Grieving communities

“The theologian Karl Barth once remarked,
“God is so unassuming in the world,” which may be the only way
those who grieve experience the presence of God. Nobody’s grief is characterised by sudden movements or dramatic reversals.
Grief does not “break” like a fever.” ~ Richard Lischer

 

On Thursday I attended a meeting at the Church of Reconciliation in Manenberg. Faith leaders and civil society groups were addressed by Fr. Donovan and other community leaders about the gang violence in the area. The complex web of interlinked causes was despairingly heavy to hold.

A trauma counsellor spoke of how in the upcoming school holidays they will take 120 learners out of Manenberg for trauma counselling.  She said, “But when we ask principals to send us learners who are traumatised the principal says, ‘take everyone in my school’, so we have to limit it to the extremely traumatised.”  In the recent exams used to evaluate schools (for future state support and funding) teachers have noted that learners cannot concentrate for longer than four minutes, “so how is this going to affect the schools in the future?”.  While listening to the trauma counsellor all I could think of was that she herself was traumatised and should be booked off, but instead she will be with the “extremely traumatised.” In this context there is no such thing as “post traumatic”, only “continuous traumatic”.

Another leader responded to the suggestion about “getting together to talk” with, “but what if they don’t know how to express their emotions?  On a scale of 0-10 the anger levels are at 9.9.  All you have to do is look at someone in the wrong way and it can trigger off a fight. We need to be taught how to express ourselves without violence. We have to be taught how to channel our anger.” He spoke about how some school playing areas have been re-fenced and in the process made smaller, “so now if there  is no room for them to kick a ball — who’re they going to kick?” And what is one meant to do with the staggering figure of over 60% learner dropout in some schools — especially grades 5 through 9?

We heard how the gangs have divided the community but were also told in no uncertain terms how the faith communities don’t help matters because of how divided they are themselves. We learnt how some faith communities bury their heads in the sand while others take sides in the conflict.

What should haunt us is the fact that if even a tiny proportion of the violence in Manenberg (and other areas) had taken place in one of the table-mountain-hugging-suburbs it would have resulted in a national emergency. How violence is seen to be “normal” in some areas is for us to shamefully confess.

As the depths of deathliness was being shared with us — I noticed the banner on the wall above where we were sitting. It read: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you”. So aware of our own powerlessness this was a welcome word. And when I think about it I already saw hints of the Spirit’s empowering in the fiery passion of a community leader deeply ‘in love with’ and ‘in grief for’ his community and his powerful refusal to settle for what is instead of for what should be.

Grace, Alan

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 Palestinian Poet, Remi Kanazi, on tour in South Africa

Remi Kanazi is a New York-based Palestinian poet, spoken-word artist, activist and author who is a guest of the Tri Continental Film Festival (TCFF) and whose work includes being the Author of Poetic Injustice: Writings on Resistance and Palestine (2011), and Editor of The Anthology of Hip-Hop, Poets for Palestine (2008). He will be in Cape Town on Heritage Day.

Date & Time: 24 September at 18:00

What: Poetry Session

Where: Lookout Hill, Khayelitsha, Cape Town

Directions: Head towards airport along N2, take Mew Way off-ramp from N2, turn right at the top of the off-ramp (to go over the bridge) you will come to a set of robots at the entrance to Khayelitsha, continue until you reach four way stop, turn left into Spine Road, on the right hand-side is the destination (Lookout Hill yellow-brownish face brick complex with a City of Cape Town logo.)

Hosts: Open Shuhada Street South Africa

Contact: 082 042 6120

Cost: Free

Twitter hashtags: @OpenShuhada #RemiKanazi #Palestine

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/643700918988157/

For more information: Luzuko Pupuma on 021 423 3089 / 081 504 4970 / e-mail:mteekayo@gmail.com

A harbour in a storm

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) doesn’t work for everybody,
but when it does, it can be transformative.
Members receive tokens to mark periods of sobriety,
from 24 hours to one month to 55 years.

Photo: Todd Tankersley

 

To us in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) Central Methodist Mission (CMM) has for long not just been a church, but it is also our trusted landlord and a harbour in a storm. The Sixth Tradition of AA and NA states that we are not allowed to “endorse, finance, or lend the AA or NA name to any related facility or outside enterprise”. This is to ensure that we are not diverted from our primary purpose, which is to carry our message to the alcoholic or addict who still suffers.

Despite this formal Lessor-Lessee arrangement we have with CMM, there is also a much deeper emotional connection. For many years now, the Ubuntu Room upstairs has been a safe harbour in the wild storms of life for many AA and NA members. Every weekday during lunch time, individuals from every walk of life meet upstairs to help each other stay clean and sober. What a wonderful feeling to know that there is one place, in the heart of Cape Town, where we are safe from the turmoil of living life on life’s terms. For people who have struggled to fit in with normal society for most of our lives, it is a refreshing change to always be welcome in the sanctuary of CMM.

I have never entered this building, without being greeted with a warm smile and even a loving hug when I looked as if I needed it. The smell of freshly brewing coffee and the bright tables and chairs of Heaven, make us feel even more at home and contribute significantly to the serenity we so seek and need.

We are truly grateful, to all of you for welcoming us in your midst and in your hearts and making it so much easier to carry our message to the still suffering.

Peace from all of us at AA & NA

Who takes care of us when God goes on holiday?

During a recent lesson series in Sunday School,
the children explored the healing hands of Jesus and
also how they could use their hands in the service of Jesus.
Drawing their own hands helped the children explore the possibilities.

 

Some of you may recall a programme “Children say the Darndest Things”, aired on Springbok Radio on a Saturday morning. We would interpret that as “out of the mouths of babes”.

Through Bible stories I have read to our children over the past three years, these are some of their questions and comments:

The Bible says Sunday is a day of rest, so why do we come to Sunday School on a Sunday?

Instead of letting people die and making new ones, why doesn’t God just keep the ones he’s got?

Is God really invisible? I think he just likes playing ‘hide and go seek’ with us.

How does God know he is God and who made him?

Who takes care of us when God goes on holiday?

These are profound questions that only God can answer and interacting with these little ones can be both joyful and challenging. Their view of life is uncomplicated and simplistic and is it fascinating to observe and listen to their thought processes and what delights their curious minds. They live ‘in the moment’, where the small stuff of only the “Now” matters.

Children are a reminder that to view life through their eyes is to see a beautiful, colourful world, devoid of angst and lived with joy and a sense of wonder. Sadly, this is not the reality for many children in our society today.

For those in my care on a Sunday morning, it remains humbling to help them grow in the grace of Jesus, and they keep me focused on the God of the Small Stuff.

Grace and peace,
Malia Parker (Sunday School Co-ordinator)

Called to something smaller

This past week I have been in Belhar attending the 184th Synod of the Cape of Good Hope District.

Amongst other things, Synod is the body that reminds me of my calling as well as holding me accountable. While reflecting on our ordination vows we reflected on the following words from Methodist Church of Singapore’s Ordination Liturgy:

Called to Something Smaller

We are not ordaining you to ministry; that happened at your baptism.

We are not ordaining you to be a caring person; you are already called to that.

We are not ordaining you to serve the Church in committees, activities, organisation; that is already implied in your membership.

We are not ordaining you to become involved in social issues, ecology, race, politics, revolution, for that is laid upon every Christian.

We are ordaining you to something smaller and less spectacular: to read and interpret those sacred stories of our community, so that they speak a word to people today; to remember and practice those rituals and rites of meaning that in their poetry address human beings at the level where change operates; to foster in community through word and sacrament that encounter with truth which will set men and women free to minister as the body of Christ.

We are ordaining you to the ministry of the word and sacraments and pastoral care. God grant you grace not to betray but uphold it, not to deny but affirm it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Below is a letter addressed to the Editor of the Cape Times in response to the article that appeared in the Cape Times on 22 May 2013:

Dear Editor: (Cape Times)
Your Wednesday, 22nd headline, Lesbian pastor vs church refers:
As a former leader of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA) I grieve to see a great Christian denomination, with a strong record of witness for compassion and justice, brought to this. Had the matter been handled with more care and wisdom in the councils of the church, it would not today be in a secular court.
It is important, however, to emphasise that the MCSA is not united on this issue. A growing body of Methodist clergy and laity fully support Rev Ecclesia de Lange’s right – and the right of other gay and lesbian persons  to marry the person of their choice, and are working for change. Far from being in conflict with our Christian convictions, we regard this as a further necessary step in the Spirit’s work of breaking down barriers of prejudice that have stood too long. We are not without sympathy for conservative members in the church who struggle to come to terms with new insights into human sexuality, because old teachings and attitudes die hard. But those teachings and attitudes have inflicted such cruelty, pain and exclusion on gay and lesbian persons that they cannot be justified on the basis of a few Biblical proof-texts. The Charter of Compassion is right: for all religions, ‘any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate.’
I am confident that the MCSA will become an open and including church, honouring the love of gay and lesbian persons and blessing their unions. The journey to openness, however, just as with the struggle against racism, will not be easy. With that struggle the MCSA and other faith communities gave moral leadership in resisting injustice. On this issue we lag sadly behind secular institutions and the Constitution of this country. I can only hope that this court case will help, rather than hinder the road to true inclusiveness.
Rev Prof Peter Storey

Peace and grace to you, Alan

We, the people

Do you remember that day? That day when we stood in the longest of queues as if we were entering the holy of holies, knowing that what we were about to do was of sacramental significance — consecrated by the courage, blood and prayers of too many people to name.

On that day of new beginnings it was as if God said again: “Let there be light — and there was light.” We were separated from the darkness and given light to recognise each other as the gifts of God that we all are. Now as this light flickers vulnerably in the encroaching breeze of secrecy, I invite you to return to the Light-shining words of our Constitution’s Preamble:

We, the people of South Africa:
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to ­
Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

As with the liberation of the Hebrews of old, 27 April 1994 was a watershed day for our beloved country. We stood on dry land with the ocean of oppression behind us and the uncharted sea of promise before us. To the extent that we remember God’s deliverance in our past is to the extent that we will be set free to trust God’s promise of service delivery in our future.

May be never forget.

In hope, Alan.

Our Deepest Fear

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
Nelson Mandela

Each year at this time we are reminded of the fact that one person can indeed make a difference. To me, this poem by Marianne Williamson (and often quoted by Dr Nelson Mandela), clearly encourages us to have faith in the faithfulness of God and become the person Jesus longs for each one of us to be.

I am grateful that Madiba had the courage to stand up and shine and manifest the glory of God that is within him, regardless of the consequences.

Our Deepest Fear

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,
but that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the
glory of God within us.
It is not just in some; it is in everyone.

And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give
other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

May each one of us be liberated from our deepest fear!

Grace & Peace, Adrienne

Create a new future

My travels are enriching as always. The paradox of seeing home more clearly the further away I am from home never ceases to surprise me. To enter into the lives of others in different places doing different things fascinates me.

In Belfast you can’t help notice the huge wall murals/paintings that litter the community. Most of them that I saw were by paramilitary organisations vowing never to forget those who have been killed during the “troubles”. They can be quite threatening like this one …

Another — painted adjacent to the East Belfast Mission where I was visiting was different. This one invited our memory to create a new future instead of holding us captive to it.

Really when it comes down to it, all of us have to make a choice which wall mural we will honour.

Grace, Alan

Everybody matters

 This past week I have been in Wales sharing Manna and Mercy at the Pastor’s School of the United Reformed Church of Wales. It is the first time Manna and Mercy is being presented in Europe. On this trip I will not only be doing Manna and Mercy but training others, especially pastors, to use the material in their own ministries. See: www.urc-wales.org.uk

For those of you who do not know, Manna and Mercy is an artistic paraphrase of the whole Bible focusing on the main themes of Jesus’ ministry — namely “daily bread” and “mercy”. It is written by Daniel Erlander. See: www.danerlander.com

Today I am preaching at East Belfast Mission. A Methodist Church based on the Newtownards Road in Ballymacarret, an area of social and economic deprivation with high levels of unemployment, ill-health and paramilitary influences. Rated as the fifth most deprived ward of the 566 wards in Northern Ireland, the area has a particularly high incidence of unemployment with many individuals excluded from the labour market through unemployment, disability or ill health. They employ 70 people with over 100 active volunteers. See: www.ebm.org.uk and www.skainos.org

Their mission is nothing less than the transformation and renewal of East Belfast, by offering hope and a future to all those in need in the inner city, regardless of background or belief. They believe that everybody matters. It has been said of the East Belfast Mission congregation that ‘they’d let anyone in there’. I love it!!

Peace, Alan

When tragedy dwarfs words

Some weeks are soaked in sadness. When words are dwarfed by tragedy. When feelings shut down because they fear to feel too much. When meaning evaporates without a trace. When answers give way to questions and questions don’t make sense to ask. This past week felt like that for me.

Last Sunday I heard that Zviko (the caretaker at Calvary Methodist Church — and he really is a “care-giver”) was gruesomely stabbed in the neck during the early morning Sunday service. He is still in ICU (stable) but every day that passes gives us hope that he will recover — although for at least 24 hours we were not so sure he would.

I ask you to pray for that community who are deeply traumatised.

What makes the attempted murder of Zviko even more distressing is that I know the person who did it. In fact he has been worshipping, on and off over the past two years, here at CMM. I helped him with transport to get home to Lesotho two weeks ago. I knew he was not completely well in his mind, but I never ever thought he would be violent in any way. He is now in prison (unstable) and every day that passes I know he will be further traumatised.

I ask you to pray for him — O Lord have mercy.

On Wednesday I received the tragic news about Rev. Dr. Ross Olivier’s (the previous General Secretary of the Methodist Church of SA and present head of the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary) death. In the darkness of his depression he took his own life. An enormously gifted minister — everything he touched turned to be a sign of the Kingdom of God — through his words I, and so many others, heard the Words of God.

I ask you to pray for Shayne and the boys and all the seminarians.

O Lord, grant us your peace, Alan

 Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus — the one who understands our suffering.

 And also with you.

O Lord — you were once locked in a tomb — dead and buried. Some of us here have recently breathed in the cold air of death and the stale air of despair.

 Breathe on us Holy Spirit the breath of life.

 O Lord — light of the world — you who experienced darkness at noon. Some of us here stumble in the night.

 Lord the darkness is as light to you. May your light fall gently on our path.

O Lord — you who once cried out in prayerful abandonment — pinned down by wickedness on all sides. Some of us here groan silently, unable to even pray.

 Hear the groans of your people — receive them as our prayers of longing to have our voices returned and our lives resurrected.

 Amen.

 Amen.

A time to reflect

For a number of years I have kept a little notebook full of quotes and poems, etc. that I find interesting/meaningful from the books and articles I read. Here are a few for you to reflect on:

it takes courage to grow up
and become who you really are.
e. e. cummings

To go into the dark with a light
is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark;
go without sight.
And find that the dark, too,
blooms and sings
and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings.
Wendell Berry

I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.
Dorothy Day

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer — it sings because it has a song.
Maya Angelou

Creativity is the residue of time wasted.
Einstein

Necessity urges us to pray for ourselves — Love compels us to pray for others.
John Chrysostom

The Church is called to be today what the world is called to be ultimately.
John-Howard Yoder

Although the world is full of suffering it is also full of overcoming it.
Anon

Be persuaded timid soul, that God has loved you too much ever to cease loving you.
Francois Fenelon

Peace, Alan