Grace to you
The bell in the CMM steeple has not sounded since 1897. Apparently when the 3.5-ton bell rings it shakes the foundations of the nearby buildings. Deemed a safety risk, it was silenced. The bell is a reminder of what a Church is meant to do, and that is to shake the foundations of the surrounding society as it sounds the Divine call for justice and mercy for all.
Seeing as we are not allowed to ring the bell, we decided a few years ago to use the well-positioned steeple in a different way, yet hopefully in a way that still shakes the foundations of our society. We decided to hang bright yellow banners from the steeple to call attention to various issues of injustice and suffering. Often we would partner with civil society organisations that were involved in engaging the particular issue we were addressing. We also seek to address the issue from a uniquely theological perspective. This week is no different.
It is crucially important for the church to join the call for the de-criminalisation of sex-work for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that the scriptures are very clear that we are to safeguard the lives of the most vulnerable and stand in solidarity with those that society in general treats as outcasts. To state the obvious, sex-workers are some of the most vulnerable people in our society who are consistently treated as outcasts.
The basis of our protection and care for the well-being of sex-workers is rooted in the theological fact that all human beings are engraved with the indelible image of God and therefore are to be treasured as the priceless gifts they are. In other words, our care for another has nothing to do with how they live and everything to do with the mere fact they are alive.
The Gospels are full of Jesus doing exactly this, over and over again. The outcasts of his day were so grateful for his welcoming invitation, affirming word and loving touch, but this caused much displeasure among the religious of his day as it does to this day. Yes the church is often better known for its judgement and rejection of the social outcast than loving solidarity. In other words, the church is often the one who throws the first stone! Sadly this is often done in the name of Jesus – the same Jesus who saved a woman whom the law had criminalised – from being stoned by religious men. By intervening, Jesus effectively de-criminalised her in that moment.
Now, if we are to protect the vulnerable and stand in solidarity with the outcast, then surely we must also oppose that which contributes to their vulnerability and outcast status. The criminalisation of sex-work does just this, and more, including violent abuse. For example, sex-workers are often abused by law enforcement (SAPS, Metro Cops and even security guards) by demanding sexual favours for sparing arrest, or securing early release.
The criminalisation of sex-work also disempowers the sex-worker to demand clients to practice safe-sex, thus adding to the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. [In fact according to research in the Lancet Medical Journal the de-criminalisation of sex-work could prevent between 1/3 and almost ½ of all new HIV infections globally in the next 10 years among sex-workers and clients.] Furthermore the criminalisation of sex-work contributes towards increased prejudice against them from both individuals and also service institutions like healthcare facilities. This may cause some not to seek out care when they are sick or injured placing their lives at great risk.
Finally on a simple level of logic: The criminalisation of sex-work has not eradicated sex-work as it intended to do and nor will it ever do so. So why would anyone continue to support a law that cannot ever do what it aims to do, yet in the process of repeatedly trying it causes such terrible harm?
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Grace to you
Titus Masika lives in the small village of Yatta in Ukambani in Eastern Kenya. The Yatta catchment area is a semi-arid area and long considered to be one of the poorest in Kenya.
Between the years 2000-2005 he began a process of reflection over the plight of Africa and the people of Ukambani.
“My Kamba community was caught in the web of stagnation. We have become reliant on relief food, and political contestations were often around who would supply food in order to get our votes. We had become reliant on rain-fed agriculture and the erratic nature of rainfall had closed our eyes to new possibilities.”
As a priest, people from the village would often ask Masika to pray for rain. They would also question him on why God had not blessed them with enough rain. “Was God or the spirits punishing them?” – they would ask. Masika’s reply was that God does send us enough rain but the problem is that we fail to catch it.
So at the heart of Masika’s transformation plan was to “catch” or harvest the little rain that did fall by building numerous dams. Perhaps ‘dam’ is too big or deep a word to use. We are talking swimming pool size holes in the ground – that could be easily dug out by a family using picks and spades. Some that were built through the collective effort of the whole community were a little larger.
The first to embrace this idea of ‘catching’ the rain were the elderly women of the community. “We believed that we could do it ourselves through the merry-go-round approach, we went around each homestead assisting one another to dig up water pans. Slowly we moved from digging a few earth dams to more than 3000 water dams in 4 years.”
The number of women involved in the project had also grown from 45 to around 3000 of all ages from all over Yatta. The dams became a stable source of irrigation.
“These dams have made it possible for us to plant and harvest and sell crops all year round. We have enough food to eat and extra to sell and earn a decent income. Our crops include: sweet potatoes, pumpkins, cassava, watermelon, mangoes, paw-paw, sunflower among many others…”
In the last week we were told that “Day Zero” has been pushed out even further – now in July. I wonder if we are not witnessing the biblical promise of abundance that takes place when those who have much (too much!) faithfully fast which enables there to be enough for all. The water through our taps will continue to flow like an eternal spring as long as we take only what we need. Need and not want. Need and not greed! This is another form of the merry-go-round approach. A fasting so all may have enough. This is what Lent is all about.
With merry-go-round wonder,
Grace and peace to you
President Zuma has resigned. It happened on Wednesday. Wednesday was Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance. Repentance means to turn around. It does not mean to “be sorry”. That is remorse. Remorse is not repentance. Often remorse and repentance may go together, but not always. On Wednesday they did not go together! But no doubt about it there was a huge turn around between Zuma’s delusional and defensive rant in the afternoon and his resignation in the evening. Regardless of the cause and reason for the change and regardless of him showing zero sign of remorse, we can be grateful that there was in fact a turn around that I have no doubt saved lives.
When a person is completely out of touch with the truth of their living they become a danger to everyone around them. When the anchor of their conscience has pulled loose from their moorings they float any way the pre-dominant wind blows and self-interested tide determines. They inevitably bump into anything and everything in their way causing great damage. When principle ceases to determine direction the engine may continue to roar but there is no constructive movement – certainly no movement forward, like when a propeller is entangled in the reeds.
Reeds! Reeds are thin and scrawny strings reaching up from the depths ever-seeking out the light on the surface of the waters. They appear quite insignificant, especially in the face of a powerfully spinning propeller. Yet when a couple of them get together they have the capacity to stall and stop the most powerful of engines. They are smart and wily and above all endlessly courageous. They are not naïve. They know some of them will be cut up and spat out but they also know with cement-like conviction that it is the propeller’s own spinning that will tie itself up in a nasty knot. It is only a matter of time and pressure. The reeds trust through their many doubts that in the end history will smile gratefully on them.
This week I smile gratefully at the journalists, judiciary and activists who with cement-like conviction in their depths courageously searched for the light. Some, at great cost and having to overcome huge waves of fear and intimidation stretched themselves, reaching up reed-like, into the spinning turbulence of corrupting power.
We have witnessed the purring engine begin to splutter…to slow…to stall…to stop?
The reeds win! As in ancient times the Hebrew slaves scampered through the Red Sea to freedom. Interestingly, another name for the Red Sea is the Reed Sea. The reeds win! As it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever amen.
This does not mean we have arrived. To stop going in the wrong direction does not mean we are going in the right direction. But it does give us a moment – an Ash Wednesday moment – that invites us to repent. To turn around and to reset our sights on what is just and true.
Written with reed-like certainty,
CMM’s Latest Yellow Banner
Frustrated in the traffic?
Imagine not being able to get to work.
Fix our trains so that we can get to work
safely and on time!
Get MetroFail back on track.
Grace and Peace
Today we are doing something totally different. Today the sermon and prayers will come to us through song!
It is a great joy to welcome two choirs who will be leading worship today. The Swarthmore College Alumni Gospel Choir brings with it national and international tours and prestige in the venues of gospel music spirituals and soul. The choir of First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG) has performed extensively in our native area, including appearances at the Kimmel Center in 2017, one of a few church choirs to attain that honour. Furthermore, FUMCOG has taken its mission of social justice throughout the world, including Johannesburg, South Africa in 1993, forming a delegation to stand in solidarity with Nelson Mandela, in a voice of freedom to end apartheid.
Today is the last day of their mission pilgrimage to South Africa and it is really a privilege to have them at CMM.
The choirs will present a full 60 minute programme of various American music. There will be three 20 minute sets as follows: 20 minutes for Swarthmore; 20 minutes for FUMCOG; 20 minutes combined.
The repertoire from Swarthmore to be determined, out of the gospel and soul traditions while the FUMCOG repertoire to include: Salmo 150 – Ernani Aguiar; Spirituals by Moses Hogan: I Want to Thank You, Lord; Hear My Prayer; William Billings: Easter Anthem; Mark Miller: I Believe; Oh for a Thousand Tongues; Aaron Copland: Tis a Gift to be Simple; Zion’s Walls. Combined they will do: Freedom Trilogy – Paul Halley; Hope for Resolution: A Song for Mandela and De Klerk – Sean Ivory/Paul Caldwell; Praise His Holy Name – Keith Hampton.
This picture shows 60 litres of water that was used for one machine wash on a 28 minute “daily express” cycle!
Please unplug your washing machine’s outlet; check how much water is being used; collect this water for re-use (like flushing toilet).
Listen to 28 January‘s sermon to “Getting to the source of the water crisis”.
Grace and Peace
Thank you for all the food that has been brought to CMM this morning for Harvest Festival. This food will find its way into the tummies of children at Stepping Stones Preschool in the form of delicious recipes cooked by their awesome chef.
Back in the day people would have brought the food for Harvest Festival straight from the land and not via the shop. Their fingers would still be soil-stained on Sunday morning. The miracle of their gift would not have been lost on them because they were intimately present to the wondrous mystery of a seed dying and resurrecting as plant and life-giving food:
A seed … hard and tiny buried in the depths of darkness … still … absorbing, stretching, splitting, bursting, ground-breaking, light-receiving, oxygen-sharing, tongue-tasting and stomach-nourishing.
Way back in the biblical days the people would offer their first fruits as a gift of gratitude to their Creator. This was completely counter-cultural. Instead of enjoying the first fruits themselves (imagine the temptation to do that!) or storing the first fruits to secure a food-filled future, they gifted the Giver of the gift. Regardless how much they toiled in the sun with bent back and burnt neck they knew that the resurrection of food from seed was beyond their doing. They knew it was by grace and not by their work alone.
On offering their first-fruited-gifts they would recite a liturgy reminding them that the land itself was a gift from the Great Giver. They would remember and recite their history as a slave people set free by the Great Liberator [See Deuteronomy. 26]. This liturgy of grateful memory released them of fear and greed to give and share. Herein we learn the truth about generosity: Generosity is rooted in gratitude not wealth; it is a matter of the heart not the wallet. It is always a response: We give because God first gave to us. The purpose of our generosity is one and the same as Jesus’ purpose: to bring LIFE in all its fullness.
At Central Methodist Mission [CMM] we are encouraged to be generous beyond the boundaries of the Church, knowing that the “world is our parish” rather than the parish being our world. Our giving to God not only includes that which we put into the Sunday offertory, but it also includes every act of generosity we do in our daily living that aims to protect and promote LIFE and thereby partner God in mending this broken, yet God-so-loved-world.
To help us to be deliberate about growing in generosity we are invited to make the following commitment: Yes, God – Great Giver and Liberator – I want to partner you in mending this broken world by growing in generosity in all areas of my life. I therefore make this monetary offering in “hilarious celebration” [2 Corinthians 9:7] of your generous gift of grace.
I know that my money is not my own, but yours. Forgive me for being inclined to act like it is my own. Please help me to use the money entrusted to me to make a LIFE-giving difference in this world you so love.
I therefore commit:
A monthly gift of gratitude R______________ to partner you in mending the world through Central Methodist Mission.
A monthly gift of gratitude R______________ to partner you in mending the world through the people and / or organisations.
1956: “A young 16-year old Hugh Masekela leaping in the air, clutching the trumpet that had been sent to him by Louis Armstrong.”
Photograph by the late Drum photographer Alf Kumalo.
Grace and peace to you
The other day I read an article in the Harvard Business Review about how to get people to change. The article explains the “Banana Principle”. It goes like this: On the office counter there are two bowls of fruit for all employees to freely help themselves. A bowl of bananas and a bowl of oranges. Every day without fail the banana bowl is emptied first. And many of the staff who arrive after the bananas are finished, choose to leave without taking an orange even though there are plenty of oranges still to be had. On reflection and research they realised that the reason for this is not because bananas are deemed that much more delicious than oranges, but rather that they are easier to eat. They are easier to manage. Easier to peel. Bananas are less messy than oranges.
So according to the authors, if you want people to start doing something that they are not – give them a banana-like-option. In other words make it easy. And if you want people to stop doing what they are doing – give them an orange-like-option. Make it more difficult or costly, because people employ the principle of the least effort. This is obvious in each of our lives I am sure.
But it raises this question for me: what if the change needed is not easy and cannot be made to be easy? What if the change needed is messy – like much meaningful change is.
This raised another question: is easy really what we want? Surely we have enough insight into our lives to know that easy seldom hits the spot within us that is crying out for transformation.
More than easy I think we desire truth. The truth that we can change. The truth that it is difficult. The truth that it is costly. The truth that it may happen in hidden ways over long periods of time. The truth that we will be helped along by grace again and again.
This is why I think the Covenant Commitment still holds our attention over 250 years after it was first prayed. It holds our attention because it holds the real desires of our heart. In our depths we want truth, not easy. As it states in the introduction: “Christ has many services to be done: some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honour, others bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests, others are contrary to both; in some we may please Christ and please ourselves, in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.”
We are no longer our own but yours O God.
I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering*;
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty;
let me have all things, let me have nothing;
I fully and freely yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer,
You are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the Covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
*NOTE: “Put me to suffering” – does not mean that we are asking God to make us suffer! Rather it means that we are even willing so suffer if that is a consequence of being faithful.
Grace and peace
Two essential ingredients necessary for continued learning are humility and honesty. Humility keeps the door open to learn more and honesty makes sure that, that which comes through the open door, is genuine and true. Humility is knowing that we don’t know everything. Honesty is knowing that not everything we know can possibly be 100% accurate. Humility is knowing that we don’t know what we don’t know. Honesty is knowing that what we know will need to be corrected and re-corrected.
Humble and honest people have a high sense of curiosity.
The opposite of a curious person is someone filled to the brim with assumptions about this and that and everything else. Making assumptions about other people make it less likely we will ever get to know them for who they are. Making assumptions about different cultures or countries does the same.
Some assumptions are very difficult to spot because they have been so deeply accepted by the dominant culture in which we live that few of us ever think of questioning them. They are the invisible building blocks of society. They are promoted and protected by the systems they embed – like religion and education, entertainment and law, etc. Like a computer virus these assumed values attach themselves to every file of our lives corrupting them without us sometimes knowing, until of course life becomes more and more sluggish and eventually stopping altogether.
Think of the assumptions (perpetuated through education and sports, etc.) in “their preference for competition over cooperation; for self-promotion over humility; for analytical over holistic thinking; for individual rather than collective success; for direct rather than indirect communication; for hierarchical rather than egalitarian conceptions of status. So in school we urge our children to strive to be better than their friends and we praise them publicly if they succeed, where many other societies would consider this to be extremely bad manners. We focus on our children directly and tell them exactly what we want them to know, where in many other societies adults expect children to observe their elders closely and follow their example voluntarily. We control and direct and measure our children’s learning in excruciating detail, where many other societies assume children will learn at their own pace and don’t feel it necessary or appropriate to control their everyday activities and choices. In other words, what we take for granted as a “normal” learning environment is not at all normal to millions of people around the world.” [An extract from www.schoolingtheworld.org].
One of the reasons Jesus was crucified was that he brought to the surface and challenged the hidden assumptions and values of his day. This too is our calling.
May we: Do Justice. Love Mercy. Walk HUMBLY.
Grace and peace to you
Last week by the rivers of baptism we heard how the heavens were “torn apart” enabling Jesus to hear the heavenly voice declare his belovedness. The long-thought-of divide between heaven and earth has been torn apart and the false dualism between heaven and earth forever exposed as a lie. Heaven and earth are one. Therefore, all of space is sacred. The earth is heavenly. The water and air are hallowed. The land – all the land – every land – is holy and to be treasured. Now our work is to live on earth as in heaven.
There are many people in the world who arrive at this conviction through different routes – using different languages to describe it and different rituals to honour it (or no rituals at all). That we arrive at the same place is to be celebrated and the route we took should not be cause for argument.
A beautiful example of this is Albert Einstein who from a different angle reaches the same unified conviction. As someone has suggested, this was Einstein’s other great equation, namely a formula for the survival of the living world and its people.
“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He (sic) experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish it but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.”
Other versions have Einstein state:
“This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
How we come to this conviction is less important as what we do with it. When we accept, trust and live into the truth of our oneness with every living creature and all the universe, it is then that our fear diminishes and our compassion deepens – as is the case every time our sense of connection to something or someone grows. Sadly we live in a world where the narrative of separateness dominates all other narratives – so it is not easy to hold on to the deeper truth of our connected oneness. Therefore, “the striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion”.
This is where religious practice comes in. [Remembering that the word ‘religion’ comes from Latin and its most prevalent roots take us back to the Latin word “Re-Ligare” meaning to ‘bind’ or to ‘connect’.] Therefore religious practice is to result in binding, bridging and connecting us with the Divine, the creation, others and ourselves. In other words, religious practice is to affirm our connected oneness. It is to widen “our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty”. To the extent it does this, is to the extent it facilitates life within us and through us. When religious practice builds barriers rather than bridges it is no longer religious in the true sense of the word, and would be better if put aside.
Each Wednesday evening from 18h30 – 20h30 there is an opportunity to grow in our religious (bridging and connecting) practice. Please consider coming to practice.