2020 04 03 Alan Storey in conversation with John Maytham of CapeTalk 567.
2020 04 03 Alan Storey in conversation with John Maytham of CapeTalk 567.
I was informed early in the week that the refugees in the church will be evacuated by Friday. They will be relocated to a designated area determined by the City of Cape Town. The evacuation will be in accordance with the State of Disaster Regulations relating to Covid-19. This is good news because it would be unsafe for people to continue to remain in such a completely overcrowded space, such as the church, during this pandemic. Please pray for all those involved in this transition. It is traumatic for all those involved.
As in the rest of the world, slowing down the spread of Covid-19 is going to be an incredible challenge, and this is why we all need to take the directive to stay at home very seriously. This Lockdown will potentially save tens of thousands of lives. There is no other slowing-down-solution in the world at the moment. I plead with you to stay at home.
The consequences of not going into lockdown are unimaginably dire, but there are also dire consequences that come from this slowing-down-solution. This is what made it such a courageous call by the President. In South Africa this pandemic comes on top of other pandemics like poverty and unemployment and millions of people with compromised immune systems due to TB and untreated HIV. Small and informal businesses are now to close, placing even many of the employed at risk of little or no income. In other words, though we are all vulnerable to Covid-19, many will suffer from the “slowing-down-solution” which will in turn make them more vulnerable to the actual virus. The homeless of Cape Town will have no one to beg from. Their nothing will become less.
One thing is for sure, Covid-19 will expose the ugly face of inequality in the world and especially in SA. I plead with you to consciously keep your heart open to others and creatively reach out in care. I am not sure how we will do this exactly – but I am sure ways will emerge. We can all prepare ourselves to be part of the emergence by praying this prayer: By Your Love, set me free from fear to love. To love, according to our tradition, is to be just, merciful, humble, gentle and generous.
Our fast-from-gathering is not a fast-from-caring. As a church I remind you that “the world is our parish” and we are all ministers. The profound lesson in this crisis is to see the reality of our radical interconnectedness. Only now do we realise how impossible it is to live an untouched life. The truth is that our life is relational or nothing. May this great truth take root in our innermost being (soul) over this time so that it is incarnated by us in the present and into the future.
If you need someone to talk with, please don’t hesitate to call or message me. If you become ill over this time from Covid-19 or any other illness please let me know. Hospital visits are not allowed over this Lockdown period. Funerals are allowed as per the National Disaster Regulations.
Our Lenten fast-from-gathering deepens from tonight at midnight. It is now a forced fast, but I hope we can “freely choose” it as Jesus did [John 10:18].
Like you, I will be discovering along the way how to live these days. To live these days in life-giving ways. Though a national lockdown is unprecedented I believe we can learn from those who over centuries have freely lived a “vocational lockdown”. I am referring to those who live a monastic life. And here I am thinking particularly of the daily rhythm and daily practice of monastic life. A practice that includes prayer (meditation) study (reading) meals (community) manual labour (exercise) and sleep (rest) at set times every day. I invite you to create your own daily pattern of practice. If you live with others you may want to invite them to join you (or online) – or in the very least to let them know of your intended practice which will therefore determine times of togetherness and times of spaciousness.
In closing I hope you will take courage from the beautiful and challenging insights of Fr. Rus Blassoples about our 21 Day National Lockdown:
“Our beautiful Chapel is but a dim reflection,
a faint echo of the sanctuary found within every human heart.
May our national lockdown awaken us to this sanctuary within and make us not be so reliant on mediated experiences of everything ? including God.
Every human being is but a breath away from an unmediated, first-hand experience of the numinous.
Good spiritual practices will teach you to access this. Bad theology makes you unduly reliant on others to fatten and feed you constantly. It is God’s Spirit within that groans, murmurs and knows how to pray.
Perhaps now’s the time to delve into that forgotten or neglected part of our nature, and not ? dare I say ? be spoonfed a diet of spirituality that distracts us from being alone with ourselves, alone with our demons, and alone with God for days (21 or more). We do Lent such lip service!
Nor is it a time to be too glued to our small or big screens, to be fed a streaming diet of Eucharists. I mean, honestly!
We are so addicted to our screens anyway. Why are we so afraid to be alone with the Alone?
This is our wilderness moment. Our Jesus in the heremon moment (often translated as desert, but better still, Jesus in a place of solitude, devoid of others, distractions and addictions, tablets, laptops, podcasts, cellphones)…
Good liturgies will always take you to a place where you will find the courage to dispense of them ? put them aside – for a first-hand experience of God.
I pray you the blessing of one such liturgy.
The blessing of truly being alone with the Alone”.
At CMM our Lenten Journey is about to change. Due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus we have decided to suspend all worship services with immediate effect until after Easter at which time we will review the situation.
In Lenten language we are going to FAST from on-site worship services and meetings. Fasting is seldom easy or comfortable and I am aware that this particular fast will be challenging for us because of how deeply we hold onto our Lenten and Holy Week practice, which over the years has brought us much life.
The gift of fasting is a sense of heightened awareness. Absence heightens our awareness and paradoxically becomes a form of presence. Therefore, my hope is that as we cancel services, we will discover that Easter itself has not been cancelled. My hope is that we will live into a heightened awareness of the terror of crucifixion and the wonder of resurrection in the world and in our own lives. My hope is that as we cease to gather together that we will become increasingly aware of the excruciating pain of loneliness and the great gift of gathered community.
The hunger and the emptiness are the painful gifts of any fast. Let us therefore embrace this and resist the temptation to fill the ache and gap with something else. For this reason, we will not simply be “moving CMM services online”. Instead I encourage you to allow the fast to have its way with you. In other words, that we allow time for the restless emptiness to prune our inner being. Take note of what happens when we replace our singing with silence; our dancing with stillness and our gathering with solitude. Our Lenten work is to be attentive to the journey that our fast takes us on.
Now at risk of contradicting the previous paragraph I also realise that not all fasts are for everyone. Some have a “water only” fast while others choose to augment their fast with fruit. Please allow the same grace for yourself regarding this fast from gathered community. I invite you to explore other ways of connecting with people especially if this particular fast causes overwhelming anxiety within you.
Finally, fasting is never purely for the good of the individual but always for the sake of the whole. As I wrote last week, the Coronavirus has reminded us of our interconnectedness that we are inclined to forget in our hyper-individualistic world. We are one. Fasting is to awaken us to our oneness and deepen our sense of social solidarity. Already the Coronavirus is exposing how deeply unequal our society is, and as a result, how fragile. My hope is that we will emerge from this with a clearer understanding of what a just and compassionate world looks like and that we will realise that changing the world is possible. It is long overdue that we called a state of emergency for the state of the world.
Now let me say a little more about the motivation behind this decision to suspend all on-site worship services. In point form:
I realise it is an uneasy feeling to think we can actually be most caring by being physically distant, but this is the truth at this time. The sooner we honour this truth, the sooner we will be set free from it. Please call us at the office if you have any questions or concerns. (021) 422 2744. This is a dynamic situation and may change. We will keep you posted if things do.
In closing, I have a great concern about the refugees in the CMM sanctuary. I met with Environmental Health Officials a week ago about the Coronavirus risk. I have since written to and met with the refugee leaders within the sanctuary. There is sadly no movement on their side. Since Monday they have placed a sign outside stating: “We will not be allowing any visitors or tourists in the church (CMM) due to the coronavirus. This is for our health and well-being, as well as for many others. Thanks for understanding.” They are attempting to practice frequent handwashing, etc. But the truth is the conditions inside the sanctuary are ripe for a virus of any sort to spread, let alone the highly contagious coronavirus. As a result, our legal processes are addressing this matter with increased urgency.
This is Martin Luther’s approach as he faced the plague “Black death”, which killed 60% of Europe’s population:
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbour needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
The Annotated Luther, Volume 4: Pastoral Writings, page 404.
Photograph: Kirk Hargreaves, Christchurch City Council
As we reflected last Sunday, after calling Herod a fox, Jesus cried: “Jerusalem Jerusalem … how often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” (Luke 13)
Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern has lived this text into being this past week. In so doing she has shown the world what healthy, wise and strong leadership looks like. Ardern is not reading from a prepared script. She is simply honouring her heart and head – a heart that feels deeply and a head that is deeply thoughtful. Her own grief has set the tone for her nation’s grief. She articulates both her anger at the cause of grief and expresses her gentleness for the grieving. She rightly chooses to keep the spotlight on the loved ones of the deceased rather than the killer.
Ardern’s repeated words to the grieving: “You are us.”, are the most healing words she could possibly say. Spoken with the authority of a surgeon, she sews together with her words the truth that the killer attempted to shatter with his bullets. We are all one. These words at the same time expose the killer’s blindness and the blindness of Islamaphobia as well as all other forms of discrimination.
Without hesitation she has named the instrument (actually it’s an idol) – the gun – that when mixed with fear and hate, causes death on a massive scale. Simply put: she cares more about saving lives than a tiny group of people’s desire to own a firearm.
Prime Minister Ardern is a challenging sign of hope to us all.
A story by Steve Mellon: “A woman approached the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh mostly unnoticed and carefully placed a bouquet of yellow flowers among the branches of a bush near the center’s concrete steps. She then crossed Bigelow Boulevard and sat on a stone retaining wall and wept.
The flowers and her quiet, anony- mous presence were gestures of solidarity with the Muslim community, she said. When a man at the mosque learned of the woman’s presence, he briefly held his hand to his heart, then crossed the street to chat with her.
Moments later, he guided her back across Bigelow Boulevard, up the concrete steps, and into the center’s lobby. The man offered the woman a chair and introduced her to others then gathering for traditional Friday prayers.
In the sunlit room, people of different faiths gathered in a small circle and shared stories of pain and sadness and strength and hope.”
True or false: “All people are etched equally with the glorious image of God.”
This really is the most foundational of all faith questions and precisely the reason why the Bible editors answer the question on the first page in the affirmative: “True! It’s true!” Up until that biblical time the answer was always: “No! It’s false!”
To declare “it is true” is to make many declarations all at the same time: All people are equal in worth. The worth of a human person is not to be attached to anything (anything means anything) other than the mere fact of them being alive. God is equally shared, present and connected to all. God values all equally. This is what makes the story of humanity told through the scriptures so radical. The scriptures declare up front no one is less than or more than any other. Therefore students of scripture should know better than anyone else that they are no better than anyone else.
However, the Bible is not just a book of statements answering faith questions, it is a travel log of a people’s journey to live into their statements of faith, ever seeking deeper understanding and integrity. So the story is a long one because it doesn’t skip out the numerous times when the people forget their first foundational principles. The story doesn’t leave out the many times the people declare in word and deed and prayer that others, because of their nationality or beliefs, should be smote to smithereens. Vengeance and violence stain the pages, all in God’s name, with all breaking the foundational principle. This is Divine defamation.
The scriptures also tell of the bizarre hypocrisy of a people believing they are better and more deserving than others, precisely because they believe in a God who is the loving Creator of all. Let that sink in! In three-year-old speak: “Our God is love which makes our God better than your God and our God will beat yours up to prove it.”
Thankfully there was always a remnant on the journey – in both Hebrew and Christian testaments – who bravely held true to the foundational principle and living out the truth of God’s image etched in all, despite the noise and threats directed at them. Jesus stands in this tradition and invites us to do the same.
The gift of the scriptures’ honest telling of a people’s long wayward journey is that we are able to see our own journey in theirs, and get honest about our walk. As in the scriptures, Church history is filled with first principles being quoted and then denied in action. We witnessed this two weeks ago when the United Methodist Church in the US voted to remain a body that denies the dignity of LGBQTI people. Effectively, like our own Methodist Church of Southern Africa’s baptising bigotry. The sin has never been two people of the same-sex loving and respecting and intimately caring for each other. Rather, the sin has always been the denial and exclusion and punishment of such love. Heterosexism is as sinful as racism and sexism.
Thankfully when the church is blind to this, God uses others – like the Constitutional Court – to expose our blindness and hopefully open our eyes as it did last week in relation to the Dutch Reformed Church.
Be assured that at CMM we will continue to stand in the Jesus tradition of non-discriminatory love.
In Methodist-speak, the Central Methodist Mission is not a Church, but rather a Society, a word that has an inclusive ring to it. A place where all are welcome to come and worship and where nobody is excluded.
Like all Societies, CMM relies on members of the congregation to assist with the running of the Society. These volunteers are known, uniquely at CMM, as Donkeys.
We hope the name becomes infectious.
People often ask why? Why use the name of an animal that is seen as a joke (jackass), is not considered beautiful (when compared to a horse or zebra) and stands last in the queue when it comes to needing attention?
A donkey is present at the birth of Christ; as it would have carried a heavily pregnant Mary to Bethlehem.
As we enter Lent we also know that on Palm Sunday it was on the back of a donkey that Jesus entered Jerusalem, ahead of his arrest, trial and murder.
I believe that the presence of the donkey in the story of both Christ’s birth and death is not coincidental, but rather a very calculated and understated lesson. It is always in the misunderstood, the abused, the neglected, the supposedly ugly, and the other that we find Jesus, his way and his teaching.
In the rural parts of South Africa, donkeys play an important role in assisting people to collect water and firewood as well as transporting families between the farms as they do seasonal agricultural work, such as sheep shearing and the harvesting of crops.
Like their owners, these donkeys are often treated badly and neglected.
I own two donkeys and they have taught me a great deal. That with basic care, donkeys are very willing and hardworking animals. They are highly intelligent, intuitive creatures and able to remain in good condition in a tough environment such as the Karoo.
A well cared for donkey will live up to the age of 50. They have a long gestation period and are excellent parents. Unlike horses, they cannot be made to perform, and prefer to quietly get on with their work.
So they are the perfect tool to help uplift poor communities.
Volunteers at CMM are proud to be called Donkeys.
So next time you see a donkey on your travels, I would encourage you to take some time out to stop, say hello and share an apple or a carrot. You may meet Jesus.
– A Member of the Donkey Team
Thank you to all those who sponsored me to ride the Cape Town Cycle Tour on behalf of Stepping Stones Children’s Centre. Together we raised R43540.00!
Truth be told, I get a bit anxious about the ride each year. It’s a bit manic and the crashes that one inevitably witnesses don’t do the nerves any good. I prefer the solitude and silence of cycling on my own. Yet on Sunday something beautiful happened to me. Let me try and explain: Arguably one of the most import skills in cycling is the ability to secure a position behind another cyclist. This is called “slip-streaming” or “drafting”. This is the reason cyclists form bundles – ever-seeking a place behind the next and “shelter from the storm” [as Bob Dylan would say]. Slip-streaming not only shields one from headwinds [thankfully there was no wind on Sunday], but actually “sucks” the drafting cyclist along. Drafting typically saves about a third of a following rider’s energy. If three or more riders are in single file, the riding gets easier the farther back you are. When the speed is up, the bundle thins out into a long train and if you are out of the slip-stream it will pass you by in a flash. And here is the real frustrating part: they fly past you while using less effort. This would even make a Zen Monk lose their sense of mindfulness.
So, on Sunday around 10 km into the ride when the “bundle” was long and thin and fast I was watching the train steam past me. While trying my utmost to keep up next to it, I was pretty much going backwards. Then I heard a voice from behind me: “Hey Alan you want to come in? Slip in in-front of me…”. A cyclist made room and the next second, I was in the train going faster while using less energy which is equivalent to the joy of a Zen Monk reaching full enlightenment.
Now I know that this is quite a trivial event, but it touched me nevertheless. For a second, I forgot that my name was printed on my race number on the back of my jersey, so when I heard my name I was very surprised. To have a complete stranger be thoughtful enough to call me by my name made this act of kindness an act of intimacy. Suddenly, the race and the position and the speed was transcended by something truly beautiful. Yes, beauty caresses way above its weight.
I noticed two things that flowed from this truly beautiful something: First, I found myself smiling each time it came to mind – even while going up parts of Suikerbossie (obviously not all of it because I am not a Zen Monk). Second, for the rest of the ride I looked for opportunities to let other riders onto the train, inviting them by name to get on board.
For the people who start something beautiful within us and through us I am grateful…