The Lord is my President

The Lord is my President

May 11, 2014  |  Easter  |  Comments Off on The Lord is my President

An Easter Reflection of Promise

Life goes beyond death, because life is called to life, not death. That is the plan of its creator. But life blossoms into full flower only in those who nurture life here on earth; in those who defend its rights, protect its dignity, and are even willing to accept death in their witness to it. Those who violate life, deprive others of life, and crucify the living, will remain seeds that fail to take root, buds that fail to open, and cocoons that are forever closed-in upon themselves. Their fate is absolute and total frustration.

All those who die like Jesus, sacrificing their lives out of love for the sake of a more dignified human life, will inherit life in all its fullness. They are like grains of wheat, dying to produce life, being buried in the ground only to break through and grow.

~ Leonardo Boff

___________________________

As we continue to mark 20 years of our democracy and begin to digest the election results of the past week, Psalm 23 reminds us of who our true leader is as well as the Divine job description set for all leaders.

To declare “The Lord is my Shepherd” was in those day equivalent to saying: “The Lord is my President/Premier.” Sadly because we have tended to turn to this psalm almost exclusively within the context of a funeral service (due to that hauntingly beautiful line, best heard in the Old King James Version: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”) we have lost the political nature of its original intent.

This political use of the term “shepherd” is easily seen in Ezekiel 34 where the prophet accuses the leaders/shepherds of “feeding themselves” while failing to “strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bound the injured and seek out the lost”.

If the psalmist were asked: “So who should I vote for?” the answer would have been clear: “Vote for the Lord!” Meaning, make sure your ultimate loyalty, trust and obedience is for the Lord’s ways. To vote for the Lord is to vote with the vulnerable widow, orphan and foreigner in our hearts. It is to vote for good news for the poor and a deep love for those considered to be least among us.

Therefore a leader’s first task is to prevent people living in ‘want’. In other words a leader must make sure that people have enough to live on — providing food (green pastures) and water (still streams) and education (right paths, rod and staff). Conversely the psalm is a challenge to those of us who live with more than enough. And if we don’t think we are one of those living opulent lives — then maybe Mr Wesley can help us with a little perspective. Wesley said: “…when you are laying out that money in costly apparel which you could have otherwise spared for the poor, you thereby deprive them of what God, the proprietor of all, had lodged in your hands for their use. If so, what you put upon yourself, you are, in effect tearing from the back of the naked; so the costly and delicate food which you eat, you are snatching from the mouth of the hungry.”

Dare we still vote for the Lord? The poor are praying that we do.

Give us courage to vote with our lives, O Lord.

Grace, Alan

Give us your justice, O God

Give us your justice, O God

May 4, 2014  |  Easter, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Give us your justice, O God

An Easter Reflection of Promise

Life goes beyond death, because life is called to life, not death.  That is the plan of its creator.  But life blossoms into full flower only in those who nurture life here on earth; in those who defend its rights, protect its dignity, and are even willing to accept death in their witness to it.  Those who violate life, deprive others of life, and crucify the living, will remain seeds that fail to take root, buds that fail to open, and cocoons that are forever closed-in upon themselves.  Their fate is absolute and total frustration.

All those who die like Jesus, sacrificing their lives out of love for the sake of a more dignified human life, will inherit life in all its fullness.  They are like grains of wheat, dying to produce life, being buried in the ground only to break through and grow.

~ Leonardo Boff

 _______________________________

As we continue to mark 20 years of our democracy and prepare again for elections this week I am drawn to Psalm 72 which is a prayer for guidance and support for the king…

The first verse of the psalm highlights what the psalmist believes to be the most important attribute of a good king:

“Give the king your justice, O God.”

The psalmist knows what the people and the land need more than anything else is a just king. Note that the prayerful request is for God to give the king God’s justice. Yes, there is a big difference between God’s justice and the world’s justice. God’s justice goes deeper than the law of the land. God’s justice is not to be reduced to what is legal or not — because as we know the laws over time can be manipulated to secure privilege and entrench poverty. God’s justice is radically rooted in the equality of all people and therefore a king’s primary task is to establish equality among all. This alone is good news for the poor and it is also good news for the rich although few of us will feel like it is.

The whole motivation given by the psalmist for God to let the king’s life endure like the sun and moon throughout all generations is:

For the king delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight. Long may he live!”

This is not only the reason why the king is to be granted breath but it is also the reason for each of us to have breath. It is also the reason for the church to exist. We have breath to live out the dream of equality that God has for this world. This is the true praise and worship that makes God rejoice.

Give us your justice, O God.

Grace, Alan

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Appeal from the Presiding Bishop

I ask that we use 27 April for prayer, celebration and honest reflection on the state of our communities and nations of the Connexion. Let us also pray for the South African Elections on 7 May 2014. There will be also ecumenical activities planned, but these must not stop our morning services to be special services of reflection, celebration, lament and accompaniment. I further encourage you to join the ecumenical activities planned in your area either in the afternoon or during the week. As we do this let us seriously be aware of what is happening in all the countries of the Connexion and include these in our prayers. The Communications Unit and Justice and Service Desk will publicise indicators for our reflection from time to time.

Presiding Bishop: Ziphozihle D. Siwa
Freedom & Shacks

Freedom & Shacks

Apr 27, 2014  |  Easter, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Freedom & Shacks

We have come a miraculously far way…

 

An Easter Reflection of Promise

Life goes beyond death, because life is called to life, not death. That is the plan of its creator. But life blossoms into full flower only in those who nurture life here on earth; in those who defend its rights, protect its dignity, and are even willing to accept death in their witness to it. Those who violate life, deprive others of life, and crucify the living, will remain seeds that fail to take root, buds that fail to open, and cocoons that are forever closed in upon themselves. Their fate is absolute and total frustration.

All those who die like Jesus, sacrificing their lives out of love for the sake of a more dignified human life, will inherit life in all its fullness. They are like grains of wheat, dying to produce life, being buried in the ground only to break through and grow.

~ Leonardo Boff

 __________________________________

and … we have a miraculously far way to go.

 

Those first to the empty tomb were told to go and tell the disciples that Jesus would meet them in Galilee. Dr Kistner, an old mentor of mine, used to teach that this was another way of Jesus saying: “Go back to the beginning and start following me all over again — but this time do it in the lived knowledge of the promise of resurrection”. In other words this time do it without fear and trust afresh that the impossible is no longer impossible.

As we re-start to follow Jesus we hear Jesus say to us again: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. In this Jesus invites us to live life as he lived life — with the poor as our priority. This is not a call to charity but rather a call for justice that will make charity unnecessary. He is saying that we are to seek first and foremost “good news for the poor, release for the captives, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” — meaning the year of Jubilee (Luke 4 and Leviticus 25).

This time we will not be surprised that the Jesus way of living life will result in rejection and suffering because we now know that it will be vehemently and violently opposed by those who have a vested interest in the status quo. The status quo that is arranged around the investments of the privileged few.

The promise of resurrection is for those who die on this cross that results from orientating one’s life around seeking equality in society with justice for the poor. Could it be that only these will know the joy of resurrection?

Today we celebrate our 20th Freedom Day. We have something to celebrate as a result of the many people who picked up the cross described above and walked faithfully with it — some to their death.

New life — resurrection — have been granted to us by God who is ever faithful in honouring the suffering and death that comes from the cross-carriers of justice and jubilee.

The days we are living in, call for us more than ever to make the poor our priority. We have been given the privilege of witnessing the resurrection 20 years ago so we should be more willing than ever to pick up our cross without fear and follow Jesus.

Let’s meet in Galilee, Alan

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Appeal from the Presiding Bishop

I ask that we use 27 April for prayer, celebration and honest reflection on the state of our communities and nations of the Connexion. Let us also pray for the South African Elections on 7 May 2014. There will be also ecumenical activities planned, but these must not stop our morning services to be special services of reflection, celebration, lament and accompaniment. I further encourage you to join the ecumenical activities planned in your area either in the afternoon or during the week. As we do this let us seriously be aware of what is happening in all the countries of the connexion and include these in our prayers. The Communications Unit and Justice and Service Desk will publicise indicators for our reflection from time to time.

~ Ziphozihle D. Siwa

 

Resurrection hope

Resurrection hope

Apr 20, 2014  |  Resurrection Sunday  |  Comments Off on Resurrection hope

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” Revelation 5:12

_____________________________________________

An Easter Prayer of Promise

I live each day to kill death;
I die each day to beget life,
and in this dying unto death,
I die a thousand times and am reborn another thousand through that love …,
which nourishes hope!

Julia Esquivel, Guatemala

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To trust in the Resurrection is the most radical of HOPE-HOLDING.  It is to hold onto hope regardless of anything and everything.  It is to hold onto hope even when all is dead and buried.  It is to hold onto hope when there is no hope left to hold….but to do so in any case.

I invite you to Meditate on the Brazilian theologian, Rubem Alves’ poem What is Hope?

What is hope?
It is a presentiment that imagination is more real
and reality less real than it looks.
It is a hunch
that the overwhelming brutality of facts
that oppress and repress is not the last word.
It is a suspicion
that reality is more complex
than realism wants us to believe
and that the frontiers of the possible
are not determined by the limits of the actual
and that in a miraculous and unexpected way
life is preparing the creative events
which will open the way to freedom and resurrection…
The two, suffering and hope, live from each other.
Suffering without hope
produces resentment and despair,
hope without suffering
creates illusions, naiveté, and drunkenness…
Let us plant dates
even though those who plant them will never eat them.
We must live by the love of what we will never see.
This is the secret discipline.
It is a refusal to let the creative act
be dissolved in immediate sense experience
and a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren.
Such disciplined love
is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints
the courage to die for the future they envisaged.
They make their own bodies
the seed of their highest hope.

With the HOPE that we will live with the love of what we will never see.

Grace, Alan

Wisdom

Wisdom

Apr 18, 2014  |  Good Friday  |  Comments Off on Wisdom

Where love finds its perfect form … cross-shaped love

I thought of Jesus on the Cross when I read the following from Ben Okri’s amazing novel called Starbook.  He is writing about an elder among a secret tribe of artists.  He speaks of the wisdom this elder had received.  A wisdom so powerfully embodied in Jesus:

From the ancestors he received signs that things must decompose if they are to give birth to immortal fruits of time. From the hidden masters of the tribe he learnt that evil must triumph for a season if an even greater good that will change the world is to come into being; that good, in its gentleness, needs its true character and resolve tested, primed and strengthened by the suffering brought on by evil; only then will good have the moral force, and the great integrity, and the deep certainty, and the boundless power to step forth and overcome evil and transform the world into the reality of a higher vision.
From the oracles he learnt that only one who is not fit to be a suitor can possibly win the hand of his daughter, only one whom no one notices can truly rule, only one who is unofficial can be truly official, only the lowly can be on high. Also, from the oracles he learnt that an unlikely contest will decide all things; and that the future is a dark hole beyond which, in time, a great kingdom of unimaginable splendour will be found. Through sorrow and pain, all will be well. All things will be transfigured. All will be redeemed. A joy beyond description will crown all stories. These things the oracles told. The maiden’s father was comforted, and acted with perfect tranquillity. He ignored the rumours and set about a long-term plan; for he was a man who always regarded present problems as excuses for long-term vision and preparation.
He was thinking now of the future of the tribe, beyond the time of its disappearance. He began preparations for its rebirth out of the decomposition of its present state, a life after the death of a tribe.
… Only those who have accepted the death of their people can dream so clearly so miraculous a future. Only one who has accepted death can see so clearly that impossible things can be done beyond the limits that are there.”

May we trust “that good is primed and strengthened by the suffering brought on by evil” rather than the norm of retaliating in order to protect the good.

Grace, Alan

Queers of Africa

Queers of Africa

Apr 15, 2014  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Queers of Africa

On Tuesday 15 April 2014 another yellow banner in protest against injustice – this time in solidarity with those persecuted for their sexual orientation – was raised by friends of David Olyn as well as a representative of the Triangle Project.

The banner reads:

To all the Queers of Africa:
Thus says the LORD:
“I love you as you are.”

From Ugandan Queers to David Olyn
murdered for being a “moffie”.
22 March 2014

Christians and Pagans

Christians and Pagans

Apr 13, 2014  |  Palm Sunday, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Christians and Pagans
Lenten Prayer of Preparation

Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful.

Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real. Speak to my condition, Lord and change me somewhere inside where it matters, a change that will burn and tremble and heal and explode me into tears or laughter or love that throbs or screams or keeps a terrible, cleansing silence and dares the dangerous deeds. Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God. Amen.
[Ted Loder]

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In preparation for Holy Week I have been re-reading some works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer — the German Lutheran pastor who stood fearlessly against Nazi rule. He was jailed and finally executed on 9th April 1945 at the age of 39 just 23 days before the Nazi’s surrendered.

I trust his words about the Cross for two reasons: First, not only did he write about the Cross but he carried his own cross. The cross that is the consequence of a radical faithfulness to the ways of Jesus. Second, because his entire understanding of faith and life and God was shaped by his primary understanding of God as the Crucified LORD…

ON PEACE …

“There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross.”

ON SUFFERING …

“It is infinitely easier to suffer in obedience to a human order than in the freedom of one’s own, personal, responsible deed. It is infinitely easier to suffer in company than alone. It is infinitely easier to suffer publicly and with honour than out of the public eye and in disgrace. It is infinitely easier to suffer through the engagement of one’s physical being than through the Spirit. Christ Suffered in freedom, alone, out of the public eye and in disgrace, in body and soul, and likewise subsequently many Christians along with him.”

MORE WORDS ON SUFFERING …

“There are so many experiences and disappointments that drive sensitive people toward nihilism and resignation. That is why it is good to learn early that suffering and God are not contradictions, but rather a necessary unity. For me, the idea that it is really God who suffers has always been one of the most persuasive teachings of Christianity. I believe that God is closer to suffering than to happiness, and that finding God in this way brings peace and repose and a strong, courageous heart.”

CHRISTIANS AND PAGANS …

  1. “People go to God in their need, for help, happiness and bread they plead for deliverance from sickness, guilt and death. Thus do they all, Christians and pagans.”
  2. “People go to God in God’s need, find God poor, reviled, with neither shelter nor bread, see God entangled in sin, weakness, and death. Christians stand by God in God’s suffering.”
  3. “God comes to all human beings in need, sates them body and soul with His bread, dies the death of the cross for Christians and pagans and forgives them both.”

“Christians stand by God in God’s suffering” — this is a Christian’s distinguishing character. This is what Holy Week teaches us to do. See you in the week.

 Grace, Alan

Believing the right way

Believing the right way

Apr 6, 2014  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Believing the right way

It is difficult to respect and value and appreciate people with whom we profoundly disagree. Conversely it is easy to undermine and belittle them. It is easy to over-simplify their views and punctuate our reviews of their standpoint with false characterisations. It is easy to label them so we don’t have to take them seriously.

This is true in the Church as it is outside the Church. I have witnessed (and participated in) this in regard to debates around conscription, abortion and the death penalty over the years and more recently about same-sex relationships. In other words it can happen that we “stand up for Jesus” in un-Christ-like ways. We forget that there is no commandment to be right! But there are plenty of commandments to be loving.

In these debates the emphasis has largely been on Orthodoxy – the word ‘orthodoxy’ is derived from the Greek roots ortho meaning ‘correct’ and doxa meaning ‘belief’, and so has generally been understood as referring to the importance of right belief. This emphasis makes it difficult to allow space for the divergent convictions of others as difference is experienced as a violation of one’s own conviction and integrity. Yet such a concern betrays a distorted understanding of the integrity of the church as vesting solely in the orthodox beliefs that the church upholds.

The teaching of Jesus demonstrates that right belief is not enough to live a transformed life that bears faithful testimony to the love and goodness of God. The deeper truth of authentic orthodoxy is that it is less focused on the importance of right belief than it is on the importance of believing in the right way – which is, of course, the way of love as shown to us by Jesus.          

In other words, the way in which we hold our beliefs matters every bit as much as the actual beliefs themselves. If our convictions are expressed in arrogant, judgmental and domineering ways, then regardless of what we believe, there will be nothing of Christ evident in us. But if our convictions are expressed with humility, selflessness and compassion, whatever inadequacies there may be in the content of our theological understanding, the spirit of Christ will be evident in whatever we do.

This is the deeper meaning of the orthodoxy to which the church is called. It also offers great hope to us in the midst of the same-sex debate. For it is possible to faithfully hold fast to our gospel convictions as our conscience dictates, but in a Christ-like way that affords others the space to do likewise. Far from compromising the integrity of the church, such a way of believing deepens our credibility as those who claim to be the followers of Christ.

If the Methodist Church of Southern Africa is serious about allowing the expression of diverse convictions on the issue of same-sex relationships, it needs to accept that such a move will not be without considerable difficulty and pain, even while holding the promise of rich and joyful discoveries of what it means to be the church.

The ongoing process of us engaging this issue with honesty and integrity will require much humility, compassion and prayer. Mistakes will certainly be made and injuries inflicted. There will be those on both sides of the debate that will accuse the church of compromising the values of the Kingdom. In the midst of it all will be real women and men whose sense of place and belonging within the church will rest crucially on the sorts of decisions that are made.

Challenging though this task before us may be, the opportunity that it presents is truly immense. In a world increasingly characterised by sectarian intolerance, we can offer a life-giving witness as to the true nature of Christian unity – a unity that is not devoid of disagreement or divergence, but rather seeks to make space for the ‘disturbing other’.

Such a radical hospitality of the spirit will surely open us to the sacred in our midst, and will enable the common life we share together as the body of Christ to point more faithfully to the exquisite beauty of an infinite God in whose image we have all been made.

Grace, Alan

This is an extract from DEWCOM [Doctrine Ethics Worship Committee]

Denials and Taboos

Denials and Taboos

Mar 30, 2014  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Denials and Taboos

The Trinity of Water — Food — Energy is vital for our living.

Of the three, water is the most important because without it we would not have food or energy. Therefore our primary private and policy concern should be to preserve water.

Oh and Remember: We cannot grow water.

 

LENTEN PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful. Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real. Speak to my condition, Lord and change me somewhere inside where it matters, a change that will burn and tremble and heal and explode me into tears or laughter or love that throbs or screams or keeps a terrible, cleansing silence and dares the dangerous deeds. Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God. Amen. [Ted Loder]

_____________________________________

I don’t know about you but not a day goes by where I do not encounter some issue connected to the colour of my or someone else’s skin. It could be overhearing a conversation about “What if Oscar was black and he accidently fired a gun in a public restaurant?” Or it could be me walking through a “Musicians only” access point at the Jazz concert on Wednesday evening without so much as being questioned while others were stopped and sent round. Or when there is fighting outside my flat at night I know within myself that I feel far more entitled and confident to intervene when it is two black people fighting than when it is two white people fighting (in fact then I may decide to simply mind my own business). Sometimes it is simply a conversation I have with myself in my head.

This past week I was asked to participate in some research about white privilege. In doing so I was reminded of the great paper written by Peggy McIntosh in 1989 called, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack. Here is a brief extract:

“Through the work to bring materials from Women’s Studies into the rest of the curriculum, I have often noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are over-privileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged. They may say they will work to improve women’s status, in the society, the university, or the curriculum, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s.

Denials which amount to taboos surround the subject of advantages which men gain from women’s disadvantages. These denials protect male privilege from being fully acknowledged, lessened or ended. Thinking through unacknowledged male privilege as a phenomenon, I realized that since hierarchies in our society are interlocking, there was most likely a phenomenon of white privilege which was similarly denied and protected.

As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something which puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.

I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege.

I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless backpack of special provisions, maps, passports, code books, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.

Describing white privilege makes one newly accountable. As we in Women’s Studies work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power, so one who writes about having white privilege must ask, “Having described it, what will I do to lessen or end it?”

After I realized the extent to which men work from a base of unacknowledged privilege, I understood that much of their oppressiveness was unconscious. Then I remembered the frequent charges from women of colour that white women whom they encounter are oppressive. I began to understand why we are justly seen as oppressive, even when we don’t see ourselves that way. I began to count the ways in which I enjoy unearned skin privilege and have been conditioned into oblivion about its existence.

My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture. I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will.

My schooling followed the pattern my colleague Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites are taught to think of their lives as a morally neutral, normative, and average, also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work which will allow ‘them’ to be more like ‘us’.”

Where else is more suited than the Church to have conversations about these matters? Look out for the next Anti-Bias workshop.

Grace, Alan

Radical hospitality

Radical hospitality

Mar 23, 2014  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Radical hospitality

Prime Circle ~ 28 March at 20:00 ~ CMM Sanctuary

Last Sunday evening we once again hosted Moonlightmass cyclists, and skateboarders. What I mean by host is that we welcome Moonlightmass participants, completing their ride from Green Point Stadium zigzagging through the city to Greenmarket Square, into the sanctuary for free cup cakes and if they wish they can purchase coffee too.

On Sunday evening we added the gift of live Jazz — performed by Louise Howlett and Albert Combrink (who by the way will soon be introducing Midweek Mix at CMM on Wednesday evenings, including a Jazz Mix of the likes of Gershwin, Porter, Arlen, Sondheim and a Classical Mix of the likes of Debussy, Faure, Bizet and Puccini).

This coming Friday 28th the band Prime Circle will be putting on an acoustic show in the likes of the Just Jinger show we hosted a couple of months back. So why are we doing this? Well as I read the Gospels I see that Jesus met people where they were at Jesus met people in the ordinariness of their life — some were fishing, others were drawing water from a well while others were attending a wedding. Jesus broke down the false divide that exists between the sacred and the secular and so should we.

Jesus invited people into his presence and into the synagogue and temple who were not normally part of the guest list and so should we.

Jesus invites us to love our neighbour and with that goes loving our neighbourhood. One way of loving our neighbourhood is to join in when our neighbourhood does stuff — especially the stuff that gets us out of our private individualistic lives and moves us to bump into each other.

Lastly, many, many people outside the Church believe the church to be exclusive, judgemental and hypocritical. And we must confess that these judgements are not without substance. We have a long way to go to heal the damage of exclusive and judgemental religion. By inviting people on their own terms into the sanctuary they may discover a hint of Jesus’ radical hospitality among us. Well this is my hope and may it be our prayer.

Grace, Alan