2021 06 20 Alan Storey
This past Sunday we noted that forgiveness is nothing less than an act of resurrection. In short: To forgive is to resurrect. We noted how the story of the forgiven prodigal is framed as a resurrection story: “My child was lost and is found, was dead and is now alive”. To say that we believe in the resurrection while withholding forgiveness is equivalent to saying we love God while hating our sisters and brothers. This makes us liars. [1 John 4:20]
Forgiveness is not only a gift of new life to the forgiven, but also a gift of new life to the forgiver. To forgive another is to be resurrected from our own death that results from us not loving. As we read in 1 John 3:14 “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.” Still further, to forgive someone is to resurrect them from the death of being “dead to us”. Our act of forgiveness brings them alive to us. Alive so we can be for them and no longer against them or indifferent towards them.
These were just two pieces of the forgiveness-jigsaw-puzzle that we mentioned last Sunday. We did not complete the puzzle, I am not sure one ever can, but our hope was to find and place enough pieces of the puzzle to give us a sense of what forgiveness is.
I ran out of time last Sunday to link the Acts 4:32-35 reading to the theme of Forgiveness and Resurrection. This link is crucial if forgiveness is going to be known at societal level. And what society is without sin? The recurring sin of society is the exploitative and exclusive debt economy that eventually makes slaves of the majority of people to sustain a small elite.
Forgiveness as resurrection is made real within society through the implementation of Jubilee. Jubilee is the “every-fifty-years-forgiveness-of-debt” policy. Financial debt. We would prefer forgiveness to leave our finances alone. No wonder we have changed the word “debt” in the Lord’s prayer, to the more general, “trespasses” or “sins”. “Forgive us our debt as we forgive those in our debt”.
Jubilee is a forgiveness-financial-policy of debt cancellation. To the extent that we practice Jubilee is to the extent that we will come alive as a society. If we don’t do so – we abide in death. And this death will eventually swallow us all up. Once again, the first letter of John asks the pointed question: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” [1 John 3:17]. This question is even sharper for us who live in the most unequal country in the world and therefore the country that has the greatest need for Jubilee economics.
The difference of course between forgiving others who have hurt us and practicing forgiveness as Jubilee in a society, is that when we practice Jubilee and cancel the debts of others we do so as those who need forgiveness. We need forgiveness because (even unwittingly) we have benefitted from systems that carry the favour of some at the deathly expense of the many. It matters not whether we like or dislike the systems that benefit us or not. The reading from 1 John 3:17 does not ask us if we designed the system or not. It does not care how hard we have worked for what we have. John simply says that if we have and withhold what we have, while others do not have, then we can’t say that the love of God is in us. As Rabbi Abraham Heschel says: “Some are guilty, but all are responsible”. Practicing Jubilee is “the all” taking responsibility.
A Universal Basic Income Grant is one way in which we can practice Jubilee. It is probably the very least of ways. We could call it “Jubilee lite”. I believe that South Africa’s resurrection depends on it.
There is a lot of information about a Universal Basic Income Grant on the net. Here is an introduction via The Daily Maverick podcast called: Don’t Shoot the Messenger, by Rebecca Davis.
This week’s reading focus for our CMM Chat on Sunday is Genesis 16 and Genesis 21:1-21. It is the harrowing story of Hagar. I invite you to read and re-read this 2-part story.
One of the things we are often reminded about at CMM is how important it is to understand the context of a scripture to understand its meaning. This includes the social, economic and political context of the time as well as the theological context. It also includes being aware of the context of the story within the Scriptures. We noted how important this is to do when we reflected on John 14 a few weeks ago and how it related to the context of Jesus’ last supper and Peter’s bold statement of faithfulness in John 13. All this holds true if we are to understand the stories of scripture more deeply, but this week I would like to ask you to do exactly the opposite.
This week I invite you to divorce the story of Genesis 16 and 21 from the scriptures entirely. Read it simply as a short story in and of itself. I believe that this approach will help us to read the story more honestly.
For it seems to me that some stories within scripture escape a truthful reading precisely because they are located in scripture. What I mean by this is that because they are in scripture, we approach them with a pre-understanding or interpretation that directs our final understanding or interpretation. This pre-understanding causes us to focus on certain aspects of the story while ignoring others. As a result, we raise certain questions and not others. We give certain characters the benefit of the doubt while we come down hard on others. We may brush over some people’s pain and anguish because we are caught up in the bigger story at play. Put simply, we sometimes apply an “end justifies the means” approach to our reading. This is most clearly seen with the dominant interpretation of the crucifixion itself. The bloody horror on Mount Golgotha is sanitised by our pre-understanding / interpretation of the larger story that “God is saving the world”. And if God is busy saving the world then any piece in the salvation puzzle, no matter how gruesome and no matter what ethical questions it raises about the Divine, are unquestioningly accepted for the sake of the final salvation puzzle to be completed. So, questions like what kind of God needs a human sacrifice to save the world are simply not asked.
This sacrificing of the single puzzle piece for the sake of the whole puzzle is what I think often happens with the story of Hagar. Hagar’s horrific treatment by Sarah, Abraham and even God (according to the narrator’s take on God) is ignored or even justified for the sake of the larger puzzle of God’s promise to Sarah and Abraham.
Therefore, I propose we look at the two Hagar pieces of the puzzle, Genesis 16 and 21, on their own. I hope that our sharpened focus will provoke new questions to be asked and emotions to be felt. The ultimate hope is that Hagar will be honoured.
Hagar’s story is a painfully relevant scripture for us to be grappling with at this time. It intersects our own context on multiple fronts: This Sunday is Father’s Day and who can forget the Sunday school song: Father Abraham had many sons…? Abraham as a father of Ishmael and Isaac demand our critique. What does it mean to hold Abraham up as the epitome of faithfulness (Read Hebrews 11:8-18) in the light of his role with Hagar? The patriarchy of Abraham’s times demand we critique the patriarchy of our own times. In recent days we have had a renewed reminder of the horror of violence by men against women and how it continues unceasingly across our land. This intersects with Hagar’s horror. Furthermore, Hagar’s ignored rape anticipates the ignored rape of women through the centuries.
We will discuss together these intersections between this ancient text (short story) and our context on Sunday. I look forward to connecting with you all. If you would like the Zoom Link for the 11h11 CMM Chat please email email@example.com
This evening Bishop Yvette Moses will be delivering her Synod Address live via: Capemethodist Facebook page from 7pm.
Tomorrow the Synod will meet (be it a smaller version) online to complete all essential Synod work. This is going to be a challenge under the circumstances but hopefully we will be able to get everything done.
See you Sunday.
Vandana Shiva: Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Forest
By now you would have heard that President Ramaphosa announced that places of worship may reopen with a limit of 50 people or less when the country moves into Level 3 on 1st June 2020.
I know that we have all missed gathering together during the Covid-19 Lockdown. It will certainly be a wonderful celebration when we do gather together under one roof. I look forward to that day as much as you do, but at CMM we will not be doing so just yet.
At this time, the most Christ-like (life-giving) thing we can do as CMM, is to continue not to gather in person.
There is still much we do not know about Covid-19, but what we do know is that increased gatherings of people, increase the potential for the virus to spread. Therefore, if meeting as a congregation endangers people’s lives, we will not meet. “There is life and death before you, choose life.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).
We are very fortunate not to be faced with the ethical conundrum that many sectors are faced with at the moment. For many the continued Lockdown means economic collapse and family hunger and therefore for them choosing life involves a painfully difficult decision. They are stalked by both disease and hunger. Whatever they decide carries high risk. Therefore, all the more reason why those sectors with less painful choices, make the least risky decisions. Our continued aim is surely to spare the health services as much as we can.
It is worth repeating that we are not deciding whether to open the Church or not. The Church, as a community, was never closed under Lockdown and therefore does not require opening. We are deciding about opening a building and as many have said, we do not need a building to pray or praise.
The question, “is now the time we are reopening CMM?” sounds very much like the question that the disciples asked Jesus in last week’s scripture reading (Acts 1:9). Jesus told them that there were more important things to focus on than dates and times. Instead he invited them to be witnesses to his life-giving ways wherever they were. Similarly, we are invited to witness to justice, mercy and humility wherever we are. When we do this, we are an open church. When we don’t do this, even if the doors of our building are open, we are a closed church.
An open church opens others to life. A small example of this may include CMM’s decision this past week to assist all the traders outside our office block in Church Street to re-open. We will be assisting them with “seed finance” as well as helping them meet the Level 3 regulations. In this regard, let me tell you about Max. Over the years I have watched Max grow his fruit selling business. He began with a few bananas and apples a couple of years ago. As his business has grown, he arrives to set up his stall every morning at around 05h30 and packs up after dark each evening. He is the inspirational epitome of hard work. Just before Lockdown his fruit stall was a beautiful rainbow of nourishing colours shading under two umbrellas. Sadly, fruit doesn’t last too long. Max lost around R6000 of stock due to the Lockdown. Next week we help Max open again. Wherever we are, may we look for opportunities to help people like Max to open again. An open Church opens others to life.
An open Church opens us to the dignity of all. I hope that our very brief experience of not being able to gather together will sensitise us to the pain of those who have seldom experienced the Church as open. To this day LGBQTI people are not fully accepted in many churches. The building is open, but the community is closed, resulting in fearful and closeted Lockdown for years if not forever. An open Church is a radically welcoming community that celebrates the sacred worth of everyone. An open Church opens us to the dignity of all.
Let us reflect more on what it means to be a church that is open. I hope that by using the lens of Pentecost, we can continue this conversation on Sunday at 11h11 during our CMM Chat via zoom. If you would like to be part of this, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org for the link.
This morning a group of us met with the refugees in the Church. The group included the South African Human Rights Commission, Africa Diaspora Forum, More than Peace, The Archbishop of Cape Town and a few Pastors to the refugee community.
The hope was to inform everyone of the discussions that had taken place over the last week that had been facilitated by the South African Human Rights Commission as well for me to request that people begin to vacate the Sanctuary.
The chair of the Human Rights Commission and myself were able to speak to everyone. But when one of the Pastors (known to the refugees) tried to speak – some people refused to allow him to do so and thereafter the Pastor and other members of the above-mentioned group were assaulted.
A semblance of calm was restored with the help of some refugee leaders and many of the refugees intervening to protect people. Thereafter we were able to get members of the group out of the sanctuary into safety. It is very concerning that three people of this group were injured while everyone else is obviously in shock.
The whole situation is very sad and troubling, not only because of where it took place or who was hurt, but because any violence anywhere against anyone is self-defeating. Violence does not solve anything. It just causes more hurt and more problems.
From my previous communications I reiterate our safety and health concerns and I’m continuing to request the refugees to vacate the church with dignity and peace. I call on the relevant agencies to give support.
I call all to be calm. To respect people – even the people who have done this. We will continue to talk. We will continue to expect the best from people. All of us have the ability to be patient and peaceful and I call on all of us to activate that ability now.
15 November 2019
This past week was Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – a time of fasting and repentance within the Jewish faith. During this time two traditional prayers of confession are repeated many times — Al Chet and Ashamnu. Below is an alternate version of Al Chet and Ashamnu for the #MeToo era. The authors invite us to take responsibility for our actions — or inactions — and promise to do better.
For the sin we committed through inappropriate use of power.
For the sin we committed by inappropriate sexual advances.
For the sin we committed by putting people in power without oversight.
For the sin we committed by not taking seriously the complaints of a colleague.
For the sin we committed by not believing victims when they spoke up.
For the sin we committed by not being aware of our own power or privilege when making an advance.
For the sin we committed by pushing forward when we should have waited and listened.
For the sin we committed by believing that sexual victimisation does not happen in the Jewish world.
For the sin we committed in choosing to think a person who is appropriate with us is appropriate with everyone.
For the sin we committed by choosing my own comfort over the safety of others.
For the sin we committed by focusing on my intent rather than my impact.
For the sin we committed by prioritising reputations and money over safety.
For the sin we committed by ignoring sexual victimisation as a problem until #MeToo.
For the sin we committed by performative wokeness.
For the sin we committed by failing to acknowledge my ignorance about sexual victimisation.
For the sin we committed by waiting to stand against a perpetrator until we saw others doing so.
For the sin we committed by making light of victims’ suffering.
For the sin we committed by contributing to rape culture.
For the sin we committed by causing survivors to doubt their truth.
For the sin we committed by misusing Jewish texts to promote silence.
For the sin we committed by not supporting survivors.
For the sin we committed by gaslighting victims and victim advocates.
For the sin we committed by cutting corners in best practice protocols.
For the sin we committed by talking more than listening.
For the sin we committed by prioritising convenience over moral clarity.
For the sin we committed by urging those who have been victimised to forgive, especially before their perpetrator did the hard work of repentance.
For the sin we committed by prioritising some victims’ voices over others. For the sin we committed by requiring vulnerable people to depend on me, rather than investing in the development of healthy, decentralised systems that empower the entire community, and hold us accountable.
For all of these sins, God, help us rectify the evil we have brought about, help us to restore justice through the hard work of repentance. Only then, God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.
~ By Danya Ruttenberg, Shira Berkovits, S. Bear Bergman, Guila Benchimol
We Abused our power, we didn’t Believe survivors, we were Complicit, we Demeaned. We Echoed the majority, we Focused on our own self-interest over safety, we Gave abusers opportunities to further harm, we Humiliated survivors, we Ignored our impact, we Justified inappropriate behaviour. We Kept abusers in power, we Laughed at jokes that supported rape culture, we Marginalised narratives that weren’t easy to digest, we Normalised problematic behaviour, we Ostracised victims, we Participated in the erasure of survivors’ voices. We Questioned survivors’ motivations, we Reinforced harmful myths, we Silenced voices trying to come forward, We Trivialised. We didn’t Use safe protocols, we Violated boundaries, we Waited too long to take action, we eXonerated perpetrators who didn’t repent, we Yielded to our basest impulses, we Zealously defended perpetrators of harm.
~ By Danya Ruttenberg, S. Bear Bergman, Leah Greenblum, Emily Becker, Abby Citrin
The trial of Oscar Pistorius for the killing of Reeva Steenkamp is soon to take over the airwaves. The court will have to decide whether it was murder or an accident.
It is very important to note however that apart from being celebrities, Reeva and Oscar’s story is not unique. Of course we were shocked at the killing but we should not have been surprised. Sadly their story is all too common in this country: A man legally buys a gun to protect himself and those he loves from a stranger/intruder; instead he uses his licensed gun to kill the person he loves.
In 1999, 34% of women murdered by their intimate partner were killed with a gun; in 2009 this figure dropped to 17%. At the same time, the percentage of women killed in other ways (e.g. strangled, stabbed or beaten) remained the same. The researchers at the Medical Research Council assert that the single most important intervention that contributed to halving the number of women shot and killed by their intimate partner was the implementation of the Firearms Control Act (2000).
The Firearms Control Act (2000) protects women from being threatened, injured or killed by a gun owned by their intimate partner. The law limits who can own what gun for which purpose. It excludes anyone who is not ‘fit and proper’.
The Firearms Control Act also allows the police to remove a gun from a legal gun owner if he is not ‘fit and proper’, for example if he:
• Points his gun to threaten or intimidate someone.
• Misuses his gun, for example, by shooting it negligently.
• Handles or shoots his gun while drunk or on drugs.
• Fails to store his gun in a safe.
For the police to take action, someone (the person being threatened or a family member, friend or neighbour) must make a written complaint at their nearest police station, detailing why the gun owner is a risk or how he has abused his gun. By law, the police are required to take action after receiving such a complaint.
The two additional charges laid against Pistorius for the negligent use of a firearm (shooting through the sunroof of a moving car, and accidentally shooting a gun at a restaurant) indicate that he may have flouted the law, and if found guilty, that he was not ‘fit and proper’ to be granted the responsibility of gun ownership.
I urge all of us to use the law to make our country safe from gun violence: If you know anyone who owns a gun and shouldn’t, because he is a threat to the people he loves, I urge you to take action by reporting it to your closest police station.
Gun violence can be prevented. Know the Law. Use the Law. Save a Life.
During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
Let there be justice
We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.
Scroll down for Words of Reflection on Mr Nelson Mandela by both Rev. Dr. Peter Storey and Alan Storey.