Loving Generosity

 

Friends,

It was Henri Nouwen who said: “Our greatest fulfilment lies in giving ourselves to others … beyond all our desires to be appreciated, rewarded and acknowledged, there lies a simple and pure desire – to give.”

This should not surprise us. Our faith invites us to trust that humanity is born in the image of a lovingly generous and generously loving God. In other words, we are born to be lovingly generous and generously loving. Is this not why we feel more in love with life when we choose to be generous and why we feel shrunken within ourselves when we decide against being generous? The generous choice is commonly motivated by love, and its opposite by fear. Deciding to pay someone the most we can afford tastes different to paying someone as little as we can get away with. Love is sweet on the tongue and nourishing for the body, while fear tastes sour in the mouth and fails to fill the stomach.

If there is any truth in what I’ve just written, then we would be wise not to leave our generosity up to “chance”, but rather do some planning. We make plans to earn money so why not make plans when we give money? Planned generosity actively searches for opportunities to be generous. Where our passions meet the pain of the world is a good place to start. And once we know where we want to give then we can set out to grow our generosity. For some, 10% of income is a good place to start, for others 10% of income is a good goal to aim for.

CMM as a community sets aside 10% of all offerings received. Over the years even when we did not actually have the cash in the bank, we kept the tithe amount on the books to remind us  that 10% of everything that comes in, must flow out for it simply does not belong to us. The giving plan of CMM works as follows: 80% of CMM’s tithe go to the following 6 areas: HIV/Aids; Education; Informal Settlements; Violence/Peacemaking; Poverty/Unemployment; Youth. 20% goes to miscellaneous concerns or emergencies. We also favour local (Western Cape) versus not local on a 70 – 30% split.

Recently we have been privileged to give R200k to pre-school education (including schools within informal settlements and the city). Another R50k will soon be going to pre-schools in Namaqualand. A remarkable organisation working to alleviate poverty and unemployment in the city received R50k on top of the R60k that they already receive annually from CMM. An organisation that has responded quite miraculously to the hunger crisis as a result of COVID-19 also received R50k. We continue to offer sustainable finance to city traders in the vicinity of the Church office. We foresee that these instalments of around R10k will need to be repeated a few more times to help traders keep their stores open until the passing foot traffic increases once again.

At CMM we are not taught to give to the church per se, as if funding a church equals “giving to God” (this teaching at best forgets that God so loved the world – not the church – and at worst it can be a manipulative disguise for personal and institutional greed). Instead, we are simply taught to be generous and to grow in a generosity that is good news to the poor. We do not give in order to get, but there is a definite reward in giving. The reward: We come alive when we give. We come alive because we honour the image of God at our core of who we are, and we honour our neighbour with whom we are one. The preacher’s task is to constantly invite us to come alive through generosity rather than determine the destination of our generosity.

I trust that every act of generosity that is good news for the poor and vulnerable is an act of life-giving partnership with the Lover-of-the-world-God. Writing out a cheque to care for vulnerable children; putting food into hungry bellies through Gift of the Givers; supporting an anti-gender-based-violence campaign; enabling reforestation to take root or for investigative journalists to continue to courageously expose death-creating corruption are all holy acts. As holy as any Sunday offering.

For this reason, I am aware that CMM is just one avenue for the gift of your generosity and therefore I write with gratitude to you. Your giving enables CMM to give. We do so with the hope of touching some of the pain of this world that God so loves with a loving generosity that heals.

Please continue to practice the COVID Trinity: [1] wear a mask [2] regularly wash hands [3] keep physical distance. As the 3rd wave surges to dangerous and deadly levels, please take this seriously. Attached is a letter from the Bishop (Synod COVID task team).

Please note that the  safest way to attend CMM’s Sunday service is via zoom (Zoom link available via welcome@cmm.or.za).

In grace,
Alan

 

God of the Oppressed

Friends,

Those of us doing the online Manna and Mercy course at the moment have been reminded that the Bible was not written into an empty void, but rather to contest an already existing and prevalent theology. This existing theology endorsed a hierarchy of human worth as God’s natural order. Starting at the top with the king. The only proof needed that the king was God’s favoured one was that he was the king. (The king demands you just ignore the circular argument of the last sentence.) The king alone had God’s ear as well as a military on tap, to pour out state-sponsored and spirit-sanctioned violence (a proxy for God’s wrath) on any and all who dared question the structured hierarchy of society – after all (so the theology proclaimed) it is God’s ordained ordering of the world and must not be challenged or changed. Those in power generously supported the seminaries that promoted this theology and therefore not surprisingly it dominated the religious market … and still does … be it in different ways.

The Bible on the other hand, introduces a God who has ears for the oppressed. A God who sides with slaves in their struggle for redemption*, demanding that the king let them go. A God who chooses the so-called “least” as partners, forever whispering to them: “you were born to be free … you were born to be free”. Called and convicted by God to freedom, they begin their long walk to salvation*. Bravely and imaginatively continuing to walk despite oceans of impossibility that lay before them. And oppressed people throughout history continue to respond to the whisperings of this liberating God while singing of God’s ordained ordering of the world as one of justice and equity for all.

Salvation used to mean ‘life before death’, and for that reason the Pharaohs of the world feared it, because it meant giving up their undue privilege and power. Then they co-opted the word … literally kicking the promise of life down the road into the next life. Now that it means, ‘life after death’ the Pharaohs smile and say ‘Amen’ and then remind us to read Romans 13:1-7 before we go to sleep at night so that we can wake up obedient to them in the morning.

This week’s psalm boldly declares:
“The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed…” Psalm 9:9.

 

For this reason, James H. Cone correctly states:

It is my contention that Christianity is essentially a religion of liberation. The function of theology is that of analyzing the meaning of that liberation for the oppressed so they can know that their struggle for political, social, and economic justice is consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Any message that is not related to the liberation of the poor in a society is not Christ’s message. Any theology that is indifferent to the theme of liberation is not Christian theology.

In view of the biblical emphasis on liberation, it seems not only appropriate but necessary to define the Christian community as the community of the oppressed which joins Jesus Christ in his fight for the liberation of humankind. The task of theology, then, is to explicate the meaning of God’s liberating activity so that those who labor under enslaving powers will see that the forces of liberation are the very activity of God. Christian theology is never just a rational study of the being of God. Rather it is a study of God’s liberating activity in the world, God’s activity on behalf of the oppressed.

Theology can never be neutral or fail to take sides on issues related to the plight of the oppressed. For this reason it can never engage in conversation about the nature of God without confronting those elements of human existence which threaten anyone’s existence as a person. Whatever theology says about God and the world must arise out of its sole reason for existence as a discipline: to assist the oppressed in their liberation. Its language is always language about human liberation, proclaiming the end of bondage and interpreting the religious dimensions of revolutionary struggle.

~James Cone: A Black Theology of Liberation – Fortieth Anniversary Edition.

 

A question to guide our biblical and societal interpretations is simply: “Who benefits?” Who benefits from this interpretation? From this narrative? From this proposed action? Those in power or those oppressed by power? If it is not benefiting the oppressed, then it is not of God, for let us not forget that whatever we do to the oppressed we do to Jesus.

In grace,
Alan

*NOTE: Before the words redemption and salvation became “religious” words, they were political words for freedom.

The truth beneath the facts

2020 11 16 Alan Storey: Daily Maverick 

A follow-on article about the Brackenfell High School violence by Alan Storey
published by the Daily Maverick on 16 November 2020.


Sunday’s Sermon:

2020 11 15 Alan Storey: Our addiction to growth is killing us.
[1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30]

 

Friends,

This past week we witnessed ugly clashes outside Brackenfell High School. The violence ensued between parents / residents and the EFF. The EFF was protesting against alleged racism at the school after reports of a privately arranged masquerade ball / matric farewell attended by only white matric pupils. You can google to read all the allegations and counter allegations that make up the list of disputed facts.

I do believe however, that beneath the disputed facts, there lies truth that invites our reflection and action if we ever hope to live liberated lives in this country. I name four for you to consider:

The first truth: Racism is real
Regardless of whether the organised event was a masquerade ball or matric farewell. Regardless of whether the organised event was privately arranged, or not.
Regardless of whether the school knew anything about it, or not.
Regardless of whether the invitation was open to all, or not.
Regardless of whether the invitation was open to 100 pupils due to Covid-19 limits, or not.

If it is true that out of 254 students, the 42 learners who attended were all white, it is deeply troubling. Whether by exclusive invitation or not, this points to a fractured and divided community based on the colour of one’s skin. It boggles the mind to even think that after sharing 5 years of high school together, a group of students can get together in a homogenic racial group numbering 42 learners. This is true regardless of the reason for the grouping.

In our country and with our history it would be an act of profound delusion to suggest that this occurrence is a mere coincidence and not rooted in explicit or implicit racism. This is especially true for a previously white only school because even though the student body may have changed, the systems, staff and spirit of school may not have changed much at all.

For this reason, white people in particular are encouraged to walk humbly with a willingness to stop, listen, learn and grow. No different to how men are encouraged to walk humbly in relation to the reality of sexism.

The second truth: Denial delays healing
For the school to say that “it is not racist” is denialism. In this country the most truthful starting point is that racism is present, not absent. We may not want to be racist. Our rules and regulations on paper may not be racist. Our motto and value statement may even be written in rainbow ink, but still the reality of racism in our institutions is real more often than not. In other words, it is more honest to assume that racism exists within the institutions of our society, than not. This includes all institutions be they: education, religious, business, sport, entertainment, etc. The assumption that various levels of racism exist is not prejudicial. Rather it is honest and wise. This is, for example, no different to assuming that children from a broken-down marriage will have various levels of inner trauma. This is the logically responsible place to start. If there is no evidence of such trauma however, then we rejoice and welcome the exception, but knowing it is an exception.

Most importantly, what counts is not whether the governing body declares the school free of racism, but whether the black learners attending the school declare the school to be free of racism. Reality check: numerous accounts from black learners testify to just the opposite, namely that racism is real and so is the school’s denialism. The liberation and healing of the school will depend on how they wrestle with this truth. I can hear Jesus saying: “Truly if you want to save your school you will lose it, but if you are willing to give your school away to the truth, it will be given back to you stronger and more beautiful than ever”.

The third truth: Freedom to protest, protects freedom
The EFF are correct to highlight every instance of racism. We all need to be doing this. People may call them opportunists or worse, but people turn to them for a reason. People trust that the EFF will bring attention to their grievance of racism. We need to ask why other parties and institutions, including the church, do not have this reputation. At best the church may write a press statement condemning this or that racist act, but the shameful truth is we seldom put our feet on the ground in protest to stop racism in its tracks.

The right to protest is a fundamental human right. Our freedom depends on it. This is true regardless of who is protesting and for what. Therefore, people’s right to protest must be protected. This includes creative acts of non-violence that may even be disruptive, yet remain free of threat, intimidation and violence.

The fourth truth: Violence breaks down what it promises to build up
The moment protest becomes violent, it diminishes the human dignity of everyone involved – victim and perpetrator. It says, “our issue is more important than your life”. Violence also deflects from the essence of the issue being highlighted. It provides an excuse for people not to listen to the grievances and greater reason for people to stand in opposition. It provides an easy excuse for a violent retaliatory crack-down (violence begets violence). Further, anything that may be achieved through intimidation, threat and violence will forever have to rely on intimidation, threat and violence to be upheld. This is not sustainable. Therefore, violence sows the seed of its own destruction. Ultimately violence fails to create a peaceful and just future as it promises, for violence cannot chase out violence. For these reasons, threat, intimidation and violence will be the undoing of any who rely on such means. To put this another way: the moral arc of the universe bends away from violence.

The EFF’s modus operandi often includes threat, intimidation and violence yet, interestingly, it has within its own history examples of how futile this is as well as how fruitful non-violence is. For example, in April 2011 Julius Malema arrived at court surrounded by bodyguards sporting red ties and carrying semi-automatic rifles. It did him no good. It simply confirmed his loose-cannon status and justified the quest to silence and discipline him. Later that same year however, on the 28th October, Malema together with about 1000 followers walked from Johannesburg to Pretoria under the banner of economic freedom. It was a disciplined and peaceful protest and all the more powerful for being so. It sharply kept the focus on the issue of economic freedom. Despite being disruptive, this protest action instantaneously won Malema praise and renewed respect from even his harshest critics.

The violence from the residents / parents of Brackenfell was ugly, immature and self-defeating. Their violence exposed the truth of their character. Their violence added validity to the very allegations they so vehemently were in denial of. Any case they may have thought they had, eroded the second they landed the first punch and threw the first stone. That is what violence does. Violence robs the violent of any moral authority they may have had. While promising victory, violence seals defeat. While promising security, it makes one vulnerable. While promising to build up, it undermines. The parents’ violent behaviour now completely overshadows any other wrong (perceived or real) that they said they were resisting.

I invite you to re-read the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) that remind us that we cannot love God without loving our neighbour. And that our neighbour is of priceless worth and therefore we must be gentle, just, merciful and pure in our relationships, ruling out racism and violence forever.

Grace,
Alan

A starting chance in life

Sunday’s Sermon:

2020 11 08 Alan Storey: Foolish! Who us?
[Amos 5: 18-24; Matthew 25:1-13]

 

Early Graduation due to COVID

 

Friends,

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the tsunami of suffering and need. Even if one wants to make a difference, the question we often stumble over is how and where?

We are told: Location, Location, Location – is the mantra of wisdom when buying a property. Surely, Education, Education, Education – is the mantra of wisdom to escape poverty. This is especially so with regard to the difference Early Childhood Education makes in a person’s life. Obviously, education is not the only thing necessary to end poverty, but we can say for sure that without education we will never end poverty. It has been proven over and over again just what a life-changer pre-school education is. Wherever you can I encourage you to support all forms of Early Childhood Development.

For this reason, I remind us again about Stepping Stones Children Centre. It is a remarkable life-changer. Everyone involved in the school is doing an incredible job to safely operate at the moment. Hats off to all teachers and volunteers especially under the trying conditions of Covid-19 regulations.

Stepping Stones’ Children Centre is obviously just one pre-school of thousands that need continuous support. I had the privilege last week of visiting a number of pre-schools in the Mfuleni area. Mfuleni is about 30 km outside of Cape Town city centre. Ian and Ali Corbett, the founders of Starting Chance and who are part of the CMM community, showed me around some of the early childhood education facilities in Mfuleni that they have either started from scratch, or come alongside in supportive partnerships.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but these photos don’t even begin to capture the wonder of witnessing oasis after oasis of abundant life.

                                                                                Oasis

                                                     

 Recycling Room … “Own your Magic”.

 

Hand Sanitising Stations

 

   

Pre-school Bikers

 

Outside

 

Inside

 

Behind the photos is the slog of many years. Taking the time to build relationships of trust and truth. Planting and watering seeds in partnership with people on the ground. If you have been to Mfuleni you will know that the soil is like beach sand. In other words, it takes patient persistence and creative consistency to keep planted seeds growing. It takes constant work by many hands and convicted hearts.

Here is the story of one of those working hands and convicted hearts: Mrs Princess Mapatalala. I will call her Saint Princess (please refer to Last Sunday’s All Saints Day service.) Saint Princess became a foster mother, looking after children in need together with her own children in her home. When her home became too small due to the increasing numbers of children, she decided to build a small place for herself in her backyard, where she continues to live. Incredible! Becoming a “backyard dweller” on your own property in order to open up more rooms for children. “In my Mother’s house there are many rooms” – said Jesus. Here you can read more about Saint Princess.

You may also be aware that during Covid-19 lock down, people built shacks on almost every piece of vacant land in and around Mfuleni. This is obviously linked to a much bigger story and history, but what it has highlighted is the extreme lack of land set aside (perhaps zero land) by the State for Early Childhood Education in the area. Sadly, it has also placed in jeopardy some of the land that Starting Chance were due to use for new work.

Please check out the Starting Chance website. Read the stories. Look out for their new project – the building of Lonwabo Special Care Centre – you can learn more about it here.

It will cost about R7.5 million. They have around half the total amount and therefore are about to start with the first phase of the project.

Please consider supporting this work which is one way of making a difference in the world.

With gratitude,
Alan

PS: Email welcome@cmm.org.za for the 10:00 Sunday Worship service link.

Grow to live in the light of Saints

Sunday’s Sermon:

2020 11 01 Alan Storey: Living with the light of Saints
[Psalm 34; Revelation 7:9-17; Matthew 5:1-12; 1 John 3:1-3]



Friends

Last Saturday I attended the Grow to Live Workshop at the Soil for Life Resource Centre in Constantia. The workshop bio says: “Directly, or indirectly, all food comes from the soil. Today soils are tired, overworked, depleted, sick and poisoned by synthetic chemicals. The quality of our food has suffered and so has our health. All life will be healthy or unhealthy according to the fertility of the soil. Since soil is the basis for all human life, our only hope for a healthy world rests on re-establishing the harmony in the soil.”

Soil for Life is a public benefit organisation that teaches people how to grow their own food, improve their health and well-being, and nurture and protect the environment.

Soil for Life believes that “EVERYONE has the potential to grow nutritious food with whatever resources they have available. Since we started in 2002 we have helped thousands of people in resource-poor communities to develop productive and sustainable home food gardens”.

I can testify that just being in the abundantly luscious garden made me feel more alive. The connection with everything living was obvious. I think I even heard the food growing.

There was so much to learn and now so much to practice. There was a time when everyone grew their own food. The awareness of feeling more alive made me realise just how detached I am from what gives me life. Why was I not taught this at school when I was growing up? Seems crazy that it wasn’t on the syllabus year in and year out!

 

Please consider supporting this LIFE-GIVING work. I hope you will visit Soil for Life especially if you have not done so already. You can buy your vegetables from them and support their valuable training programmes.

 

Grace,
Alan

PS: For Zoom link for Sunday’s service please email welcome@cmm.org.za

Walking into the wisdom of change

Sunday’s Sermon:
2020 10 25 Alan Storey: Our first duty to the dead.
[Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17; Matthew 22:34-46]

 

Friends,

To change, takes time. It is seldom, if ever, instant. This goes for individuals and society alike. Sure, we may be enlightened by something new in a split second, but we often miss the myriads of change receptors / ingredients that come before to make the change possible. Furthermore, authentic change demands a lengthy period of unlearning that requires grace and guilt and grace and truth and grace and work and grace and time and grace… This is not always communicated by motivational speakers or preachers. Sports coaches are probably more honest about the time and training that change demands!

Saul’s light blinding fall to the ground, voice-hearing, Damascus Road experience (Acts 9) is often falsely interpreted as “change in an instant”, but a closer reading reveals that it too took grace and time and … One prior change receptor / ingredient may have been Saul witnessing the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8). It also took a few days for Saul’s eyes to be opened and what is more, according to scholars, he spent a number of years living in communities like Antioch (Acts 11) before he started “being the change” and teaching the change.

The narrative of instant change sets us up with false expectations and ultimately for massive disappointment. The “name it and claim it in Jesus’ name” that is touted as a sign of “real faith” is not helpful. It is not helpful because it is not true. Singing praises to Jesus does not promise a quick fix. Just take a look at Peter and the rest of the disciples for proof: Jesus had three years with them and that was still not enough! Peter was still racist until Acts 10.

When we can embrace this truth about change and let go of the illusion of instant change / salvation then we may be able to be more truthfully present with who we are and simply with what is. The truthful acceptance of what is (free of denial, blame, wishes and should be’s) paradoxically unhooks us from what is and creating space for change.

Free from the quick fix illusion we may embrace a daily practice of acceptance rather than achievement. To give ourselves humbly to a practice (prayer, meditation, contemplation, art, walking …) that encourages us to be truthfully attentive to our lives and living and world.

The following poem describes the shift from a false to a truthful understanding of change:

Waiting

You keep waiting for something to happen,
the thing that lifts you out of yourself,

catapults you into doing all the things you’ve put off
the great things you’re meant to do in your life,

but somehow never quite get to.
You keep waiting for the planets to shift

the new moon to bring news,
the universe to align, something to give.

Meanwhile, the pile of papers, the laundry, the dishes the job —
it all stacks up while you keep hoping

for some miracle to blast down upon you,
scattering the piles to the winds.

Sometimes you lie in bed, terrified of your life.
Sometimes you laugh at the privilege of waking.

But all the while, life goes on in its messy way.
And then you turn forty. Or fifty. Or sixty…

and some part of you realizes you are not alone
and you find signs of this in the animal kingdom —

when a snake sheds its skin its eyes glaze over,
it slinks under a rock, not wanting to be touched,

and when caterpillar turns to butterfly
if the pupa is brushed, it will die —

and when the bird taps its beak hungrily against the egg
it’s because the thing is too small, too small,

and it needs to break out.
And midlife walks you into that wisdom

that this is what transformation looks like —
the mess of it, the tapping at the walls of your life,

the yearning and writhing and pushing,
until one day, one day

you emerge from the wreck
embracing both the immense dawn

and the dusk of the body,
glistening, beautiful

just as you are.

~ Leza Lowitz

Grace,
Alan