The gift of our imperfections

There is a strive in life towards perfection that actually can be found in our recognizing our imperfection. Human beings were made in community, realized for community, and wired for it in our very being. The strive for perfection outside of the perfection that comes from the sacred dance of catch and release in community, will lead to an unrealized potential and an isolated reality, rather than the movement towards the community we are called to in the Christian faith.

At the core of it all is trust. Joan Chittister in her book, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by HOPE, shares:

If we refuse to ask for help, if we distance ourselves from the strengths of Others. If we cling to the myths of authority and power where trust is needed, we leave out a piece of life. We condemn ourselves to ultimate failure because someday, somewhere, we will meet up with the thing we cannot do and our whole public self will depend on our being able to do it. It is trust in the limits of the self that leaves us open and it is trust in the gifts of others that makes us secure. We come to realize that we don’t have to do everything, that we can’t do everything, that what I can’t do is someone else’s gift and responsibility. I am a small piece of the cosmic clock, a necessary piece, but not the only piece. My limitations make space for the gifts of other people. Without the grace of our limitations we would be isolated, dry, and insufferable creatures indeed.(P. 69)

I ordered this book used on Amazon while I was home in the US. When I began to flip through it, I cringed. The person who owned it before me used several different colors of highlighters where I only use one color at a time, preferably lavender or blue—for they are easier on the eyes. The margins of the book were tattooed with writing that frustrated me as I tried to read through the chaos created on the pages.

Yet, somehow through the struggle, there was a blessing. For in the margin near the words above were these words from the previous reader: How can I convince myself that I am a necessary piece? How do I trust others to supply what I don’t have, when I have been so disappointed in the past? When I feel my vulnerabilities have not been met in the past? How do I join, be a part of the human community? Do I really have anything at all to give?

I re-read the book after my first read. This time I looked at all the passages highlighted and scribbled inscriptions carefully. There was such desperation in the reader and the desperation circled around this question, “Will I be accepted, how do I find my way to community?” The call is before us to recognize that if we have found a place, our role is to make a place for others to find their way too and to remember that Jesus was mostly with those who felt cast out. In their imperfections, He claimed them perfect. The Divine lives in each of us, living too alone denies the divinity in the others. Trust is the key. Trust in the love of God and love God gives us to share in relationship with the others we are called to live with in community. Finding our way to that trust is the dance of perfection.

With you on the journey,
Michelle

Drought and Teaspoons

Grace and Peace to you …

Last week we were in Namaqualand. Oh what a beautiful beloved country is ours. The never-ending landscape was breathtaking. Rugged rocks pronounced their presence as they punctuated the hard, dry ground forming lookout points to see further of the same. The earth was dusty, dry and hard. Dusty and dry from drought and over-grazing. Even the water was hard.

Adjacent to our Synod venue there was an outside art display created by some of the children from the local Methodist Church. Simple signs planted into the dry, hard earth. One read: “Sê vir God dankie. Hy meet nie genade in teelepels af nie.” (Say to God thank you. God does not hand out grace in teaspoons.)

Talking about teaspoons and drought … read these despairing and hopeful words by J.M. Coetzee in his novel Life and Times of Michael K:

“And if the old man climbed out of the cart and stretched himself (things were gathering pace now) and looked at where the pump had been that the soldiers had blown up so that nothing should be left standing, and complained saying, ‘What are we going to do about water?’, he, Michael K. would produce a teaspoon from his pocket, a teaspoon and a long roll of string. He would clear the rubble from the mouth of the shaft, he would bend the handle of the teaspoon in a loop and tie the string to it, he would lower it down the shaft deep into the earth, and when he brought it up there would be water in the bowl of the spoon; and in that way, he would say, one can live.”

Grace, Alan


Rev. Siphozihle Siwa re-elected as Presiding Bishop

“I received the news of my re-election whilst I was in Namaqualand, the first station among the indigenous people in our Connexion. The Superintendent Minister of the Namaqualand Mission, Rev. Sammy Muller said these words in response: “You are re-elected from the womb of Methodism in Southern Africa, and we are therefore happy to ‘deliver’ you to the world.” I am grateful to you as Methodist people for your faith in God that God can use even me in this ministry. Your affirmation and encouragement serves as an impetus for me to strive to serve you even better. For this I will need your continued prayers and support. May I be quick to say that prayers must not only be for me, but for all of us as we strive to be a “transforming discipleship movement, TOGETHER.” Be assured of my prayers especially for those who are at the coalface of things at the local level, because that is where significant service takes place.

I accept this call to serve with deep humility, trusting in the grace of the One who called all of us to follow towards the vision of a ‘Christ Healed Africa for the Healing of the Nations.’” (MCSA Ministers’ Monthly Newsletter)


Imam Rashied Omar

It is such a great privilege to have Imam Rashied Omar share the Word with us today. Rashied is a friend and colleague from whom I have learnt much. He has been the Imam of the Claremont Main Road Mosque since 1986. The Claremont Main Road Mosque (CMRM) was established in 1854 and is the sixth oldest mosque in South Africa. It was the second mosque to be built outside the Bo-Kaap. The mosque played a prominent role in the anti-apartheid struggle during the 1980s. This legacy continues to define the role of CMRM as socially responsive in the post-apartheid period.

Missionaries and Martyrs

Grace and Peace to you …

Today some of us are in Namaqualand. We have been attending our annual Synod since Wednesday. A few of us cycled up here while others travelled by bus. We are in Namaqualand because it is the 200th anniversary of the Namaqualand Methodist Mission Station – yes the Methodist mission work has been going on since 1816 – the mind boggles!

This building has a particular connection with the Namaqualand Mission because we have Rev. Barnabas Shaw’s tombstone in this building [front left on the floor] and it was Shaw who established the first Methodist Mission Station in Namaqualand in 1816. Barnabas Shaw began his ministry in the country among the Methodist soldiers attached to the various regiments stationed at the Cape – despite the Governor, Lord Charles Somerset’s refusal to grant him permission on the ground that “the soldiers already had their chaplain and that preaching to slaves might offend the ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church who were well established”.

Shaw writes in response to being refused permission: “Having received this answer I therefore left His Excellency and determined to commence reaching without it. My resolution is also fixed never again to ask any mere man’s permission to preach the glorious Gospel … If Lord Charles Somerset be afraid of offending either the Dutch Ministers or English Chaplains, I am not, and will therefore do my duty. In the course of a few days I began to preach, without any hindrance or interruption…” This means that the Methodist work began by an act of civil disobedience, reminding us all that our primary allegiance is never Caesar but God.

He soon left for the “interior”. After a few days on their journey and just beyond the Olifants River they met the chief of the Little Namaquas travelling to Cape Town to seek a Christian Missionary. This was on 4 October 1816. This “desert meeting” Shaw regarded as a “particular providence”.

At Lily Fountain they built the first Methodist Mission Station in South Africa. The first fruits of Shaw’s ministry was Rev. Jacob Links who in 1822 became the first South African to be ordained into the Methodist Church. Sadly in 1825 Rev. Jacob Links together with Rev. William Threlfall and Johanness Jager were ambushed and killed en route to establishing another mission – making them the first Methodist martyrs.

We know that the words and deeds by colonial missionaries were not all innocent or helpful. Sometimes colonial missionaries were patronising, disrespecting traditional beliefs and at times even murderously brutal. So our celebrations for the Methodist Missionary work cannot be without honest critique.

This reminds us that in all we say and do, regardless of how pure our intentions and strong our convictions, we must remember that we may well be hurting people rather than helping them.

May the story of the missionaries give us courage and humble us at the same time.

Grace, Alan

 

A Pentecostal Community

The Road to Namaqualand

Grace and Peace to you …

Last week we heard that unemployment rose to 26.7%. This figure however, does not tell the whole story because it does not include those who have not looked for work within the last month. So the real unemployment figure is more like 37%. This is a national average figure, meaning that some communities have a much higher unemployment rate. The stress and strain for mere survival for millions of people in our land is frightening and making social stability impossible.

Not surprising many people under these conditions turn to micro-lenders for salvation. I remember a few months ago when I was in Paarl seeing a long line of people queuing up outside a micro-lending office every morning. Here the poor and low-income earners pay more for money than the wealthy. So instead of being a means of salvation it becomes a quick route to damning debt.

According to one micro-lender’s website, I can borrow R1 000 for 30 days and repay the loan with R1 288.56 at the end of the month. But if my life ran into a speed bump and I was unable to pay the R288.56 interest at the end of the first month, within four months my interest bill would be up at R1 000, to be paid within 30 days. Imagine buying something and within four months the interest on whatever we bought was equal to what we paid for it!

With the pensioners from the Eastern Cape living in the Sanctuary we have been reminded first hand how some people are treated as invisible, like they do not matter. Marginalised and excluded without fair means to live. I hope this situation among us has prodded our consciences to work for the day when all people have enough to eat and live and flourish.

Last Sunday was Pentecost. Pentecost takes place 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus. 50 is the biblical symbol for Jubilee. Jubilee is the biblical concept of economic justice that includes the redistribution of wealth making sure that those who have much do not have too much and those who have little do not have too little. A community that seeks economic fairness is a Pentecostal community. This is what we are called to be.

Grace,
Alan

P.S. If anyone has any contacts with the city to secure public toilets (at least some of them) to be open 24/7 please speak to me. The fact that homeless people have nowhere to go to toilet after 5 p.m. is criminal. This structural criminality turns the homeless into criminals when they are forced to go to the toilet in public.


“The radicals are really always saying the same thing. They do not change;
everybody else changes. They are accused of the most incompatible crimes, of egoism and mania for power, indifference to the fate of their own cause, fanaticism, triviality,
want of humour, buffoonery and irreverence. But they sound a certain note. Hence the great practical power of consistent radicals. To all appearances nobody follows them,
yet everyone believes them. They hold a tuning-fork and sound A, and everybody knows
it really is A, though the time-honoured pitch is G flat. The community cannot get
that A out of its head. Nothing can prevent an upward tendency in the popular tone
so long as the real A is kept sounding.”

~ John Jay Chapman (1862-1933)

 

Creation Song

Life is mysterious, it presents great challenges and incredible moments of wonder, but ultimately life is to be lived as gift. The unfolding of each new day presents for us opportunity to be a part of something so much greater than ourselves. There is wonderful music being threaded together all around us and our opportunity is to be still and quiet and see if our spirit can get caught up in the spirit of the music that is the sacred song meant for all of God’s creation. There is a song that is beautiful enough for the inclusion of us all.

During my travels, I sat with a man who taught me so much about the Spirit of God at work in the world, Rev. Keith Tonkel. He is celebrating his 80th birthday this year and his 48th year ministering at Wells Memorial United Methodist in Jackson, Mississippi. It is unheard of for a United Methodist Minister to serve so many years in one place. Keith believed his ministry was to grow a community lived love. Love is the ultimate creation song.

During the Civil Rights years, Keith was one of 28 ministers who signed a statement called the “Born of Conviction” statement. They were naming their commitment to spend their lives working to end segregation in the church. Keith was sent to Wells Memorial UMC as punishment for signing the document. The church was understood to be a dying congregation. He shares there were 13 people there when he arrived. His sermon was prepared and ready and when he touched the handle of the front door of the church something in his spirit made him think there was another sermon he was to preach.

Keith began to preach a sermon on the valley of the dry bones. After he was done, a member of the church came up to him and slapped him on the back and said, “We had decided if you didn’t have the courage to preach to us from that very text we were going to close the doors of this place.” Over the years, Wells has grown in number and the congregation is described to be the most inclusive congregation in the state of Mississippi.

Keith is one who truly drinks life. Outside of his house sits a cooler that says, “Drinks here are for postal workers.” When I shared I loved the cooler, he said, “Baby, you can’t have their drinks, but I have your favorite coffee right here, just for you!” I smiled and drank my coffee and drank the joy of being with one who reminds you to drink life and who knows how to live love!

Sitting with Keith, one might think his full spirit comes from an easy life, but that would not be true. His spirit song has lived through cancer, the death of his wife, the illness of children, and the harsh reality of being thought odd in a state like Mississippi for singing a song his whole career long that is a song that has rhythm and harmony for—ALL!

We live in a world where people need to hear music rising above the chaos, music that rises above anxiety filled hearts, and music that is a witness that stands against any doubt that there is a God with love great enough for all. This is our story. This is our song.

With you on the journey,
Michelle

Jesus is Lord

Grace and peace to you …

Thursday was Ascension Day. Ascension Day takes place 40 days after the day of Resurrection. As you know almost everything in the Bible takes 40 days or 40 years. This is because 40 is more than a number – it is a symbol. It is a symbol of new life being born after a full pregnancy because as you know a pregnancy that reaches full term is exactly 40 weeks.

Ascension Day is therefore the celebration of new life – the new life that comes from knowing that Jesus reigns on high. That Jesus reigns on high – higher than any other. This was radical good news for a people who were oppressed by the Roman Super Power. It was extremely subversive to state that there was one greater than Caesar the great. In fact it was an act of treason because to declare Jesus is Lord means that Caesar is not – and this is normally a problem for Caesar-like-people.

Pensioners protest outside parliament’s gates.
Jenny Evans News24

Ascension Day is therefore profoundly political in that it places all power (including social, economic, political and religious power) on notice. This is how the author of Ephesians put it:

“God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” [Eph. 1:20-23]

In summary: Jesus has power over everything that has power over us. This is good news! It is also liberating news! If we trust the truth that Ascension Day boldly declares, we will be filled with courage to challenge the powers that be whenever they fail to be used to bring life as they are meant to.

Joseph and Nicole sharing their love of music after worship last Sunday..

On Ascension Day our parents from the Eastern Cape, who have been living inside this sanctuary for the past few weeks did a courageous thing. They lay down on the roads and blocked the entrances to parliament seeking justice in regard to the non-payment of their pensions. Their bold action said to the politically powerful “we are not afraid of you … we serve the greater power of truth and justice … you think we are powerless … we are not … we will show you how powerful our bodies are”.

Our parents from the Eastern Cape continue to gift us as they practice the Ascension and live out the Gospel.

Remember: Jesus has power over everything that has power over us.

Grace, Alan

 

Assumptions and Misunderstandings

Thank you Eric Yamani for revitalising our garden!

Grace and Peace to you …

So the other day I was in a meeting. Well actually a couple of meetings. The first meeting was with a person who was the leader of his organisation. A group of us met with him. We had contacted him directly requesting to meet concerning a matter of mutual concern. The meeting began. The meeting ended. All fine.

Then I had another meeting. This second meeting was with different people. During this meeting a person informed us that should we ever want to meet with the leader of the organisation we had met with in the first meeting in the future, we should go through him first.

Okay I thought to myself … we have ourselves a bit of a power struggle going on here.

Then a few days later we had a third meeting. This third meeting included both the leader of the organisation from the first meeting as well as the person who said we must go through him from the second meeting. So I was all eyes on the dynamics between these two – wondering how the power dynamics were going to play out. To my surprise there didn’t seem to be any power dynamics at play between the two of them. In fact just the opposite – they complemented each other throughout.

I was a little confused until all light was shed on the situation by the person from the second meeting who said we must go through him to get to the leader of the organisation. In short, it was more about protocol than power.

I made an assumption based on what I thought was obvious but which in fact was incorrect. Not only did I carry in my mind thoughts about these two people that were not true, but it also influenced how I prepared for the third meeting, namely, less open and more guarded.

This got me thinking how often we may assume to know the reasons for things when in fact we don’t. Making assumptions so often leads to misunderstanding which in turn leads to hurt. As Mr. Wesley said in his “Rules of a Helper: Believe evil of no one unless fully proved; take heed how you credit it. Put the best construction you can on everything. You know the judge is always supposed to be on the prisoner’s side.”

Grace, Alan


“You’ve got it all wrong. You didn’t come here to master unconditional love. That is where you came from and where you’ll return. You came here to learn personal love. Universal love. Messy love. Sweaty love. Crazy love. Broken love. Whole love. Infused with divinity. Lived through the grace of stumbling. Demonstrated through the beauty of messing up. Often. You didn’t come here to be perfect. You already are. You came here to be gorgeously human. Flawed and fabulous. And then to rise again into remembering. But unconditional love? Stop telling that story. Love, in truth, doesn’t need ANY other adjectives. It doesn’t require modifiers, it doesn’t require the condition of perfection. It only asks that you show up. And do your best. That you stay present and feel fully. That you shine and fly and laugh and cry and hurt and heal and fall and get back up and play and work and live and die as YOU. It’s enough. It’s PLENTY.”

~ Courtney A. Walsh

 

Embrace Vulnerability

Eastern Cape Pensioners looking for justice from Parliament.
Photograph: Rebecca Davis

Grace and peace to you …

Many of us have grown up hearing the words “Almighty God …” spoken by one leading a congregation in prayer. The following beautiful prayer is an example:

Almighty God,
to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known
and from whom no secrets are hid:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy Name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen

In recent years I have struggled to connect with God as Almighty. I am more inclined to relate to an “All-Vulnerable God”. I see “All-Vulnerable-ness more clearly than “Almighty-ness” in Jesus. And didn’t Jesus say: “The Father and I are one” [John 10:30]?

Brené Brown, who has become famous for her work on vulnerability says the following:

“Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow – that’s vulnerability.”

Doesn’t this sound like Jesus to you? Doesn’t this sound like God to you? Doesn’t this sound like Love to you – the real nitty-gritty-ness of love? Love by definition is vulnerable. God is Love therefore God is vulnerable.

Sadly too often we mistake vulnerability for weakness. Yet it is just the opposite. Vulnerability is the fiery furnace that gives love its enduring steeliness.

Followers of Jesus must learn to embrace vulnerability.

Or as Brown puts it another way:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

Trying to get on to the path, Alan


This week CMM has had the privilege to offer hospitality at night to pensioners from the Eastern Cape who have been protesting outside of Parliament.

An article: “Desperation, Inc: Eastern Cape pensioners looking for justice outside Parliament” (click on link) written by Rebecca Davis (published on Daily Maverick) speaks to this matter in a forthright manner.


“The more I love, the deeper I love,
the more I see what that love is,
the more I can become love.
The more intimacy I allow,
the more I give and share and open my heart,
the more vulnerable I am,
the more I experience the sacred in me.
The more I am able to love.
The more I learn where I hold back,
where I struggle, where my pain is,
where I can’t receive.
I love because of what you allow me
to be in loving you.
No such thing as altruism.
But like a candle that lights another it loses
nothing in giving away its light.”

~ Anonymous

 

Who will move the stones?

Grace and peace to you …

If you are familiar with Fruit and Veg City in Roeland Street you will know that for years the immediate surroundings alongside the building were rather an eyesore. Strewn with litter, rubble, huge rocks and always with a horrible stench hovering. There were many complaints about the people who hung out there and the CCID were endlessly called to sort things out, but with no helpful affect. So then…

Who will move the stone/s away for new life to come?

In 2015 Jesse Laitinen, strategic partnership manager at Khulisa Social Solutions (KSS) began to plant the idea of addressing chronic homelessness on the streets of Cape Town through food gardening. The project is called Streetscapes and believes that enabling people to be productive and add value, addresses social problems much more effectively than welfare projects.

For the last five months, Rachel Harvey (who sits in a pew near you on a Sunday :-)!) has worked tirelessly in developing the site together with many, many hands – hands that were unemployed previously and ignored. Hands like those of Zoleka Kakaza, 24, who has been on the streets for several years. She says she loves working in the garden. “Garden work is good for me. It brings me peace of mind. Though I am paid R1275 per month, I find it better than begging,” she said. And hands like those of Zamuxolo Masabalala, originally from the Eastern Cape, that have been without work since 2010. He said, “I was married, but we had a dispute and so I was kicked out of the house … I decided to be in the streets.” In his childhood, he used to garden, and thanks to the project, he is again using that experience.

The Department of Agriculture in the Western Cape is involved in kick-starting the project and the City of Cape Town pays small stipends to those working in the garden. Reliance Organic Compost helped too as did Michells Wholesale Nursery.

Last week a box containing 7.8 kgs of beautiful brinjals and 18 bunches of lovely leeks went to market to be sold.

Sounds like resurrection to me! Instead of the CCID removing the homeless people, the homeless people removed the rubble and rolled the stones away, bringing new life to the city. New life always comes through people who love people. To love people is to believe in people. To believe in people is to trust that every person is a gift longing to be appreciated and opened.

 

With gratitude for the “resurrectors” in our midst, Alan

Pictures courtesy Streetscapes and Oranjezicht City Farm

 

How to judge

Grace and peace to you…

Corruption scandals abound: From Nkandla to Panama. By Panama I am referring to the 11.5 million “Panama-Papers” released this past week exposing how over 150 politicians in over 50 countries (together with many more rich and powerful people) hide “their” money in “shell” or fake companies located in off-shore-tax-havens.

I am always amazed when some people respond to corruption, inequality and injustice by saying: The Bible says: “do not judge”, so who am I to judge? This (mis)-use of Scripture promotes an abdication of responsibility of our collective living. It attempts to turn the vice of apathy into a scriptural virtue.

Of course we are called to judge. We are called to judge what is right and what is wrong. All ways of doing life are not equal. Some ways of living bring life while others bring death. We are called to choose life and this means we are called to expose and resist the ways of deathliness in the world.

BUT while judging what is right and wrong; life-giving or death-bringing we are NOT allowed to judge ourselves to be better than others. We are not allowed to judge Mr Zuma and the Panama-Paper-people as worse than ourselves. To judge in this regard is a denial of Jesus’ teaching that the splinter in another’s eye is of the same substance as that which is lodged in our own eye. This denial therefore places as much distance between the guilty party and ourselves which is convenient but less than truthful. The truth is that many of us have our own little Nkandlas where we have used our power and influence to secure undue benefit and our own Panama-shell-companies where we hide our excesses.

To know that we carry the same corrupt substance within us doesn’t however mean that we have no right to say or do anything. All it means is that whatever we say and do is said and done with due humility and mercy. Our aim should always be more redemptive than punitive.

Should Mr Zuma step down? Of course he should because the integrity or lack thereof within individuals in positions of power makes an almighty difference to all of our wellbeing. But let it be said that the removal of the likes of Mr Zuma and others without changing the systems of power that enable and protect and unfairly benefit a few at the expense of the many will mean little. Systems outlive people. Remove the individuals without addressing these systems and corruption is certain to continue by the next crop of head-honchos that take their place. And some of these systems are in fact legal – but sadly legal does not mean that they are just, e.g. Apartheid was legal and unjust.

One of the issues facing the world all over is the relationship between money and politics. Ensuring greater transparency in this area with stringent mechanisms of accountability is imperative for politics to be more life-giving. This is true for each of us too. Greater transparency about our own relationship with money will bring us and others a deeper fullness of life. Therefore I hope we will allow the Nkandla and Panama scandals to be a mirror to help us to see ourselves more clearly. And that as we call others to rightfully step down, we will address ourselves with equal passion.

Grace, Alan