‘Ma’ Winnie Lingeveldt

This plaque faced Ma’s bed – these are the first and last words Ma saw each day.
(As for me and my home, we we will serve the Lord.)

 

Friends,
On Friday we celebrated ‘Ma’ Lingeveldt’s life. Ma died on Tuesday, just three months shy of 100. A remarkable age, yet Ma’s life cannot be measured in years. The length of her life, though remarkable does not compare to her remarkable character. The salt and light of Ma’s life was a gift and guide to many of us at CMM. In the words of her daughter, Michelle “she taught us Jesus”. She did indeed.

There was something timeless about Ma – again not so much because of her age, but rather because of her consistency of character. She was the same, yesterday, today and forever. I share four observations of her beatitude-like-character with you, that I trust will continue to teach us Jesus. Ma’s life, like the beatitudes of Jesus, invites us into a way of paradox. More specifically, a way of paradoxical truth. A way of ‘both / and’ rather than ‘either / or’.

A Way of Paradox 1

Ma was grounded and transcended. From her, I understand what Jesus meant when he instructed us to be in the world but not of the world. When I spent time in Ma’s presence I got the sense that Ma, though vitally present to the moment had already entered the MORE of life. She had “passed over” to the other side, while still on this side. In this she gifted us with a curious openness to the MORE of life. In Celtic spirituality they speak of ‘thin places’ referring to places where the veil between this measured world and the mystery of MORE is so thin that one is able see through it. In this sense, Ma was a ‘thin person’.

One of the great privileges of my time at CMM has included walking into the sanctuary and overhearing Ma praying for someone. Someone she had taken fully into her heart in love. To hear her pray was to hear Jesus speak. She prayed ‘thin prayers’.

Humility is what holds grounded and transcended together as one. Ma was humble. She had no need to push herself to be seen, heard or noticed. She never drew attention to herself. She had no need to promote herself. She had nothing to prove and no image to protect. She embraced silence, stillness and solitude without effort. Ma’s humble presence spoke for itself. And … people were drawn to her. People from all round the world who visited this sanctuary were drawn to sit next to her and to tell her their story. And at the same time she was ever willing to “give an accounting of the hope within her”. [1 Peter 3]

A Way of Paradox 2

Ma became frail over the last few years. Frail, yet strong. In fact, the more obviously frail she became – the more her strength, fortitude, resilience shone through. As if to highlight for all of us (just in case we still didn’t get it) that her strength was given to her as gift.

Ma’s life taught us the meaning of these scriptures: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities for the sake of Christ: for whenever I am weak, I am strong.” [2 Corinthians 12]

“I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have a little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” [Philippians 4]

Ma was content. Content does not mean condone. Ma’s contentment was rooted in a Centre that she trusted would hold. This released her to hold the circumstances that surrounded her, be they good or ill, more lightly. A good day for Ma had nothing to do with comfort or ease, but rather whether she was able to discern the presence of Jesus and walk in his ways. This will only sound glib to those who know not the history of her life. When Ma said: “Die Here is goed.” (The Lord is good.) it meant something.

A Way of Paradox 3

Ma’s experience of life taught her that she was no better or more than any other person. And her faith in Jesus taught her that she was no less than anyone. From this place of truth Ma was able to compassionately connect with everyone. Ma knew that people can’t live without bread, but she also knew that people could not live by bread alone. From this place of deep knowing Ma did to others as she would have others do to her.

A Way of Paradox 4

Ma gave birth to 10 children, and yet she was also the mother of us all. Her greeting to just about all of us, regardless of age: “Hello my kind (Hello my child)”. What her age gave her permission to do, her theology compelled her to do. She took seriously the words of Jesus from the Cross. Words spoken first to his mother and then to his disciple: “Woman here is your son. Here is your mother. Jesus came to remind us that we are all family, and he would even die telling us this truth. Ma dared to live this truth out. Calling everyone – be they the gangster from her Hanover Park and the priest from the church – “my kind” (my child). As a result of seeing everyone as family – she had love for all and fear for none.

In closing l once again read from scripture … the script of her life. Scripture that could have easily come from Ma – and surely does come from her to us through her living: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in [Ma], and the God of peace will be with you.” [Philippians 4:8-9].

In grace,
Alan

PS. Please remember that the best way we can care for others in this season of COVID, is to limit our physical contact and reduce our travel to only what is absolutely necessary. Our health sector is under huge strain. Please adhere to all the Government regulations and be weary of anti-mask and anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.

Remember the Trinity: keep physical distance, wash hands and wear a mask.

 

A reminder that if you would like the zoom link for the Sunday Service 10 am,
please email welcome@cmm.org.za.

 

Time to pause …

 

Friends

As the clock completes its annual circuit, we are invited to pause…

To pause to examine our lives. To go through each month of the past year – remembering what took place around us and within us. We do so without judgement and without the need to justify anything. We steer between the unhelpful cliffs of condemnation and complacency. Instead, we hold all things – all situations and all people in compassion. Compassion is the life-giving combination of grace and truth. Truth without grace can be mean, while grace without truth is meaningless. Together they convict and comfort (strengthen)… this frees us to make our confession (get real about our living).

We pray: Spirit of truth and grace come and convict and comfort me today, that I may get real about my living. Amen.

This past year:

  • Who were the significant people?
  • What were the significant events?
  • What am I most grateful for?
  • What has this year (COVID year) revealed to me?
  • What have I learnt about myself? People? Relationships? Life? Jesus / God?
  • Who / what has made me angry, sad, hurt, disillusioned, resentful?
  • Who / what has made me joyful and free?
  • Where have I been the recipient of generosity?
  • Have I been truthful?
  • How have I done justice, been merciful and walked humbly?
  • What do I never want to forget?
  • What do I always want to take with me?
  • What do I want to leave behind?
  • What do I want to start doing…or start again?
  • What do I want to end?
  • If I were to die today, what would be my greatest regret?

 

These questions are simple signposts inviting us to explore a particular direction of our living. How far we would like to wander along each path is up to each of us…

Note: This time of pause is served best if we carve out unhurried time. We cannot “speed reflect” – like we may be able to speed read. We can only do 30 minutes reflection in 30 minutes – no more. If a question fails to connect with us straight away, we are invited to stick with it for a little longer …

___________________________

Below are a few reflections from Augustine of Hippo. A person known for his confessions. The Augustine Confessions is, next to the Bible, the most widely read book in history. It is also the first autobiography as we know them. It is devoted to telling Augustine’s passionate journey of faith and life. We are invited to read and re-read his words – sensitive to what convicts and comforts us.

“Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so…

O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: “I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me”.

Accordingly, I looked for a way to gain the strength I needed to enjoy you, but I did not find it until I embraced the mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.

Clear is your response, but not all hear it clearly. They all appeal to you about what they want, but do not always hear what they want to hear. Your best servant is the one who is less intent on hearing from you what accords with his own will, and more on embracing with his will what he has heard from you.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!

You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you, they would not have been at all.

You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.  

I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

When at last I cling to you with my whole being there will be no more anguish or labour for me, and my life will be alive indeed, alive because filled with you. But now it is very different. Anyone whom you fill you also uplift; but I am not full of you, and so I am a burden to myself. Joys over which I ought to weep do battle with sorrows that should be matter of joy, and I do not know which will be victorious. But I also see griefs that are evil at war in me with joys that are good, and I do not know which will win the day.

This is agony, Lord, have pity on me! It is agony! See, I do not hide my wounds; you are the physician, and I am sick; you are merciful, I in need of mercy.”

Grace, Alan

Rich vs Poor

Sunday Sermon
2020 12 20 Alan Storey
Advent Evangelism: Graced to Grace 2

Scriptures: Luke 1:26-38Luke 1:46b-55

2020 12 20 Sophie Joans ~ Opening Prayer


 

Friends,

It seems that Covid-19’s second bite is bigger than its first bite. “The Western Cape has more cases confirmed in the second wave, than compared to the first wave.” This is according to Dr Keith Cloete, the Head of the Department of Health in the Western Cape. My own anecdotal evidence confirms this. I know far more people with COVID-19 during this second wave than I did during the first. I also know of more people this time around who have died, and others who are struggling in ICU.

As many have said, if we are not careful over this Christmas time this could be our last Christmas. For this reason, we will not be having any in-person services at CMM. Our services will remain via zoom, including Christmas Day at 10 am. We will re-assess this situation only when there is a marked reduction in the spread of COVID-19.

Please remember to wear a mask, wash hands and keep at least 1.5 m away from each other. This prevention trinity is the kindest thing we can do for each other at this time. In the short term this will remain true until we have all received the vaccine. In the medium to long term, if we do not radically change the way we humans do life on earth, we can expect more lethal and frequent pandemics in the future. The choice really is, change or die.

Tragically not everyone agrees with the science. Some think COVID-19 is a hoax and sadly only find out it is not when they struggle to breathe. We may debate each other, but reality does not debate. Reality reigns. Gravity will bring us down every time.

Equally disturbing are those who are anti-vaxxers. History shows that vaccines are nothing short of miraculous in the way they have reduced death rates. From the mandatory smallpox vaccination in the 19th century to the polio vaccine of about sixty years ago, the world has been spared much suffering. Yet from the beginning of vaccines there has been opposition by a minority for a number of reasons, many of which continue to motivate anti-vaxxers to this day. Namely:

  • The assault on people’s autonomy.
  • Government overreach.
  • “Religious” reasons around “de-fouling” the natural order or a supposed link to the “mark of the beast” or the school that says, “simply have faith”.
  • Suspicion of big pharmaceutical companies’ manufacturing the problem or at least exploiting it.

 

We can go to the internet to find out the latest anti-vaccine theories and how they have been debunked, especially around the measles-mumps-rubella vaccines supposed link to autism. This continues to circulate even though it has long since been shown to have zero merit. With equal ease however, we can go to the internet to have any number of conspiracy theories validated. I guess this is a case of, “we will find whatever we are looking for”. This points to another deathly virus plaguing the world: the spread of misinformation.

Anti-vaxxers are not the only stumbling block to the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccination. Rich countries have placed hoarding orders (some countries have ordered up to six times more doses than their population size) making it almost impossible for poor countries to secure enough vaccines.

In the wilderness of old, the freshly freed slaves from Egypt learnt that hoarding stinks of death. When some have too much, others will have too little. One would therefore have hoped that we would have learnt something from COVID-19, that we are all interdependent, and that we are only as healthy as the sickest among us, but sadly not.

It reminds me of the story of the 10 lepers who were healed by Jesus and only one of them returned to say thank you. This person was a Samaritan (Luke 17:11-19). They were all united together when they suffered leprosy together, but as soon as they were healed, other divisions, like ethnicity, came to the fore. Separating them again. In today’s situation a nationalism and classism, rather than a world-wide humanitarianism, now determine who will be first in line for vaccine treatment.

This past week South Africa together with India and later supported by Eswatini and Kenya, requested the World Trade Organisation TRIPS Council that certain provisions of the TRIPS agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19 be waved to ensure greater ease to acquire the COVID-19 vaccine. This was not agreed to. Unsurprisingly, the debate was pretty much split along economics: rich countries vs poor countries. 

Time is running out for the human species to mature. To literally grow up and recognise the real reality (that does not debate, but reigns) of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all of life. Only then will we end the apartheid between nations that selfishly secures privilege for a few at the exclusion and exploitation of the many. In short, a mature human person recognises that all people are family. For this reason, we pray: OUR Father / Mother in heaven… To take that three-letter word seriously is to change the world we live in.

If you would like the Zoom link for Sunday’s Service – please email: welcome@cmm.org.za

Grace,
Alan

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

Golden Calf Truth

Friends,

Reflection on Exodus 32:1-14

Truth is larger than fact. There are times when the facts simply can’t adequately hold the truth. For example, there is no fact that could sufficiently account for a parent’s love for their child. Or for the liberation of a long-oppressed people. When the facts fail the truth, we turn to metaphor and myth, satire and story, parable and poetry. To say that someone is the most beautiful person in all the world is not meant to be evaluated on a factual basis, but rather to be appreciated for the truth that the statement makes about their love or attraction toward the person.

Similarly, the validity of the Exodus narrative (and much of Scripture) does not rest on whether it factually took place once upon a time or not, but rather on the truth that it announces for all time. (It is most likely that the Exodus narrative was the accumulative wisdom gleaned from many cycles of oppression and liberation all sewn together into a single archetypal liberation narrative.) The narrative’s purpose is to speak timeless truth:

  • The truth about God (ultimate reality) who is always on the side of truth and justice (the universe’s bending moral arc) and therefore forever listening to the cries of the oppressed and liberating the oppressed from bondage.
  • The truth that little people (midwives) who remain faithful to the Life-Giver bring down genocidal fascists.
  • The truth about how power hardens human hearts (Pharaoh had heart problems.)
  • The truth about the anxious, stubborn, devious and paranoid ways of Empire (Time and time again the Pharaoh regime promised to let the people go but reneged each time. Power is very seldom given up willingly. Codesa 1 and Codesa 2.)
  • The truth that when those who have access to the perks and privileges of palace power (Pharaoh’s daughter and Moses) choose rather to join in solidarity with the enslaved and exploited, a united front begins rolling mass action that not even all of Pharaoh’s chariots will be able to stop.
  • The truth that exploitation of people goes hand in hand with the exploitation of the environment, with the environment ultimately rebelling via plagues. (Contaminated topsoil poisons the water.)
  • The truth that liberation always looks impossible (like walking through an ocean) until it isn’t (ocean split in two) and then it looks inevitable.
  • The truth that a liberated people move quickly from gratitude to complaint. From dancing praise of their courageous leaders to accusing them of selling out. (Moses have you brought us out here to die? HIV does not cause Aids.)
  • The truth that a liberated people often forget their pain-filled past (we ate meat in Egypt) and soon begin to imitate the ways of their past oppressors. (Another name for State Capture is Greed.)
  • The truth that populous ‘leaders’ (read: fascists) will always be ready to exploit the frustrations and fears of the people, promising everything they want but securing just the opposite (We see you Aaron. We see you CIC in red overalls. We see you with the MAGA cap.)
  • The truth that it takes a long time for a new constitution to be carved into our hearts of stone and therefore in the interim it remains very tempting to return to the golden calf of oppression that falsely promises us a quick fix. (During the writing of our New Constitution our new leaders were negotiating the arms deal. A deal that was corrupt in essence and in process. A deal more in tune with the ways of Egypt than of liberation.)

 

This brings us to this Sunday’s reading: “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come make gods for us, who shall go before us … Aaron took the gold from them and formed it in a mould, and cast an image of a calf…”

It is important to note that the golden calf may be seen as a replacement of the liberating YHWH or a representation of YHWH. The latter is a far more subtle form of idolatry and therefore potentially more dangerous. An idolatrous representation of YHWH would include attributing non-liberative characteristics to YHWH (see last week’s reference to “make no wrongful use of the name of God”.) An example today is the prosperity teaching (read: heresy / cult) calling on Jesus’ name in order to prosper financially by TV evangelists who believe owning a private jet is crucial for them to spread the word about the humble sandalled Jesus. (The same Jesus who happened to warn that it was pretty impossible to fly a jet through the eye of a needle.)

An even subtler form of idolatry includes that which is not necessarily religious at all and as a result are seldom named as gods / idols, yet they solicit our unquestionable belief in their professed saving power. Like believing that the death penalty will save us from crime. Or the gun will keep me safe. Or low taxes on the rich will be good news for the poor. Or that the quality of health care or education must correlate to how much money one has. These come to us through laws and systems rather than doctrines and creeds. We learn proverbs like “time is money” off by heart until we believe that everything is a product to be traded and that the value of anything or worth of anyone is ultimately determined in monetary terms.

With the above-mentioned examples, it should be clear that there is no such thing as a “non-believer”. We all believe in something. We all worship something. And whatever we worship is our god – like it or not. If the word worship does not connect with you then ask yourself what is the object of your ultimate concern? (See: Paul Tillich.) The answer to this question is our god. Simply put, whatever we give our heart to is our god, religious or not. For this reason, we are called to do the urgent and crucial work of “know yourself” to discover who / what we believe in. Warning: We may be surprised to discover that we don’t always believe in what we would like to think we believe in or what we profess to believe in. (Not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord will enter the reign of God – says Jesus.) This is why the scriptures care less about atheism than they do about idolatry, because we could be worshiping the very ways that crucified Jesus while singing his praises on our lips.

How do we know the difference between God and an idol? Or God and false gods? In short: Idols or false gods always demand sacrifice. Idols take life while promising new life. Think of the military or of the idol of nationalism or tribalism that worship little lines in the ground called borders. Drawn and defended with blood. The true God on the other hand does not demand sacrifices. Rather the true God demands justice, mercy, humility, truth, gentleness. In other words, the true God demands that which will promote and protect life – all of Life in all its fullness.

This is the only scale that really matters: does our living bring life or death?

So just because we may never have carved out an image of a calf doesn’t mean we do not worship any idols. Furthermore, just because we have Jesus’ name repeatedly on our lips does not necessarily mean Jesus is our God. And for those of you reading this who think you are exempt from idolatry because you don’t believe in any God or god or idol – well once you have found the words that work for you – I invite you to check what your ultimate concern is and whether honouring your ultimate concern brings life or death – for all of life.

Know thyself sister. Know thyself brother.

Grace upon grace,
Alan

 

Slave Freedom Charter

Friends,

I invite you to read and reflect on Exodus 20:1-17

Before you read the reflection below, I encourage you to do your own wrestling with the text.

Paradoxically this is sometimes more difficult to do with those passages of scripture that are best known to us.  In this instance, the 10 Commandments.

If we wrestle faithfully we must not be surprised if we are wounded by the text and left with a Divinely defined limp as it was with Jacob of old. The hope is that we too will be able to re-see our enemy-Esau as family.

Remember the context is a people freshly freed from slavery. And context gives meaning.

Grace, Alan


Reflection: Exodus 20: 1-17

Think slavery: The cruel continuous brutality. The shackles and sjamboks. The beatings and killings. The constant hunger and everlasting exhaustion. The trauma of daily terror. Everything that is done is done to break your spirit and to erase your human dignity. Every effort is made to whip the dream of freedom out of you. Any attitude other than submission is smacked down to teach you a lesson, to set an example and to send a message: “I own you”. “Don’t ever think of rebellion.”

Think escape: The calculations. The planning. The praying. The risk. The courage. The tenacity. The stealth. The strength. The water rationing. The breath-holding. The knowing that death is certain if captured, and the knowing that to accept slavery is to die. Freedom or death!

Think freedom: The amazement. The wonder. The miracle. As miraculous as an ocean splitting in two forming a path of dry ground to walk through. The tears of joy. The speechless gratitude. The musical celebration. The deep breath of relief. The rest. The resolve: “Never, never and never again shall it be that we will be anyone’s slave”.

It is through this lens of slavery, escape and freedom that I invite you to reflect on the Ten Commandments, for it is within this context that they were originally carved. In other words their aim is specific rather than general.

Just as the South African Constitution of 1996 was written with the specific aim to prevent a return to Apartheid and discrimination of any kind, so the Ten Commandments were written with the specific aim to prevent a return to slavery and oppression of any kind. A freedom charter to be gratefully celebrated rather than a moralistic code to be fearfully obeyed.

I will now share a few thoughts on the first five Commandments using the lens of slavery, escape and freedom for you to consider:

The preamble [Exodus 20:2] is wondrously simple and profound, not unlike the incredible preamble to the South African Constitution that is a poetical summary of the Constitution’s purpose. In the case of the Ten Commandments it is all about freedom and the protection of human dignity – the exact opposite of dehumanising slavery. God listens to the cries of the oppressed [Exodus 3:7] and works liberation with them to end their oppression.

  1. You shall have no other gods before me. This is not a general statement of belief that there is a God. It is specific to freedom from slavery. Nothing is to be put before the freedom and dignity of people. No system of domination of one over another is ever to be accepted. If our God (our ultimate belief or value system) is not first and foremost a listener and liberator of the oppressed then our worship of this god will lead us back into slavery. This calls us to check our God! Who does our God listen to? The oppressed or the powerful? The poor or the rich? The landless or the propertied? The marginalised or the privileged? Who do we pay most attention to? Who do we listen to? Who do we work with and to what end? Whose interest do we take to heart? Answering these questions will enlighten us to whether we have given our heart to the listening and liberating God, or not.
  2. Make no idol. This is not a general statement about statues and the like, made out of wood or stone, etc. but the specific instruction to make sure that everything we make or create serves the purpose of freedom. This is especially true of the systems we create. Economic systems. Health systems. Education systems. Religious systems. Legal systems. These systems take on a life of their own. And they are very powerful. They are meant to be at the service of human dignity and freedom but too often they are used to oppress some while securing privilege for others.
  3. Make no wrongful use of the name of God. This is not a general statement about swearing when we hit our thumb with a hammer. It is the specific instruction that we dare not name God incorrectly. By calling something godly when it is not. The old South African Constitution is an example of this. To suggest God is anything other than liberative is a wrongful use of God’s name.
  4. Keep Sabbath (Day, Year and Jubilee). The practice of Sabbath is to be grounded within every human system to ensure that every system contributes towards human dignity and freedom and ultimately safe-guard against returning to a form of slavery. Rest on the 7th Day and remember the Listening and Liberating God alone is to be honoured. Furthermore, a slave can never rest and therefore weekly rest is an act of resistance to slavery, especially if it is built into all human systems. It places limits on work and therefore exploitation. Let the soil rest every seven years. This too is an act of resistance to exploitative practices – for the exploitation of the soil goes hand in hand with the exploitation of people. The one inevitably leads to the other. Finally, practice Jubilee – in other words place a limit on inequality. Every 50 years push the reset button of the whole economy. Cancel debt, for debt is the first step in the direction of slavery. Redistribute wealth – so that those who have much do not have too much and those who have little do not have too little. The more equal a society is, the less likely slavery will take hold within that society.
  5. Honour your parents. Sadly, this instruction is predominantly understood in exactly the opposite way it was intended. In so doing the 3rd instruction about the wrongful use of God’s name is often broken. For instead of protecting the vulnerable it is used to silence, dominate and marginalise the vulnerable. Children, especially young children, are vulnerable. Abuse from some parents and elders is sadly a reality. Looking at this through the lens of slavery, escape and freedom, this is almost certainly not referring to the relationship between parents and their young children. If it were it would surely have been written the other way round: Parents honour your children, i.e. the powerful honour the vulnerable. Therefore, this instruction is directed at the middle aged child to honour her/his now vulnerable parents who are mature in age. In this reading the powerful are instructed to honour the vulnerable as opposed to forget and forsake.

I invite you to continue through commandments 6-10 employing the same lens of slavery, escape and freedom.

  1. No killing
  2. No adultery
  3. No stealing
  4. No false witnessing
  5. No coveting.

This week and next week’s lectionary reflections will form the content of our CMM Chat.

Our next CMM Chat will be on 7th October at 20h00.

Please email welcome@cmm.org.za closer to the time for the link.

Grace,
Alan