From a fix to a foot wash

From a fix to a foot wash

April 7, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on From a fix to a foot wash

So who will have their feet washed?

The only one willing to surrender is spaced-out and high –
he’s already annihilated his ego. From a fix to a foot wash
He lands down in our chair.
Relaxed but stiff – he can’t take his shoes off.
Shoelaces in knots!
How to release these feet from these pointy white shoes?
Wet shoelaces are a real struggle – slowly tug by tug
much wrestling with the shoe – his foot is released
Next defence – Sodden skeleton socks!
The stench as high as he is …
The socks have disintegrated into just an ankle and a toe, with no sole.
Strip them off.

Roll up the wet, oversized, sagging tracksuit pants
Now to the washing – the standard is high,
If you know love and attention, give love and attention
Hands on street feet –
Rough, calloused street feet –
White bunion on black skin street feet –
Swollen ankles street feet –
Dark areas between the toes street feet –
Dirty, sandy, mucky street feet –
Looking up to check if he’s still with us?
From half-closing eyes he moves to a spaced-out smile
What was that – the distant realm of heart?

One foot done and wrapped in a towel!
Now to wage war on that other locked-in foot.
Is this how it was unbinding Lazarus?
At least Jesus had a friend to welcome back when the job was done.
Who is this spaced-out, floppy, stiff person with one black-gloved hand
and animal fur and bright cloth beady stuff on the other?
Now to put warm, clean-ish feet back into wet skeleton socks!
Wide feet, wet socks, into pointy white shoes, onto dead feet.
The cheap imitation leather folds at the heel.
You have to help me here – push!

The Father calls to the slaves –
bring a pumice stone and healing foot balm
bring new dry shoelaces
bring the best seamless socks
For tonight my son is lost in a fix and he’s come to have his feet washed.

These foot-washing reflections are by Janet Muller

 

Limitless, fathomless and all-embracing love

Limitless, fathomless and all-embracing love

March 31, 2013  |  Resurrection Sunday  |  Comments Off on Limitless, fathomless and all-embracing love

This past week we have been reflecting on the parable of the Prodigal Son or as other more accurately call it the parable of the Waiting Father. The parable is one of death and resurrection – as the Father later confirmed: “This son of mine was dead but is now alive again.”

None of the characters in the parable have names. Their identity comes through their relationships: father, son and brother. To break the relationship is to lose your identity. To lose your identity is to die. No one is an island. I am who I am because you are who you are. We exist in togetherness or not at all. We call it Ubuntu.

Death in the scriptures is not reduced to whether we have a pulse or not. The younger son was still breathing but he was dead because he was no longer living in relationship with his father and brother. He was tempted by the illusion of independence and the lie that you can live a separate selfish life and still live.

Both sons in different ways separate themselves from the Father – or as Miroslav Volf says they try and “un-son” themselves. The younger one travels to a distant land while the older son remains outside in anger. Both cause the Father grief. Grieving. For he has lost a loved one.

When the child returns to relationship he is resurrected. He is born again. We are born again when we live life lovingly again.

On Monday evening I read an extract from a beautiful book called: “Father Joe”. In it the author records a time when he came to Father Joe for confession after many, many years of being in a “distant land” and with “the pigs”. After he shared some of the gory details about his life, Father Joe says to him:

These are great imperfections, dear. But they’re not what you really want to say, are they?” He was right… there was something, but I couldn’t quite reach down far enough to find it. “Say what’s in your heart now, dear.”

“I seem incapable of love, Father Joe. Utterly incapable of feeling it, even thinking it. Even wanting it. No, that’s not true. I want to love, terribly. But it won’t come … I hate love. It feels the way a sin used to. Like when you got a present as a kid and for no reason at all you’d smash it into little pieces…”

“Tony dear, you will only be able to love when you understand how much you are loved. You are loved, dear, with a limitless… fathomless… all-embracing love.”

Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. That Jesus is alive and that Jesus is Lord. And we also celebrate that by allowing him to love us we too are resurrected to new life. To a loved life. To a life lived lovingly.

Peace, Alan

The cross of truth and grace

The cross of truth and grace

March 29, 2013  |  Good Friday  |  Comments Off on The cross of truth and grace

Our Holy Week reflections began with the showing of Incendies on Palm Sunday. The movie took us to the awe-full intersection of truth and grace. Both a terrible place and an inspiring place.

In Incendies a mother is tortured by her own son – though he knows not that she is his mother. He comes to this truth after her death when he is delivered two letters from her.

The first letter is addressed to him as her torturer. The second letter is addressed to him as her son. He is not one or the other – he is both. He is both at one and the same time. That is the truth of the matter. That is the grace of the matter. It is an awe-full intersection. A painful joy.

Letter to the Torturer

I’m shaking as I write.
I recognised you.
You didn’t recognise me.
It’s magnificent, a miracle.
I am your Number 72.
Our children will deliver this.
You won’t recognise them, for they are beautiful.
But they know who you are.
Through them, I want to tell you that you are still alive.
Soon you will turn silent … I know.
For all are silent before the truth.
Signed: Whore 72

Letter to the Son

I speak to the son, not the torturer.
Whatever happens, I’ll always love you.
I promised you that when you were born, my son.
Whatever happens, I’ll always love you.
I looked for you all my life.
I found you.
You couldn’t recognise me.
You’ve a tattoo on your right heel.
I saw it. I recognised you.
You are beautiful.
I wrap you in tenderness, my love.
Take solace, for nothing means more than being together.
You were born of love.
So your brother and sister were born of love, too.
Nothing means more than being together.
Your mother,
Nawal Marwan.
Prisoner No. 72

Today more than any other day we are drawn to the awe-full intersection – the awe-full cross of truth and grace. The truth of our skill to torture – our capacity to crucify. The grace of “whatever you do to me – I will always love you… nothing means more than being together”.

Let us keep company with each other today – in this awe-full place.

With grace and truth, Alan

Weed, coke with some ice

Weed, coke with some ice

March 24, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Weed, coke with some ice

It is Thursday evening on Human Rights Day at about 10 p.m. and I am standing on Long Street just round the corner from the Church, chatting to a friend. While we are speaking I notice something about some of the people walking past me. You know the feeling when you know you are being looked at? You can feel it. So each time this would occur I would lock eyes with the person looking at me. They did not turn away. Instead their gaze became more intense – like we were playing a game to see who will blink first. Some would just continue looking at me while others would make other facial gestures – raise an eyebrow or nod their head. All making for a rather obvious pick up – except they weren’t trying to pick me up.

They were trying to see if I wanted to purchase some drugs. In the space of my hour conversation on the street there must have been about 10 people trying to get a sale from me. My friend had no clue what was going on – so at one point I indicated to one of the guys that I was interested. He came over and I asked him, “what you got for me?”. He said “weed, coke – some ice”. As simple as that. On telling him that “I would give it a skip tonight”, he proceeded to insist that I take his number – which I did.

A few minutes later we witnessed a Taxi driver vacuum clean some white stuff off the roof of his car with his nose – with an eager seller by his side. A second later he was giving two unsuspecting tourists a lift to their requested destination.

This experience happens every time I am on the street and not only at night. Drug sellers are walking around all the time as easy-going pedestrians. If you don’t know what you’re looking for you will not notice them. They do not carry any drugs on them – so the likelihood of them being caught is minimal. They call someone on the phone – and it is left to be picked up. And besides being difficult to link these guys – everyone knows that if one of them is arrested there are 9 more to replace him within the hour.

Drugs are terror-fying! The tragedy they cause is beyond measure. They are like a suicide bomb, being slowly detonated.

Ripping through an individual’s life and destroying their family and friends and community, at the same time. Every day we have courageous people coming to CMM to battle with their addictions (AA and NA lunchtime meetings) – they need our prayers more than anyone. But what haunted me on Thursday night was that the doors of CMM were closed and I felt quite useless not knowing what to do about it.

CMM is a city Church – a city Sanctuary and yet for the most part we are divorced from this context – oblivious to its existence. This troubles me – for I know that the Gospels tell us that Jesus spent more time on the streets than in the temple.

The recurring thought in my head went something like this: “I do not know what it would mean for our doors to be open but I do know what it means for our doors to be closed.” It sounds like a bit of a riddle I know – but I share it with you nevertheless – maybe we can make sense of it together.

Not unrelated to this I am inspired by Pope Francis who has decided to celebrate his first Maundy Thursday next week by washing inmates’ feet at a mass at Rome’s Casal del Marmo Juvenile Detention Centre. The Vatican said, “In his ministry as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) used to celebrate this mass in a prison or hospital or home for the poor.” Traditionally the Last Supper mass takes place at the church of St. John Lateran, a former papal palace. The decision to celebrate such an important Holy Week mass at a juvenile hall is in keeping with the themes of humility and simplicity struck early on in his week-old papacy. “If the ministry of the Bishop of Rome also implies power,” said Francis in his inaugural mass on Tuesday, “let us never forget that real power is in serving others, and that even the pope, in order to exercise power, must always enter into that service, which has its shining summit on the cross. “He must welcome with warmth and tenderness all of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, and the smallest. “Those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or in jail”.

What power there is in moving from a papal palace to a prison to wash feet and share bread. It is a Jesus move if I have ever seen one. So after our Maundy Service this Thursday – with our feet still wet and our lips still sweet having shared bread and juice together, we will go out onto the streets and offer to wash people’s feet and share Holy Communion with them. From sanctuary to the streets …

May God enlarge our love for this journey. Alan

We are here to give life

We are here to give life

March 17, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on We are here to give life

This graphic can be applied to so many scenarios –
public or private – personal or political.

 Where do we give power to others to have power over us?

 

Being part of a city church has its challenges. For one thing most of us come from out of town – some travelling long and expensive distances each week. Sunday is the only time many of us ever see each other – and for much of that Sunday-time we are sitting silently, so at best we may briefly connect with the persons in our immediate vicinity before or after the service and that’s it. Take away tea/coffee after the service and our time with each other is even shorter. This makes the forming of authentic community difficult. As I said, a city church has its challenges.

Since we replaced the Wednesday Jesus School with the Sunday Lenten Learning I have felt the distance between Sundays more acutely. Even though there weren’t a lot of us attending Jesus School – it was an opportunity to meet some “Sunday folk” during the week. I miss it.

I have the privilege of observing all the unique groups of people that are connected to CMM in some shape or form. My sadness is that too few others get to see this wide angle perspective into CMM’s life.

So, just as I share who we are and what we do as a Sunday community with people during the week who ask, “Do you still operate as a church?” I would like to share with you some of the things that happen in and through CMM during the week.

Jesus came to give life and as Church we are his body – so we are here to give life. This should be the measure of everything we do. One way we live out this belief is that we make this building available for any and all who are bringing life to this broken world. Especially NGOs who can’t afford a venue of this size – we share it for free – it makes a whole lot more gospel-sense than the building standing empty. So over the past few weeks:

A new social movement was launched in this sanctuary – calling for transparency in party political funding. The pews were packed with young people learning what it means to live in a democracy as active citizens.

Later the same evening we hosted 300 cyclists after the Moonlight Mass city cycle ride offering 300 free cupcakes and selling coffee and homemade lemonade. Why? Because this is our neighbourhood and we want to show support for things going on in this neighbourhood – especially that which foster community and encourage healthy greener living. We also do it to break down the stereotypes that so many people have of church today. Our hospitality disrupts the false secular and sacred divide. We don’t do it to “bait people”. We simply offer them something fun and lovely for free… sounds like the gospel doesn’t it? Can we do more to engage these people with the good news of God’s world-mending love – for sure, but not before opening our doors in generous and genuine welcome.

We made space available to Green Renaissance which is an NGO focused on making environmental movies that inspire people to respect and care for creation. Creation being the priceless artwork of our creator God. They invited speakers to share about sustainable living and inspired people to “farm their city”.

CMM is not only a place of fun and celebration – it is also a place that engages suffering and holds pain. A memorial service was held for the woman who was killed as a result of highjackers who jumped a traffic light fleeing from the police. The service was arranged for work colleagues who needed a place to collectively share their grief. They were not members in the traditional sense of the word – they were members in the far more true sense of the word – they were family members.

Then on International Women’s Day in the pouring rain this sanctuary was filled with banners and placards. From the pulpit we heard an Imam pray and a Rabbi lament. We heard the courage of a rape survivor and raised a yellow banner in solidarity.

Every Sunday evening (18:00 – 19:30) the Good Hope Metropolitan Community Church enjoys a sense of belonging and freedom in worship in this sanctuary – a gift of hospitality in a Church that is more often hostile towards gay, lesbian and transgender people. On Tuesdays during lunchtime our sister congregation meets to pray and praise. While everyday the most courageous people of all gather together to covenant with each other to walk another day dry – sober – holding the hand of their higher power.

And in between all these events – people come and go – some take photos and leave while others sit and contemplate – pray and weep. Some have business meetings sipping heavenly coffee and eating wicked cupcakes – while others come asking for a “Stop Hunger Now” food pack. While still others come just to dip their fingers in the cool waters of baptism and cross themselves –”In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”.

My best is overhearing Sharon or Ken call people by their names – because in those moments I know that even though I often feel unsure of what we should be doing in this place – and question whether we are partnering God in any meaningful way – I know that at least that person knows that they are known – and in a big busy city where loneliness is an epidemic – we will never be able to measure the healing power of being called by our name.

With appreciation of the rich diversity of CMM, Alan.

Keep on ringing the bells

Keep on ringing the bells

March 10, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Keep on ringing the bells

Ring the Bell Campaign videos to watch:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHqy9TeZd4I.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbZi_hXGQi8

In the tower of Central Methodist Mission in Cape Town there is a massive bell weighing three-and-a-half tons. For safety reasons it has not pealed since the Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. It was silenced because, when it rang, it shook the foundation stones of the Church and surrounding buildings and consequently threatened their structure. It is now known as the “Silent Bell”.

The Silent Bell is a parable of the church over the centuries. As the church, we are a massive bell that is able to sound across this nation and world, like no other. Truly, there is not a single organisation or institution in the world that exists as we do – everywhere. We have branches in the poorest informal settlements, the most remote rural areas, the biggest cities and wealthiest suburbs. Yet, over the last 2 000 years, we have been largely silent in promoting equality between women and men. Perhaps this is because we know that sounding such a massive bell would not only threaten the structures of society, but would also threaten the very foundations of the male-dominant structures of the church itself.

And, when we have not remained silent, we have all too often spoken in the tone of male patriarchy. The exclusive use of male pronouns when referring to God, mistakenly teaches us that God is male. If God is male then male is God, and if male is God then male is superior. This false sense of superiority is the canvas upon which much women abuse is painted. As men, some of the only Scriptures we know by heart are those that seem to validate this false sense of superiority over women: Eve is jokingly blamed for the fallen state of the world; women should keep quiet during worship; fathers are the head of the household; and wives should submit to their husbands. Some of these Scriptures don’t mean what they seem to mean on the surface and it is convenient not to contextualise them. Some Scriptures do mean exactly what they appear to mean, and yet we have not been brave enough to categorically detach ourselves from them, with God’s precious image.

Women have often been told from the pulpit to “go back and forgive your abusive partner” because the bible says you must forgive, even up to “70×7”. But nowhere in the bible is anyone told to tolerate abuse. To forgive abuse does not mean one should ever have to tolerate its occurrence, or the conditions that make it possible. Nor is forgiveness to be confused with reconciliation. Reconciliation will always require forgiveness, but forgiveness need not conclude reconciliation. Sometimes the journey of forgiveness includes moving on and not returning to how things were before the abuse.

There is a temptation to think that neither the victims of rape, nor the perpetrators of violence against women, are in our places of worship. Yet, they sometimes even sit side by side in our pews week after week. The shame of being abused by one who says “I love you” is enormous. This shame has the power to silence. It is therefore imperative for every religious institution to join the Ring the Bell campaign and, in doing so, to break their silence. Ring the Bell is a global initiative that calls for action from individuals, organisations, and institutions – such as the church. It calls for us to speak out, to sound the bell, when we see and hear violence against women. This means ringing our bells and shaking the foundation that supports the false narrative of superiority and subservience which lies at the heart of gender inequality. We could begin by confessing how our silence and patriarchal tone continues to contribute to the endemic violence by men against women. This confession is long overdue.

On International Women’s Day, 8 March, the Central Methodist Mission hoisted a massive yellow banner up our bell tower in solidarity with all women who have been violated by men. It reads: “Women and men are equal in God’s eyes. So… in whose name do men rape?” We hope people hear it ring.

Prayerfully, Alan

Only those who feel can mourn

Only those who feel can mourn

March 3, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Only those who feel can mourn

The following article was written by Rebecca Davis for the Daily Maverick [25/02/2013]. Be warned it is crucifyingly disturbing … which I believe is all the more reason we should read it. Today in our Lenten Learnings we reflected on “Blessed are those who mourn …” Only those who feel can actually mourn and only those who love can actually feel … may God help us love.

While the media (including the Daily Maverick) fed the public appetite for Pistorius-related news over the past two weeks, life continued as normal for many. In South Africa, “life as normal” involves daily violence against women.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-02-25-lost-in-oscar-pistorius-frenzy-the-horrific-violence-against-women-and-children-continues/

The disturbing story of Mido Macia, the 27-year-old Mozambican who died in custody after being dragged through the streets by police, should not come as a surprise. The incident was horrendous and publicly shared on video. But it’s indicative of a police force that rapes and murders instead of serves and protects. By GREG NICOLSON.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-03-01-south-africa-the-police-state-of-brutality-humiliation-impudence/

Police brutality comes as a surprise? Really? Opinions of Prof. Pierre de Vos, professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Cape Town:

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2013-03-01-police-brutality-comes-as-a-surprise-really/

Be the change you want to see!

Be the change you want to see!

February 24, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Be the change you want to see!

Two weeks ago I joined 80 colleagues for a three day summit under the leadership of the Bishop, Michel Hansrod. As one does we began by sharing news about our lives since the last time we met. “So and so had a child”… “so and so is recovering from surgery”… “so and so graduated”, etc. Shockingly in these passing greetings we heard of six murders of family/congregational members. We would be hard pressed to find too many places in the world, (that are not at war), with that high incidence of murder. The heaviness of the violence has settled on all of us in recent days. Violence, especially violence against women is endemic in our society.

It is tempting to place the blame at the feet of others — distancing ourselves from responsibility for the violence that envelopes us, but it is not truthful or helpful. Rather we should take to heart the often quoted words by Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world”.

I appeal to you — if you have a firearm, hand it in at a SAPS station to be destroyed. You may feel more safe, but you are not. In fact you are at a four times greater risk of being shot. Besides the fact that 95% of all gun owners will never use their gun for the purpose of self-defence, around about 2 000 licensed guns are stolen/lost every month — contributing to the increasing pool of illegal guns.

If you are in a relationship with someone who has a gun — talk to them about handing it in and removing it from your home. If you are in a relationship with someone who owns a firearm and has a history of violence or anger management issues, drug/alcohol abuse or who is unstable mentally, report this fact to your local police station and ask for the gun to be removed — this is not just your right but your duty. Men (18-29 years old) remain the overwhelming perpetrators and victims of gun crime in the world and in SA. The killing of women by a firearm is most often by someone known to them and in a so-called “safe” space like the home. In Liberia the women went on a “sex strike”. They refused to have sex until their men disarmed. Just a thought …

Grace, Alan

It is time to confess

It is time to confess

February 17, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on It is time to confess

No more excuses!

“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

Hebrews 12:2

 

On Wednesday I received the following note from a friend of mine: “Not entirely sure what the appropriate wish for Ash Wednesday is … but I hope that time of reflection will bring insight, inspiration and passion.”

It is true, we are not entirely sure what the appropriate wish for Ash Wednesday is. “Happy Ash Wednesday”, just doesn’t sound right. Especially after one has just been marked with ash and told: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return – turn from your sin and be faithful to Christ.” Not even Cardies has figured out how to commercialise Ash Wednesday. I guess they figured there isn’t a market for cards that remind you that you are a piece of dirt.

And yet it is only when we are able to recognise our “nothingness” that we will be able to grasp the greatness of God’s grace. Until then we may be under the illusion that we deserve it or have somehow achieved it.

We acknowledge our nothingness, not with despair but in secure trust as we remember that in the beginning God created the cosmos “out of nothing”. So together with the psalmist we boldly request, “create in me a clean heart O God” (Ps 51). As we admit we are dirt we remember with confidence that “God formed humanity from the dust of the ground” (Gen 1:7). We may be dust – but in God’s hands even dust is filled with precious potential.

Ash Wednesday and Lent that follows, is not about beating up on oneself, but rather it invites us to be honest about who we truly are. After all who of us cannot join Paul in saying about ourselves: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom 7:19)?

Were it not for God’s compassion, our acts of confession would have no value. It is precisely because of God’s mercy, evident nowhere so vividly as in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, that we are able to summon the courage to acknowledge our fault and ask forgiveness. We ask for forgiveness knowing that we have already been forgiven in advance – it is called grace. In fact to know that forgiveness is a free available gift is what emboldens us to ask for forgiveness in the first place. To do so under any other conditions would be to take a foolish risk. The order of our prayers: “Lord make me to know your love, so that as I grow to know myself I will know that your love covers the full multitude of my knowing”.

This Lent I invite you to confess your sin. To confess is to explore the real reality of who we are in the trusted and loving presence of another. Our sin consists of every love-less, truth-less, gentle-less, generous-less, just-less area of our lives. Only when we dare to plumb our depths will we appreciate the depths of God’s love.

Grace, Alan

Follow where Jesus leads

Follow where Jesus leads

February 10, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Follow where Jesus leads

This is one of the remembrance stones on the sanctuary wall.
In memory of Rev. Ernest Titcomb.
“His was a life of duty transfigured into love.”

Today we celebrate Tess Petersen confirming her faith, hope and love for Jesus. In so doing she confirms her trust in Jesus. To trust enough to follow him where he leads. To trust that the way of life Jesus calls us to live really is a life that leads to LIFE – eternal life – meaning, new life now. New life now that (by the way) death is powerless to destroy.

Today Tess confirms the way of life she desires to live. She does so before us as a community who promises to continue to share the journey with her. We promise to keep faithful practice of all means of grace from which Tess can drink and into which Tess can contribute.

I want to borrow the words of Craig Holdrege who when speaking about school/education said the following to young graduates:

My hope is not that school has prepared you well for college or for life.

My hope is not that school has prepared you for present-day culture and its existing forms and processes.

Rather, my hope is that you have been educated in such a way that the world is not prepared for you.

I hope you have not been hindered and that you may even have been nurtured and encouraged to develop ideas and to do things that no one expects – not in order to be different, but because you sense what needs to happen.

Don’t listen to people who tell you, when you are following a yearning or birthing an idea, that it can’t be done.

Tess, when you follow the yearning and birthing of Jesus, may you be graced with courage to persevere. I am grateful to Jane Lawrence for the mentorship she has generously offered Tess throughout this confirming journey.

Grace, Alan