It really is not okay

It really is not okay

February 12, 2017  |  Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on It really is not okay

Grace and peace to you and through you

We live in a violent world.

There is state-sanctioned violence between nations. Anonymous drones drop death. There are wars within countries as people fight to hold onto power and resources. Adults acting like children and children turned into soldiers. There is conflict coded along ethnic and religious grounds. Gangs fight for turf in the streets. Bullies transform school corridors into tunnels of horror. Women live under unspoken curfews that determine where and when they can go. Marriages can alternate between kissed lip and bleeding lip … sometimes in the same night.

From the outside we may abhor this physical violence but those involved in it most often think it is necessary and justified. Just this past week on Wednesday there was an incident outside this Sanctuary. A young man mugged a couple in the market. He was chased and caught and brought back to the scene of the crime.
In seconds a large crowd surrounded him – some hitting him and others swearing at him. Some shouting: “F-him up. Beat him. Klap hom. Teach him a lesson.” I was told that “pastor we know how to deal with these people – leave us alone”.

In the same week President Zuma ordered the Army to provide “law and order” during the State of the Nation Address. The army should never ever be used for policing – it is a blood bath waiting to happen. But a fearful leader is a loveless leader.

At the same State of the Nation ceremony the traditional 21 gun salute is fired, again somehow endorsing the power of the gun and the power it protects.

Much closer to home – in fact, in some of our homes –  there is fear and there is terror. The fear and terror of domestic abuse. The cycle of physical and emotional violence followed by days of silence and walking on tip-toe or followed by apologies and remorse and flowers and promises … only to evaporate under fresh outbursts of madness.

In your most intimate relationships please, please know that you never ever “deserve” to be hit. Never ever! Please know that you did not “cause” your partner to hit you. Please know that you are not responsible for their anger management – they are! Please know that refusing to report domestic abuse “out of love” for you partner is not helping your partner. A person who beats their partner needs help. Professional help. Please know that “staying for the sake of the children” is seldom good for the children because of how they witness violence being normalised. This encourages abusive behaviour to be passed on from generation to generation.

Please know that you never ever have a right to hit your partner. If you have hit your partner you need help. And you can be helped. Let’s talk.

Grace,
Alan

Strange Fruit

Strange Fruit

February 5, 2017  |  Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Strange Fruit

In 1939, Billie Holiday recorded a song called, “Strange Fruit.” The lyrics came from a poem written two years before by Abel Meeropol. It was a protest song against racism in general, but it was naming the horror of the lynching trees. The words were written after the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abraham Smith on 7 August, 1930. One listener names that the song is, “the ugliest song, that it tears too much at the gut.” It is not a song you would have playing on repeat, but it is also not often that a song is found that can reach such a deep place in the gut. Here are the words:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit, blood on the leaves and blood at the root, black bodies swinging in the southern breeze, strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees. Pastoral scene of the gallant south, the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth, scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh, then the sudden smell of burning flesh. Here is fruit for the crows to pluck, for the rain to gather, for the wind to suck, for the sun to rot, for the trees to drop, here is a strange and bitter crop.

I heard this song for the first time in a cross-racial clergy group and our response was stunned silence and then prayers began to rise, the words of which were as raw as any prayer I had heard uttered before. There is strange fruit alive in the world today. The injustices that exist are like a stripping of a people, a slapping in the face of humanity, and a rape of the ways in which we are called to live as people working to sort out life the way Jesus embodied it. “One can have an awareness of a moral wrong on an intellectual level, without being wholly emotionally engaged” another shared, “Listening to strange fruit is literally like being kicked in the gut.” 

Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was a prayer of the gut. He would have been in touch with the beauty and wonder of the world, but the horrors would have been before him as well. The word Gethsemane literally means—olive press. His prayers were a pressing of his spirit, like olives being pressed for their oil, only the fruit of Jesus’ prayer was a life of faithfulness even if the cost was his blood. “If it be possible for this cup to pass from me, He prayed, “but nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, there are no roses or lilies, the garden is a grove of olive trees. We are told Jesus went there often to pray, to a place known as the olive press. 

Billie Holiday’s, Strange Fruit, is a haunting song. When I listen to it, I see the lynching tree and I see images of children washed up on the shore, attempting to find refuge. I see people lit on fire a tire around their neck, I see schools falling apart–children struggling to learn, I see women in tears beaten and bruised, I see people oppressed for worshipping in a different way. I see a world thirsty for something more and struggling to find its way there.

I understand why Jesus would pray in a place called the olive press, for it is when we are pressed on every side and relying on God, that we find our way to new fruit, fruit that is undeniably of God in that it breaks open reminding the world of the power of love. God’s fruit is born in the world one seed at a time, one act of defiance against systems that kill at a time, one–self-sacrificing ‘not my will, but yours’ love–at a time. And Jesus bids to us on his knees in a grove of olive trees, “Come, stay awake in prayer with me. Take care that you don’t become tempted to sleep.”

With you on the journey,
Michelle

A living sacrifice

A living sacrifice

January 29, 2017  |  Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on A living sacrifice

Grace and peace to you and through you

Today we renew our covenant – our promise – with God. The promise we make is nothing short of offering ourselves to be a living sacrifice. The living away of our life – for God’s sake – for Love’s sake – for Life’s sake – for Light’s sake. The Scriptures are full of people offering sacrifices to God – yet the prophets tell us that God does not delight in sacrifices. God does not need or want blood to be shed – be it the blood of one’s first born, or goats, sheep and bulls or of one’s enemies. A humble and contrite heart that seeks to do justice and relate to all in mercy is what God delights in.

Our covenant promise to be a living sacrifice is focused on delighting God. It is not a down payment for God’s favour. It is not what we need to do to get God to be on our side, but to re-orientate our living to be on God’s side. It is us at God’s service rather than God at our service. It is about reminding us that we are not to be the center of our own universe.

It is also a reminder (as the traditional marriage vows are too) that our relationship with God and our determination to delight God is not to be dependent on our own well-being but rather to remain faithful regardless of our circumstances in other words, in health and in sickness, for riches and for poverty.

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom  you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

Grace, Alan

 

May God protect our people

May God protect our people

January 22, 2017  |  Sunday Letter, Third Sunday after Epiphany  |  Comments Off on May God protect our people

Grace and peace to you and through you

At the start of another year I invite you to re-read the preamble of South Africa’s Constitution. These words could have come straight out of the mouth of Jesus. They embody so many of his priorities and they do so in such a helpfully contextualised way…incarnating Jesus’ call among us.

The words of the preamble begin with “We” and not “I”. A bit like the Lord’s Prayer starting with “Our” and not “My”. In other words, we cannot live out these words on our own—we will do it together or not at all. The first injunction—to “recognise”—reminds us of how Jesus used to open people’s eyes to see anew. We are called to recognise injustices (our sin) in the past…and present. Sin is the choice of death over life. The words that follow after recognising the injustice, places us on the path of repentance and reparation beginning with the honouring of those who have suffered for justice and freedom, and ending with the truth that we are all fundamentally one family with the rest of the world.

We, the people of South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to

Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;

Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law; 

Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and

Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

May God protect our people.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba
sa heso. God seën Suid-Afrika.
God bless South Africa.
Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika.
Hosi katekisa Afrika.

I share this with you not only to remind us of our contextualised task, but also to remind us that Gospel comes to us through the Scriptures and through many other texts—for the Spirit blows where it wills…and she refuses to be captured. May we be able to discern the Spirit’s life-giving invitation in South Africa today.

Grace, Alan

Trust

Trust

January 15, 2017  |  Second Sunday after Epiphany, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Trust

I was walking up Kloof Street some time ago after presiding at a communion service for Good hope MCC’s evening service. I had my clergy collar on and was stopped several times by people on the street. Some of them were people who I saw every day as I walked to and from work, but they didn’t know I was a Pastor until they saw me in the collar. They asked questions that made me laugh. The common one was had I stocked up on Doom. Yet, many shared the same thing, that they had lost interest in Church. I was fascinated by how many were drawn to ask me questions though they were naming a disinterest in Church. It is the mystery of the collar.

I sat for some time with a woman who when she saw me asked if she could ask me some questions. As she shared her questions, her story of deep pain and struggle unfolded. I shared a coffee with her, listened and sadly had no real answers for her other than the truth that God was with her, she was not alone, that there was no darkness in the world that God’s love was not able to break through. I still see this woman on the streets almost every day. Her life is still challenging, but I see it in her eyes that the connection we made no matter how brief and the daily seeing of one another on the streets has helped her to feel less alone.

There is a real hunger and thirst for God that I recognize in the world around us, though the lack of trust in the Church is real. That might be why different models of what it looks like to be church are arising in the world around us. Trust is something that is earned and it builds over time by the investments we make. There are people in the world that feel that the Church is not investing in them and they are the ordinary people out in the world around us. I am not a fan of clergy attire in general, but that evening reminded me of the power of the Church being present in unexpected places in the world.

I have a t-shirt that says, “Church can happen anywhere.” Sometimes I wear it to marches in the city and I get the same response as I did when I wore my clergy collar. People want to know where I got the shirt. They want to know what Church I belong to. They want to know my thoughts about God and the things that are real. It is amazing to me how God can use us in the most amazing of ways and in the most interesting of places. My walk to and from home every day is one of the times when I am constantly surprised. Car guards will stop me to ask questions, taxi drivers will shout out “hey lady Pastor”, and people bless me constantly.

Trust in God is not something people out in the world are readily willing to do. Yet, they are intrigued by the people who do. So, my question for us all is how can we be a people who those around us witness as people of faith. It is a great question to live with as we continue in the living of this New Year. As you live in the question, remember the words of Proverbs 3:5&6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge God and your paths will become straight.”

With you on the journey,
Michelle

Restore Compassion

Restore Compassion

January 8, 2017  |  First Sunday after Epiphany, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Restore Compassion

Grace and peace to you and through you

Today we remember our Baptism as we reflect on the Baptism of Jesus. Baptism is to be washed – more like soaked – in the ways of Jesus. One aspect of Jesus’ character that the world desperately needs to soak itself in – is compassion. Compassion is the willingness to suffer with. The root of the word is connected to womb – wombishness. This reminds us that the suffer-ing we are willing to share is what enables new birth – new life. It may come as a surprise to you, that apathy is in actual fact the opposite of compassion. We under-stand apathy to mean – uncaring, which it is – but apathy’s root-meaning actually means the fear or refusal to suffer … with others.

A number of years ago Karen Armstrong co-ordinated the writing of the Charter for Compassion which is especially directed towards the religious. As we renew our baptism vows today let us renew our commitment to the Charter of Compassion again:

Charter for Compassion

“The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all reli-gious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.”

Grace, Alan

The Wisdom of Trees…

The Wisdom of Trees…

January 1, 2017  |  First Sunday after Christmas, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The Wisdom of Trees…

On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, there is an old tree that is called the Friendship tree. It is a Live Oak tree that is believed to be five centuries old. It has weathered the test of time and many a windy storm. The first time I came upon this tree, I felt as if it was drawing me in preparing to tell me a story. Any living part of creation that survives five centuries certainly must have a story to tell. There are trees that line the Gulf Coast that are younger, but they survived the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina and I call them the Grandfathers, for they carry the damage of the storm in their bark and in the shaping of their limbs. You can feel their weathering standing next to them, but you can also feel their strength.

Psalm 1:3 shares that “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not whither. In all that they do, they prosper.” The they in the psalm is meant to be the Israelites. They were likened to trees—trees that would find life giving water and strength. I remember sharing one day with a friend how much I loved the trees in the Company Gardens here in Cape Town. I was astonished to learn from him that the trees in the gardens grow so beautifully because underneath their ground flows a river of water from the mountains. Some of that mountain water is carried away and wasted, but the trees are situated strategically to receive and they witness to the truth of what it means to be catchers of that resource and in their lives be refreshed by it.

Live Oak trees have lateral roots that can grow ninety feet from the trunk line and from the lateral roots extend what are known as sinker roots, which create the anchoring that gives the trees such strength. Where are our anchors? Are our anchors in busy-ness? Are our anchors in the electronic maze? Are our anchors in the climb to the top of we don’t even know what or where? A tree searches for nutrients, that will bring it sustenance and strength. For the people of God, we find sustenance in God’s word. It is the best place for us to anchor ourselves, for in the Word of God is where we come alive.

There is a type of Fig tree called the Banyan Tree that bears multiple fruit. They are a tree that has a system of roots underneath, while they also drop roots from their limbs. The network of the roots pushes the tree to grow further in its life. There is a Banyan tree in Fort Meyers, Florida that was planted at four feet tall and now covers the span of an acre of land. To bear fruit in our lives that creates such growth not just in ourselves, but in the world around us, this is what it means to truly live! Revelation 22:2 speaks of a tree of life that stands in the middle of the city with a river of water flowing on both sides and the leaves of the tree, we are told, are for “the healing of the nations.” In this New Year, I invite you to find a tree. Examine its bark, wonder at its height, and work to emulate its network. Trees don’t simply reach up; they also reach out. Receive the gift of their majestic truth.

With you on the journey,
Michelle

 

Christmas Complications #RememberKwezi

December 25, 2016  |  Christmas Day  |  Comments Off on Christmas Complications #RememberKwezi

News24.com article on the Christmas Complications #RememberKwezi: Kwezi Sermon was outside the brief

Johannesburglife


There were complications at birth.

Yes.

Mary nearly lost the baby.

Jesus nearly didn’t see the light of day.

I am not talking about any complications during her pregnancy or during labour or the moment of delivery.

I am talking about life-threatening complications of a different type. These complications were the consequence of at least three things that, when mixed together and stirred almost always result in death. This remains as true today as it was 2000 years ago.

Life is threatened:

  • When discrimination is written into law or at least saturates the dominant culture.
  • When those called to hold the powerful accountable, don’t.
  • When the powerful use their power for their own promotion and protection.

Once we have explored these three complications – witnessing how they conspire to threaten life – we will turn our attention to what it was that enabled Mary and the baby to survive – and thereby receive a few hints at how we need to live today in order to engage the same life-threatening complications of our time.

1] The first life-threatening complication – according to the text for today – occurs when the powerful use their power exclusively for their own benefit.

King Herod was such like. He employed his power for his own privilege and protection. In other words: The No.1  priority of No.1  was to look after No.1 . This determined every one of Herod’s policy decisions that he signed into law. It also informed every cabinet re-shuffle. For Herod, self-preservation was the only real item on every meeting’s agenda that he attended.

This meant that Herod violated the constitution of God who implored all leaders – especially No.1  – to shepherd God’s people – all people. In other words to lead with pastoral care which meant to take special care of the poor, the weak, the foreigner and the vulnerable. This meant it was the king’s responsibility to provide green pastures of food and still waters to drink especially in times of drought. It meant that No.1 . was to safeguard and guide the people through the shadowed valleys of death and to successfully negotiate with enemies around a table and provide housing for all … all the days of their life. King Herod was however more focused on building his holiday home and housing the homeless poor who surrounded him.

Though the Roman State-owned media gave him a free ride, the people on the ground grew in resentment. On a few public occasions king Herod was booed – so he soon stuck to his popular ghettos of support. King Herod was hyper vigilant ever adding to his army of personal bodyguards. He was more than a little paranoid with his speeches sounding like strange riddles. The police were on permanent standby and he relied heavily on spooks for the latest info.

One day Herod was informed that there were three so-called “clever people” looking for the king. But they weren’t looking for him … they were looking for another king! As this news were told in the ancient text that “Herod was frightened … and all the people with him”. Yes, because when the elephants fight the grass suffers.

Herod was afraid. A fearful leader is a very dangerous leader because fear casts out love. Therefore a fearful leader is a loveless leader. And a loveless leader is a ruthless ruler. Herod did not care how many casualties as long as he stayed No.1 . Some called for him to resign, but he lived by the motto: “If I go down all will go down”.

So we read that Herod called the priests and scribes to enquire of them where the Messiah is to be born. They correctly state – “it will be in Bethlehem”. King Herod then arranges a secret meeting with the three so-called clever people requesting they search diligently and if they are successful, to return to him with the address so he too can go and worship.

But it was a trap. Herod had never worshipped anyone besides himself and he wasn’t going to start now.

2] The second life-threatening complication according to our ancient story is when those who are called to hold the powerful accountable, simply don’t.

Here we see the priests and the scribes (the public protectors of their day) forsake their sacred duty. Their primary role was to hold the powerful, especially the king, accountable for his pastoral responsibilities and by doing so to uphold God’s constitution of care for the poor. Yet in our text we find them living in comfort and ease close to the king. Some investigative journalists named this “priestly capture”. It still happens to this day.

Instead of fearlessly speaking truth to power – they turn out to be praise-singers for the king. They tell the king what he wants to hear rather than what God wants him to hear. In this way, religion is used to validate and condone what it should challenge and correct.

Note, according to the story we see that these priests and scribes knew the constitution. They knew where the true king was to be born – in Bethlehem, yet they were happy to remain in Jerusalem. Go figure? To forsake the single most important task of one’s vocation can only mean that Herod’s system of patronage must have been extremely lucrative.

3] The third life-threatening complication according to our ancient story is when discrimination is written into law or at least saturates the dominant culture.

The system of discrimination – that was legal at the time – was the system of patriarchy. Patriarchy is simply understood as the belief and practice that men are superior to women. That women are inferior to men. That women are not their own person, but gain their human worth by either belonging to their father or husband.

In other words – it’s a man’s world and women exist in it to please and serve men while men get to decide about the role of women in society and this includes men having control over women’s bodies. This system of patriarchy was underpinned by the Scriptures – with numerous verses being quoted by men to support the view that it was in fact God’s design that women submit their worth to men.

One example, pertinent to this Christmas reflection is that some ancient texts state that if a woman is pregnant yet unmarried or worse still pregnant from one man while engaged to another man – she could be flogged or stoned to death for this “sexual deviance” that brought shame on her or her in-laws’ family. And don’t think for a moment that back then anyone was buying into the virgin birth – which would have been deemed “fake news”.

Mary’s life was in deadly danger resulting from the patriarchal laws and culture of her time. Not dissimilar to the terrifying vulnerability of gay and lesbian people in our land today as we were gruesomely reminded a few weeks ago with the murder of Noluvo Swelindawo – a lesbian woman almost certainly targeted specifically for being lesbian – by men. By insecure men. By men who locate their masculinity in their sexual domination of women and who are therefore offended by lesbians who by denying them sex deny their manhood. Despite our liberating and protecting constitution the dominant culture remains anti-gay and this is in no small measure a result of how the Scriptures have been used to validate such discrimination – enabling people to do evil while believing they are doing good.

For the combination of these three reasons stated above, Mary nearly lost the baby.

To see how she and the baby survived we must take note of the following three things:

1] First, we see the Magi – the three so-called clever people. They were not fooled by the charm of No.1 . They defy his order to return to him with the information he requested. This is a risky act of civil disobedience. Here we see the power of principle trump the abuse of power. It would prove to be costly returning home another way – certainly no royal tenders coming their way in the future.

Note that the three so-called clever people were from the East. In other words they were outsiders. In other words not necessarily religious but they were truth seekers. They carry a longing to know – for the R2K where true power lies. In their truth seeking they shame the religious insiders who had long since exchanged the search for the truth for personal comfort.

2] Second, we see that the discriminatory law and culture of his day did not determine Joseph’s behaviour. Joseph’s character was one of compassion and mercy – his humaneness revealed in how he honoured the humanity of Mary. He respected her. Whenever someone refuses to discriminate against another – especially when law or culture encourage one to discriminate – life is saved.

3] Third, we see Mary’s own courageous imagination. Mary dared to imagine another world. A world true to the ancient constitution of God. A world where the powerful exist to serve the least. A world where the public is properly protected from the abuse of power. A world where women and men are respected and treated as equal and of sacred worth – each bearing the priceless image of the Creator.

Mary’s courageous imagination released the first Christmas Carol – which is very unlike the soppy and sentimental carols we sing today. Hers was a carol about knowing of her own favoured worth despite the demeaning laws of her land. Hers was a song about God who rules above the kings of the earth. A song about mercy and not judgment for the vulnerable. A song about the powerful falling from their thrones. (Mary was the first “fallist”.) A song about the hungry being filled and the rich sent away empty handed.

In other words Mary pre-dated Jean Jacques Rousseau who said: “One day the poor will have nothing left to eat … but the rich”.

Mary pre-dated Frantz Fanon: “What counts today – the question which is looking on the horizon – is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity must reply to this question or be shaken to pieces by it”.

Mary pre-dated Martin Espade in his poem “Imagine the Angels of Bread” when he imagined: “Squatters evict landlords”.

She pre-dated the four women who in silence loudly called the nation to #RememberKhwezi. Fezeka Khuzwayo – publically known as Kwezi wrote a poem. Her poem is no less courageously imaginative than Mary’s song of a different world. And she like Mary also had to flee for her life. The poem is called: “I am Khanga”.

I am Khanga

I wrap myself around the curvaceous bodies of women all over Africa
I am the perfect nightdress on those hot African nights
The ideal attire for household chores
I secure babies happily on their mother’s backs
Am the perfect gift for new bride and new mother alike
Armed with proverbs, I am vehicle for communication between women
I exist for the comfort and convenience of a woman
But no no no make no mistake …
I am not here to please a man
And I certainly am not a seductress
Please don’t use me as an excuse to rape
Don’t hide behind me when you choose to abuse
You see
That’s what he said my Malume
The man who called himself my daddy’s best friend
Shared a cell with him on [Robben] Island for ten whole years
He said I wanted it
That my khanga said it
That with it I lured him to my bed
That with it I want you is what I said
But what about the NO I uttered with my mouth
Not once but twice
And the please no I said with my body
What about the tear that ran down my face as I lay stiff with shock
In what sick world is that sex
In what sick world is that consent
The same world where the rapist becomes the victim
The same world where I become the bitch that must burn
The same world where I am forced into exile because I spoke out?
This is NOT my world
I reject that world
My world is a world where fathers protect and don’t rape
My world is a world where a woman can speak out
Without fear for her safety
My world is a world where no one, but no one is above the law
My world is a world where sex is pleasurable not painful
‘This is also my home’

The Magi’s power of principle together with Joseph’s humaneness together with Mary’s courageous imagination are what saved Mary and her baby.

And to the extent that we imitate them will be to the extent many others will be spared from the life-threatening complications of the abuse of power and the failure to hold the powerful to account as well as the presence of deadly discrimination.

_______

Alan Storey
Central Methodist Mission – Cape Town
Christmas Day broadcast service for SAFM – click on link to listen to the full recording of the sermon as recorded 0n 2016 12 11.

Text in red and italicised was edited out of the broadcast.

 

 

 

The grace of despair

The grace of despair

December 25, 2016  |  Christmas Day  |  Comments Off on The grace of despair

Grace and peace to you and through you

Christmas can be one of the most difficult times of the year for people. The expectation to be “happy” as in “Happy Christmas” is sometimes at complete odds with our lived experience and this can provoke an even greater despair than usual. So this is for all of you in despair at this time. David Whyte writes in Consolations on Heartbreak:

“Despair takes us in when we have nowhere else to go; when we feel the heart cannot break anymore, when our world or our loved ones disappear, when we feel we cannot be loved or do not deserve to be loved, when our God disappoints, or when our body is carrying profound pain in a way that does not seem to go away.

Despair is a haven with its own temporary form of beauty and of self-compassion, it is the invitation we accept when we want to remove ourselves from hurt. Despair, is a last protection…

Despair is a necessary and seasonal state of repair, a temporary healing absence, an internal physiological and psychological winter when our previous forms of participation in the world take a rest; it is a loss of horizon, it is the place we go when we do not want to be found in the same way anymore. We give up hope when certain particular wishes are no longer able to come true and despair is the time in which we both endure and heal, even when we have not yet found the new form of hope.

Despair is strangely, the last bastion of hope; the wish being, that if we cannot be found in the old way we cannot ever be touched or hurt in that way again. …Despair is the place we go when we no longer want to make a home in the world and where we feel, with a beautifully cruel form of satisfaction, that we may never have deserved that home in the first place…

Despair turns to depression and abstraction when we try to make it stay beyond its appointed season and start to shape our identity around its frozen disappointments. …Despair needs a certain tending, a reinforcing, and isolation, but the body left to itself will breathe, the ears will hear the first birdsong of morning or catch the leaves being touched by the wind in the trees, and the wind will blow away even the grayest cloud; will move even the most immovable season; the heart will continue to beat and the world, we realize, will never stop or go away.

The antidote to despair is not to be found in the brave attempt to cheer ourselves up with happy abstracts, but in paying a profound and courageous attention to the body and the breath, independent of our imprisoning thoughts and stories, even strangely, in paying attention to despair itself, and the way we hold it, and which we realize, was never ours to own and to hold in the first place. To see and experience despair fully in our body is to begin to see it as a necessary, seasonal visitation, and the first step in letting it have its own life, neither holding it nor moving it on before its time…

Despair is a difficult, beautiful necessary, a binding understanding between human beings caught in a fierce and difficult world where half of our experience is mediated by loss, but it is a season, a wave form passing through the body, not a prison surrounding us. A season left to itself will always move, however slowly, under its own patience, power and volition.”

May we discover the grace of despair,
Alan

Time is a gift of friendship

Time is a gift of friendship

December 18, 2016  |  Fourth Sunday in Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Time is a gift of friendship

Grace and peace to you and through you

One of the means of grace that holds our lives together is friendship. Friends who know us and love us for knowing us. To be known is one of our greatest needs. To be loved is another one of our greatest needs – if not the greatest. Yet these two great needs often clash as we wonder to ourselves: “if they really knew me would they still love me?” This is the haunting question that true friends answer for us. Friends by definition both know us and love us and herein lies the grace that holds us.

The poet and philosopher David Whyte explores friendship in his book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.

Whyte writes:

FRIENDSHIP is a mirror to presence and a testament to forgiveness. Friendship not only helps us see ourselves through another’s eyes, but can be sustained over the years only with someone who has repeatedly forgiven us for our trespasses as we must find it in ourselves to forgive them in turn. A friend knows our difficulties and shadows and remains in sight, a companion to our vulnerabilities more than our triumphs, when we are under the strange illusion we do not need them. An undercurrent of real friendship is a blessing exactly because its elemental form is rediscovered again and again through understanding and mercy. All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy all friendships die.

In the course of the years a close friendship will always reveal the shadow in the other as much as ourselves, to remain friends we must know the other and their difficulties and even their sins and encourage the best in them, not through critique but through addressing the better part of them, the leading creative edge of their incarnation, thus subtly discouraging what makes them smaller, less generous, less of themselves.

The dynamic of friendship is almost always underestimated as a constant force in human life: a diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble: of overwork, of too much emphasis on a professional identity, of forgetting who will be there when our armoured personalities run into the inevitable natural disasters and vulnerabilities found in even the most average existence.

Over this holiday time – gift your friendships with your time.

Grace,
Alan