward a wisdom not based on books
toward a strength not bolstered by might
toward a God not confined to heaven
but scandalously earthed, poor, unrecognised…

Help me to find myself
as I walk in others’ shoes.

Kate Compston

God's foolishness

God’s foolishness

December 25, 2014  |  Christmas Day  |  Comments Off on God’s foolishness

In protest over the commercialisation of Christmas Art, Conrad placed a Father Christmas on a 5m high cross in front of his home with the inscription: “Santa died for your Master Card”. That is quite a statement. But one thing we can be sure of is that Santa will never be enough of a threat to be crucified by the powers that be. The mascots of money are courted not crucified.


Grace and Peace to you

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? … For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” [1 Corinthians 1:20]

Yes I know Paul was speaking about the Cross when he penned these words but they are equally true about the “foolish” birth of Jesus. Paul continues: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” [1 Corinthians 1:27-28].

What a foolish God this is to choose to be born into poverty within a country under hostile occupation. Jesus needed saving before he could start his saving work. A refugee child on the run is how Jesus’ life began.

What a foolish God this is to choose to be born as a “nobody”. I mean, why not come as someone powerful or at least popular? Someone who could “get the message out” far and wide? One who had access to important people with money and who could influence the real decision-makers?

 What a foolish God indeed.

As it was in the beginning so it was with Jesus’ birth. God specialises in creating out of nothing. All through scripture we see God doing wonders with so-called nobodies. Now this is affirming news when we feel like nobodies and it is also a reminder that the Divine more often than not comes to us from the unwanted margins of society. Those ignored and maligned, downtrodden and forgotten are who God uses to turn this world right-way-up. Christmas invites us to take our lead from the despised and marginalised.

Grace, Alan


Prayer of Preparation

CHRIST THE HUMBLE CHILD AMONG US
Humble child of Bethlehem, whose parents found no room in the inn,
we pray for all who are homeless.

Humble child of Bethlehem, born in a stable,
we pray for all who live in poverty.

Humble child of Bethlehem, rejected stranger,
we pray for all who are lost, alone, all who cry for loved ones.

Humble child of Bethlehem, whom Herod sought to kill,
we pray for all who live with danger, all who are persecuted.

Humble child of Bethlehem, a refugee in Egypt,
we pray for all refugees throughout the world.

Humble child of Bethlehem, in you God was pleased to dwell,
help us, we pray, to see the divine image in people everywhere. Amen.

David Blanchflower 1987