Jesus first

Focus more time and energy on what we are for
than on what we are against.

Today is Christ the King Sunday — it is also the last Sunday of the Christian year. This is perfectly appropriate for it reminds us where all of time is headed as well as the purpose of our year-in and year-out living — putting Jesus first in all things. As the author of Colossians puts it: “Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created though him and for him … so that he may come to have first place in everything.” (Col 1:15-16 and 18).

I was listening to a preacher the other day that left me feeling very perturbed. The sermon was saturated with devil talk — even though the text made no mention of the devil (in fact very few do!). I was hearing more about the devil than I was about Jesus.

Aldous Huxley — of Brave New World fame wrote a book called, The Devils of Loudun. This 1952 non-fiction novel is a historical narrative of supposed demonic possession, religious fanaticism, sexual repression, and mass hysteria which occurred in 17th century France surrounding unexplained events that took place in the small town of Loudun.

This is what Huxley says:
The effects which follow too constant and intense a concentration upon evil are always disastrous. Those who crusade not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes even perceptively worse than it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself, (p.192)…

No man can concentrate his attention upon evil, or even upon the idea of evil, and remain unaffected. To be more against the devil than for God is exceedingly dangerous. Every crusader is apt to go mad. He is haunted by the wickedness which he attributes to his enemies; it becomes in some sort a part of him. (p 260)

On this Christ the King Sunday we are reminded to put Jesus first in everything we think, say and do as our years focus. To focus more on what we are “for” than on what we are “against”. This will protect us from focusing too much on others and not enough on our own need for transformation. It may also prevent us from being perpetual faultfinders with nothing better to do than issue complaints. Even if our complaints have some validity it is tiring to be in the presence of one who only ever finds fault.

As our New Year begins next week — on the first Sunday of Advent may our default stance be for Jesus. What does it mean to be for Jesus? It means to be for what he was for. To be for: truth, gentleness, forgiveness, generosity, compassion for the vulnerable, to live lives of prayer, peace, joy and justice etc. This stance for Jesus is the most faithful way we can prepare for his birth among us.

An Alcohol-Free December

Why an alcohol-free December? Well why not?

Alcohol is very very expensive! I am not referring to the cost in Rand terms — although this is no small amount. I am referring to its cost in relationships and ruined lives. So many arguments, ugliness, child neglect and abuse, fights, killings, road accidents … you name it … are all exacerbated by alcohol.

For those of us who struggle with addiction December is one of the most difficult months and it would be great to know that others are FASTING in SOLIDARITY with us.

Peace, Alan

Mindfulness

Thích Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist. He lives in the Plum Village Monastery in the Dordogne region in the South of France.

Below follows Thích Nhat Hanh’s Five Mindfulness Trainings which represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair.

Remember the first key (Manna and Mercy) of Christian interpretation is to ask: “Would Jesus say amen to this?” I invite you to hold this question as you read through these Five Mindfulness Trainings…

The Five Mindfulness Trainings
1. Reverence For Life
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

2. True Happiness
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

3. True Love
Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

4. Loving Speech and Deep Listening
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

5. Nourishment and Healing
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

By: Thích Nhat Hanh | www.plumvillage.org

Look and listen for Jesus on our streets

This plaque commemorates the first church radio broadcast in South Africa and took place in the CMM Sanctuary on 25 January 1925.

The plaque pictured above and which hangs in our “Time Tunnel”, is an amazing inspiration. I love it. It reminds us that the Methodist Church back in the day was at the cutting edge of technology for the sake of the gospel. It speaks of an imaginative people daring to do something which had never been done before – “to get the sound of the gospel out”. This is not only a challenge to this congregation but to the Methodist Church as a whole – as we easily get stuck in the way we do things.

Think back over the last 30 years. How has the way we worship on a Sunday changed? By and large what we do on a Sunday today we did in 1980. Yet in this time almost everything in the world has changed. Or if it has not changed, it has died.

Think about music for a moment, or at least the medium by which music comes to us. Vinyls have been replaced by tape cassettes and cassettes have been replaced by CDs and CDs have been replaced by MP3 players and MP3 players have been replaced by iPods, etc. All this has taken place in the last 30 years. Oh, people still listen to Beethoven and even Abba (Lord have mercy!) but the method people use to listen to the music has changed. It has changed so much that many teenagers of today would not know how to work a record player.

The other night some of us went onto Long Street to share Holy Communion. It was like going out with a vinyl into an iPod listening world – very few people knew what we were doing. Only a handful had any semblance of a record player to play our record and hear its song.

We do not need to change the music. The music of Abba Father’s Love will always be the top tune, but we need to be more imaginative and daring in how we let the tune go out of this place.

On 8 and 15 May we will go out on Long Street to look and listen (yes I know that is the name of a music store – quite appropriate) and learn where we are. What kind of neighbourhood do we live in and most importantly who are our neighbours?

We will look for signs of life and signs of death. We will be attentive to areas of pain and hope. We will look for Jesus on the streets and in the bars – remembering that the resurrected Jesus has wounds fresh and large – large enough for us to put our hands in his side. We will meet in the sanctuary at 7 p.m. and be finished by 9:30 p.m.

Grace, Alan

PS: Today’s service is being recorded by the SABC and will be broadcasted on SAFM Radio next Sunday at 11 a.m.

 

The cross of truth and grace

Our Holy Week reflections began with the showing of Incendies on Palm Sunday. The movie took us to the awe-full intersection of truth and grace. Both a terrible place and an inspiring place.

In Incendies a mother is tortured by her own son – though he knows not that she is his mother. He comes to this truth after her death when he is delivered two letters from her.

The first letter is addressed to him as her torturer. The second letter is addressed to him as her son. He is not one or the other – he is both. He is both at one and the same time. That is the truth of the matter. That is the grace of the matter. It is an awe-full intersection. A painful joy.

Letter to the Torturer

I’m shaking as I write.
I recognised you.
You didn’t recognise me.
It’s magnificent, a miracle.
I am your Number 72.
Our children will deliver this.
You won’t recognise them, for they are beautiful.
But they know who you are.
Through them, I want to tell you that you are still alive.
Soon you will turn silent … I know.
For all are silent before the truth.
Signed: Whore 72

Letter to the Son

I speak to the son, not the torturer.
Whatever happens, I’ll always love you.
I promised you that when you were born, my son.
Whatever happens, I’ll always love you.
I looked for you all my life.
I found you.
You couldn’t recognise me.
You’ve a tattoo on your right heel.
I saw it. I recognised you.
You are beautiful.
I wrap you in tenderness, my love.
Take solace, for nothing means more than being together.
You were born of love.
So your brother and sister were born of love, too.
Nothing means more than being together.
Your mother,
Nawal Marwan.
Prisoner No. 72

Today more than any other day we are drawn to the awe-full intersection – the awe-full cross of truth and grace. The truth of our skill to torture – our capacity to crucify. The grace of “whatever you do to me – I will always love you… nothing means more than being together”.

Let us keep company with each other today – in this awe-full place.

With grace and truth, Alan

We are here to give life

This graphic can be applied to so many scenarios –
public or private – personal or political.

 Where do we give power to others to have power over us?

 

Being part of a city church has its challenges. For one thing most of us come from out of town – some travelling long and expensive distances each week. Sunday is the only time many of us ever see each other – and for much of that Sunday-time we are sitting silently, so at best we may briefly connect with the persons in our immediate vicinity before or after the service and that’s it. Take away tea/coffee after the service and our time with each other is even shorter. This makes the forming of authentic community difficult. As I said, a city church has its challenges.

Since we replaced the Wednesday Jesus School with the Sunday Lenten Learning I have felt the distance between Sundays more acutely. Even though there weren’t a lot of us attending Jesus School – it was an opportunity to meet some “Sunday folk” during the week. I miss it.

I have the privilege of observing all the unique groups of people that are connected to CMM in some shape or form. My sadness is that too few others get to see this wide angle perspective into CMM’s life.

So, just as I share who we are and what we do as a Sunday community with people during the week who ask, “Do you still operate as a church?” I would like to share with you some of the things that happen in and through CMM during the week.

Jesus came to give life and as Church we are his body – so we are here to give life. This should be the measure of everything we do. One way we live out this belief is that we make this building available for any and all who are bringing life to this broken world. Especially NGOs who can’t afford a venue of this size – we share it for free – it makes a whole lot more gospel-sense than the building standing empty. So over the past few weeks:

A new social movement was launched in this sanctuary – calling for transparency in party political funding. The pews were packed with young people learning what it means to live in a democracy as active citizens.

Later the same evening we hosted 300 cyclists after the Moonlight Mass city cycle ride offering 300 free cupcakes and selling coffee and homemade lemonade. Why? Because this is our neighbourhood and we want to show support for things going on in this neighbourhood – especially that which foster community and encourage healthy greener living. We also do it to break down the stereotypes that so many people have of church today. Our hospitality disrupts the false secular and sacred divide. We don’t do it to “bait people”. We simply offer them something fun and lovely for free… sounds like the gospel doesn’t it? Can we do more to engage these people with the good news of God’s world-mending love – for sure, but not before opening our doors in generous and genuine welcome.

We made space available to Green Renaissance which is an NGO focused on making environmental movies that inspire people to respect and care for creation. Creation being the priceless artwork of our creator God. They invited speakers to share about sustainable living and inspired people to “farm their city”.

CMM is not only a place of fun and celebration – it is also a place that engages suffering and holds pain. A memorial service was held for the woman who was killed as a result of highjackers who jumped a traffic light fleeing from the police. The service was arranged for work colleagues who needed a place to collectively share their grief. They were not members in the traditional sense of the word – they were members in the far more true sense of the word – they were family members.

Then on International Women’s Day in the pouring rain this sanctuary was filled with banners and placards. From the pulpit we heard an Imam pray and a Rabbi lament. We heard the courage of a rape survivor and raised a yellow banner in solidarity.

Every Sunday evening (18:00 – 19:30) the Good Hope Metropolitan Community Church enjoys a sense of belonging and freedom in worship in this sanctuary – a gift of hospitality in a Church that is more often hostile towards gay, lesbian and transgender people. On Tuesdays during lunchtime our sister congregation meets to pray and praise. While everyday the most courageous people of all gather together to covenant with each other to walk another day dry – sober – holding the hand of their higher power.

And in between all these events – people come and go – some take photos and leave while others sit and contemplate – pray and weep. Some have business meetings sipping heavenly coffee and eating wicked cupcakes – while others come asking for a “Stop Hunger Now” food pack. While still others come just to dip their fingers in the cool waters of baptism and cross themselves –”In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”.

My best is overhearing Sharon or Ken call people by their names – because in those moments I know that even though I often feel unsure of what we should be doing in this place – and question whether we are partnering God in any meaningful way – I know that at least that person knows that they are known – and in a big busy city where loneliness is an epidemic – we will never be able to measure the healing power of being called by our name.

With appreciation of the rich diversity of CMM, Alan.

Suffocating sadness

Last week’s sermon entitled: Suicide — When Sadness Suffocates is up on our website: www.cmm.org.za. The sermon by no means covers all that could or should be said about such tragedy, but the hope is that it will nudge us towards a less judgmental and more compassionate place of understanding. Here is a brief summary:

  • Suicide is not the unforgiveable sin.
  • Suicide does not defeat God.
  • Suicide is most often the result of an illness called depression.
  • Suicide is often done as an act of love — thinking it will free others of the burden that one feels one has become.
  • Suicide causes immeasurable pain and grief (and guilt) for the living.
  • Suicide may end the physical pain, but I wonder when we meet Jesus face-to-face whether we will be invited by him to deal with all the unresolved areas of our lived life.
  • Suicide highlights the need for all of us to be sensitive and available to each other to listen.
  • Suicide highlights that we are (+) powerless to change/cause/control another person’s life.
  • Prayer, medication, counselling/therapy, diet, exercise, all can contribute to healing.

Suicide is not a desire to die so much as a fervent wish not to go on living.

In the light of this darkness I remind you of the promise-filled road to Emmaus that we walked three weeks ago: • Jesus meets us on the road paved with pain • Jesus comes to us even before we invite him • Jesus’ presence is not dependent on our ability to see him • Jesus has already defeated what has defeated us • Our eyes are open to Jesus among us when we do the Word.

I pray that these promises will pull us through the pain, Alan

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