and you will be made to eat grass …

Garden and I – 13 September 2020 by Athol McLaggan – Sunday’s CMM Chat/input

My Octopus Teacher is a mesmerising documentary that came out on Netflix this past week. It is the story of one person addressing his burn-out with the “social prescription”* of submerging himself daily into the kelp-forest-waters off Simon’s Town. During his daily practice of underwater attentiveness, he meets an Octopus … as one does. Consistency, curiosity, vulnerability, gentleness, trust and bravery alchemise over a year into steadfast (sucking) friendship. It turns out to be a human-healing friendship. The human student learns from the Octopus Teacher how to be more fully human.

You may not know, but this powerfully healing “social prescription” comes straight out of the scriptures:

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
            the birds of the air, and they will tell you; 
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
            and the fish of the sea will declare to you.” 

                                                            ~ Job 12:7-8

Here the human is clearly instructed to be in a learnership relationship with land, creature and plant. In short, the text is a call for humans to be humble. We are to start with confession. The confession of our ignorance: to know that whatever we know is less than all that we do not know and therefore we are to proceed with caution and care (read Miraculous Magnolia again)! As T.S. Eliot writes: “In order to arrive at what / you do not know / you must go by a way which / is the way of ignorance.”

Instead of beginning with confession (conscious awareness of our ignorance), humanity more often than not has begun with praise. Praise of ourselves. As a result we are unashamedly human supremacists in both belief and behaviour. Religion, economics and education are co-opted to promote the lie of separate development: that we can develop separately from the earth, forgetting that we do not live on the earth but from the earth. This is murderous and suicidal. Recent research shows how deadly humanities refusal to walk humbly is: “Global populations of wildlife have plunged by 68% since 1970. Two years ago, the figure stood at 60%. We are wiping wildlife from the face of the planet.”

Though time is against us, redemption (liberated life for Life) is still possible. We can still change from arrogant abusiveness to walk the way of humble care. This possibility is powerfully told in the book of Daniel Chapter 4. Here we see that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, experiences a Job-like wake-up-call. As a result of his increasingly arrogant abusiveness to all life forms, his kingdom crumbles and he is brought to his knees. Remember: arrogant abusiveness is murderous and suicidal.

Now read Daniel 4:15-16:

But leave its stump and roots in the ground,
      with a band of iron and bronze,
      in the tender grass of the field.
Let him be bathed with the dew of heaven,
      and let his lot be with the animals of the field
     in the grass of the earth. 
Let his mind be changed from that of a human,
     and let the mind of an animal be given to him.
    And let seven times pass over him. 

I have always viewed these verses as Nebuchadnezzar’s punishment or debilitating self-imposed consequence, but now I read them as his “social prescription” graciously given by Yhwh for his healing and the liberation of life within the land. “You will be made to eat grass like oxen” (v25). Basically, Yhwh tells Nebuchadnezzar that he is grounded. He is to learn again that his life, like that of the oxen, is dependent on the grass, the soil and the dew from heaven that nurtures them. And we read that as Nebuchadnezzar took on this daily practice of grounded attentiveness his “reason returned” to him (v36). Then walking humbly, he returned to the “works of truth and the ways of justice” (v37). “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” ~ Baba Dioum.

On Sunday we will continue this theme at our 11:11 CMM Chat. If you would like the link for the Zoom meeting, please email welcome@cmm.org.za. This Sunday the “guru of greenery” Athol McLaggan will be sharing with us.

Grace,
Alan

* “Social prescription” – refer to last week’s reflection.

 

 

 

The Shepherd Politics of Abundant Life

May, 03 2020 Alan Storey: The Shepherd Politics of Abundant Life. [Psalm 23; Ezekiel 34Acts 2:42-47; John 10:1-11. Also in PDF format.

 

Grace and peace to you,

Lock-down tiredness and other puzzlements and paradoxes …

Days during lockdown kind of roll into each other without any difference or distinction. It doesn’t seem to make the slightest difference whether the day is a Tuesday or a Saturday. There is movement but no progress. As if Sisyphus got hold of the calendar. I wonder if this is one of the reasons why many people have felt so tired during Lock-down? A tiredness that seems out of place because there is no glaringly obvious reason for the exhaustion. Some of us can’t point to anything we have done to make ourselves tired, yet tired we feel.

I wonder if the exhaustion results from absorbing the suffering and struggle around the world and throughout the country without being able to do too much about it. Feeling like an insignificant drop in the ocean. We have constant input about what is happening all over but like the Dead Sea very little outflow, so for most of the time we are just left to hold it. It feels like a dead weight. We might name this dead weight “Overwhelm”. And if we put “Overwhelm” down because it is too heavy then another weight steps in to replace it called “Guilt”. After all, how can we be chilling while others are crying? The knowledge of the vastly different social conditions of Lock-down weigh heavily and yet does not stop us from moaning about the trivial.

Some of us wish we could just stop eating while others wish for food to eat. Some of us share space with the one we love while others with the one we resent or fear.

Waiting on tender hooks is tiring. Waiting for the Tsunami of death to knock us off our feet as it has done in other countries. Some have already been swallowed up by the economic Tsunami – having lost their business and means of income and sit frozen in trauma. For these it’s the ‘cure’ that has taken their life rather than the disease.

Meetings via ZOOM are also said to be a reason for tiredness, because you literally have people “in your face”. https://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/stories/zoom-fatigue-video-conferencing?utm_source=TreeHugger+Newsletters&utm_campaign=150c8b8395-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_11_16_2018_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_32de41485d-150c8b8395-243784813

For some of us the peace and quiet is driving us bats, while others covet a single second of silence because we have children climbing up the walls. The desire for connection with people does not correlate into having the energy to make a phone call.

You have probably got your own Lock-down puzzlements and paradoxes. My invitation to you is that you honour your puzzlements and paradoxes without censor or judgement. Be attentive to them all. To deny our own experience is no less violent than to dismiss the experience of others. When in doubt, go with ‘both / and’ rather than ‘either /or’.

Grace,
Alan

Notices

  • We would like to have a “test” CMM gathering via ZOOM (Not more than 30 minutes. Hopefully not too exhausting!) at 8pm on Thursday evening 7th May. If you would like to participate please send your email address to Adrienne: welcome@cmm.org.za It will be good to check in with each other.
  • Thank you to those of you seeking to support Stepping Stones Children’s Centre. Here are the bank details:
    Stepping Stones Children’s Centre
    NEDBANK
    St. George’s
    Branch Code 100 909
    Account Number 1028 204 973

 

Promises for the Resurrection Journey

Grace and peace to you all,

African Harrier-Hawk

One of the joys during lockdown is to have seen an African Harrier-Hawk fly up and down Church Street on three separate occasions. When one is only used to seeing pigeons in the city, the wingspan of a hawk is very impressive. While perched on the roof top of Deluxe Coffee it ate its prey, which I guess is some consolation for the Coffee shop being closed.

Some of you have asked about the state of the Sanctuary. The work of restoring the Sanctuary is starting slowly. We will communicate with you in the near future about what needs to be done and what we will need in order to do it. After the clean-up and stripping bare of the Sanctuary, that was enabled by a generous donation, we presently have electricians working on the electrics to make sure that it’s all in safe working order as well as plumbers enabling the bathrooms to once again be functional. This is all we are really able to do at the moment due to the lockdown and our budget.

Restoring the Sanctuary is going to be a big task. It will also take money. We are, however, very mindful of the fact that the Covid-19 Lockdown has not only reduced many people’s financial means to contribute to our situation, but created widespread and urgent human need that demands the generosity and priority of us all. In the very least I want to encourage you to keep paying people in your employ. There are also many online opportunities to support food distribution and not least to contribute to the national Solidarity Fund (which to date has received over 75 000 individual contributions). Think too of those small businesses that lost all income the instant the lockdown occurred. Think of a hairdresser for example. Perhaps you can pay your hairdresser in advance to enable them to pay their bills in the meantime. We all need to generously trust and be creative, doing to others as we would love them to do to us.

At CMM we continue to commit to paying people in our employ (permanent and casual, working and not working) as well as a commitment to the staff of Stepping Stones Children’s Centre as the need arises. We have entered into compassionate rental agreements with our tenants with the hope of enabling them to see this difficult period through. We are not sure where all this will take us, but we are committed to continue to care for those dependent on us as comprehensibly as we can. Thank you to all of you for your continued support and generosity that enable us to take these steps.

According the President’s address to us all on Thursday 23rd April, we will not be gathering as a community any time soon. Lockdown eases only slightly from the 1st May. We are in the process of exploring fresh ways to connect as a community.

Please do communicate with Sharon, Adrienne or me, if you are going into hospital over this time. Even though we are still not allowed to visit, it can be a source of strength to know that others know where you are and are with you in prayer.

Grace, Alan

Today you can either listen to the reflection – click on the heading below:

Promises for the Resurrection Journey on the road back to Jerusalem

OR spend time reading it – click on PDF.

 

[Luke 24:13-35]

 

Update on Refugees

Thank you for your continued love and care.

We are grateful that all the bodies of those who drowned have been recovered, but the anxious waiting has added to the trauma of the deaths themselves. The refugees staying in and around the church are in great grief. Please continue to hold those closest to the pain in your hearts.

The three remaining funerals may take place on Saturday morning – although this has not yet been confirmed. I have suggested to members of the public who have called to offer assistance to contact the leaders of the refugee group directly. For the sake of clarity please note that the Church is not involved in any financial collections for the refugees.

This morning I was told again by the leaders that they are planning to vacate next week Tuesday to Thursday. I do not know any further details. I can only hope that this will indeed take place for the sake of all involved. Things cannot continue as they have been. People are stressed and exhausted especially the families with young children and especially now after the death of four young people among the community.

The 1st December is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent reminds us of the promise of Jesus’ light-filled presence in the world. The Light that says to the darkness “I beg to differ with you”. The Light that guides us to new Life. We will light the first of four Advent candles in confidence and hope that the Light of Jesus will deepen our living in Truth and Love. May we be given eyes to recognise the Light of Jesus within all.

Grace,
Alan

Alan’s interview with John Maytham (CapeTalk 567) yesterday afternoon 27 November 2019.

 

 

Refugee Update

2019 11 27 Podcast of today’s interview with John Maytham of CapeTalk 567.


By now you would have heard the tragic news that on Sunday four young people from the refugee community staying in and around the church drowned in the sea (Sea Point area). As of now only three bodies have been recovered from the ocean. The one funeral is taking place today from the Mosque and the others we are trying to arrange for Thursday from the church.

The level of trauma this has caused is beyond description – especially for the families and group of young people (15-20 year olds) who witnessed the drowning. I ask you to hold them in your hearts.

In these times that make each of us feel so helpless – we pray and sing our faith – as we have done since the news. We hug and we hold and we give each other space.

The temptation is always to find someone to blame and when it is not obvious who to blame we may be tempted to lump it onto God – saying things like: “It must be God’s will”. The sentiment behind these words is well meaning, but it paints a false picture of God. If they were true, then God is more cruel than kind! And we should have nothing to do with such a god.  From a Christian perspective we believe that God is Christ-like. This means that if we cannot imagine Jesus doing something – then it does not apply to God. Jesus is our God-template. Jesus – the lover of all – would never drown anyone – therefore we can say with confidence that neither would God. Jesus does not cause suffering and neither does God. Rather, Jesus suffers with us and so does God.

In meeting with the leaders of the refugees today they have undertaken to vacate the church next week – between Tuesday and Thursday.  This has come directly from the leaders and not via the media. (We engage each other directly and not through the media.) Let us hope that they are able to find a way forward within the time frame they have stated for the reasons that I have shared with you over the past 4 weeks.

Grace,
Alan

Update on Refugees at CMM

November, 24 2019 Alan Storey: The everlasting power of truth and love. [Jeremiah 23:1-6; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-38]


Discussions between the leadership of the refugees and the South African Human Rights Commission are ongoing. We must all continue to hope that they provide a way forward as soon as possible. I remind you that I am not part of these discussions.

I have received a number of complaints from business people and traders in the area. Business and trade are suffering. This is concerning especially in the present economic climate and tourist season.

I am therefore putting in writing what I have repeatedly discussed with the leaders of the refugees:

From the beginning the Church’s priority was the safety of people. That is why I tried to get children into the church during the police action on the 30th October 2019.

I have stated from the 30th October 2019 that staying in the church is temporary. Since then I have repeatedly said that the safe space the church is providing is no longer safe. Therefore, I have asked everyone to vacate the church. The reasons for this include:

Continued Fire Risk: The City of Cape Town issued the Church with a NOTICE TO COMPLY on the 19th November. The basis of this notice is that the usage of the building has converted from church to residential usage. This is against the law. In other words, the Church is now in contravention of the law and therefore we would be completely liable should any disaster take place. This is unacceptable. Yet until people leave, I continue to repeat:

i. All people and belongings to be moved from the designated exits and escape doors at all times. This must happen with immediate effect.
ii. Passageways to be kept open at all times.
iii. No smoking, cooking or lighting of matches in the church.
iv. Make sure the plug points are not being overloaded by the boiling of kettles and the charging cell phones.
v. Make sure all the fire extinguishers are visible and easily accessible.
vi. Make sure no-one is sleeping on the landing area up the stairs.
vii. Inform people that cooking with open fires outside the church is not allowed.

Continued Health Risk: The City of Cape Town has reported the health risks in and around the Church.

i. The overcrowding contributes to the spread of diseases.
ii. If there is a sudden rush of people – children and babies may be crushed in a stampede.
iii. The limited toilets and bathroom facilities are totally inadequate for the large group of people.
iv. There is not enough fresh air circulating throughout the building.
v. They have also mentioned that cooking outside in close proximity to mattresses and blankets (fire risk) and rubbish bins as well as people urinating in and around the area in against the law.

Women and Children: The most vulnerable are our highest concern.

i. No men are allowed to sleep inside the church at night.

We hope for a speedy, just, respectful and peaceful resolution. We pray too that all hearts, including our own, do not harden, but ever remain open to the priceless worth of all involved.

Grace,
Alan Storey

Friday Update on Refugees at CMM

November, 17 2019 Alan Storey: Violence and the danger of hardened hearts. [Exodus 2:11-15; Matthew 5:21-26; Matthew 5:43-48]


This morning a group of us met with the refugees in the Church. The group included the South African Human Rights Commission, Africa Diaspora Forum, More than Peace, The Archbishop of Cape Town and a few Pastors to the refugee community.

The hope was to inform everyone of the discussions that had taken place over the last week that had been facilitated by the South African Human Rights Commission as well for me to request that people begin to vacate the Sanctuary.

The chair of the Human Rights Commission and myself were able to speak to everyone. But when one of the Pastors (known to the refugees) tried to speak – some people refused to allow him to do so and thereafter the Pastor and other members of the above-mentioned group were assaulted.

A semblance of calm was restored with the help of some refugee leaders and many of the refugees intervening to protect people. Thereafter we were able to get members of the group out of the sanctuary into safety. It is very concerning that three people of this group were injured while everyone else is obviously in shock.

The whole situation is very sad and troubling, not only because of where it took place or who was hurt, but because any violence anywhere against anyone is self-defeating. Violence does not solve anything. It just causes more hurt and more problems.

From my previous communications I reiterate our safety and health concerns and I’m continuing to request the refugees to vacate the church with dignity and peace. I call on the relevant agencies to give support.

I call all to be calm. To respect people – even the people who have done this. We will continue to talk. We will continue to expect the best from people. All of us have the ability to be patient and peaceful and I call on all of us to activate that ability now.

Peace,
Alan

15 November 2019

 

 

CMM Update on the Refugee Situation


The latest sermon:

November, 10 2019 Alan Storey: The foreigner is not foreign; and the danger of becoming what we hate. [Leviticus 19:33-34; Luke 9:51-56; Luke 10:25-37]


The last few days have included many discussions regarding the refugees staying in and around CMM. These dialogues have been hosted and facilitated by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). They have included the leaders of the refugees at the church as well as a large number of other stakeholders including: UNHCR, Government: Department of Home Affairs, Premier’s Office, Department for Social Development, Department of Health, Police, and many civil society organisations intimately involved with refugee concerns. I am not personally involved in these discussions.

We must remember that though the problem of the present situation demands an urgent solution – it is itself a symptom of much larger and equally urgent problems. It is these systemic problems that must be urgently addressed for there to be a lasting solution for all refugees in South Africa and not only the people in and around CMM. So, it is a balancing act of dealing with both the immediate and the long-term issues.

I trust the people involved in the facilitation of these discussions and hope that a way forward will soon become clear.

My first hope is that the way forward will secure protection and justice for refugees across this country. In the very least, the treatment refugees receive from Home Affairs must improve drastically to become just and compassionate. Let every official at Home Affairs remember: “When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the foreigner. The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as a citizen among you; you shall love the foreigner as yourself…” Leviticus 19: 33-34.

My second hope is that the way forward includes the vacating of CMM. There are a number of reasons for this, but please note it is not “so the church can get back to normal” as some people suggest. As church we exist to care for the vulnerable and persecuted. Caring is our normal. This does not mean we are setting up a shelter – we are not – everyone is aware that this is a temporary situation. A temporary situation that resulted from the violent dispersing of protesting refugees by the police.

The most important reason why the way forward must help people to vacate CMM is safety.

The risk of a fire in the sanctuary remains. Plainly put: if there is a fire, people will die. There are simply not enough exits for the amount of people inside the church to vacate fast enough. This is especially since so many of those inside the sanctuary are young children and babies. Furthermore, the pews act like crowd barricades making quick movement impossible. It is a dangerous situation, and people don’t think it will happen until it does! The City Fire Department did an inspection on the 12th November. No doubt we will hear from them soon – but one doesn’t need to work for the Fire Department to know what their instruction will be.

I also share the concern of the many traders in the area who are experiencing a loss in business, especially the traders on Greenmarket Square itself. This is another reason why a speedy solution be found. These are people who themselves can least afford any loss of trade.

Finally, thank you for your continued care and concern regarding those sheltering in and around CMM. Forgive us for not being able to give a neat list in response to your question: “what can I do to help?” Things are more complicated and nuanced than a list is able to capture. For example: There is a fine line between providing caring hospitality on the one hand and running the risk of setting up a “permanent shelter” on the other hand. Likewise, we need to respond to health care needs, yet at the same time avoid setting up a “clinic”. To this end, regarding health care – St John’s have been providing care at the Church while also enabling people to have easy access to a local government clinic. This access is made possible by the direct intervention of the District Six Community Day Care Centre and the Province’s Head of Community Health for which we are very grateful. In this way we don’t duplicate services already made available by the State. But as I have said, it is a fine line to walk.

Grace,
Alan Storey
13 November 2019