There is another way

Grace and peace to you and through you

Each time Jesus encounters a woman in scripture, he breaches social convention. For instance, Jesus crosses boundaries of race, class, religion, purity, and ethnicity when he meets the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-26), the bleeding woman (Mark 5:25–34), and the Syrophoenician woman (Matthew 15:21–28, Mark 7:24–30). Even the fact that women were among the followers of Jesus, and he seriously taught them, is a break with tradition unprecedented in [then] contemporary Judaism.

In Jesus’ time a woman’s identity was determined by her marital status and if she had produced male children. Although valued for this function, women were perceived as less capable and weaker than men. The philosophy of the day placed humanity on a spectrum, with women as less-complete versions of men. Jesus’ actions are radical because he treats women as being valuable in-and-of themselves, not in relation to men.

Some things have changed since Jesus’ time, but how we think about women continues to shape how we treat others. High rates of violence against women and children in SA indicate that women are still not valued as equal to males. According to the Saartjie Bartman Centre for Women and Children, as of 2015, a woman is either raped or battered every four minutes in South Africa. Violence against women transcends race and class but just because an individual isn’t physically abusive doesn’t mean they are not contributing to the violence. Violence is rooted in women’s lack of power relative to men in society: it is an outgrowth of the idea that women are less than men. Now, all of us have ideas in our head implanted by our culture. Most of these concepts just float around in our head without attracting much attention or getting in the way of who we want to be, but sometimes the ideas we’ve absorbed undermine the people we are trying to be, or run counter to the world we want to help build.

Jesus understood that the subjugation of women thwarts their dreams and aspirations, as they grow up being told that they are less valuable and able than their male counterparts. The domination of women instils feelings of entitlement to respect, sex, and control in men: control over households, businesses, political systems or even countries. It also burdens young boys with expectations to fulfil, including an ill-conceived and misdirected ‘machoness’ which results in men exercising power (sometimes physically), over both women and children. Jesus’ actions are just as radical today as they were 2000 years ago because they speak to an underlying belief about women that harms not only women and children, but men as well.

What Jesus’ actions, and our reading from today, show is that the way things have always been done, is not the way things have to be. Just because a particular way of being has become tradition, and embedded within a culture, does not mean it is part of the relational and mutually beneficial abundant life to which Jesus calls us. Instead, Jesus’ teaching indicates that Jesus forbids any hierarchy in Christian relationships (Mt 20:25–26a, Mk 10:42, Lk 22:25); and scripture invites us to live into a way of life beyond what we currently experience but which Jesus has already proclaimed: a world in which “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, [and we] are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)


If you or someone you know is the victim of gender based violence (physically, emotionally, sexually, financially) you can call the free Stop Gender Violence Helpline 24hrs/7days per week for more information and counselling: 0800-150-150.

Blowing in the wind

Grace and Peace to each of you in the life-giving name of Jesus,

It was fifty-five years ago today that Bob Dylan wrote the song, “Blowing in the wind.” This song in its history was a movement song. It was sung during a voter registration rally in Greenwood, Mississippi by Dylan himself. Peter, Paul, and Mary sang their version of it just before MLK Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and streams of people sang it on the march from Selma to Montgomery.
It is as if Dylan imbibed the anguish of the psalmist who cries, “How Long O Lord?”

Blowing in the Wind

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand
Yes, ‘n’ how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

Yes, ‘n’ how many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea
Yes, ‘n’ how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free
Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

Yes, ‘n’ how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky
Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry
Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
Bob Dylan

Over the years, people have asked Bob Dylan his meaning behind the line, “the answer is blowin’ in the wind.” He never seemed to provide a definitive interpretation. So, the interpretation is left to the listener.

“Wind,” for people of faith, holds an important role. The wind of the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters of creation and new life was breathed into being. The Holy Spirit like winds of flame settled over the disciples during the days of Pentecost inspiring within them the power they would need to walk in the ways that lead to life. One way of interpreting Bob Dylan’s song might be for us to be in search of the winds of change that are blowing in the world today and finding ways to allow ourselves to be caught up in them. I encourage you to listen to Bob Dylan’s,“Blowin’ in the Wind” this week and consider the message it has for us in this day.

With you on the journey,

The courage to be

The phrase “do not be afraid” occurs in the bible 365 times. It alerts us to the truth that life caught up in the ways of God leads to realities that have the capacity to evoke within us a sense of fear. Fear is an emotion that has a target. We are afraid of “the dark,” afraid of “heights,” afraid of “dogs,” afraid of “speaking in public,” afraid of “going to a place we perceive to be unsafe” or “doing a thing that God seems to be putting before us to do.” Paul Tillich in his book, The Courage to Be, talks about how anxiety, which he names as something different than fear, can hold us back from true “being.” Anxiety is for him, “the state in which a being is aware of its possible nonbeing.”

There are three types of anxieties that are named: the anxiety of fate and death, the anxiety of emptiness and meaninglessness, and the anxiety of guilt and condemnation. To learn more about each, you have to read the book, but the point is, there is a lot of anxiety in the world around us and much worry about the possibility of “nonbeing.” Tillich names that the “whole of the spiritual life is about learning to die.” Learning to let the anxiousness die and the courage to be to rise.

The world around us and events of our days locate so many in an anxious state. The questions are hard to answer: “How can my life make a difference with the world-wide water crisis?” “What are we to do about the gangs initiating children and giving them guns & drugs to deal?” “What will happen under this current political climate?” “How do I raise my children in the way they should go?” “Should I have children?” “How do I find my feet on the path that leads to wholeness, healing, and health in myself and the world around me?”

When one living with the courage to be hears the words Mary said, “Let it be with me according to your will,” they ask, “What is the will of God in my life?” When one living in the trap of anxiety hears the words, “Let it be with me according to your word,” they ask, “what is IT?” There are many reasons we find ourselves in anxious states. The reality is that within the landscape of each of our lives there is brokenness and pain to be walked through that is real and can cause a state of ongoing anxiety that we cannot manage on our own. For Tillich, it is of the utmost importance for us to recognize the spiritual aspect to states of anxiousness.

Peter was anxious when people asked him if he was one of Jesus’ followers. His life changed markedly once he received the power of the Holy Spirit. He was able to stand in the middle of a crowd in the power of the Holy Spirit and speak a truth that would have shaken the foundations around him. In the midst of these days when so many are living with a higher level of anxiety about the struggles of the world, let us remember that it is the job of the Holy Spirit of God to take the lead.

When we find within ourselves the “courage to be,” the hard questions don’t go away, but our means of navigating through them changes. Wendell Berry puts it beautifully when he says, “Then what I am afraid of comes. I live for a while in its sight. What I fear in it leaves it, and the fear of it leaves me. It sings and I hear its song.” May the Holy Spirit guide us in ways that our fears and anxieties of living in these present days become a distant song so that we are able to truly be.

With you on the journey,



Set the prisoners free

Grace and peace to you and through you

Jesus’ first sermon is a list of the areas God declares freedom from oppression, including freedom from poverty, ill health, and economic injustice (Luke 4:16–21). Within this passage, Jesus specifically states “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.” Jesus is not only saying prisoners should be free; he is declaring that prisoners already are free and that it is not God but humankind who tries to deny this freedom through imprisonment. Yet, when people first hear about efforts to abolish the prison systems around the world, they commonly respond by writing it off as a utopian fantasy. There is a belief that we need prisons and the suggestion that we do not need systems to confine or punish people seems too far-fetched, and in general, people aim lower than the call of freedom Christ issued.

At times in history, the church has even reinforced the idea that some people need to be removed from society; it was Quaker and Methodist penitentiary models that birthed solitary confinement from a belief that those convicted would be humanly rehabilitated through “penance” for their crime. But such a perspective reinforces the view of empire which tries to designate some as “good” and others as “bad,” some as “worthy” and others as “undeserving” be it of freedom, housing, health care, or even another chance. In her fantastic book, Are Prisons Obsolete Angela Davis reminds us that prisons also serve an ideological function, relieving communities of their responsibility to address the problems of society by scapegoating particular people as the cause problem and then isolating them from society.

If we find our self asking “but what is the alternative to prisons?” then we have yet to escape the belief that the world cannot operate without punishment and isolation. We see this at a social level but also within our relationships. How often have we said relationships with those unlike us are too hard or that we don’t want to be associated with that person who is “nothing but trouble”? Often it is easier to isolate ourselves from, or punish others, rather than do the hard work of addressing problems of society or relationships. What we are saying in these actions is that institutions, relationships, and people are beyond God’s redemptive reach. We sell God short, not because God cannot, but because we have trouble imagining beyond the possibilities currently before us.

We lack a long-term imagination, but throughout scripture, we are invited to see the world beyond what we are currently experiencing. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The biblical call is to love ones’ neighbors (Mark 31), free the captives, care for the oppressed (Luke 4:8, James 1:27). The disciples did not live in a world where each of these calls were lived out by the entire community. But the vision scripture puts forth is one they could, and we may, participate in when we can imagine life being different than how we currently experience it — not in the afterlife or a different place, but here on earth within our and future generations.

A handbook, Instead of Prisons explains that abolitionists believe “Imprisonment is morally reprehensible and indefensible and must be abolished. In an enlightened free society, prison cannot endure for it to prevail. Abolition is a long term goal; an ideal. The eradication of any oppressive system is not an easy task. But it is realizable, like the abolition of slavery or any liberation, so long as there is the will to engage in the struggle.”

Be it the struggle for prison abolition, or imagining a world without anxiety, unemployment, or relational breakdown, faithfulness is a willingness to engage in the struggle for the world Jesus has already proclaimed, with an assurance that one day a freedom we can currently only imagine will be our experienced reality.

Grace, Mia

Pay it forward

Grace and peace to you and through you

Just in case you missed this story in the press recently, I want to share it with you. It is too beautiful. It is a story of grace and generosity. It is a story of dedication and integrity. It is a story of memory and surprise. It is a story of gratitude and humility. It is a story about our new Deputy Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, Judge Raymond Zondo and how in 1977 he asked the supermarket owner in Ixopo, Suleman Bux, for food for his family as he sought to study to become a Lawyer.

Earlier this year during Judge Zondo’s interview with the Judicial Services Commission he spoke of his years growing up; and a video of the interview became available as a result of Zondo’s new appointment. In the video Judge Zondo shares:

“When I finished matric I was confident I would get an exemption and qualify to go to university. I was confident I was going to get a bursary too but my problem was at home — the situation was quite bad. My mother lost her job two years before my matric, and my… mother had exhausted all her savings. Somehow I felt that the community had seen how my mother struggled to raise us on her own and expected me to look for work after matric to support her. I wanted to go and do Law and was determined but I felt I couldn’t do that unless I made arrangements to ensure my mother and siblings would have something to eat.”

That was when he approached Bux and asked for a loan. “Very interestingly he didn’t ask many questions and agreed to help me. He said he can’t give me money but will give me a voucher to give to my mother for groceries. Each month my mother would collect groceries up to the value of R20 at his shop until I finished my degree. When I asked him what arrangements we could make so I can repay him, he said don’t worry, Do to others what I have done to you. I thought that was very important and in my own small way I try to do that,” said the Judge.

This seed of generosity and grace was planted 40 years ago! The planter had no clue what had become of the seed. Now there stands a huge tree that is able to provide the shade of justice for a nation where there are too many who cannot afford food and education.

Sometimes it takes 40 years (that beautiful-biblical-birthing number) before we see the trees of our planting and in fact there is no guarantee we will see them at all. Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely give.”

Grace, Alan


Grace and peace to you and through you

In the face of so much that is going on at the moment, the question is often asked: What difference can one person make? We ask ourselves this question when trying to gage whether anything we do will make a difference for good in the world. Sometimes just asking the question becomes the basis for us to not do a thing – because after all, why do something that we are not sure is going to make any difference?

Yet, have you noticed that we are less inclined to question the difference one person can make when that person is acting against the common good. We see it here and abroad, one person in one position wreaking havoc. I am sure a couple of leaders come to mind.

I realise that one of the explanations for this may be because it is easier to break something down than it is to build something up; which makes the “breakers” arguably more effective than the “builders”, or at least so it seems. It is also obvious that things take longer to build than they do to destroy. It can take a few minutes to chop down a tree of many years. The breakers are camera-grabbing sprinters who can fit their destruction into a tweet, while the builders are ultra-marathon plodders needing a full-length documentary to tell their story. The “breakers” also tend to use extremely blunt, yet very effective motivating tools like fear and selective favour.

Nevertheless it’s interesting that we are more inclined to question the difference a person can make when they set out to do good than we are for one bent on doing harm. As Rebecca Solnit says in her fantastic book, Hope in the Dark: “People have always been good at imagining the end of the world, which is much easier to picture than the strange sidelong paths of change in a world without end.”

But there may be other reasons that we need to take more responsibility for. Fearing the burden of responsibility upon us, we sometimes convince ourselves to the point of certainty that nothing good can be achieved. We make statements like: “But that will never happen.” “They will never change …” “They will always …” In this we become certain of our own futility by a made-up story that is filled with insurmountable stumbling blocks making the hope for change impossible. As Solnit says: “Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes–you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is … the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.”

Sometimes the “builders” are more like sustainers who don’t do anything other than preserve what is and therefore the results of their work are not easily seen or valued until what is, is no longer. A bit like a riverbank that for the longest time faithfully channels the waters responsibly, only to be noticed when broken. Because nobody is tweeting about a riverbank doing its job today, let us honour the unnoticed and under-appreciated river-bankers who humbly channel life among us.

Grace, Alan


Water Reflections

Grace and peace to you and through you

Today we celebrate Pentecost. Today we celebrate the searching Spirit of God seeking out a dis-spirited bunch of fearful and failed disciples. We watch them being set on fire, burning with resurrected conviction and courage to live out the radical teachings of Jesus as their chosen way of life. The most radical of all Jesus’ teachings involved the love of enemies and the sharing of possessions with all who had need. Empowered by the Spirit the disciples forgave as they had been forgiven and they generously gave as they had generously received. In this a new community was formed. It was a community of mercy and justice. In other words it was a Pentecostal community. May we at CMM endlessly grow into being an authentic Pentecostal community.

Today we also celebrate Holy Communion. Holy Communion is the dramatic reminder of how we need to mercifully and justly share the ingredients of life with all, in order for all to have life in all its fullness. In other words Holy Communion reminds us to be a truly Pentecostal community.

Today we will be celebrating Holy Communion with bread and water – rather than wine/juice. In our drought-stricken context we do so to acknowledge that water is sacred. Water is priceless. Water is the basis for life. Without water nothing would exist. We would not exist. In his memoir, Speak Memory, novelist Vladimir Nobokov recalls his Great Aunt Pascha’s final words: “Now I understand. Everything is water.” 70% of the human person is made up of water – just like 70% of this planet is water. Yet less than 1% of earth’s water is drinkable. The paper and ink of this leaflet would not exist without water. The water that watered the seed that grew into a tree that was cut into logs that could be smashed into pulp etc., etc. Every aspect of the process from seed to paper was dependent on water. Indeed everything is water.

Water is a gift and not just another commodity. Perhaps only when we have a reverent or sacramental relationship with water will we cherish every drop, curbing our wastefulness and preventing our pollution of it. And perhaps only then will we passionately work for the just sharing of water, for some of us have multiple water inlets into our home, while some have none. As we partake in Holy Communion today may it strengthen us to work for the day where all experience Holy Communion. As we celebrate Pentecost today may we be inspired to give of ourselves towards a Pentecostal future of mercy and justice for all.

Grace, Alan

The Gift of Religious Diversity

Grace and peace to you and through you

One of the most beautiful things about Cape Town is the healthy religious diversity that flourishes among us. For some of us this religious diversity is planted within our own households. This is to be celebrated and cherished. To discover and learn from others what for them is sacred is a crucial part in honouring their humanity and loving them as our neighbour. This is especially so as we have just entered the month of Ramadan – a sacred time to Muslims of fasting for inner spiritual attunement.

At our Synod two weeks ago we were addressed by Mr Ebrahim Rhoda from the Strand Muslim community who shared with us a brief historical overview of the Strand Muslim community from between 1822 – 1966. In his talk he brought to our attention the relationship that early Methodists had with the early Muslim community. Some of the statements from the Methodist and other Christian clergy make you want to hide in shame. One missionary declared: “It has been my endeavour, within my humble sphere, to check this growing evil, but generally without success.” Another says, “With few exceptions they follow either a base, sinful course of life, or are ensnared by the awfully prevalent delusion of Mohammedanism.” From this we are reminded that we are often tempted to speak of another’s religion in the least charitable terms while taking a most generous view of our own. This is fueled by blind passion, hidden insecurity or both.

Rhoda also spoke of the great cooperation between Methodists and Muslims. One such story of collaboration resulted from a fishing disaster in which both Muslims and Methodists drowned. And from this we are reminded that shared suffering is often the knife that cuts through our shallow differences awakening us to our shared unity. Only when we know a person’s deepest hurt can we say that we know them.

There is a story of how Francis of Assisi (1181? – 1226) who rejected the call for war and instead during the Fifth Crusade went to meet Al-Kamil, a Kurdish ruler and Sultan of Egypt. His original intension was to convert the Sultan to Christianity but he left their time together with a profound sense that the Muslim Sultan was a person of God. Francis thereafter instructed his fellow monks to live at peace with Muslims with no need to convert them.

In these days where difference is often the basis for division may we learn to do difference differently. May difference be a lens through which we can learn and grow. And may we come to experience the mystery of how difference awakens us to our oneness at our depths.

In this may we hear Jesus say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” and a minute later he says, “They who keep my commandments are those who love me.” [John 14: 15 & 21]

Grace, Alan

The gift of new people

Like this squirrel in the Company’s Gardens…
we often think more is better …
when often more is a burden.


Grace and peace to you and through you

It is always a joy when new people join this community. It enriches our diversity and it broadens our understanding of family. New people bring fresh perspectives of faith and renewed possibilities for faithful living. Above all, when people join this community we are given the gift of new people to love and new people to be loved by – in this we all grow in God because God is love.

We believe that the “world is our parish” and so joining the Central Methodist Mission (CMM) as your community of faith is to declare that each of us belong to one worldwide family of God that includes all people. Therefore if you want to know how many members there are at CMM, we declare that there are approximately 7.5 billion members and counting. And we are called to care for every single member! We do this by loving those who are in our close proximity and by seeking justice (fairness) for those who we may never ever personally know or meet.

Paradoxically we also declare that we are one. CMM is made up of ONE member. Therefore loving others and seeking justice for them is best thought of as “self-care” rather than self-sacrifice. So when asked how many members there are at CMM – we can reply: There is only One. Oh, and about 7.5 billion…


Today we welcome the people who stand before us now …


LEADER: It is Jesus who has called you, accepted and embraced you. Jesus calls each of you to always remember who you are: “You are my beloved”, says Jesus. “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world”. At CMM we commit to reminding you who Jesus says you are. We welcome you in Jesus’ name, and we pray that your sense of belonging will deepen by grace and with time, trusting always that we are one family.

Therefore, I ask you, do you commit yourself with us to follow Jesus? Will you seek to love Jesus by loving as he first loved you? Will you seek to love your neighbour as yourself? Will you do justice? Will you love mercy? Will you walk humbly with God and each of us? Will you be open to the renewing power of the Spirit of Life in your life and in this community and throughout the world?

THOSE TO BE WELCOMED: In God’s great grace we will.

LEADER: Will you seek to be faithful to whatever Jesus calls you to, and will you be bold in serving Jesus through this community in the presence of your bodies, the prayers of your hearts and the gifts of your creativity?

THOSE TO BE WELCOMED: In God’s great grace we will.

CONGREGATION: We thank Jesus for the gift of each one of you. Always remember that you are born in love, by love and for love. We are grateful to Jesus who reminds us through your presence that we belong to a beautifully big family. We join with you to commit ourselves anew today to doing life the Jesus Way for the healing of the world.

May the Spirit grow your faith, deepen your hope and strengthen your love, watering within all of us the desire to be Jesus’ faithful family forever. Amen.


Bible as Economics text book

Sexist marathon rules forbid women to compete —
until this feminist put her foot down!

Karen Switzer—the first woman to enter the 1967 Boston Marathon—being assaulted by a man who tried unsuccessfully to tear the number off her shirt and remove her from the race.

Women were only permitted in 1972 to enter this marathon. This year—the 50th year since her first entry—Karen (aged 70) ran the Marathon once again!

Image: Paul Connell/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Grace and peace to you and through you

The bible is first and foremost an economics text book. Economics, in the true sense of the word, means management of the household. Thus the bible documents a people’s growing understanding of what God desires for God’s house (the world) and how it is to be managed. In short: God longs for God’s house to be managed with justice and mercy for everyone living under God’s sky. In our own homes we know what happens when fairness is not present! It’s war! Fairness alone is what will establish peace. This is equally true in our country which is ablaze in so many corners for the long lack of fairness. And what is more, there will not be enough rubber bullets and tear gas canisters to prevent the flames from burning ever higher. Justice is the only thing that will cool the heat.

I think we know this but we stand paralysed in the face of this truth. We know the answer is justice, but it’s as if this answer is buried in a tomb that is impossible to open and we don’t believe it will ever be unlocked, partly because somewhere deep down some of us know that we benefit from the injustice and love the benefits more than we despise the injustice. So we declare with resignation: “The poor will always be with us”.

Not surprisingly it was only after the disciples experienced Jesus as resurrected Lord that they began to practice justice and mercy in relationship with one another and with all those in need. Resurrection – God’s power over that which overpowers us – is what facilitated their new depths of faithfulness. Only in the light of the resurrection did they come to trust that nothing (not even justice long-thought-dead-and-buried) is beyond the transformative reach of God to unlock. It was only after their ultimate fear of death was overcome that they could overcome their fear of sharing what they owned with those in need. It was only after they were flooded with a rush of abundant life that they were convinced that their economics should be in the service of life for all rather than profit for a few.

It seems to me if we are going to live out radical economic transformation (in the deepest and most biblical sense of those words) which is so desperately needed in our country and world – we will need to knock, seek and ask for resurrection light and life to overwhelm us. Only the power to bring back the dead to life will be enough to free us to die to ourselves in seeking life for others, and this is at the very heart of radical economic transformation.

The Gospel promise of course is that whenever we die to ourselves to bring life to others then our lives are given back to us … new, full and fresh … as if we were born all over again.

In hope and in trust,