Weed, coke with some ice

It is Thursday evening on Human Rights Day at about 10 p.m. and I am standing on Long Street just round the corner from the Church, chatting to a friend. While we are speaking I notice something about some of the people walking past me. You know the feeling when you know you are being looked at? You can feel it. So each time this would occur I would lock eyes with the person looking at me. They did not turn away. Instead their gaze became more intense – like we were playing a game to see who will blink first. Some would just continue looking at me while others would make other facial gestures – raise an eyebrow or nod their head. All making for a rather obvious pick up – except they weren’t trying to pick me up.

They were trying to see if I wanted to purchase some drugs. In the space of my hour conversation on the street there must have been about 10 people trying to get a sale from me. My friend had no clue what was going on – so at one point I indicated to one of the guys that I was interested. He came over and I asked him, “what you got for me?”. He said “weed, coke – some ice”. As simple as that. On telling him that “I would give it a skip tonight”, he proceeded to insist that I take his number – which I did.

A few minutes later we witnessed a Taxi driver vacuum clean some white stuff off the roof of his car with his nose – with an eager seller by his side. A second later he was giving two unsuspecting tourists a lift to their requested destination.

This experience happens every time I am on the street and not only at night. Drug sellers are walking around all the time as easy-going pedestrians. If you don’t know what you’re looking for you will not notice them. They do not carry any drugs on them – so the likelihood of them being caught is minimal. They call someone on the phone – and it is left to be picked up. And besides being difficult to link these guys – everyone knows that if one of them is arrested there are 9 more to replace him within the hour.

Drugs are terror-fying! The tragedy they cause is beyond measure. They are like a suicide bomb, being slowly detonated.

Ripping through an individual’s life and destroying their family and friends and community, at the same time. Every day we have courageous people coming to CMM to battle with their addictions (AA and NA lunchtime meetings) – they need our prayers more than anyone. But what haunted me on Thursday night was that the doors of CMM were closed and I felt quite useless not knowing what to do about it.

CMM is a city Church – a city Sanctuary and yet for the most part we are divorced from this context – oblivious to its existence. This troubles me – for I know that the Gospels tell us that Jesus spent more time on the streets than in the temple.

The recurring thought in my head went something like this: “I do not know what it would mean for our doors to be open but I do know what it means for our doors to be closed.” It sounds like a bit of a riddle I know – but I share it with you nevertheless – maybe we can make sense of it together.

Not unrelated to this I am inspired by Pope Francis who has decided to celebrate his first Maundy Thursday next week by washing inmates’ feet at a mass at Rome’s Casal del Marmo Juvenile Detention Centre. The Vatican said, “In his ministry as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) used to celebrate this mass in a prison or hospital or home for the poor.” Traditionally the Last Supper mass takes place at the church of St. John Lateran, a former papal palace. The decision to celebrate such an important Holy Week mass at a juvenile hall is in keeping with the themes of humility and simplicity struck early on in his week-old papacy. “If the ministry of the Bishop of Rome also implies power,” said Francis in his inaugural mass on Tuesday, “let us never forget that real power is in serving others, and that even the pope, in order to exercise power, must always enter into that service, which has its shining summit on the cross. “He must welcome with warmth and tenderness all of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, and the smallest. “Those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or in jail”.

What power there is in moving from a papal palace to a prison to wash feet and share bread. It is a Jesus move if I have ever seen one. So after our Maundy Service this Thursday – with our feet still wet and our lips still sweet having shared bread and juice together, we will go out onto the streets and offer to wash people’s feet and share Holy Communion with them. From sanctuary to the streets …

May God enlarge our love for this journey. Alan

Leaving this home

Two weeks ago I bought some new plants for my garden. In the hope of harvesting another crop of lettuce and tomatoes before winter, I decided that I would not plant from seed, but rather that I would buy seedlings from the nursery.

You know they come in those black plastic egg-box-like-containers. To get the seedlings out is not pretty. To press the plastic from underneath sometimes works but I find most often the plastic breaks and I end up having to stick my fingers into the 2 cm x 2 cm surrounding soil. I squeeze and squash the poor little thing out of its tiny home. Sometimes the soil breaks off exposing its naked roots.

As I was re-potting the seedlings into their new-larger-fertilised-homes I wondered if they thought I was hurting them or being kind to them. Realising that my act of kindness looked and perhaps even felt suspiciously destructive.

This then got me thinking about death and Resurrection and the leaving of this home we call earth.

The Resurrection invites us to trust that when we die, the One who has loved us from the beginning is re-potting us into a newly furnished home where we will be able to grow and flourish more fully.

Peace, Alan

Shocking but not surprising

The death of Jesus was shocking but it was not surprising. Jesus himself told us it was coming. How did he know? No, he didn’t need a heavenly angel to tell him — it was just common sense. Put simply: everything he said and did challenged the status quo and threatened those with a vested interest in it.

Jesus is crucified in Mark 15 but as early as Mark 3 people have started plotting his death — all because he healed someone with a withered hand in the Synagogue and on the Sabbath. Why did they want to kill him? Because Jesus threatened the dominant religion that was based on “who is in and who is out”. A childish and dangerous distinction that Jesus kept turning on its head — basically saying that the only people who are “out” are those who think others are out. To live a life of radical inclusion in a world that is increasingly exclusive and divided is eventually going to draw fire.

Jesus also spoke out against the rich, comparing them to fat camels, and the rich have the greatest investment in the status quo. He ‘occupied’ the temple reclaiming it as a place for “all” cleansing it from exploitation. He also mocked the blue-light-rulers of his day arriving on his donkey and spoke persuasively about a tax system that honoured God’s image above Caesar’s.

Now you don’t do all these things and live to tell the tale — well he does — but not before he has been killed.

Jesus’ death was shocking but it was not surprising.

We honour his death by imitating his life and not by singing hymns about his death. We gather here this morning not so much to worship Jesus but to be reminded that we must worship him — and we do this best by imitating him in and through every aspect of our living. Now I know it is shocking but don’t be surprised when we too are rejected, pierced and crucified — for “disciples are above their master”.


God suffers too

This Holy Week we will be reflecting on various aspects of suffering, not least the suffering of God. Our reflections will take place from 7 p.m. each evening starting tonight, with the movie called Of God’s and Men.

On Thursday night we will listen to Mark’s account of Jesus’ Passion as we celebrate Holy Communion and participate in washing one another’s feet around the Tenebrae. Thursday evening will also include the beautiful singing of Taizé prayers.

“To be human is to suffer, and God knows that. That is why God suffers too. Suffering is where God and human beings meet. It is the one place where all persons — kings, priests, paupers, and prostitutes — recognise themselves as frail and transient human beings, in need of God’s saving love. Suffering brings us closer to God, and God closer to us. Suffering, despite all its inhumanity and cruelty, paradoxically enables humans to long for humanity, find it, treasure it, and defend it with all their might.” ~ C. S. Song.

Peace, Alan