When tragedy dwarfs words

May 6, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on When tragedy dwarfs words

Some weeks are soaked in sadness. When words are dwarfed by tragedy. When feelings shut down because they fear to feel too much. When meaning evaporates without a trace. When answers give way to questions and questions don’t make sense to ask. This past week felt like that for me.

Last Sunday I heard that Zviko (the caretaker at Calvary Methodist Church — and he really is a “care-giver”) was gruesomely stabbed in the neck during the early morning Sunday service. He is still in ICU (stable) but every day that passes gives us hope that he will recover — although for at least 24 hours we were not so sure he would.

I ask you to pray for that community who are deeply traumatised.

What makes the attempted murder of Zviko even more distressing is that I know the person who did it. In fact he has been worshipping, on and off over the past two years, here at CMM. I helped him with transport to get home to Lesotho two weeks ago. I knew he was not completely well in his mind, but I never ever thought he would be violent in any way. He is now in prison (unstable) and every day that passes I know he will be further traumatised.

I ask you to pray for him — O Lord have mercy.

On Wednesday I received the tragic news about Rev. Dr. Ross Olivier’s (the previous General Secretary of the Methodist Church of SA and present head of the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary) death. In the darkness of his depression he took his own life. An enormously gifted minister — everything he touched turned to be a sign of the Kingdom of God — through his words I, and so many others, heard the Words of God.

I ask you to pray for Shayne and the boys and all the seminarians.

O Lord, grant us your peace, Alan

 Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus — the one who understands our suffering.

 And also with you.

O Lord — you were once locked in a tomb — dead and buried. Some of us here have recently breathed in the cold air of death and the stale air of despair.

 Breathe on us Holy Spirit the breath of life.

 O Lord — light of the world — you who experienced darkness at noon. Some of us here stumble in the night.

 Lord the darkness is as light to you. May your light fall gently on our path.

O Lord — you who once cried out in prayerful abandonment — pinned down by wickedness on all sides. Some of us here groan silently, unable to even pray.

 Hear the groans of your people — receive them as our prayers of longing to have our voices returned and our lives resurrected.

 Amen.

 Amen.

Freedom

Freedom

April 29, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Freedom

On Friday we celebrated Freedom Day and on Tuesday we mark Workers Day, or otherwise known as May Day. There is something significant about these two days being so close together. The first reminds us that even the most oppressive systems can be overcome. The second reminds us that freedom without work and the means to provide for one’s family and future is no freedom at all. Both remind us that our lives today are a precious result of what others have done before — leaving us in debt to those who come after us.

Take for example the eight-hour working day that many of us take for granted, but this was hard won. First a 12-hour working day had to be demanded — then a 10-hour day. Utopian socialist, Robert Owen of England, had raised the demand for a 10-hour day as early as 1810. French workers demand for a 12-hour day was granted after the February revolution of 1848.

In the United States, where May Day was born, Philadelphia carpenters campaigned for a 10-hour day in 1791. By the 1830s, this had become a general demand. In 1835, workers in Philadelphia organised a general strike, led by Irish coal heavers. Their banners read, “From 6 to 6, ten hours work and two hours for meals.” From 1830 to 1860, the average work day had dropped from 12 hours to 11 hours.

Already in this period, the demand for an eight-hour day was being raised. In 1836, after succeeding in attaining the 10-hour day in Philadelphia, the National Laborer declared: “We have no desire to perpetuate the 10-hour system, for we believe that eight hours daily labor is more than enough for any man to perform.”

At the 1863 convention of the Machinists and Blacksmiths Union, the eight-hour day was declared a top priority. The heart of the movement was in Chicago, organised mainly by the International Working Peoples Association.

Business and the state reacted by increasing its support for the police and the militia. Local business in Chicago purchased a $2 000 machine gun for the Illinois National Guard to use against strikers. On 3 May 1886 police fired into a crowd of striking workers, killing four and wounding many.

We think of Andries Tatane who was killed by the Police on 13 April 2011 during a service delivery protest in Ficksburg. There is much WORK for FREEDOM left to do.

Alan

The Blessedness of Unity

The Blessedness of Unity

April 26, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The Blessedness of Unity

On Wednesday evening this sanctuary was packed — as we hosted a public dialogue on Palestine/Israel. It was packed with people who don’t normally come here. In fact it was packed full by people who would normally never come here — people of other religions and people with no religion: Jew/Muslim/Christian/Atheist and others.

Lots of people expressed their real appreciation that the Church would be “willing to host us”. A few asked: “How does your congregation feel about us being here?” At this I was reminded about last Sunday’s readings “how very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” [Ps 133], and I could respond: “They are cool about it!”

I have included this graphic “The Tree of Contemplative Practices” to remind us that there are many different practices from different traditions that people through the ages have found to be means of grace. The question we should each ask ourselves is: “how many branches are on our tree?”.

Without branches we will not be able to hold any fruit …

Peace, Alan
Sunday 22 April 2012

A time to reflect

A time to reflect

April 15, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on A time to reflect

For a number of years I have kept a little notebook full of quotes and poems, etc. that I find interesting/meaningful from the books and articles I read. Here are a few for you to reflect on:

it takes courage to grow up
and become who you really are.
e. e. cummings

To go into the dark with a light
is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark;
go without sight.
And find that the dark, too,
blooms and sings
and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings.
Wendell Berry

I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.
Dorothy Day

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer — it sings because it has a song.
Maya Angelou

Creativity is the residue of time wasted.
Einstein

Necessity urges us to pray for ourselves — Love compels us to pray for others.
John Chrysostom

The Church is called to be today what the world is called to be ultimately.
John-Howard Yoder

Although the world is full of suffering it is also full of overcoming it.
Anon

Be persuaded timid soul, that God has loved you too much ever to cease loving you.
Francois Fenelon

Peace, Alan

Leaving this home

Leaving this home

April 8, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Leaving this home

Two weeks ago I bought some new plants for my garden. In the hope of harvesting another crop of lettuce and tomatoes before winter, I decided that I would not plant from seed, but rather that I would buy seedlings from the nursery.

You know they come in those black plastic egg-box-like-containers. To get the seedlings out is not pretty. To press the plastic from underneath sometimes works but I find most often the plastic breaks and I end up having to stick my fingers into the 2 cm x 2 cm surrounding soil. I squeeze and squash the poor little thing out of its tiny home. Sometimes the soil breaks off exposing its naked roots.

As I was re-potting the seedlings into their new-larger-fertilised-homes I wondered if they thought I was hurting them or being kind to them. Realising that my act of kindness looked and perhaps even felt suspiciously destructive.

This then got me thinking about death and Resurrection and the leaving of this home we call earth.

The Resurrection invites us to trust that when we die, the One who has loved us from the beginning is re-potting us into a newly furnished home where we will be able to grow and flourish more fully.

Peace, Alan

Shocking but not surprising

Shocking but not surprising

April 6, 2012  |  Words  |  Comments Off on Shocking but not surprising

The death of Jesus was shocking but it was not surprising. Jesus himself told us it was coming. How did he know? No, he didn’t need a heavenly angel to tell him — it was just common sense. Put simply: everything he said and did challenged the status quo and threatened those with a vested interest in it.

Jesus is crucified in Mark 15 but as early as Mark 3 people have started plotting his death — all because he healed someone with a withered hand in the Synagogue and on the Sabbath. Why did they want to kill him? Because Jesus threatened the dominant religion that was based on “who is in and who is out”. A childish and dangerous distinction that Jesus kept turning on its head — basically saying that the only people who are “out” are those who think others are out. To live a life of radical inclusion in a world that is increasingly exclusive and divided is eventually going to draw fire.

Jesus also spoke out against the rich, comparing them to fat camels, and the rich have the greatest investment in the status quo. He ‘occupied’ the temple reclaiming it as a place for “all” cleansing it from exploitation. He also mocked the blue-light-rulers of his day arriving on his donkey and spoke persuasively about a tax system that honoured God’s image above Caesar’s.

Now you don’t do all these things and live to tell the tale — well he does — but not before he has been killed.

Jesus’ death was shocking but it was not surprising.

We honour his death by imitating his life and not by singing hymns about his death. We gather here this morning not so much to worship Jesus but to be reminded that we must worship him — and we do this best by imitating him in and through every aspect of our living. Now I know it is shocking but don’t be surprised when we too are rejected, pierced and crucified — for “disciples are above their master”.

Alan

God suffers too

God suffers too

April 1, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on God suffers too

This Holy Week we will be reflecting on various aspects of suffering, not least the suffering of God. Our reflections will take place from 7 p.m. each evening starting tonight, with the movie called Of God’s and Men.

On Thursday night we will listen to Mark’s account of Jesus’ Passion as we celebrate Holy Communion and participate in washing one another’s feet around the Tenebrae. Thursday evening will also include the beautiful singing of Taizé prayers.

“To be human is to suffer, and God knows that. That is why God suffers too. Suffering is where God and human beings meet. It is the one place where all persons — kings, priests, paupers, and prostitutes — recognise themselves as frail and transient human beings, in need of God’s saving love. Suffering brings us closer to God, and God closer to us. Suffering, despite all its inhumanity and cruelty, paradoxically enables humans to long for humanity, find it, treasure it, and defend it with all their might.” ~ C. S. Song.

Peace, Alan

Choose to love

Choose to love

March 25, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Choose to love

As has been our custom over the past three years — we show a movie on the evening of Palm Sunday — next Sunday at 7 p.m.

This year we will be showing Of God’s and men. 

It is about eight French Christian monks who live in harmony with their Muslim friends in a monastery perched in the mountains of North Africa, in the 1990s. When a crew of foreign workers is massacred by a religious fundamentalist group, fear sweeps through the region.

The army offers them protection, but the monks refuse. Should they leave? Despite the growing menace in their midst, they slowly realise that they have no choice but to …

This film is loosely based on the life of the Cistercian monks of Tibhirine in Algeria, from 1993 — 1996.

It is slow moving — heavy and inspiring, dark and enlightening all at once. One reviewer, Philip Martin, wrote:

… a movie that made me sad and proud to be human, to belong to a species capable of such cruelty and such kindness, and possessed of the power to choose to love those who hate us, and to die with peace in our hearts as the world burns down.

 Another wrote: I can’t recall the last film that so wholly, honestly and movingly explained what it means to be a Christian.

 Alan

Equal Education

Equal Education

March 18, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Equal Education

Equal Education is an NGO of great importance in our country. I would go so far as to say that the future well-being of our country rests on whether its agenda is accepted and implemented nationwide. Their recent campaign includes the development of “Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure”. In short our schools need fixing.

Of our 24 793 public schools, these are the current backlogs:

3 544 schools (14%) have no electricity supply, while 804 schools (3%) have an unreliable supply.

2 402 schools (10%) have no water supply, while a further 2 611 schools (11%) have an unreliable water supply.

22 304 schools (90%) do not have stocked Computer Centres.

11 450 Schools (46%) still use pit-latrine toilets while 913 schools (4%) have no toilet facilities at all.

22 938 schools (93%) do not have stocked and functioning libraries.

23 562 schools (95%) do not have stocked laboratories.

[Stats from the National Education Infrastructure Management System Report, Department of Basic Education 2011].

If you would like more information about ways in which you can help, contact Equal Education 021 387 0022 or at www.equaleducation.org.za

Alan

Listening leads to loving

March 11, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Listening leads to loving

In a small Eastern European town there was a local inhabitant who continually slandered the local rabbi.

One day, realising the wrongfulness of his behaviour, he asked the rabbi for forgiveness and offered to perform any penance required to make amends.

The rabbi told him to fetch a feather pillow from his home, cut it open, scatter the feathers to the wind, and then return. The man followed the rabbi’s instructions to the letter, then came back and asked, “Am I now forgiven?”

“You just have to do one more thing,” answered the rabbi, “Go and gather all the feathers.”

“But that’s impossible,” the man protested, “the wind has already scattered them.” “Exactly,” explained the rabbi, “And although you truly wish to correct the evil you have spoken, it is as impossible to repair the damage done by your words as it is to recover the feathers.”

Do you ever wish there were words that you had never spoken? Sometimes we speak words that we regret because we have not taken the time to really listen before we speak. As it says in Scripture: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…” (James 1:19).

Oh wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were quick to listen and slow to speak!

I invite you to attend our “To Listen is to Love” Workshop next Sunday evening – 18 March from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. in the Sanctuary.

Alan