Sacramental farming

This past week I planted my potted vegetable garden. It is always an amazing experience to bury these tiny tiny seeds into the soils darkness. It assaults my logic to think that life — nourishing life — will stretch forth in two weeks time. As I uttered my disbelief and doubt my farming friend Mario assured me: “Alan you must remember seeds want to grow — seeds want to grow.” And I silently questioned myself: “Do I want to grow?  And if so I must remember that growing may look and feel like burial — like death — to begin with”.

 When I handed out tiny lettuce seeds at Wednesday Church many people did not know what they were  holding.  One person even said “it looks like a dead flea”.  No one said — “I am holding a tasty nourishing lettuce”. So it is sometimes with the way we see ourselves, others and the world at large.  We see something that is dead and useless when in actual fact it is alive and life-giving.

 I know that the seeds that I have planted will not produce enough food for me to live off, at best they will add some variety to my salads over summer.  Then why do it?  Well I call it “sacramental farming” — in that it puts me in touch with the much larger mystery of LIFE. It reminds me that food does not come from a shelf in a supermarket, but that food comes from soil, and sun and water and the bended backs and muddied hands of labourers. It reminds me that I am dependent on others and creation for my life. That I am not a self-sufficient independent being!  And when I am more in touch with all that has gone into producing the food I appreciate it more — it actually tastes different!

 Remember God was a gardener. To garden is Godly. I hope you too will discover this to be true. Alan

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Brave faith

If you have access to the internet I recommend the following blog by Rachel Held Evans.  Here is one of her latest offerings that I have been challenged by:

“Some like to say that the bravest thing Christians can do is defend their faith, to stand their ground and refuse to change.

But it’s easier to defend our faith than to subject it to scrutiny. It’s easier to dig in our heels than to go exploring. It’s easier to regurgitate answers than to ask good questions. It’s easier cling to our beliefs than to hold them with open hands. It’s easier to assume we’re always right than to acknowledge we may be wrong.

I don’t want an easy faith, I want a brave faith.

I want a faith that takes risks, that asks questions, that experiments, that evolves, that thrives amidst change and obeys amidst doubt. I want a faith that engages both my heart and my head, a faith that operates out of love, not fear, a faith that leaps when it needs to and crawls when it has to. I want the kind of faith that moves mountains precisely because it is small: small enough to need, small enough grow, small enough to surrender to a God that is much bigger than it will ever be. I don’t want an easy faith.”

Nor do I … Alan

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A religion of kindness

Quotes by the Dalai Lama …

In our struggle for freedom, truth is the only weapon we possess.

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.

Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.

When you think everything is someone’s else’s fault you will suffer a lot. When you realise that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy.

If you don’t love yourself, you cannot love others. You will not be able to love others. If you have no compassion for yourself then you are not able of developing compassion for others.

Through violence you may ‘solve’ one problem, but you sow the seeds for another.

With these words from the Dalai Lama I think we can safely say that Jesus would have given him a visa into Galilee.


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Be present to the present

My travel diary for the past week or so has been quite hectic. I started out in Port Elizabeth presenting the 2nd Barry Marshall Memorial Lecture. Some of you will remember that Barry, my friend and colleague, died two years ago while surfskiing in Algoa Bay. I spent time with Elaine and felt her pain that doesn’t go away. Oh that God’s promise of comfort may be real for her and all those who grieve. I was also again reminded how unpredictable life can be and that we should treasure each moment.

Then I went to Johannesburg, picked up a car and drove to Ladybrand through the beautiful Bethlehem and Ficksburg rock outcrops (too big to be hills yet too small to be mountains) — grateful for the reminder of God’s solidness.

From Ladybrand I drove to Maseru in Lesotho to attend the Methodist Conference and participate in the Ordination Service. The Presiding Bishop called us to join the “Revolution of Love” — and really, that is what the Gospel is all about. Which begs the question: “When last were we accused of being revolutionaries?” Or is there not enough evidence to make such an accusation?

I then returned to Johannesburg to catch a flight back to Cape Town, only to catch another flight to Port Elizabeth the next day to plan our October Indaba that will involve 250 clergy in discussion and reflection on where we believe God is calling us as a Church. As a Planning Committee we resisted the temptation to have a list of outcomes. Rather we are concentrating on the authenticity of the process by remaining truly present to all the participants — trusting that if our means are authentic so will the ends be. This is really all we can do — remain present to the present moment in grace and truth — and then be attentive and honest about what flows out of that. Anything else is a forced and manipulated agenda.  Alan

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Unhurried listening

I came away from the camp last weekend grateful for the opportunity to connect with people who I see  every week but don’t really know.

It takes time to get to know someone.  Unhurried time to listen and to learn enables understanding and connection.  It therefore stands to reason that it takes time for authentic community to be created. This is a challenging area for our life together at CMM,  because for the overwhelming majority of us we only see each other for an hour-and-a-half on a Sunday morning.  So I remind you of Wednesday Church as another opportunity for us to connect together. This Wednesday we are going to go on a brief walk-about through the city — starting at 7 pm.

Now some of us struggle with our temper and we need help with anger management. Others of us struggle with our passivity. This passivity is often done under the guise of “I am a follower of Jesus and must love everyone and forgive”. I found the following thoughts by my colleague John van de Laar insightful in this regard:

“In my work as a Methodist minister I have seen the lack of response used in relationships as a passive-aggressive strategy to “get under the skin” of a partner or friend. Disengagement gives us the power of control over the relationship, and leaves the other person powerless to make us connect. However, this refusal to engage seldom brings good outcomes. There may be times when it is wise to move away from one another and create space to think about how to respond, but this is not disengagement. It is engagement in a more careful way. When we disengage in order to hurt, manipulate or punish another person, the relationship is always set back, and trust is damaged.”

May God give us insight into ourselves!

Peace, Alan

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There is no rush

 It is a great pleasure to welcome  Beulah Durrheim to CMM this morning.  Beulah will be sharing the Good news today.  I am away (with 70 or so others from the congregation) in Simon’s Town for our annual congregation camp. We will be worshiping this morning with a towering mountain behind us and rolling seas before us and fresh air within us. We will bring pictures to show you next week.

While we are away this weekend our time will be punctuated with prayerful reflection. We will have 6 opportunities of 30 minutes each to sit silently and to practice Sabbath time keeping.

As Wayne Muller writes in There is No Rush:

“The [way] of progress forces us to act  before we are ready. We speak before we know what to say. We respond before we feel the truth of what we know. In the process, we inadvertently create suffering, heaping imprecision upon inaccuracy, until we are all buried under a mountain of misperception.

But Sabbath says, Be still. Stop. There is no rush to get to the end, because we are never finished. Take time to rest, and eat, and drink, and be refreshed. And in the gentle rhythm of that refreshment, listen to the sound the heart makes as it speaks the quiet truth of what is needed.”

Be still. Stop.

Peace, Alan

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