Desire nothing but God

 Mr Wesley the founder of the Methodist Movement.

He travelled over 400 000 km (mostly on horseback)
and preached over 52 000 sermons.
This meant that he preached around 2-3 times a day for 53 years.

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If you want to know with 100% certainty if it is going to rain or not — just check when the Methodists are having their annual Synod. Yes, over the last week about 290 of us have been attending the 185th Synod of the Cape of Good Hope District which took place in Wynberg.

Synod is always a reminder to me of the broader family to which I belong. It is inspiring to be reminded of those who have gone before us with great courage for the Gospel and then to listen to fresh candidates for the ministry bubbling with enthusiasm as they share their call to preach and serve. We listened with the words of John Wesley echoing in the background:

“Give me one hundred ministers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergy or lay, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the Kingdom of God on Earth.”

And Wesley’s terrifying warning:

“I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist … but I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect having the form of religion without its power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast the doctrine, spirit and discipline with which they first set out.”

Synod is also the place where we are held accountable. Parents know that children need and actually desire boundaries and guidelines no matter how they may throw tantrums in opposition to it. Well, clergy are like children! What we may dread and resist we know deep down we actually need. There is something profoundly comforting to know that others are “watching over us in love” and that we are called to give an account of who we are.

I hope all of us will seek out places of accountability for ourselves in our living. Please consider signing up for Warm Winter Worship — small groups that will gather in people’s homes during winter to reflect on our faith journey together.

Grace, Alan

Africa’s Day

25 May is Africa Day

Remember Africa’s truth-tellers and truth-seekers.

At the birth of our democracy South Africa’s press freedom ranked first in Africa.
In the last decade we have fallen to 5th place, 
42nd worldwide!
www.r2k.org.za

A critical, and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy.
Nelson Mandela

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What a great day to gather together and to worship the Lord! It is an especially joyous day for me since I have the opportunity to be with you in this breathtaking city and in this wonderfully welcoming worship community. My name is Alease Brown and I will be with you throughout June and July as a ministerial intern from Duke Divinity School in the U.S.

A little about me: my family is American with no other known country of origin (except that one great-great-grandparent came to the U.S. from Ireland). I was born and raised in New York and practiced law before embarking on my journey in church ministry.

I was raised in the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), which is an offshoot of the Methodist church. After finishing school, I joined a non-denominational charismatic church, The Brooklyn Tabernacle. It was there that I was mentored as a Christian lay leader and received my call to serve God in a more official capacity. Since entering divinity school, I have become a member of the United Methodist Church and plan to pursue ordination as an Elder. My prayer is that my life would be a testament to a desperately needy world of Christ’s aliveness, of Christ’s love, and of Christ’s power, so that in our generation we might continue to bear witness to miraculous transformations in our own lives and within our culture.

Intentionally, I studied little about South Africa and Cape Town before arriving. My hope was to learn about the people and the country, your triumphs and struggles, by living among you and listening to your stories. To this end, it would be a privilege and an honor for me to be able to spend time with you (yes you), perhaps over coffee or over a meal, and to listen to your story of life as a Capetonian. The few stories that have been shared with me thus far have been fascinating and enlightening and I am eager to know more! You must feel free to ask me anything as well!

I am truly looking forward to the next nine weeks of us learning and growing together.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all in a special way during this season.

Peace to you, Alease

Be filled with mercy

AN EASTER REFLECTION OF PROMISE

Life goes beyond death, because life is called to life, not death. That is the plan of its creator. But life blossoms into full flower only in those who nurture life here on earth; in those who defend its rights, protect its dignity, and are even willing to accept death in their witness to it. Those who violate life, deprive others of life, and crucify the living, will remain seeds that fail to take root, buds that fail to open, and cocoons that are forever closed-in upon themselves. Their fate is absolute and total frustration.

All those who die like Jesus, sacrificing their lives out of love for the sake of a more dignified human life, will inherit life in all its fullness.  They are like grains of wheat, dying to produce life, being buried in the ground only to break through and grow.

~ Leonardo Boff

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On the recommendation of a friend I watched the 2003 movie The Last Samurai the other day. The movie portrays an American officer whose personal and emotional conflicts bring him into contact with samurai warriors in the wake of the Meiji Restoration in 19th Century Japan. The film’s plot was inspired by the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion led by Saigo Takamori, and on the westernisation of Japan by colonial powers, though this is largely attributed to the United States in the film for American audiences.

As you might imagine it was a pretty violent movie and if you look it up on the web 99% of the images are of warriors charging off to battle. This is not what thrilled me about the movie.

What inspired me was the Christ-like figure. Her name was Taka the widow of the Samurai warrior killed by Algren the American officer. Taka was given the responsibility to care for Algren who had been wounded in the fatal fight with her husband. She nursed her husband’s killer back to health. A beautiful picture of Christ-like mercy. And in doing so she was able to heal Algren not only of his flesh wounds but also of his spiritual and psychological torment that lay in his depths too deep for hands to touch and words to address but which grace could reach and resurrect to new life.

It also struck me that Taka is hardly mentioned in any of the reviews — the focus is on the warriors that are played by the big box office actors like Tom Cruise. I would have to look up her real name. So it is with Christ. He more often than not comes to us unknown. His glory is not revealed through glitter and glamour but through humble acts of compassionate service. (By the way Samurai means “to serve”.) I pray that we will be given the eyes to recognise the Christ-figures in our lives and in our times.

The movie also beautifully depicted lives lived in devotion and discipline that were in harmony with the seasons and in joyful appreciation for the blossoms. Lives of simplicity and prayer are always going to be the soil in which Christ-likeness flowers.

Grace us with silence and stillness that we may bless others with mercy Oh Lord.

Grace, Alan

Give us your justice, O God

An Easter Reflection of Promise

Life goes beyond death, because life is called to life, not death.  That is the plan of its creator.  But life blossoms into full flower only in those who nurture life here on earth; in those who defend its rights, protect its dignity, and are even willing to accept death in their witness to it.  Those who violate life, deprive others of life, and crucify the living, will remain seeds that fail to take root, buds that fail to open, and cocoons that are forever closed-in upon themselves.  Their fate is absolute and total frustration.

All those who die like Jesus, sacrificing their lives out of love for the sake of a more dignified human life, will inherit life in all its fullness.  They are like grains of wheat, dying to produce life, being buried in the ground only to break through and grow.

~ Leonardo Boff

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As we continue to mark 20 years of our democracy and prepare again for elections this week I am drawn to Psalm 72 which is a prayer for guidance and support for the king…

The first verse of the psalm highlights what the psalmist believes to be the most important attribute of a good king:

“Give the king your justice, O God.”

The psalmist knows what the people and the land need more than anything else is a just king. Note that the prayerful request is for God to give the king God’s justice. Yes, there is a big difference between God’s justice and the world’s justice. God’s justice goes deeper than the law of the land. God’s justice is not to be reduced to what is legal or not — because as we know the laws over time can be manipulated to secure privilege and entrench poverty. God’s justice is radically rooted in the equality of all people and therefore a king’s primary task is to establish equality among all. This alone is good news for the poor and it is also good news for the rich although few of us will feel like it is.

The whole motivation given by the psalmist for God to let the king’s life endure like the sun and moon throughout all generations is:

For the king delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight. Long may he live!”

This is not only the reason why the king is to be granted breath but it is also the reason for each of us to have breath. It is also the reason for the church to exist. We have breath to live out the dream of equality that God has for this world. This is the true praise and worship that makes God rejoice.

Give us your justice, O God.

Grace, Alan

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Appeal from the Presiding Bishop

I ask that we use 27 April for prayer, celebration and honest reflection on the state of our communities and nations of the Connexion. Let us also pray for the South African Elections on 7 May 2014. There will be also ecumenical activities planned, but these must not stop our morning services to be special services of reflection, celebration, lament and accompaniment. I further encourage you to join the ecumenical activities planned in your area either in the afternoon or during the week. As we do this let us seriously be aware of what is happening in all the countries of the Connexion and include these in our prayers. The Communications Unit and Justice and Service Desk will publicise indicators for our reflection from time to time.

Presiding Bishop: Ziphozihle D. Siwa

Freedom & Shacks

We have come a miraculously far way…

 

An Easter Reflection of Promise

Life goes beyond death, because life is called to life, not death. That is the plan of its creator. But life blossoms into full flower only in those who nurture life here on earth; in those who defend its rights, protect its dignity, and are even willing to accept death in their witness to it. Those who violate life, deprive others of life, and crucify the living, will remain seeds that fail to take root, buds that fail to open, and cocoons that are forever closed in upon themselves. Their fate is absolute and total frustration.

All those who die like Jesus, sacrificing their lives out of love for the sake of a more dignified human life, will inherit life in all its fullness. They are like grains of wheat, dying to produce life, being buried in the ground only to break through and grow.

~ Leonardo Boff

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and … we have a miraculously far way to go.

 

Those first to the empty tomb were told to go and tell the disciples that Jesus would meet them in Galilee. Dr Kistner, an old mentor of mine, used to teach that this was another way of Jesus saying: “Go back to the beginning and start following me all over again — but this time do it in the lived knowledge of the promise of resurrection”. In other words this time do it without fear and trust afresh that the impossible is no longer impossible.

As we re-start to follow Jesus we hear Jesus say to us again: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. In this Jesus invites us to live life as he lived life — with the poor as our priority. This is not a call to charity but rather a call for justice that will make charity unnecessary. He is saying that we are to seek first and foremost “good news for the poor, release for the captives, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” — meaning the year of Jubilee (Luke 4 and Leviticus 25).

This time we will not be surprised that the Jesus way of living life will result in rejection and suffering because we now know that it will be vehemently and violently opposed by those who have a vested interest in the status quo. The status quo that is arranged around the investments of the privileged few.

The promise of resurrection is for those who die on this cross that results from orientating one’s life around seeking equality in society with justice for the poor. Could it be that only these will know the joy of resurrection?

Today we celebrate our 20th Freedom Day. We have something to celebrate as a result of the many people who picked up the cross described above and walked faithfully with it — some to their death.

New life — resurrection — have been granted to us by God who is ever faithful in honouring the suffering and death that comes from the cross-carriers of justice and jubilee.

The days we are living in, call for us more than ever to make the poor our priority. We have been given the privilege of witnessing the resurrection 20 years ago so we should be more willing than ever to pick up our cross without fear and follow Jesus.

Let’s meet in Galilee, Alan

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Appeal from the Presiding Bishop

I ask that we use 27 April for prayer, celebration and honest reflection on the state of our communities and nations of the Connexion. Let us also pray for the South African Elections on 7 May 2014. There will be also ecumenical activities planned, but these must not stop our morning services to be special services of reflection, celebration, lament and accompaniment. I further encourage you to join the ecumenical activities planned in your area either in the afternoon or during the week. As we do this let us seriously be aware of what is happening in all the countries of the connexion and include these in our prayers. The Communications Unit and Justice and Service Desk will publicise indicators for our reflection from time to time.

~ Ziphozihle D. Siwa

 

Queers of Africa

On Tuesday 15 April 2014 another yellow banner in protest against injustice – this time in solidarity with those persecuted for their sexual orientation – was raised by friends of David Olyn as well as a representative of the Triangle Project.

The banner reads:

To all the Queers of Africa:
Thus says the LORD:
“I love you as you are.”

From Ugandan Queers to David Olyn
murdered for being a “moffie”.
22 March 2014

Christians and Pagans

Lenten Prayer of Preparation

Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful.

Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real. Speak to my condition, Lord and change me somewhere inside where it matters, a change that will burn and tremble and heal and explode me into tears or laughter or love that throbs or screams or keeps a terrible, cleansing silence and dares the dangerous deeds. Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God. Amen.
[Ted Loder]

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In preparation for Holy Week I have been re-reading some works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer — the German Lutheran pastor who stood fearlessly against Nazi rule. He was jailed and finally executed on 9th April 1945 at the age of 39 just 23 days before the Nazi’s surrendered.

I trust his words about the Cross for two reasons: First, not only did he write about the Cross but he carried his own cross. The cross that is the consequence of a radical faithfulness to the ways of Jesus. Second, because his entire understanding of faith and life and God was shaped by his primary understanding of God as the Crucified LORD…

ON PEACE …

“There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross.”

ON SUFFERING …

“It is infinitely easier to suffer in obedience to a human order than in the freedom of one’s own, personal, responsible deed. It is infinitely easier to suffer in company than alone. It is infinitely easier to suffer publicly and with honour than out of the public eye and in disgrace. It is infinitely easier to suffer through the engagement of one’s physical being than through the Spirit. Christ Suffered in freedom, alone, out of the public eye and in disgrace, in body and soul, and likewise subsequently many Christians along with him.”

MORE WORDS ON SUFFERING …

“There are so many experiences and disappointments that drive sensitive people toward nihilism and resignation. That is why it is good to learn early that suffering and God are not contradictions, but rather a necessary unity. For me, the idea that it is really God who suffers has always been one of the most persuasive teachings of Christianity. I believe that God is closer to suffering than to happiness, and that finding God in this way brings peace and repose and a strong, courageous heart.”

CHRISTIANS AND PAGANS …

  1. “People go to God in their need, for help, happiness and bread they plead for deliverance from sickness, guilt and death. Thus do they all, Christians and pagans.”
  2. “People go to God in God’s need, find God poor, reviled, with neither shelter nor bread, see God entangled in sin, weakness, and death. Christians stand by God in God’s suffering.”
  3. “God comes to all human beings in need, sates them body and soul with His bread, dies the death of the cross for Christians and pagans and forgives them both.”

“Christians stand by God in God’s suffering” — this is a Christian’s distinguishing character. This is what Holy Week teaches us to do. See you in the week.

 Grace, Alan

Believing the right way

It is difficult to respect and value and appreciate people with whom we profoundly disagree. Conversely it is easy to undermine and belittle them. It is easy to over-simplify their views and punctuate our reviews of their standpoint with false characterisations. It is easy to label them so we don’t have to take them seriously.

This is true in the Church as it is outside the Church. I have witnessed (and participated in) this in regard to debates around conscription, abortion and the death penalty over the years and more recently about same-sex relationships. In other words it can happen that we “stand up for Jesus” in un-Christ-like ways. We forget that there is no commandment to be right! But there are plenty of commandments to be loving.

In these debates the emphasis has largely been on Orthodoxy – the word ‘orthodoxy’ is derived from the Greek roots ortho meaning ‘correct’ and doxa meaning ‘belief’, and so has generally been understood as referring to the importance of right belief. This emphasis makes it difficult to allow space for the divergent convictions of others as difference is experienced as a violation of one’s own conviction and integrity. Yet such a concern betrays a distorted understanding of the integrity of the church as vesting solely in the orthodox beliefs that the church upholds.

The teaching of Jesus demonstrates that right belief is not enough to live a transformed life that bears faithful testimony to the love and goodness of God. The deeper truth of authentic orthodoxy is that it is less focused on the importance of right belief than it is on the importance of believing in the right way – which is, of course, the way of love as shown to us by Jesus.          

In other words, the way in which we hold our beliefs matters every bit as much as the actual beliefs themselves. If our convictions are expressed in arrogant, judgmental and domineering ways, then regardless of what we believe, there will be nothing of Christ evident in us. But if our convictions are expressed with humility, selflessness and compassion, whatever inadequacies there may be in the content of our theological understanding, the spirit of Christ will be evident in whatever we do.

This is the deeper meaning of the orthodoxy to which the church is called. It also offers great hope to us in the midst of the same-sex debate. For it is possible to faithfully hold fast to our gospel convictions as our conscience dictates, but in a Christ-like way that affords others the space to do likewise. Far from compromising the integrity of the church, such a way of believing deepens our credibility as those who claim to be the followers of Christ.

If the Methodist Church of Southern Africa is serious about allowing the expression of diverse convictions on the issue of same-sex relationships, it needs to accept that such a move will not be without considerable difficulty and pain, even while holding the promise of rich and joyful discoveries of what it means to be the church.

The ongoing process of us engaging this issue with honesty and integrity will require much humility, compassion and prayer. Mistakes will certainly be made and injuries inflicted. There will be those on both sides of the debate that will accuse the church of compromising the values of the Kingdom. In the midst of it all will be real women and men whose sense of place and belonging within the church will rest crucially on the sorts of decisions that are made.

Challenging though this task before us may be, the opportunity that it presents is truly immense. In a world increasingly characterised by sectarian intolerance, we can offer a life-giving witness as to the true nature of Christian unity – a unity that is not devoid of disagreement or divergence, but rather seeks to make space for the ‘disturbing other’.

Such a radical hospitality of the spirit will surely open us to the sacred in our midst, and will enable the common life we share together as the body of Christ to point more faithfully to the exquisite beauty of an infinite God in whose image we have all been made.

Grace, Alan

This is an extract from DEWCOM [Doctrine Ethics Worship Committee]

Denials and Taboos

The Trinity of Water — Food — Energy is vital for our living.

Of the three, water is the most important because without it we would not have food or energy. Therefore our primary private and policy concern should be to preserve water.

Oh and Remember: We cannot grow water.

 

LENTEN PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful. Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real. Speak to my condition, Lord and change me somewhere inside where it matters, a change that will burn and tremble and heal and explode me into tears or laughter or love that throbs or screams or keeps a terrible, cleansing silence and dares the dangerous deeds. Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God. Amen. [Ted Loder]

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I don’t know about you but not a day goes by where I do not encounter some issue connected to the colour of my or someone else’s skin. It could be overhearing a conversation about “What if Oscar was black and he accidently fired a gun in a public restaurant?” Or it could be me walking through a “Musicians only” access point at the Jazz concert on Wednesday evening without so much as being questioned while others were stopped and sent round. Or when there is fighting outside my flat at night I know within myself that I feel far more entitled and confident to intervene when it is two black people fighting than when it is two white people fighting (in fact then I may decide to simply mind my own business). Sometimes it is simply a conversation I have with myself in my head.

This past week I was asked to participate in some research about white privilege. In doing so I was reminded of the great paper written by Peggy McIntosh in 1989 called, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack. Here is a brief extract:

“Through the work to bring materials from Women’s Studies into the rest of the curriculum, I have often noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are over-privileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged. They may say they will work to improve women’s status, in the society, the university, or the curriculum, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s.

Denials which amount to taboos surround the subject of advantages which men gain from women’s disadvantages. These denials protect male privilege from being fully acknowledged, lessened or ended. Thinking through unacknowledged male privilege as a phenomenon, I realized that since hierarchies in our society are interlocking, there was most likely a phenomenon of white privilege which was similarly denied and protected.

As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something which puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.

I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege.

I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless backpack of special provisions, maps, passports, code books, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.

Describing white privilege makes one newly accountable. As we in Women’s Studies work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power, so one who writes about having white privilege must ask, “Having described it, what will I do to lessen or end it?”

After I realized the extent to which men work from a base of unacknowledged privilege, I understood that much of their oppressiveness was unconscious. Then I remembered the frequent charges from women of colour that white women whom they encounter are oppressive. I began to understand why we are justly seen as oppressive, even when we don’t see ourselves that way. I began to count the ways in which I enjoy unearned skin privilege and have been conditioned into oblivion about its existence.

My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture. I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will.

My schooling followed the pattern my colleague Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites are taught to think of their lives as a morally neutral, normative, and average, also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work which will allow ‘them’ to be more like ‘us’.”

Where else is more suited than the Church to have conversations about these matters? Look out for the next Anti-Bias workshop.

Grace, Alan

Radical hospitality

Prime Circle ~ 28 March at 20:00 ~ CMM Sanctuary

Last Sunday evening we once again hosted Moonlightmass cyclists, and skateboarders. What I mean by host is that we welcome Moonlightmass participants, completing their ride from Green Point Stadium zigzagging through the city to Greenmarket Square, into the sanctuary for free cup cakes and if they wish they can purchase coffee too.

On Sunday evening we added the gift of live Jazz — performed by Louise Howlett and Albert Combrink (who by the way will soon be introducing Midweek Mix at CMM on Wednesday evenings, including a Jazz Mix of the likes of Gershwin, Porter, Arlen, Sondheim and a Classical Mix of the likes of Debussy, Faure, Bizet and Puccini).

This coming Friday 28th the band Prime Circle will be putting on an acoustic show in the likes of the Just Jinger show we hosted a couple of months back. So why are we doing this? Well as I read the Gospels I see that Jesus met people where they were at Jesus met people in the ordinariness of their life — some were fishing, others were drawing water from a well while others were attending a wedding. Jesus broke down the false divide that exists between the sacred and the secular and so should we.

Jesus invited people into his presence and into the synagogue and temple who were not normally part of the guest list and so should we.

Jesus invites us to love our neighbour and with that goes loving our neighbourhood. One way of loving our neighbourhood is to join in when our neighbourhood does stuff — especially the stuff that gets us out of our private individualistic lives and moves us to bump into each other.

Lastly, many, many people outside the Church believe the church to be exclusive, judgemental and hypocritical. And we must confess that these judgements are not without substance. We have a long way to go to heal the damage of exclusive and judgemental religion. By inviting people on their own terms into the sanctuary they may discover a hint of Jesus’ radical hospitality among us. Well this is my hope and may it be our prayer.

Grace, Alan