Learn to listen

The picture above is of a tablecloth. This tablecloth has pairs of feet representing the 42,000 marchers demonstrating for civil rights. Look closely and you can find the shoes of Mrs Rosa Parks. True to form she stands out. She is the only one who did not take her shoes off for them to be traced. So look for the only pair of shoes… and, with Rosa Parks, dare to be different.

Displayed at The Safe House — Black History Museum, Greensboro, Alabama

Grace and peace to you …

Over the last few weeks I have been reading up on the “new monastic movement” slowly growing around the world. One such book is a modern paraphrase of the ancient Rule of Saint Benedict by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

Jonathan writes in the introduction: “In a moment of clarity, Benedict saw that the system of education that had been designed to prepare him for a world that was passing away could only lead to a dead end. While it could teach him what had worked in the past, the system did not have the resources to present a way forward. A different school was needed. Benedict had a hunch that the Desert Mothers and Fathers were creating it. He went to a cave, built himself a prayer cell, and so matriculated in the “university” of the world to come… Benedict decided that we need a school for a new way of life… A school for the Lord’s service… [to help] the world see more clearly what it means to become truly human in the way of Jesus.”

This is what Church is meant to be. A school for a new way of life that sets people free to be truly human in the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus being a way of life that is good news for the poor and which works release for the captives, sight for the blind and freedom for the oppressed. A way of life that is rooted in justice where all people are honoured as precious. A way of life that brings life.

Benedict’s first word in his prologue for his “new-life-school syllabus” was “LISTEN”.

“Listen my child. I want you to place the ear of your heart on the solid ground of the Master’s wisdom… Listening is hard work, but it’s the essential work. It opens you up to the God that you’ve rejected when you have only listened to yourselves. If you’re ready to give up your addiction to yourself, this message is for you: to listen is to equip yourself with the best resources available to serve the real Master, Christ the Lord.”

This word/instruction “Listen” is repeated throughout Benedict’s syllabus. The Jesus way of life that brings life is shaped around learning to listen to God and to other people because “an authentic search for God leads to life with other people”.

This is our task: To learn to listen.

Grace and peace, Alan

Read – Reflect – Renew

In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know,
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess,
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not,
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

~ TS Eliot


Love God and Neighbour

Grace and Peace to you …

Today marks the anniversary of the Marikana Killings. Yesterday, the church was open for people in the community who wanted to be together to remember and reflect on this day in the history of South Africa. Candles were lit in memory of each of the persons that were killed and the documentary telling the story of the events was viewed.

Today we will take time to hang a yellow banner calling the community to remember, reflect, and be a part of working for a community that lives for something different than the violence that occurred on that day.

The banners that hang at Central Methodist Mission are viewed on computer screens in other parts of the world. The message we send is a message to a world of people calling them to stand for a different way of living together as neighbours in this world. This will be the first banner I have witnessed being hung, but I have seen the pictures of them and they have strengthened me in my own life and ministry.

The call to love God & Neighbour can be interpreted for each of us in different ways, but in the midst of a time when people live with questions, fears, and doubt. I am thankful for this community and the witness we are to the world around us. As we depart from this place today, my hope is that each of us will continue to reflect on the ways in which we can be a sign and symbol of God’s love to each other and our neighbours around the world.

Question for reflection: Who are people around me that God might be asking me to take notice of in a different way? How might I live more fully into this commandment to love God and neighbour this week?

With you on the journey, Michelle

For Love of God & Neighbour

What does it mean to love God and love our neighbour? This is a question that has been asked over and over again by people of God in every generation. The greatest commandment calls us to this:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Matthew 22:37-40

As we struggle with this question in our individual lives, we must also struggle with it in our corporate lives together as well.

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
Edith Wharton


Fault Lines

Grace and peace to you …

Seismologists are those who study the quakes that occur in the earth — earthquakes. There are many reasons for the occurrence of earthquakes, but one of them is movement along a fault line — or crack underneath the earth’s surface.

Seismologists work to predict earthquakes by tracing the activity of seismic waves or pings of energy that vibrate out as the plates begin to shift along a fault line or crack in the rocky ground beneath us. Throughout the course of human history, prophets have served in this same capacity for the people of God. The voices of the prophets name for us the places in our life together where there are cracks.

On August 9, 1956, 20,000 women marched in opposition to the pass laws in South Africa. They held in their hands over 100,000 signatures opposing this law that would give strength to the Apartheid System that was the fault line of the day — the crack that was killing true community. As the women protested, they sang a song and the words translated to, “Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.” This phrase now represents the courage and strength of women in South Africa. Today and tomorrow, South Africans will honour all women as we celebrate National Women’s Day.

There are fault lines beneath us in our life together still today. What might the women of 1956 have to say to the reality that 1 in 3 women worldwide will suffer some sort of violence in their lifetime and that more than 57% of the women who are murdered are murdered by a loved one? The women of 1956 demonstrated with their march the need for us to gather around the places where there are cracks in our life together as children of God. Injustices need to be named and work must be done to make right the fault lines that shift beneath our feet.

Question for reflection: Take some time to name the fault lines or cracks that exist in the world around us where injustice exists. What might you do to stand and name these injustices like the women of 1956 and many others throughout the course of history have?

With you on the journey, Michelle

Tokens of Trust

Grace and Peace to you …

I have been spending quite a bit of time in the District Six museum over the last couple of weeks. I know that the museum holds stories that connect to this congregation’s roots and so I have been visiting the museum to learn as much as I can. I find it to be a place that stills me in my spirit, but I always find strength and light there as well. I like that I can hear the pitter patter of children’s feet on the ceiling up above and I like knowing those children are learning to live life together honouring all others no matter what might seek to divide them. I find myself rising in my own spirit when I stand in front of the sculpture of the street signs rising up from the ground. The visits have caused me to question what it means to be Christian community in a time when people still are hesitant to trust.

This question also arose during the re-reading of a gem of a book by Rowan Williams called, Tokens of Trust. Essentially he shares that people out in the world have wrestled with their ability to place trust in institutions. Institutions have a tendency to let us down. Whether it is the institution of education, medicine, or what some call the institution of the Church, people struggle to reach their lives out in trust.

Christian community in particular is grown out of a deep trust in God and the people who circle around that truth are then called to be like Rowan Williams put forth, “Tokens of Trust”. We walk together in the moments when “Alleluia” can be shouted from the mountaintop, we walk together when the challenging valleys appear where no end seems to be in sight, and we walk together in all the spaces we find ourselves in between. The way in which we walk with each other and with God is our shared story, our testimony, or song to a world in search of a place to put their trust. The love and forgiveness we are called to live with is a sign and symbol of the greater love of God.

I believe God is always trying to sing a new song through us. What song is the Holy Spirit singing through the stories of those who have been the anchors for the community in this place? What song is God singing through the people who wander in the doors of this place looking for a moment or two of sanctuary? What song is God singing about through the people who come through the doors looking for a community to place their trust? What is the new song God is calling out to each of us? I am enjoying hearing the stories of those who call this place home. You are a beautiful people, with a rich history, and I look forward to witnessing all God will do with the new song rising within each of us.

With you on the journey, Michelle

“I want to be outside with the misfits, with the rebels, the dreamers, second-chance givers, the radical grace lavishers, the ones with arms wide open, the courageously vulnerable, and among even — or maybe especially — the ones rejected by the table as not worthy enough or right enough.”

Sarah Bessey

Generous in love – God, give grace! Huge in mercy – wipe out my bad record. Scrub away my guilt, soak out my sins in your laundry. I know how bad I’ve been; my sins are staring me down. You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen it all, seen the full extent of my evil. You have all the facts before you; whatever you decide about me is fair. I’ve been out of step with you for a long time, in the wrong since before I was born. What you’re after is truth from the inside out. Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life. Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean, scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life. Tune me in to foot-tapping songs, set these once-broken bones to dancing. Don’t look too close for blemishes, give me a clean bill of health. God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life. Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me. Bring me back from gray exile, put a fresh wind in my sails!

 Psalm 51:1-12 The Message



I thirst

Grace and Peace to you … 

We all know about “load-shedding” in relation to power supply, but how many of us know about “water-shedding”? I don’t think it will be long before we all find out. Having 24/7 access to clean running water will one day be viewed as an impossible luxury.

Last week after teaching at the Methodist Seminary in Pietermaritz-burg I spent an evening with old friends in Ballito Bay. In December last year there was a two week period when Ballito had no water and since then they have had severe shortages. So my friends bought a 4 500 litre “JoJo” tank and had planned for the municipality to come and fill it with grey water (recycled sewerage water) later in the week at the cost of R960. However that very evening after the JoJo was connected up to the gutters from their garage (85 m2) the rains came; measuring around 90 mm which nearly completely filled the 4 500 litre JoJo. As my friends said: “God filled it for us! Praise be to God our Provider”.

Here is the thing: God actually does provide us with enough water but we waste it as well as fail to catch it! My friends have subsequently reduced their water consumption from 40 000 kilolitre to 14 000 kilolitre per month.

Even if we are unable to make use of a JoJo, we can get creative in our use of water. I know for myself it takes between 4 – 5 litres for the water in my shower to get hot. This water is easily bucketed and then used to flush the toilet or to water the plants. The idea of using crystal clear drinking water to flush the toilet is ludicrous and I have no doubt will be a criminal offense in the not too distant future.

The crucifying cry “I thirst” is sure to be on the parched lips of a growing number of people around the world, not least in our own land. Giving someone a cup of water really will be seen as a great gift done in Jesus’ service.

Let’s do it…

Grace and peace, Alan

The fruit of suffering

Grace and Peace to you …

Within the books of the Old Testament prophets, one encounters the theme of suffering time and time again, including both human and divine suffering, or theopassionism. Why would God devise a system in which God chooses to suffer? It seems that the Divine should be exempt from suffering because God is the epitome of agape love. Yet having chosen to be in covenantal relationship with creation, God vows to never separate or withdraw love, grace, and forgiveness. So just like the Hebrews during the Exodus story, who were stubborn, full of gripes and complaints, and unsuccessful in learning the first time, God’s people, within modern context, find themselves in similar positions. For Christians, the emblem synonymous with suffering is the cross: the symbol of the good news.

True gospel authority however, the authority to heal and renew things and people, is not finally found in a hierarchical office, a theological argument, a perfect law, or a rational explanation. The Crucified revealed to the world that the real power that changes people and the world is an inner authority that comes from people who have lost, let go, and are re-found on a new level. Twelve-step programs have come to the same conclusion in modern time. Such an ability to really change and heal people is often the fruit of suffering, and various forms of poverty, since the false self does not surrender without a fight to its death. If suffering is “whenever we are not in control,” then you see why some form of suffering is absolutely necessary to teach us how to live beyond the illusion of control and to give that control back to God (Romans 8:28).

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.

As Nadia Bolz-Weber writes, “God simply keeps reaching down into the dirt of humanity and resurrecting us from the graves we dig for ourselves through our violence, our lies, our selfishness, our arrogance, and our addictions. And God keeps loving us back to life over and over.” I pray that you receive this love, over and over.


Your weakness is your strength

Grace and peace to you …

Jesus said: “My grace is sufficient for you …” Grace is God’s Original Love. The LOVE before all other love. The Love that exists for us … before us. Yes before we even exist, grace waits to welcome us. It is the canvas upon which all other love finds expression. God’s Original Love holds everything together – everything! Every aspect of life is infused by grace. Our lives originate by grace. They are sustained and supported by grace; educated and corrected by grace; inspired and challenged by grace; nurtured and nourished by grace; renewed and resurrected by grace. Grace is Life’s DNA.

We don’t always do life with this grace-full realisation and that is why the paradox of Paul regarding his strength in weakness is so true. We are strong in our weakness because it is in our weakness that we discover that grace is holding our life together and not any strength of our own. By all means let us pray for the “thorns in our flesh”/weaknesses to be removed, but until they are let us pray that they will gift us with the truth that Jesus’ grace is sufficient for us.

Or as Johann Christoph Arnold writes:
“The more confidence we have in our own strength and abilities, the less we are likely to have in Christ. Our human weakness is no hindrance to God. In fact, as long as we do not use it as an excuse for sin, it is good to be weak. But this acceptance of weakness is more than acknowledging our limitations. It means experiencing a power much greater than our own and surrendering to it. Eberhard Arnold, a founder of the Bruderhofs, said, “This is the root of grace: the dismantling of our power. Whenever even a little power rises up in us, the Spirit and the authority of God will retreat to the corresponding degree. …”

So regardless of how strong we are – we are weak. Not in an inferiority-complex-kind-of-way, but just as a fact of our human condition. Accepting this truth about ourselves helps us to see the grace that holds us and in this we are strengthened.

In weakness. Grace, Alan

Welcome to Rev. Michelle Shrader

Michelle is an Ordained United Methodist Elder who will be based at CMM for the next three years as a Missionary Pastor. She will be a full member of staff at CMM, preach and teach here and in the Circuit from time to time and will also share her skills with the District and MCSA. Travels to various African countries on behalf of the wider Church are also on her agenda.

We welcome Michelle from Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina — her most recent place of ministry where she was the Minister of Mission & Outreach.

Michelle brings to CMM a wealth of experience in social justice related ministries and matters such as ensuring that conversations around religion and race take place and that justice is sought. She was actively involved in prison ministry, started support groups for those caught up in domestic violence and many other issues which Jesus calls us to take seriously. In short, Michelle has a heart for helping others grow in their faith and deepen their engagement in the world around them — a ministry sure to enhance community life.

Welcome to your new home Michelle. We know and trust that through CMM and the wider Church you will continue to serve God wherever you are called!

Closing heaven

Three years ago we opened the doors of Heaven Coffee Shop. This past week we sadly had to close them. It was simply not covering its costs. The purpose was never about making money, but we had hoped that it would at least cover its running expenses.

Those of you who only come to CMM on a Sunday may not realise how much we are going to miss Heaven. The Sanctuary has felt quite dead this past week without it. I have bumped into a few regulars and they have told me how they miss Heaven already and Ken who has been the barista for the past three years. (Ryan would temp when Ken was not around.)

The purpose of Heaven was to remind everyone of the good news that Heaven really is open to all – that anyone can “get in” – that no one is rejected – as Jesus lived and taught.

Our challenge remains to be a radically welcoming place of sanctuary in the city. May we constantly seek ways to give people an experience of joyful welcome and a comforting place to rest a while. May we never underestimate the desire for silence amidst the city noise and beauty amongst the city grime. And perhaps most importantly, a place where people can find encouragement by the lighting of a candle and the offering of a prayer.

We spoke a while ago about opening up the sanctuary at night during the very cold spells of winter to offer shelter to the most vulnerable of the city. We are ready to begin this now on a small scale. We will pilot by offering shelter to 20 of the most vulnerable people and see how it goes. Our prayers and participation in this ministry are greatly coveted.

Grace and peace, Alan

things to remember on earth as it is in heaven

you are born in love by love and for love • you are beautiful • your enemy is also beautiful • the stranger is actually a member of your family – in fact everyone is family – all 7 billion of us • all violence is family violence • forgive • the real heroes are those who wrestle with addiction in truth and grace • widows orphans foreigners are the holy trinity • hunger is a weapon of mass destruction (disarmed by generosity) • you can’t have love without truth • seek silence • love casts out fear • God is not a possession of the church • start over often • food comes from the earth and not from the shops • the holy land is not a place to visit – it is every place to value • forgive again • plant some seeds • breathe and smile • JC rode a donkey not a car • the gentle inherit the earth • repeat out loud: “I am beautiful” • now tell someone else that they are beautiful • homeless people are people first • humankind: be both • we own nothing – everything is a gift • when you throw rubbish away, ask yourself where away is • forgive yourself • to listen is to love • explore the mystery of prayer • to say that some people are saved and others are not is hate speech • walk back to your office the long way round • make time for music • difference is divine • it is difficult for the rich to enter the Kin-dom of God – affording to pay for this coffee means you are rich – uncomfortable? now you know why JC was crucified • don’t worship your religion • grace makes the world go round • touch the earth lightly • you – yes you – are the light of the world • there are no ordinary people • cry • God enjoys you • you are forgiven – like completely forgiven • go in peace …  [The above is printed on the Heaven Coffee sleeves.]

Tell your story and see!

20 June was World Refugee Day — another of Brandon Stanton’s photos (Humans of New York) was of this cabbie’s story … and part of his story …

“Everyone who sees my resume asks me why I drive a cab. Back in Niger, I was a French Teacher. But the government stopped paying us for a few months, so I decided to quit my job and move to America. That was twelve years ago.

I thought I could teach French here, but I had no idea how hard it would be to get a job without papers. The only place I could find work was a car wash. Back in Niger, kids would wash my car for me. Now all day long I was washing cars for other people. I was very depressed. But I was too embarrassed to go back home …

After the car wash, I became a stock boy. Then, a delivery driver. Five years ago, I got my papers and became a citizen, so now I’m able to work at the airport. At night, and on my days off, I drive a cab. Just this year I graduated from Brooklyn College with a Master’s degree in French. I finished third in my class. Now I think I can become a professor.”

Isn’t this person easier to love … now that we know a little of his story?

Grace and peace, Alan

A Remarkable Book

Learning to draw is a bizarre and wonderful process in the sense that in order to really learn to draw you have to first learn how to see …

Brandon Stanton sees very well through the view finder of his camera. He captures (and releases) photos of “Humans of New York”.

Brandon’s work helps people to see people. To see the wonder and the glory of humanity. Brandon is more than a photographer — he is a spiritual guide. The deepest spirituality is all about seeing — especially how we see one another. That is why Jesus was so passionate about opening the eyes of the blind — and there are none so blind as those who say they see. The other day I listened to a talk by the author Sam Keen. He shared about how it is only possible to love someone when we know their story. Brandon’s work helps us to fall in love with people as a tiny flash of their story becomes known by us.


Grace and peace to you …

I went to the Book launch of 21 at 21 The Coming of Age of a Nation on Thursday evening. Written by Melanie Verwoerd and Sonwabiso Ngcowa who travelled across the country collecting the life stories of people born in 1994 — the year of our Democracy. At the launch it was mentioned that so many of the young people interviewed had mentioned their ambition to be a “good parent one day”.

One chapter in the book is entitled: I want to be a good dad one day — the life of Marcellino Fillies. Here is some of his story:

“Ja, it was a bit tough when I was young,” he says. “We moved around a lot. I was born in Mitchells Plain, then we moved to Lentegeur, then to Delft, then back to Lentegeur, then to Strandfontein, and then … back to Lentegeur and then to Heideveld.” “Why did you move so often?” He shakes his head and his broad smile disappears. “My dad died when I was three.” “What happened?” I ask gently. “Well, my father also did not grow up with his dad. He had a stepdad. I recently went to see my dad’s stepdad and he told me that my dad was on the boats — fishing, you know — and there was a fight between him and another man. They fought, and then someone threw my dad overboard … they found his clothes a long time afterwards, but not his body. The fish had eaten his body.” I look slightly horrified; he responds quickly, “So I never knew him. You know, I have no memory. I don’t even have any photos.”

[He then shares briefly about his stepfather and the subsequent breakup between his mom and stepfather.]

“That time was very, very tough. My brother was about three or four years old and I was about seven. My mum had to work to provide for us. She would go into Cape Town every day and only come home very late at night. So I had to look after Ethan. After school at around five o’clock, I would go and fetch him at his crèche. We would walk home. I would make him supper, wash him, play with him, and then put him to bed. In between, I would try and do my homework. Then after eight o’clock, my mum would come home.”

As Melanie so insightfully pointed out at the launch — Marcellino who wants to be a good dad one day — has already been a good dad. He was a good dad at age 7.

On this Father’s Day we pray for the children who themselves are fathers to their siblings in countless child-headed homes.

Grace and peace, Alan

MenCare: Involved fatherhood leads to gender equality and child development, 16 June 2015, Nairobi.

Encouraging and supporting fathers to play bigger roles in the lives of their children through innovative global health and social initiatives is vital if real gender equality is to be achieved, finds a new MenCare report, State of the World’s Fathers (SOWF).

“Despite the fact that around 80% of the world’s men and boys will become fathers in their lifetime, engaging men in caregiving is only just beginning to find its way onto the global gender equality agenda,” says Wessel van den Berg, Child Rights and Positive Parenting, Sonke Gender Justice.

The SOWF report reveals long-lasting disparities in Africa where women do more unpaid care work than men, which negatively affects women and girls. However, 55 percent of African countries do provide paternity leave, which is higher than the global percentage (47 percent), but the uptake falls short.

The landmark SOWF report reveals that women continue to spend between twice and 10 times longer than men caring for a child or elderly person. These inequalities persist despite the fact that women today make up 40% of the formal global workforce and half of the world’s food producers. While improving year on year, men’s caregiving has not kept pace with women’s overall participation in the job market, and caregiving dynamics across Africa reflect this imbalance. Men’s presence at prenatal care also ranges vastly – from 14 to 86 percent.

One woman dies every 2 minutes from complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth. Across the globe, 34 of 1,000 babies alive at birth, die before the age of 1, and 46 of 1,000 die before the age of 5.

The involvement of fathers before, during, and after the birth of a child has been shown to have positive effects on maternal health behaviors, women’s use of maternal and newborn health services, and fathers’ longer-term support and involvement in the lives of their children.”

A recent analysis of research from low- and middle-income countries found that male involvement was significantly associated with improved skilled birth attendance, utilization of post-natal care, and fewer women dying in childbirth.”

For more information see Sonke Gender Justice: www.genderjustice.org.za