Pay it forward

Grace and peace to you and through you

Just in case you missed this story in the press recently, I want to share it with you. It is too beautiful. It is a story of grace and generosity. It is a story of dedication and integrity. It is a story of memory and surprise. It is a story of gratitude and humility. It is a story about our new Deputy Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, Judge Raymond Zondo and how in 1977 he asked the supermarket owner in Ixopo, Suleman Bux, for food for his family as he sought to study to become a Lawyer.

Earlier this year during Judge Zondo’s interview with the Judicial Services Commission he spoke of his years growing up; and a video of the interview became available as a result of Zondo’s new appointment. In the video Judge Zondo shares:

“When I finished matric I was confident I would get an exemption and qualify to go to university. I was confident I was going to get a bursary too but my problem was at home — the situation was quite bad. My mother lost her job two years before my matric, and my… mother had exhausted all her savings. Somehow I felt that the community had seen how my mother struggled to raise us on her own and expected me to look for work after matric to support her. I wanted to go and do Law and was determined but I felt I couldn’t do that unless I made arrangements to ensure my mother and siblings would have something to eat.”

That was when he approached Bux and asked for a loan. “Very interestingly he didn’t ask many questions and agreed to help me. He said he can’t give me money but will give me a voucher to give to my mother for groceries. Each month my mother would collect groceries up to the value of R20 at his shop until I finished my degree. When I asked him what arrangements we could make so I can repay him, he said don’t worry, Do to others what I have done to you. I thought that was very important and in my own small way I try to do that,” said the Judge.

This seed of generosity and grace was planted 40 years ago! The planter had no clue what had become of the seed. Now there stands a huge tree that is able to provide the shade of justice for a nation where there are too many who cannot afford food and education.

Sometimes it takes 40 years (that beautiful-biblical-birthing number) before we see the trees of our planting and in fact there is no guarantee we will see them at all. Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely give.”

Grace, Alan


Grace and peace to you and through you

In the face of so much that is going on at the moment, the question is often asked: What difference can one person make? We ask ourselves this question when trying to gage whether anything we do will make a difference for good in the world. Sometimes just asking the question becomes the basis for us to not do a thing – because after all, why do something that we are not sure is going to make any difference?

Yet, have you noticed that we are less inclined to question the difference one person can make when that person is acting against the common good. We see it here and abroad, one person in one position wreaking havoc. I am sure a couple of leaders come to mind.

I realise that one of the explanations for this may be because it is easier to break something down than it is to build something up; which makes the “breakers” arguably more effective than the “builders”, or at least so it seems. It is also obvious that things take longer to build than they do to destroy. It can take a few minutes to chop down a tree of many years. The breakers are camera-grabbing sprinters who can fit their destruction into a tweet, while the builders are ultra-marathon plodders needing a full-length documentary to tell their story. The “breakers” also tend to use extremely blunt, yet very effective motivating tools like fear and selective favour.

Nevertheless it’s interesting that we are more inclined to question the difference a person can make when they set out to do good than we are for one bent on doing harm. As Rebecca Solnit says in her fantastic book, Hope in the Dark: “People have always been good at imagining the end of the world, which is much easier to picture than the strange sidelong paths of change in a world without end.”

But there may be other reasons that we need to take more responsibility for. Fearing the burden of responsibility upon us, we sometimes convince ourselves to the point of certainty that nothing good can be achieved. We make statements like: “But that will never happen.” “They will never change …” “They will always …” In this we become certain of our own futility by a made-up story that is filled with insurmountable stumbling blocks making the hope for change impossible. As Solnit says: “Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes–you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is … the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.”

Sometimes the “builders” are more like sustainers who don’t do anything other than preserve what is and therefore the results of their work are not easily seen or valued until what is, is no longer. A bit like a riverbank that for the longest time faithfully channels the waters responsibly, only to be noticed when broken. Because nobody is tweeting about a riverbank doing its job today, let us honour the unnoticed and under-appreciated river-bankers who humbly channel life among us.

Grace, Alan


Water Reflections

Grace and peace to you and through you

Today we celebrate Pentecost. Today we celebrate the searching Spirit of God seeking out a dis-spirited bunch of fearful and failed disciples. We watch them being set on fire, burning with resurrected conviction and courage to live out the radical teachings of Jesus as their chosen way of life. The most radical of all Jesus’ teachings involved the love of enemies and the sharing of possessions with all who had need. Empowered by the Spirit the disciples forgave as they had been forgiven and they generously gave as they had generously received. In this a new community was formed. It was a community of mercy and justice. In other words it was a Pentecostal community. May we at CMM endlessly grow into being an authentic Pentecostal community.

Today we also celebrate Holy Communion. Holy Communion is the dramatic reminder of how we need to mercifully and justly share the ingredients of life with all, in order for all to have life in all its fullness. In other words Holy Communion reminds us to be a truly Pentecostal community.

Today we will be celebrating Holy Communion with bread and water – rather than wine/juice. In our drought-stricken context we do so to acknowledge that water is sacred. Water is priceless. Water is the basis for life. Without water nothing would exist. We would not exist. In his memoir, Speak Memory, novelist Vladimir Nobokov recalls his Great Aunt Pascha’s final words: “Now I understand. Everything is water.” 70% of the human person is made up of water – just like 70% of this planet is water. Yet less than 1% of earth’s water is drinkable. The paper and ink of this leaflet would not exist without water. The water that watered the seed that grew into a tree that was cut into logs that could be smashed into pulp etc., etc. Every aspect of the process from seed to paper was dependent on water. Indeed everything is water.

Water is a gift and not just another commodity. Perhaps only when we have a reverent or sacramental relationship with water will we cherish every drop, curbing our wastefulness and preventing our pollution of it. And perhaps only then will we passionately work for the just sharing of water, for some of us have multiple water inlets into our home, while some have none. As we partake in Holy Communion today may it strengthen us to work for the day where all experience Holy Communion. As we celebrate Pentecost today may we be inspired to give of ourselves towards a Pentecostal future of mercy and justice for all.

Grace, Alan

The Gift of Religious Diversity

Grace and peace to you and through you

One of the most beautiful things about Cape Town is the healthy religious diversity that flourishes among us. For some of us this religious diversity is planted within our own households. This is to be celebrated and cherished. To discover and learn from others what for them is sacred is a crucial part in honouring their humanity and loving them as our neighbour. This is especially so as we have just entered the month of Ramadan – a sacred time to Muslims of fasting for inner spiritual attunement.

At our Synod two weeks ago we were addressed by Mr Ebrahim Rhoda from the Strand Muslim community who shared with us a brief historical overview of the Strand Muslim community from between 1822 – 1966. In his talk he brought to our attention the relationship that early Methodists had with the early Muslim community. Some of the statements from the Methodist and other Christian clergy make you want to hide in shame. One missionary declared: “It has been my endeavour, within my humble sphere, to check this growing evil, but generally without success.” Another says, “With few exceptions they follow either a base, sinful course of life, or are ensnared by the awfully prevalent delusion of Mohammedanism.” From this we are reminded that we are often tempted to speak of another’s religion in the least charitable terms while taking a most generous view of our own. This is fueled by blind passion, hidden insecurity or both.

Rhoda also spoke of the great cooperation between Methodists and Muslims. One such story of collaboration resulted from a fishing disaster in which both Muslims and Methodists drowned. And from this we are reminded that shared suffering is often the knife that cuts through our shallow differences awakening us to our shared unity. Only when we know a person’s deepest hurt can we say that we know them.

There is a story of how Francis of Assisi (1181? – 1226) who rejected the call for war and instead during the Fifth Crusade went to meet Al-Kamil, a Kurdish ruler and Sultan of Egypt. His original intension was to convert the Sultan to Christianity but he left their time together with a profound sense that the Muslim Sultan was a person of God. Francis thereafter instructed his fellow monks to live at peace with Muslims with no need to convert them.

In these days where difference is often the basis for division may we learn to do difference differently. May difference be a lens through which we can learn and grow. And may we come to experience the mystery of how difference awakens us to our oneness at our depths.

In this may we hear Jesus say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” and a minute later he says, “They who keep my commandments are those who love me.” [John 14: 15 & 21]

Grace, Alan

The gift of new people

Like this squirrel in the Company’s Gardens…
we often think more is better …
when often more is a burden.


Grace and peace to you and through you

It is always a joy when new people join this community. It enriches our diversity and it broadens our understanding of family. New people bring fresh perspectives of faith and renewed possibilities for faithful living. Above all, when people join this community we are given the gift of new people to love and new people to be loved by – in this we all grow in God because God is love.

We believe that the “world is our parish” and so joining the Central Methodist Mission (CMM) as your community of faith is to declare that each of us belong to one worldwide family of God that includes all people. Therefore if you want to know how many members there are at CMM, we declare that there are approximately 7.5 billion members and counting. And we are called to care for every single member! We do this by loving those who are in our close proximity and by seeking justice (fairness) for those who we may never ever personally know or meet.

Paradoxically we also declare that we are one. CMM is made up of ONE member. Therefore loving others and seeking justice for them is best thought of as “self-care” rather than self-sacrifice. So when asked how many members there are at CMM – we can reply: There is only One. Oh, and about 7.5 billion…


Today we welcome the people who stand before us now …


LEADER: It is Jesus who has called you, accepted and embraced you. Jesus calls each of you to always remember who you are: “You are my beloved”, says Jesus. “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world”. At CMM we commit to reminding you who Jesus says you are. We welcome you in Jesus’ name, and we pray that your sense of belonging will deepen by grace and with time, trusting always that we are one family.

Therefore, I ask you, do you commit yourself with us to follow Jesus? Will you seek to love Jesus by loving as he first loved you? Will you seek to love your neighbour as yourself? Will you do justice? Will you love mercy? Will you walk humbly with God and each of us? Will you be open to the renewing power of the Spirit of Life in your life and in this community and throughout the world?

THOSE TO BE WELCOMED: In God’s great grace we will.

LEADER: Will you seek to be faithful to whatever Jesus calls you to, and will you be bold in serving Jesus through this community in the presence of your bodies, the prayers of your hearts and the gifts of your creativity?

THOSE TO BE WELCOMED: In God’s great grace we will.

CONGREGATION: We thank Jesus for the gift of each one of you. Always remember that you are born in love, by love and for love. We are grateful to Jesus who reminds us through your presence that we belong to a beautifully big family. We join with you to commit ourselves anew today to doing life the Jesus Way for the healing of the world.

May the Spirit grow your faith, deepen your hope and strengthen your love, watering within all of us the desire to be Jesus’ faithful family forever. Amen.


Bible as Economics text book

Sexist marathon rules forbid women to compete —
until this feminist put her foot down!

Karen Switzer—the first woman to enter the 1967 Boston Marathon—being assaulted by a man who tried unsuccessfully to tear the number off her shirt and remove her from the race.

Women were only permitted in 1972 to enter this marathon. This year—the 50th year since her first entry—Karen (aged 70) ran the Marathon once again!

Image: Paul Connell/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Grace and peace to you and through you

The bible is first and foremost an economics text book. Economics, in the true sense of the word, means management of the household. Thus the bible documents a people’s growing understanding of what God desires for God’s house (the world) and how it is to be managed. In short: God longs for God’s house to be managed with justice and mercy for everyone living under God’s sky. In our own homes we know what happens when fairness is not present! It’s war! Fairness alone is what will establish peace. This is equally true in our country which is ablaze in so many corners for the long lack of fairness. And what is more, there will not be enough rubber bullets and tear gas canisters to prevent the flames from burning ever higher. Justice is the only thing that will cool the heat.

I think we know this but we stand paralysed in the face of this truth. We know the answer is justice, but it’s as if this answer is buried in a tomb that is impossible to open and we don’t believe it will ever be unlocked, partly because somewhere deep down some of us know that we benefit from the injustice and love the benefits more than we despise the injustice. So we declare with resignation: “The poor will always be with us”.

Not surprisingly it was only after the disciples experienced Jesus as resurrected Lord that they began to practice justice and mercy in relationship with one another and with all those in need. Resurrection – God’s power over that which overpowers us – is what facilitated their new depths of faithfulness. Only in the light of the resurrection did they come to trust that nothing (not even justice long-thought-dead-and-buried) is beyond the transformative reach of God to unlock. It was only after their ultimate fear of death was overcome that they could overcome their fear of sharing what they owned with those in need. It was only after they were flooded with a rush of abundant life that they were convinced that their economics should be in the service of life for all rather than profit for a few.

It seems to me if we are going to live out radical economic transformation (in the deepest and most biblical sense of those words) which is so desperately needed in our country and world – we will need to knock, seek and ask for resurrection light and life to overwhelm us. Only the power to bring back the dead to life will be enough to free us to die to ourselves in seeking life for others, and this is at the very heart of radical economic transformation.

The Gospel promise of course is that whenever we die to ourselves to bring life to others then our lives are given back to us … new, full and fresh … as if we were born all over again.

In hope and in trust,

Grateful to the faithful

Grace and peace to you and through you

Earthlife-Africa Johannesburg (ELA) and the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) launched their nuclear court case against the South African government in October 2015 when they realised that the government was preparing for a nuclear power procurement deal in secret. The court case has been pivotal in exposing arrangements for government’s proposed R1-trillion nuclear deal that they believe was entered into unlawfully. Furthermore they believe the deal to be both unaffordable and unnecessary.

On the eve of Freedom Day the Western Cape High Court delivered its judgement in favour of ELA and SAFCEI. It declared the government nuclear plan as unconstitutional and therefore invalid because among other things it did not follow due process.

We owe ELA and SAFCEI a great deal of gratitude. They have saved us! They have saved us, and our children, from deathly debt. And because nuclear waste is extremely difficult to dispose of they have also saved the environment that we are dependent on. For example: the highly radio-active fission products produced from uranium and plutonium during reactor operations can have a half-life of anything between 220,000 years and 15.7 million years.

If you have met any of the people from ELA and SAFCEI you will know that they are very ordinary people. So ordinary that many of us don’t even know who any of them are. They have never made it onto a giant billboard and I am pretty sure that not one of them has ever been asked for their autograph like some TV personality or popular sportsperson because of their NGO work. I am also certain they have never been called Messiah or Anointed One. And yet in some real sense that is exactly who they are. They are people (the Bible would call them Angels or Saints or Anointed Ones) who have secured life (even temporarily) in a world determined to dish up death. Regardless of their religion (or lack thereof), in securing life, they follow in the footsteps of Jesus who came to bring Life in all its Wonder.

ELA and SAFCEI have helped roll the stone away exposing a deathly secret stench. Their work is like the Easter Earthquake we read about in Matthew 28 that releases us from our tombs that we may have another chance at choosing life.

As Jesus lived out and Margaret Mead taught, we see again through this successful court action that we must “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

The bad news is that there are many tombs in our land and world that testify to our decisions that favour death. But the good news is that there are so many small groups of thoughtful, committed citizens for us to join up with … and begin changing the world from death to life.


Living in the in between times

Before the invention of artificial light, humans were said to sleep up to fourteen hours in the night. Bodies followed the cycle of light provided by the sun and the moon. Today, it is a miracle for many to achieve the much hoped for eight hours of sleep. Yet, interestingly, what we lack today in comparison to the sleep of ancient of days, is the time in between wakefulness and deep sleep. The fourteen hours of rest experienced before the invention of artificial light, were not consecutive hours of deep sleep. It would be common for a window of a couple of hours of rest before sleep, one would wake up in the night and lay in a restful state, and wake again in the morning early with a window for rest before the sun would rise. 1

During this time, in between wakefulness and deep sleep, the meanings of dreams were said to be woven into being. It was a time where the mind was breathing, weaving, creating because it had found rest. Rest is something we are not oriented towards. It might be for some that it is the uncomfortableness of stillness. For others, it might be the fear of what people will say if we pry ourselves away from the wheel of busy-ness ever whirling before us in the world of work. Finding ourselves at rest in the in between times is important in that it is where wisdom for being is born.  Wisdom is heard in the quiet moments, it is where deep is able to call out to deep. It is about how we sleep, but it is also about how we find our rest.

There is a rhythm of life in the Christian faith that honors quiet, stillness, centered moments of finding our very being at rest in the mighty hands of God. Richard Rohr, in an interview with Krista Tippet for her “On Being” podcast shares that being a contemplative is about “learning how to live in Deep Time—learning how to rest there and not be wrapped up in chronological time. What we learn,” he names “is that it all passes away.” Rohr talks about the importance of finding ourselves living in “Kairos time” instead of chronological time, the importance of understanding that moments of significance happen when we find ourselves living deeply now. This is so counter-intuitive to the way the world is oriented in these days. Busy-ness to the point of no time for rest, is affirmed.

The researcher who determined the likelihood of four-teen hours of sleep before artificial light, Clark Strand, claimed that the state in between, the space of rest, was like a “fossil of human consciousness.”2 Rather than trying to return to fourteen hours of sleep though, he shares that those who want to experience a move towards the consciousness of the restful state, should spend time where “darkness and sleep are set free from artificial light.” He is essentially, suggesting the importance of finding ways to unplug, in order to find true rest. Allowing our minds to rest, allows for the possibility of the fullness of time, the Kairos time, or what Richard Rohr named “Deep Time” to be what we experience in the now. More sleep is good, but it is more about how we find our time of daily rest in the in between. Busy-ness, artificial light, and distractions of every sort, can keep us from the quiet that used to be woven into the night. It can keep us from experiencing the awakening of true light.

O weaver of life, of sleepfulness and wakefulness, may our minds quiet and our spirits find deep peace in the place where we are able to find our rest in you. Awaken us for the living of these days, with your true light. Amen.

With you on the journey,


1Strong reliance on Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark
2Clark Strand, “Turn out the Lights”


More expensive to be poor

Occupying Woodstock Hospital

Picture: Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp (Creative Commons License CC BY-ND 4.0) 

Grace and peace to you and through you

Over the past few weeks Reclaim the City has occupied the vacant Helen Bowden building and Woodstock Hospital as an act of peaceful civil disobedience. The purpose of Reclaim the City is to challenge and change the Apartheid spatial planning that continues to shape our lives through the development of affordable housing within the city of Cape Town.

Affordable housing in well-located areas are a necessity if we are ever going to seriously address the legacy of Apartheid politics and economics. This is true especially in Cape Town, which remains more segregated than other cities in South Africa.

For those working in low wage jobs to be living miles away in places like Blikkiesdorp and Wolwerivier, is to stretch their minimum wages beyond breaking point. They are not only far from their place of work but also good schools and reliable medical care.

This points to the double whammy of being poor: it is more expensive to be poor than to be rich. Those with the least amount of money live furthest away from work, which means that they spend more money on getting to work. The far distances affect the prices of just about everything they need to purchase to live. A loaf of bread in Blikkiesdorp is more expensive than in the city. Therefore the poor have less to save and as a result it is less likely for their situation to ever change. While the opposite is true for the wealthy! This stretches the inequalities of yesterday into the future.

In this situation it is difficult not to become hopeless. Hopelessness is the absence of any reason why tomorrow will be any better than today. And hopelessness ignored will end in rage! And then…

And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away.

And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need.

And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.

The great owners ignored the three cries of history. The land fell into fewer hands, the number of the dispossessed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression. The money was spent for arms, for gas to protect the great holdings, and spies were sent to catch the murmuring of revolt so that it might be stamped out. The changing economy was ignored; and only means to destroy revolt were considered, while the causes of revolt went on.

The tractors which throw men out of work, the belt lines which carry loads, the machines which produce, all were increased; and more and more families scampered on the highways, looking for crumbs from the great holdings, lusting after the land beside the roads. The great owners formed associations for protection and they met to discuss ways to intimidate, to kill, to gas.

And always they were in fear of a principal–three hundred thousand–if they ever move under a leader–the end. Three hundred thousand, hungry and miserable; if they ever know themselves, the land will be theirs and all the gas, all the rifles in the world won’t stop them.

And the great owners, who had become through their holdings both more and less than men, ran to their destruction, and used every means that in the long run would destroy them. Every little means, every violence, every raid on a Hooverville, every deputy swaggering through a ragged camp put off the day a little and cemented the inevitability of the day.

~ John Steinbeck: Grapes of Wrath

Praying that our conscience be resurrected lest our crucifixion be inevitable.


Christ is risen!

Grace and peace to you and through you

We read…‘After these things, Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.’ (John 21:1)

On this Resurrection Day we celebrate the world-changing news “Christ is risen!” And we celebrate how Jesus shows himself again and again … and again. In different ways Jesus shows himself and the result is always the same … life unlocked.

One example of Jesus showing himself again is found in Acts 10, which is one of the set readings for today. Here we find Peter struggling to pray (who doesn’t?). He is distracted by a spread of food (who isn’t?) – and most disturbingly this food was not Kosher. Peter hears a voice commanding him to eat. He protests because this food was deemed unclean by long held belief and tradition. An argument ensues leaving Peter puzzled as the voice reprimands him saying: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Just then the doorbell rings and Peter welcomes into his home three visitors who had been sent to invite him to visit Cornelius. Cornelius was not a Jew. Up until that minute Peter would have considered the invitation to visit Cornelius as a profane act and yet the stone is miraculously rolled away from the tomb of his prejudice and fear. Peter is resurrected from the false belief that some people are more precious to God than others. Foreigners are discovered to be family and he declares: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality …”

Here Jesus shows himself even through distracted prayer and the surprise visit of strangers at the door. But more importantly we must see why Jesus shows himself again and again? Jesus shows himself to resurrect us from our tombs of death as well as the tombs we lock others into.

In Acts 10 Jesus shows himself to both the perpetrator of prejudice and the victim for the sake of setting them both free. Peter is resurrected out of the tomb of prejudice and into the house of Cornelius. He is resurrected to new life – to new relationship. In the world today and in particular in South Africa today we desperately need to be resurrected from our prejudice, fear and suspicion of people who look,  speak, vote, love or pray differently to us.

May Jesus disturb our prayers and gatecrash our homes!


Nothing is lost on the breath of God

Nothing is lost for ever;
God’s breath is love, and that love will remain, holding
the world for ever.
No feather too light, no hair too fine,
no flower too brief in its glory;
no drop in the ocean, no dust in the air, but is counted
and told in God’s story. 

Nothing is lost to the eyes of God,
nothing is lost for ever;
God sees with love and that love will remain,
holding the world for ever.
No journey too far, no distance too great,
no valley of darkness too blinding;
no creature too humble, no child too small for God
to be seeking, and finding. 

Nothing is lost to the heart of God,
nothing is lost for ever;
God’s heart is love, and that love will remain,
holding the world for ever.
No impulse of love, no office of care,
no moment of life in its fullness;
no beginning too late, no ending too soon,
but is gathered and known in God’s goodness. 


Colin Gibson 1996 Hope Publishing Company Used by permission CCLI Number 78945