Who are we?

Grace and Peace to you

Probably the primary question that all religions and philosophies attempt to answer is: “Who are we?” Descartes famously said: “I think therefore I am” and placed human uniqueness in the realm of rationality. Every ideology or system is rooted in a particular understanding of the human person either explicitly or implicitly. Apartheid propagated an explicit understanding of the human person according to the colour of our skin. Capitalism propagates a more implicit understanding by relating to human persons as consumers or products whose worth is determined by the size of our bank accounts. Therefore while critiquing any social, political or economic system it is important to ask what is it saying about who we are.

Because of the primary nature of this question it is not surprising that the Bible deals with it in its first few chapters. Here are three things I understand about who we are from Genesis 1-3.

  1. All people are born in the image of God. Therefore we are each of infinite sacred and equal worth. This means that all systems and policies should seek to honour all people equally and in ways that appreciate, promote and protect everyone’s worth of being.
  2. God formed us from the dust. Therefore we are part of creation. We are not separate from creation. To appreciate, promote and protect creation and all life’s creatures is an extension of who we are.
  3. God took a rib from Adam (Adam in this instance means earth creature rather than male) and from that moment formed women and men. Therefore we are formed from each other. We are part of each other. We are not separate from each other. We are one. Oneness is our original form that we are called to honour and re-cover.

If this is who we are, the next question is how can we live more in tune with who we really are?

Grace, Alan

Covenant Prayer

Beloved in Christ, let us again claim for ourselves this Covenant which God has made with God’s people, and take the yoke of Christ upon us.

To take Christ’s yoke upon us means that we are content that God appoint us our place and work, and that Jesus be our reward.

Christ has many services to be done; some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honour, others bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests, others are contrary to both. In some we may please Christ and please ourselves, in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. Yet the power to do all these things is given us in Christ, who strengthens us.

Let us give ourselves anew to God, trusting in God’s promises and relying on God’s grace. Today, we meet as the generations before us have met, to renew the covenant that binds us to God. Let us make this covenant of God our own: 

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

Live with limits

Grace and Peace to you,

While visiting my brother in Knysna over New Year I had the opportunity to stay at a small home that was almost completely “off the grid”. The micro home was built in part using a shipping container together with discarded building materials that had been recycled. The entire roof structure was linked to a number of different JoJo tanks providing the only water on the property – which by the way tasted comprehensively delicious. There was a compost toilet – with a beautiful tranquil forest view. Gas was used to cook and heat water. I was so moved and inspired by how Dion, the owner, lives his life. What a gentle and respectful witness. I left there saying: “I want to live more like that”.

What moved me most was the fact that we had a limited amount of water. Knowing this made it taste and feel so sacred. To collect the water in a bucket from the JoJo tank to do the washing up, etc. was a conscious and deliberate act of using the water, instead of mindlessly opening a tap as would normally be the case. I also realised how little water I actually can get by on and thereby realised how much water I waste on a daily basis – by simply using more than I actually need to use.

Living in the way Dion lives assures that we live close to the consequences of our living. With a compost toilet one realises that we produce waste and that it actually needs to be managed and “go somewhere”. To use precious water to flush it “away” can end up mindlessly detaching us from this aspect of our living. To live with real water limits works wonders in shaping a respectful and even reverent relationship with the water we use.

So this LENT (which begins on 10th February) I invite you to fast.

To fast is to live with limits. The first fast was given as Divine instruction for daily living in the Garden of Eden: “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” To live without limits is to die. To fast is to live. To fast is to bring life.

This LENT, in the year of one of South Africa’s worst droughts, let us fast – live with limits – in relation to water. Perhaps our water fast will help us to hear Jesus’ crucifying cry: “I thirst” more acutely. This is the cry of an ever-increasing number of people.

According to Institute – Water for Africa, the UN say that a human being needs 50 liters of water per day in order to prepare meals and to have enough for personal hygiene. 50 liters of water per day are necessary in order to avoid diseases and to retain efficiency.

However, many humans in Africa must get along with 20 liters water per day. Depending on the power output of ones shower – 20 liters is the quantity of water that we use when having a shower for 2-3 minutes. The practice this fast faithfully we are first going to have to calculate how much water we actually use on a daily basis and when. This will move our relationship with water from mindlessness state to a conscious state.

This LENT let’s limit ourselves to a maximum of 50 liters of water per day – remembering that there are many in our land who do not have the privilege of voluntarily reducing their water usage to less than 50 liters – in fact many are forced to live on much less.

Grace, Alan

Covenant Prayer Preparation

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

Please reflect on the words of this great prayer in preparation for our Covenant Service on January 31.


Dare to be curious

Grace and Peace to you

The last few weeks have allowed for some extra reading. I have been reading around the topic of racism and I will be sharing more about this in the next few weeks. One of the books I read was: What if there were no whites in South Africa? by Ferial Haffajee. I found it an informative read and I would certainly recommend it to better understand where we are as a nation.

What I would like to mention about Haffajee’s book is not so much the valuable information that she shares (I will save that for another time) but rather the way she went about writing her book. I found her approach to be full of humility, grace and courage.

She starts off by stating, “I feel freedom. Breathe it. Speak it. Enjoy it. I know it only because I know its opposite. Apartheid, in all its social, political and economic dimensions, imprisoned me.” As a result she begins by not agreeing with or understanding the “simmering resentment about a perceived white cultural and financial domination that has replaced formal apartheid”. She writes, “When I preach my gospel of change, of black accomplishment and of the good and healthy fruits of freedom, it is as if I am the anti-Christ. It is as if I have journeyed to a place where nothing has changed, where an oppressive minority controls thought and destiny. A place where black people labour under a system of white supremacy. Do I live in a different world? Am I crazy?”

What I value so much about Haffajee’s approach is that she doesn’t set about defending her position as much as she seeks to understand the position of those who she either does not agree with or fully understand. She holds round table discussion groups with people who have totally different opinions to her. She listens and asks tons of questions. Her questions are asked with the hope of increased understanding and not to make a point. Her exploration is genuine. Her curiosity is real. In her approach we witness mature humanity as she reveals to us how we should all deal with difficult differences that exist between us.

Our task is to ask. Rather than argue in order to win. In this way we are guaranteed to grow as human beings … as we seek to become an anti-racist people.

Grace, Alan

Our Covenant Service will be held on Sunday 31 January.
Please reflect on the words of this great prayer.

Covenant Prayer Preparation

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


Just be

“I am not afraid of storms,
for I am learning to sail my ship.”
~ Louisa May Alcott


Grace and peace to you,

Central Methodist Mission is a beautiful place. I remember sitting in this sanctuary just before taking my first appointment as a solo pastor. I sat listening to Dana Cunningham’s piano music playing softly through the speakers and I felt so held by God in this space. The prayer I was praying all the way back in 2010 was that God might deliver a Scripture that would guide my leadership in the years ahead. The Scripture that was delivered was the text of Jesus walking out on the water. Churches like Central Methodist Mission that were built in the gothic tradition hold secrets in the ceiling. In all of them captured above is the hull of a boat, which is the symbol of the Church in mission to the world.

So many times the Church gets things wrong as we stretch beyond the boundaries of our front doors, but there is not a perfect science in the ways we are called to be alive and living in love in the world. We are just to be. It is what I call a bumble into beauty when we get it right. So often, in our passion, we seek to charge out on our own and lead and I would share that things that have real life, that offer real love, have a beautiful way of sustaining themselves if and when we should ever leave. This is why I always encourage beautiful ones with dreams to gather together in twos and threes, so that the dreams they dream have wings to fly like the symbol of the resurrection – the butterfly.

There is a sense I feel that this congregation like many others around the world is called to lead out in the waters of change that we are walking upon. There is strong leadership for the year ahead, Alan’s preaching is beyond what many can see and imagine, but leads to a place of truth that the foundations of what we know in this generation are shaking. I can’t imagine what Peter must have been thinking when he took that first step out upon the sea, but I can imagine it was a combination of fear and excitement. There before him was Jesus beckoning him, “Come.”

I always wonder whether Peter was a little hasty. Maybe he was never supposed to leave the boat that Jesus put him in. Maybe he was to learn how to live with courage, faith, and hope with those he was charged to serve with. The boat is always charged to leave the shores to the other side. Without stepping foot on the shores that are not ours, we don’t have a picture of the world we need to see clearly. Without hearing the cries of the people who are around the corner, but out of sight, we lose understanding of the way we are called to live.

Sailing is no easy thing. It takes skill, practice, and an ability to gauge the clip of the wind. Winds and waves have always threatened, but when two or three gather together in prayer, the Holy Spirit delivers the dream, guides the boat, and opens the sails in order that the Church might be a vessel of change in the world – guiding others towards the way that leads to life, love, peace, and transformation.

With you on the journey, Michelle

New things bring change

Grace and peace to you,

As we make the turn towards a New Year, I encourage us to make the turn with courage, with faith, and with hope. Thomas Merton did not share these words in vain. His journey through life was one of deep contemplation and intentional engagement. His writings help to center great leaders all around the world because they come from a place of truth that meets you on the ground and lifts you to new heights. New years are times for new thinking, new decisions, and the chance for us to begin again. New things always bring with them change.

The birth of Jesus did not happen in a time that was peaceful. It was a time of great uncertainty. There was a King on the throne who had murdered members of his own family. Joseph and Mary were on the run and chaos seemed to loom all about. The way of Jesus today rises in the midst of that same sort of chaos. The powers that rule today are not aligned with the needs of the people. The young are rising to name no more. The oppressed are raising their fists. It is into this day and this time that Jesus is beckoning to be born in us.

Jesus brings a new reign that promises to level the playing ground between the powerful and the meek. It is a reign that promises there will be food on the table when we all find our way home. It is a reign that is made real when people like you and I claim what we believe and live it. Releasing our lives to the promise of new life also means releasing our lives to the change that comes with it.

Change can be unsettling, confusing, incredibly challenging, but resisting change means resisting God. Embracing change means embracing the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about the something new that is unfolding.

When Mary submitted to the will of God, her words were, “Let it Be!” She teaches us with that one decision, the way forward in a New Year. Mary is never the same after those three words are uttered from her lips. Yet, through Mary we witness the birth of hope into the world.

May you embrace the way of new life and change in this New Year ahead.

Questions for Reflection:

1) Name the areas of your life where you have experienced something new needing to be born.
2) In what ways are you resisting change?
3) How can you take steps to embrace the new?

With you on the journey, Michelle

The Invitation

The Invitation

By Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain. I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty, even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.


Bring to birth

Grace and peace to you

It may surprise us to know that back in the Biblical day the idea of God taking on human flesh was actually not such an outrageous idea. There were many emperors and pharaohs of the Greeks, Romans and ancient Egyptians who were considered deity in some form or other.

What made the declaration that Jesus was God born among us so outrageous is that he came from the under-class of society. His parents were peasant working people. What was worse was that his mother was not impregnated by his father – giving Jesus and his parents full marks in the social outcast category. The Gospel stories are clear that he was not born in a palace but rather in an overcrowded hovel – sharing accommodation with animals because they didn’t make the cut for anything more worthy. You don’t get lower than this.

And this is the shock of Christmas – not that God would share our flesh per se – but that God would share the flesh of the lowest among us. This turned the orthodox theology of their day up-side-down for in those days everyone believed that the healthy and wealthy were the ones who had been blessed by God while the poor and sick had been cursed by God. But if it were true that the lowly-outcast-Jesus was God’s en-fleshed representative then one’s entire perspective of God would have to change, as well as one’s perspective on life and living.

When the emperors and people in power are believed to represent God then the status quo will be bent in their favour. Any challenge to the status quo that serves the elite will not only be considered treason, but sinful. To challenge the king is no less than challenging God. This is very convenient theology for the King after all, who wants to mess with God?

But when God is represented by the lowest – the least – the ones society makes no room for then the elite serving status quo is given notice. Every day the status quo excludes and exploits the poorest of the poor God is aggrieved and offended. In short, the elite are messing with God and you don’t want to do that!

Christmas is the great challenge to all elite-serving systems. It declares: If you mess with the poor you mess with God. In South Africa, Christmas 2015 comes to us as a stern warning: Start honouring the poor or else …


A Psalm of Bringing to Birth

People of CMM, what will we bring to birth in the world of the new creation?
Wisdom and justice, peace and compassion, concern for all God’s little ones, for the homeless and the destitute, the hungry, and all who bear the brunt of indifference and oppression.

People of CMM, what will we bring to birth on the earth of the new creation?
A deep respect for our planet, its winding and its waters, its topsoil and its forests, and a oneness with the wilderness that is image of our soul.

People of CMM, what will we bring to birth in the church of the new creation?
A total disdain for power that diminishes or destroys, divestment of wealth and status, a sharing of human resources based on mutuality and the sudden surprise of grace.

People of CMM, what will we bring to birth in the hearts of the new creation?
An unbreakable bond in the Spirit that binds as one all brothers and sisters, transcending class, colour, culture, religion, sexual orientation and gender, that treats no personal preference, no physical or spiritual difference as aberration or handicap.

One has been born among us who heralds such liberation. Human liberation, our liberation has taken flesh among us and in Spirit dwell with us.
Holy the woman who helped this happen. Blessed are we when we give birth to the Word made flesh in us.

~ Miriam Therese Winter in WomanWord [adapted] 

Thin places

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices
in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour
on the lowliness of his servant.”
Luke 1:46-48

Thin places…

“There is in Celtic mythology the notion of ‘thin places’ in the universe where the visible and the invisible world come into their closest proximity. To seek such places is the vocation of the wise and the good — and for those that find them, the clearest communication between the temporal and eternal. Mountains and rivers are particularly favoured as thin places marking invariably as they do, the horizontal and perpendicular frontiers. But perhaps the ultimate of these thin places in the human condition are the experiences people are likely to have as they encounter suffering, joy, and mystery.” ~ Peter Gomes

This picture by one of our members, Lulu Fitzpatrick captures the essence of what Peter Gomes is naming as a thin place. Right in the centre of the painting there is light and puffs of clouds breaking in like a new day unfolding. The season of advent is just this, a new day slowly unfolding. It is the time when we enter into a season of waiting.The wait is not for the magical, but the majestic.

The thin places on the earth and in our lives provide for us moments of awe and wonder that inspire us to lean into the something new that is always struggling to be born in us and in the world around us.

They make real for us what can sometimes feel elusive — the majesty of God. We are almost to Christmas and the magical will appear all around us. There will be bright paper, ribbons, decorations, tables full of food, and most likely strands and strands of twinkle lights.

Yet, what is truly unimaginable is that light like the light breaking through in Lulu’s picture can break in through each of us as we turn towards the majestic. There is such beauty in Cape Town. The sea roars to life here. The mountain stands powerful against the sky. The whales hide beneath the surface of an ink blue sea, waiting for just the right moment to teach lessons of wisdom and truth to you and me. The flowers are like nowhere else in the world and they remind us of the beauty of love and life. Nature here honors the majesty of God.

Mary sings of her soul magnifying the Lord. From the deepest place in her being, she would shout to the God who would do great things in and through her. She sings of a great levelling where God works to rise up the lowly and lower the proud and powerful. People who are hungry have food and those who are rich go away feeling empty. She is singing of a new day for the people who have walked in darkness, for in the darkness they will be able to see light. In the darkness, they will know how to gather. The gathering will be around the things that are right and true.

There is nothing magical about Mary’s song, it is wholly majestic. A new day indeed is being born through the one who we call Emmanuel, God with us. There is a sense that in the life blood of Jesus, the world is about to turn. The question is will we turn more and more towards the majesty of God? I encourage you this holiday season to pray that God might reveal to you a thin place where Heaven and Earth collapse for but a moment within yourself in order that you might experience the majestic and allow it to be born again in you.

With you on the journey, Michelle







Surprised by joy

Grace and peace to you

I spent time the other day with an old friend. She was telling me how at the beginning of 2014 she felt the need for a guru. Which I guess means that she was looking for a teacher. An “enlightened” teacher who could bring light to her living.

She wrote to a friend who she thought had guru connections. But no guru was found.

In December 2014 she received the devastating news that she had cancer.

Chemotherapy was prescribed – followed by cutting surgery. Time off. Time in bed. Time staring at the ocean. Time talking to the dog and time with the cat on her lap. Her hair has grown back – grey replacing the blonde. That was not the only thing that grew back a different colour. Her relationships with those closest to her have also grown back richer in colour.

Cancer was her guru. Sure, it was not the guru she was looking for. It was not the guru she wanted. And it certainly wasn’t the guru God sent her. But it was the guru that she could be enlightened by if she were open. And she was open.

Any guru worth their guru-salt basically does just one thing with their disciples. A guru en-courages disciples to become present to their life – their living – knowing that their life is good as it was proclaimed good in the beginning. If the disciple becomes truly present to their life – they may be surprised by the joy of knowing that they are enough. In fact, that they are more than enough and have more than enough and may even feel their heart strangely warmed. The great “guru gift” is courage. Without courage we will continue to avoid the truth of our living. In fear we will run. We will hide. We will close our eyes. We will go to sleep. We will do anything but face who we are in the very present moment of now. We will prefer to pitch our life in the past or project it into the future, but in so doing the disquiet within us deepens. The courage needed is courage to face the truth that life is as vulnerable as it is valuable. That life is beyond our control and therefore to live authentically in this life is to live vulnerably giving up the illusion of control. To accept this disquiet of reality is to cause the disquiet of our illusions to evaporate.

No surprise then that Guru Jesus instructs us repeatedly: “Do not fear… Do not be afraid… I have not come to condemn… I have come to save…” Guru Jesus hopes that we will wake up and become fully present to the beauty and goodness and vulnerability of our life.

In courage, Alan


Strange how one word will so hollow you out.

But this word has been in the wilderness for months,

This word has been what remained
after everything else was worn away
by sand and stone.

It is what withstood the glaring of sun by day,
the weeping  loneliness of the moon at night.

Now it comes to you racing out of the wild,
eyes blazing and waving its arms,
voice ragged with desert but piercing and loud
as it speaks itself again and again:

Prepare,  prepare…

It may feel like the word is levelling you,
Emptying you as it asks you to give up
what you have known.

It is impolite and hardly tame,
but when it falls upon your lips
you will wonder at the sweetness,
like honey that finds its way
into the hunger you had not known was there.

By Jan Richardson in Circles of Grace

Step towards the light

Grace and peace to you

On this page you will see two Calvin and Hobbes cartoons. I came across both of them this past week. It doesn’t take long to realise that they are at odds with each other. The top cartoon is delightful – as Calvin and his imaginary tiger friend rejoice in the treasure of life. Everything – even rocks, roots and grubs are treasures. Indeed there is treasure everywhere. Life itself is a treasure. Life is the miracle. All of life!

As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, considered by many to be one of the most significant Jewish theologians of the 20th century said: “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” Rabbi Heschel spoke of “wonder or radical amazement as refusing to take anything for granted”. Within this worldview we pray less for miracles and more for our eyes to be opened to the miracles all around us. The spiritual discipline we most need to cultivate in order to honour this worldview is attentiveness and gratitude. So let’s pray: “Fill us Lord with radical amazement for the treasure of life.”

The second cartoon is actually quite devastating and we can only hope it was before Calvin discovered that all of life is a treasure, but I fear it is more likely that Calvin moves between the two worldviews – back and forth like most of us do. The world of wonder and praise and the world of money and possession. There are times we are given insight into the priceless gift of life, but then we tend to forget and we fearfully clutch onto money while childishly thinking that our wellbeing rests in owning and possessing stuff. That the god of money rather than the God of mercy is the answer to our prayers. We mistakenly think having anything we want is more important than having what we need most. And what we need most is to surrender to the truth that our humanity fully flourishes in providing rather than possessing, in sharing rather than owning. So let’s pray: “Free us to accept that we own nothing. That all is a gift from you for us to share.”

I remind you again of Al Zolynas’ poem that ends with the words: “All I know is that place/where the light appears and disappears/that’s the place where we live.” Yes we live between these two cartoons – in the first the light appears and in the second the light disappears. May we step towards the light.

Grace, Alan