Grow to live in the light of Saints

Sunday’s Sermon:

2020 11 01 Alan Storey: Living with the light of Saints
[Psalm 34; Revelation 7:9-17; Matthew 5:1-12; 1 John 3:1-3]



Friends

Last Saturday I attended the Grow to Live Workshop at the Soil for Life Resource Centre in Constantia. The workshop bio says: “Directly, or indirectly, all food comes from the soil. Today soils are tired, overworked, depleted, sick and poisoned by synthetic chemicals. The quality of our food has suffered and so has our health. All life will be healthy or unhealthy according to the fertility of the soil. Since soil is the basis for all human life, our only hope for a healthy world rests on re-establishing the harmony in the soil.”

Soil for Life is a public benefit organisation that teaches people how to grow their own food, improve their health and well-being, and nurture and protect the environment.

Soil for Life believes that “EVERYONE has the potential to grow nutritious food with whatever resources they have available. Since we started in 2002 we have helped thousands of people in resource-poor communities to develop productive and sustainable home food gardens”.

I can testify that just being in the abundantly luscious garden made me feel more alive. The connection with everything living was obvious. I think I even heard the food growing.

There was so much to learn and now so much to practice. There was a time when everyone grew their own food. The awareness of feeling more alive made me realise just how detached I am from what gives me life. Why was I not taught this at school when I was growing up? Seems crazy that it wasn’t on the syllabus year in and year out!

 

Please consider supporting this LIFE-GIVING work. I hope you will visit Soil for Life especially if you have not done so already. You can buy your vegetables from them and support their valuable training programmes.

 

Grace,
Alan

PS: For Zoom link for Sunday’s service please email welcome@cmm.org.za

Taxes and Death

2020 10 18  Alan Storey : Taxes and Death
[Psalm 99; Matthew 22:15-22]

 

Friends,

This Sunday we will reflect on Jesus being questioned about paying taxes to the emperor. It is a topical issue at the moment. In South Africa we are faced with daily revelations of state / private corruption that detail the squandering of State collected taxes. Taxes meant to be spent for the public good have instead been criminally syphoned off for private gain. Further afield we learn of a president who routinely boasts of how wealthy he is and yet shamelessly withholds paying taxes. Sunday’s reflection: Taxes and Death.

Please read Psalm 99 and Matthew 22:15-22 in preparation for Sunday.

Sunday’s service will take place via zoom at 10am.

Email: welcome@cmm.org.za for the zoom link.

 

American Authoritarianism

Now for a few thoughts regarding more broadly what I see taking place in the States at this time. I share this with the hope that we will be reminded of some crucial lessons from our own history as well as to draw attention to the disturbing up-swing of authoritarian regimes and populous demagogues around the world.

Using Scripture as the lens to focus our thoughts, in this case, specifically Exodus 1:8-22 and Isaiah 59: 1-16a. Rather than use scripture in a “proof text” or “literal / fact based” kind-of-way, I will try to unearth and be guided by the archetypal truth embedded within the given narrative. In this way the ancient text enlightens our present context and our present context informs our understanding of the text. Meaning moves both ways.

The book of Exodus is the story of a slave people taking the gap … to freedom. It was so impossible that it was compared to sneaking through an ocean split dry. This great escape includes moments so unforeseen that the only word in human vocabulary to be able to describe it was a “miracle”. Even the secular press turned to this word for help when they ran out of all others to describe the event – which itself was another miracle.

We turn to the text to guide us:

“Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ 11Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labour. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labour. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them. [Exodus 1:8-14]

We read, “… a new king of Egypt who did not know Joseph”. How strange? How could that be possible that one be so forgetful? What terror-ble amnesia! This new king must have either been so narcissistic that there was no room within his heart to remember anyone but himself, or it was a profound act of wilful-forgetfulness. Forgetful of Joseph is a proxy for being forgetful of YHWH. When one is forgetful of the Ultimate One then one is inclined to exaggerate one’s own sense of self. This forgetful king thus had no reason to be humble. His forgetfulness made him accountable to none and to live in steadfast service of himself.

We read this forgetful king was also fearful. Now just as love casts out fear, so fear casts our love. A fear-full leader is therefore a love-less leader. A love-less leader is a terror. Not surprising then that he would soon be signing off executive decisions that dealt with people “shrewdly”, “ruthlessly” and murderously.

Forgetfulness of the Higher Power of Truth and Justice, together with fear of one’s neighbour, are always present at the birth of authoritarianism.

Notice how the forgetful and fearful king changes a long held truth into a dangerous lie. The Israelites were no longer their neighbours of many years. They were now named soon-to-be traitors. What a re-framing! Fear mongering. Naming and blaming. Othering! Othering that instils fear and hate with the aim to divide and conquer. Next we witness the major trick performed by every successful authoritarian ruler. Just like a magician covers their hat with a handkerchief before they pull out a rabbit, so the authoritarian covers everything they say with the blanket of national security. This blanket is decorated with holy cows grazing in fields of evergreen nationalism that silences those with questions. When it is pulled back, we see that a remarkable thing has taken place: the victims have become the perpetrators and the perpetrators have become the victims. (Water into wine eat your heart out!). With this deceptive reversal in place the victims (read: real perpetrators) are justified to crackdown on the perpetrators (read: real victims). So children are separated from parents and locked in cages. Dare not call this cruel. It is not. The reason it is not is that it is a matter of national security. So the uniformed dare not question their orders. Instead they efficiently do what is evil enjoying the praise for doing good. (But one day they will have to answer. And the defence, “I was just following orders” will not be accepted as a valid reason for their evil. A millstone may be put around their neck for causing little ones to be so terror-ised.)

15The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16‘When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.’ 17But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?’ 19The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.’20So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.’”

Authoritarians take the institutions that are designed to promote and protect life and begin to employ them to bring death or in the very least begin to prevent them from fulfilling their life enabling function. Pharaoh calls the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah. Birth enablers are employed as facilitators of death. Sometimes this is communicated bluntly and sometimes subtly. Sometimes the forgetful, fearful king simply ignores and encourage others to ignore the instructions of well-meaning institutions, that if followed, would save life. In so doing they fail to do anything to prevent the death of 222 891 people (as of 16/10/20). Fascists are perversely turned on by death, especially the death of the weak. So Pharaoh does not mourn. There is no apology. Only lying denials. Read Isaiah 59 to see how authoritarians lie and lie. They spin a deadly web of lies that cause the “truth to stumble in the public square and justice to be turned back”.

“YHWH is appalled.” (Isaiah 59:16a) that so few intervene and so many remain silent. Especially the silence of the community called church.

But there are some who do intervene. Many of whom are ordinary people or even so-called “little people”. Wise as serpents and gentle as doves (non-violently) they courageously resist genocidal fascists with creative acts of sabotage. The midwives were so in-spirit-ed by the wonder of life that they had no space within themselves to fear this forgetful and fearful Pharaoh. They made up a story about how “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women” and Pharaoh bought it because it confirmed his existing prejudice. Proving how prejudice makes one so stupid.

Eventually Pharaoh openly sanctions genocide: drown them!

Patriarchy goes hand in hand with authoritarianism. Pharaoh undermined girls/women. He believed only boys/men could possibly be a threat to him. He admitted that he would just grab a girl/woman when and how he wanted. And yet history will show it was girls/women who were the founding members of the anti-Pharaoh Struggle. Besides the midwives, there was a mother and sister who with the wisdom of serpents placed their baby boy on the river instead of in the river. So it is with resistance struggles throughout history. Liberation is won, changing one letter at a time. Pharaoh’s own daughter worked behind enemy lines – eventually getting one of the enemy not only into Pharaoh’s house, but adopted into his family! Viva Caroline Giuliani viva!

As we have said repeatedly over the last couple of weeks: the exploitation of people goes hand in hand with the exploitation of creation. The one leads to the other. People will eventually revolt and creation will eventually rebel. Creation rebels by confronting us with the consequences of our exploitative ways. Insecticides contaminate the soil. The run-off poisons the water. The fish die, as do those that feed on the fish. We become chronically ill. When illness catches up to Pharaoh himself there is the hope that a lesson will be learnt and that a humbling change will take place … but alas, this is not always the case.

Pharaoh was given many opportunities to do the loving / liberating thing, yet he repeatedly decided not to. In the process his heart was hardened, until one day it was fixed in its hardness. All that remains then is self-destruction on a massive scale. The deathly consequences of this self-destruction are impossible to over play, for during the very time we should be doing everything we can to prevent the oceans from rising, we have to concern ourselves with a Pharaoh in denial who is leading a people into the ocean to drown. All because of his desperate attempt to fill the gaping void within his own life.

Fascism relies on the public believing that their nation is so exceptional that “it will never happen here”. Exceptionalism is idolatry. It is a lie, for just as all people have fallen short of the glory of God, so have all nations fallen short. It is a slippery slope from exceptionalism to fascism. A slippery slope constantly greased by Christian fundamentalists, Constitutional originalists and white supremacist militia.

In closing, let us read the text again while being attentive to who we identify with in the text. Let’s check our natural inclinations to quickly self-identify with the persecuted, re-denying any existence of the persecutor within us. Even if we struggle to see ourselves as a Pharaoh-type, can we wrestle with the possibility that there may be others who view us as Pharaoh? Who are they? How would they like us to change? Oh that we may take out the log from within our own eye…

Grace,
Alan

 

Golden Calf Truth

Friends,

Reflection on Exodus 32:1-14

Truth is larger than fact. There are times when the facts simply can’t adequately hold the truth. For example, there is no fact that could sufficiently account for a parent’s love for their child. Or for the liberation of a long-oppressed people. When the facts fail the truth, we turn to metaphor and myth, satire and story, parable and poetry. To say that someone is the most beautiful person in all the world is not meant to be evaluated on a factual basis, but rather to be appreciated for the truth that the statement makes about their love or attraction toward the person.

Similarly, the validity of the Exodus narrative (and much of Scripture) does not rest on whether it factually took place once upon a time or not, but rather on the truth that it announces for all time. (It is most likely that the Exodus narrative was the accumulative wisdom gleaned from many cycles of oppression and liberation all sewn together into a single archetypal liberation narrative.) The narrative’s purpose is to speak timeless truth:

  • The truth about God (ultimate reality) who is always on the side of truth and justice (the universe’s bending moral arc) and therefore forever listening to the cries of the oppressed and liberating the oppressed from bondage.
  • The truth that little people (midwives) who remain faithful to the Life-Giver bring down genocidal fascists.
  • The truth about how power hardens human hearts (Pharaoh had heart problems.)
  • The truth about the anxious, stubborn, devious and paranoid ways of Empire (Time and time again the Pharaoh regime promised to let the people go but reneged each time. Power is very seldom given up willingly. Codesa 1 and Codesa 2.)
  • The truth that when those who have access to the perks and privileges of palace power (Pharaoh’s daughter and Moses) choose rather to join in solidarity with the enslaved and exploited, a united front begins rolling mass action that not even all of Pharaoh’s chariots will be able to stop.
  • The truth that exploitation of people goes hand in hand with the exploitation of the environment, with the environment ultimately rebelling via plagues. (Contaminated topsoil poisons the water.)
  • The truth that liberation always looks impossible (like walking through an ocean) until it isn’t (ocean split in two) and then it looks inevitable.
  • The truth that a liberated people move quickly from gratitude to complaint. From dancing praise of their courageous leaders to accusing them of selling out. (Moses have you brought us out here to die? HIV does not cause Aids.)
  • The truth that a liberated people often forget their pain-filled past (we ate meat in Egypt) and soon begin to imitate the ways of their past oppressors. (Another name for State Capture is Greed.)
  • The truth that populous ‘leaders’ (read: fascists) will always be ready to exploit the frustrations and fears of the people, promising everything they want but securing just the opposite (We see you Aaron. We see you CIC in red overalls. We see you with the MAGA cap.)
  • The truth that it takes a long time for a new constitution to be carved into our hearts of stone and therefore in the interim it remains very tempting to return to the golden calf of oppression that falsely promises us a quick fix. (During the writing of our New Constitution our new leaders were negotiating the arms deal. A deal that was corrupt in essence and in process. A deal more in tune with the ways of Egypt than of liberation.)

 

This brings us to this Sunday’s reading: “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come make gods for us, who shall go before us … Aaron took the gold from them and formed it in a mould, and cast an image of a calf…”

It is important to note that the golden calf may be seen as a replacement of the liberating YHWH or a representation of YHWH. The latter is a far more subtle form of idolatry and therefore potentially more dangerous. An idolatrous representation of YHWH would include attributing non-liberative characteristics to YHWH (see last week’s reference to “make no wrongful use of the name of God”.) An example today is the prosperity teaching (read: heresy / cult) calling on Jesus’ name in order to prosper financially by TV evangelists who believe owning a private jet is crucial for them to spread the word about the humble sandalled Jesus. (The same Jesus who happened to warn that it was pretty impossible to fly a jet through the eye of a needle.)

An even subtler form of idolatry includes that which is not necessarily religious at all and as a result are seldom named as gods / idols, yet they solicit our unquestionable belief in their professed saving power. Like believing that the death penalty will save us from crime. Or the gun will keep me safe. Or low taxes on the rich will be good news for the poor. Or that the quality of health care or education must correlate to how much money one has. These come to us through laws and systems rather than doctrines and creeds. We learn proverbs like “time is money” off by heart until we believe that everything is a product to be traded and that the value of anything or worth of anyone is ultimately determined in monetary terms.

With the above-mentioned examples, it should be clear that there is no such thing as a “non-believer”. We all believe in something. We all worship something. And whatever we worship is our god – like it or not. If the word worship does not connect with you then ask yourself what is the object of your ultimate concern? (See: Paul Tillich.) The answer to this question is our god. Simply put, whatever we give our heart to is our god, religious or not. For this reason, we are called to do the urgent and crucial work of “know yourself” to discover who / what we believe in. Warning: We may be surprised to discover that we don’t always believe in what we would like to think we believe in or what we profess to believe in. (Not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord will enter the reign of God – says Jesus.) This is why the scriptures care less about atheism than they do about idolatry, because we could be worshiping the very ways that crucified Jesus while singing his praises on our lips.

How do we know the difference between God and an idol? Or God and false gods? In short: Idols or false gods always demand sacrifice. Idols take life while promising new life. Think of the military or of the idol of nationalism or tribalism that worship little lines in the ground called borders. Drawn and defended with blood. The true God on the other hand does not demand sacrifices. Rather the true God demands justice, mercy, humility, truth, gentleness. In other words, the true God demands that which will promote and protect life – all of Life in all its fullness.

This is the only scale that really matters: does our living bring life or death?

So just because we may never have carved out an image of a calf doesn’t mean we do not worship any idols. Furthermore, just because we have Jesus’ name repeatedly on our lips does not necessarily mean Jesus is our God. And for those of you reading this who think you are exempt from idolatry because you don’t believe in any God or god or idol – well once you have found the words that work for you – I invite you to check what your ultimate concern is and whether honouring your ultimate concern brings life or death – for all of life.

Know thyself sister. Know thyself brother.

Grace upon grace,
Alan

 

and you will be made to eat grass …

Garden and I – 13 September 2020 by Athol McLaggan – Sunday’s CMM Chat/input

My Octopus Teacher is a mesmerising documentary that came out on Netflix this past week. It is the story of one person addressing his burn-out with the “social prescription”* of submerging himself daily into the kelp-forest-waters off Simon’s Town. During his daily practice of underwater attentiveness, he meets an Octopus … as one does. Consistency, curiosity, vulnerability, gentleness, trust and bravery alchemise over a year into steadfast (sucking) friendship. It turns out to be a human-healing friendship. The human student learns from the Octopus Teacher how to be more fully human.

You may not know, but this powerfully healing “social prescription” comes straight out of the scriptures:

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
            the birds of the air, and they will tell you; 
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
            and the fish of the sea will declare to you.” 

                                                            ~ Job 12:7-8

Here the human is clearly instructed to be in a learnership relationship with land, creature and plant. In short, the text is a call for humans to be humble. We are to start with confession. The confession of our ignorance: to know that whatever we know is less than all that we do not know and therefore we are to proceed with caution and care (read Miraculous Magnolia again)! As T.S. Eliot writes: “In order to arrive at what / you do not know / you must go by a way which / is the way of ignorance.”

Instead of beginning with confession (conscious awareness of our ignorance), humanity more often than not has begun with praise. Praise of ourselves. As a result we are unashamedly human supremacists in both belief and behaviour. Religion, economics and education are co-opted to promote the lie of separate development: that we can develop separately from the earth, forgetting that we do not live on the earth but from the earth. This is murderous and suicidal. Recent research shows how deadly humanities refusal to walk humbly is: “Global populations of wildlife have plunged by 68% since 1970. Two years ago, the figure stood at 60%. We are wiping wildlife from the face of the planet.”

Though time is against us, redemption (liberated life for Life) is still possible. We can still change from arrogant abusiveness to walk the way of humble care. This possibility is powerfully told in the book of Daniel Chapter 4. Here we see that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, experiences a Job-like wake-up-call. As a result of his increasingly arrogant abusiveness to all life forms, his kingdom crumbles and he is brought to his knees. Remember: arrogant abusiveness is murderous and suicidal.

Now read Daniel 4:15-16:

But leave its stump and roots in the ground,
      with a band of iron and bronze,
      in the tender grass of the field.
Let him be bathed with the dew of heaven,
      and let his lot be with the animals of the field
     in the grass of the earth. 
Let his mind be changed from that of a human,
     and let the mind of an animal be given to him.
    And let seven times pass over him. 

I have always viewed these verses as Nebuchadnezzar’s punishment or debilitating self-imposed consequence, but now I read them as his “social prescription” graciously given by Yhwh for his healing and the liberation of life within the land. “You will be made to eat grass like oxen” (v25). Basically, Yhwh tells Nebuchadnezzar that he is grounded. He is to learn again that his life, like that of the oxen, is dependent on the grass, the soil and the dew from heaven that nurtures them. And we read that as Nebuchadnezzar took on this daily practice of grounded attentiveness his “reason returned” to him (v36). Then walking humbly, he returned to the “works of truth and the ways of justice” (v37). “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” ~ Baba Dioum.

On Sunday we will continue this theme at our 11:11 CMM Chat. If you would like the link for the Zoom meeting, please email welcome@cmm.org.za. This Sunday the “guru of greenery” Athol McLaggan will be sharing with us.

Grace,
Alan

* “Social prescription” – refer to last week’s reflection.

 

 

 

Face truth!

Friends,

Last week we reflected on the harrowing story of Hagar. We included a picture of George Segal’s sculpture of Abraham’s embrace of Ishmael as he and his mother Hagar were about to begin their journey of banishment.

Here is a photo of another sculpture by the same artist. I alluded to this sculpture during our CMM Chat last Sunday. Here is a little history about this sculpture:

“George Segal, who taught sculpture at Princeton from 1968 to 1969, was commissioned in 1978 by Kent State University to create a memorial to the four students killed by members of the National Guard during an antiwar demonstration on their campus. Segal found a metaphor for the tragedy in the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. In Segal’s version, Abraham, dressed in contemporary clothing, looms over a college-aged Isaac, who is stripped of his shirt and bound with rope. Kent State University officials refused it, interpreting it as a politically volatile depiction of murder. According to Segal, however, this group misunderstood the memorial: the theme, in Segal’s words, was “the eternal conflict between adherence to an abstract set of principles versus the love of your own child.” Segal selected Princeton’s site for the sculpture, near the University Chapel, to reinforce the work’s biblical associations.” 

This sets the scene for our discussion on Sunday regarding Abraham’s decision to sacrifice and then not to sacrifice his son Isaac as recorded in Genesis 22:1-14. As we engage the ancient text we are asked to reflect on our understanding of the passage in the light of Jesus and his teachings. The primary question we always ask is: Would Jesus say ‘amen’ to our interpretation or not? Then as we move to our present context we ask how children continue to be sacrificed in the name of “god” or “abstract sets of principles”.

In our reflections I invite you to read the short story entitled: The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin. This story is disturbing. As disturbing as Abraham considering to sacrifice Isaac. This story was written in the early 1970s but is even more true today. Let us ask ourselves: How is this story true today? I include links to the story and a brief commentary.

This may be all too much for us to hold, but we dare not turn our face away from the truth of things. Our liberation and healing rests in facing the truth. To help us stand in the presence of the traumatising truths of our living I invite you to lean into Psalm 13 – the set psalm for this week. The psalm is one of lament. Lament is risky speech. Lament is speaking the unspeakable. It is to voice the terrifying truth. It is in no way doubtful speech. Rather it is determined and demanding. The Deliverer must now deliver! The psalmist demands that grief stops leading the dance of life.

The psalm is a mere six verses. The first four verses (the majority of verses) voice the isolation, pain of the soul, sorrow of the heart, diminishment of being and overall deathliness of life. Followed by two verses of praise. Is this a sign that the psalmist has turned the corner? Does it mean the Deliverer has in fact delivered? If so, how long did it take the psalmist to move from verse 4 to verse 5? Or are the last two verses of the psalm the psalmist’s act of defiance and resistance? Perhaps there has been no change and no deliverance. In this case the psalmist is hanging on to the side of a cliff with just two fingers (verses). Hanging on for dear life. Somehow holding onto praise with bare fingertips…? Like the ones who walk away from Omelas.

If you would like the link for the 11h11 CMM Chat on Sunday – please email welcome@cmm.org.za

Grace,
Alan

Hagar vs. Sarah, Abraham and God

Friends,

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 welcome@cmm.org.za

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.

Grace, Alan

 

Building closed. Church open.

May, 30 2020 Alan Storey: Spirit-filled Pentecost
[Acts 2:1-21; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23; John 7:37-39]

Vandana Shiva: Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Forest

 

Hi Friends,

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: welcome@cmm.org.za for the link.

I include the links of two statements regarding the President’s announcement about public worship:
Jesuit Institute
Rev. Dr. Peter Storey

Grace,
Alan

 

 

Ascension of Love

May, 24 2020 Alan Storey: Problematic Praise [Psalm 68; Acts 1]

Over the years I have repeatedly recommended Nan C. Merrill’s Psalms For Praying – An Invitation to Wholeness. Her rendition of all 150 Psalms is exquisitely beautiful. It is also imaginatively courageous. She writes as a jazz musician plays. Keeping true to the original and underlying score while improvising on the surface in ways that allow us to hear the original melody with renewed wonder and appreciation.

Merrill’s artistry carries the distinct influence of Jesus, who also did with words as a jazz artist does with strings and keys. Allowing Jesus’ baseline to influence her own, Merrill demilitarises the Psalms. The trumpet of vengeance is silenced. The hum of humility replaces the beat of triumphalism. The enemy that must be fought is no longer out there, but within. To be fought with forgiveness, not fists. The childish schoolboy boast: “My God is bigger and better and stronger than yours” is quietened by the mature realisation that God is always for all … ALWAYS FOR ALL.

This is clearly witnessed in Merrill’s rendition of Psalm 47 – one of the Psalms set for Ascension Day. A Psalm that traditionally shrieks of nationalism and conquest with the psalmist boasting about the Lord’s kingly power that “subdued peoples under us”, biblically entrenching an ‘us versus them’ that too many throughout the ages have blindly followed. Read Merrill’s account to hear what the Psalm sounds like when the performing artist is tuned into Jesus.

Psalm 47

Clap your hands, all peoples!
       Acclaim the Creator with
             loud songs of joy!
For the Beloved of our hearts
       is mighty,
the Most High over all the earth.

Love invites the people to
     co-creation,
     the nations to peace.

Love is our birthright, our heritage,
       to be shared with all.

 

Let Love rise up to shouts of acclamation;
       join in the cosmic celebration!

Sing praises to the Creator,
       sing praises!

Sing praises to the Beloved,
       sing praises!

For Love has created the universe,
       let us dance to the flute
             and the harp.

Love reigns over nations,
       awaiting an answer to its call.

May the leaders of the nations
      gather to bring peace and
             justice to all.

For the earth belongs to Love,
Who yearns to see creation healed!

Sing praises to the Beloved!

 

©Nan C. Merrill, Psalms for Praying

I remind you that the CMM Chat at 11h11 on Sunday will be a discussion with three healthcare practitioners from CMM who are directly involved in responding to Covid-19 on the ground in the Western Cape: René Goliath, Yvette Andrews and Ian Proudfoot. Please email welcome@cmm.org.za if you want to receive the link to the Sunday CMM Chat.

Look forward to seeing you then.

Grace,
Alan

CMM Refugee & Coronavirus Update

I was informed early in the week that the refugees in the church will be evacuated by Friday. They will be relocated to a designated area determined by the City of Cape Town. The evacuation will be in accordance with the State of Disaster Regulations relating to Covid-19. This is good news because it would be unsafe for people to continue to remain in such a completely overcrowded space, such as the church, during this pandemic. Please pray for all those involved in this transition. It is traumatic for all those involved.

As in the rest of the world, slowing down the spread of Covid-19 is going to be an incredible challenge, and this is why we all need to take the directive to stay at home very seriously. This Lockdown will potentially save tens of thousands of lives. There is no other slowing-down-solution in the world at the moment. I plead with you to stay at home.

The consequences of not going into lockdown are unimaginably dire, but there are also dire consequences that come from this slowing-down-solution. This is what made it such a courageous call by the President. In South Africa this pandemic comes on top of other pandemics like poverty and unemployment and millions of people with compromised immune systems due to TB and untreated HIV. Small and informal businesses are now to close, placing even many of the employed at risk of little or no income. In other words, though we are all vulnerable to Covid-19, many will suffer from the “slowing-down-solution” which will in turn make them more vulnerable to the actual virus. The homeless of Cape Town will have no one to beg from. Their nothing will become less.

One thing is for sure, Covid-19 will expose the ugly face of inequality in the world and especially in SA. I plead with you to consciously keep your heart open to others and creatively reach out in care. I am not sure how we will do this exactly – but I am sure ways will emerge. We can all prepare ourselves to be part of the emergence by praying this prayer: By Your Love, set me free from fear to love. To love, according to our tradition, is to be just, merciful, humble, gentle and generous.

Our fast-from-gathering is not a fast-from-caring. As a church I remind you that “the world is our parish” and we are all ministers. The profound lesson in this crisis is to see the reality of our radical interconnectedness. Only now do we realise how impossible it is to live an untouched life. The truth is that our life is relational or nothing. May this great truth take root in our innermost being (soul) over this time so that it is incarnated by us in the present and into the future.

If you need someone to talk with, please don’t hesitate to call or message me. If you become ill over this time from Covid-19 or any other illness please let me know. Hospital visits are not allowed over this Lockdown period. Funerals are allowed as per the National Disaster Regulations.

Our Lenten fast-from-gathering deepens from tonight at midnight. It is now a forced fast, but I hope we can “freely choose” it as Jesus did [John 10:18].

Like you, I will be discovering along the way how to live these days. To live these days in life-giving ways. Though a national lockdown is unprecedented I believe we can learn from those who over centuries have freely lived a “vocational lockdown”. I am referring to those who live a monastic life. And here I am thinking particularly of the daily rhythm and daily practice of monastic life. A practice that includes prayer (meditation) study (reading) meals (community) manual labour (exercise) and sleep (rest) at set times every day. I invite you to create your own daily pattern of practice. If you live with others you may want to invite them to join you (or online) – or in the very least to let them know of your intended practice which will therefore determine times of togetherness and times of spaciousness.

In closing I hope you will take courage from the beautiful and challenging insights of Fr. Rus Blassoples about our 21 Day National Lockdown:

 “Our beautiful Chapel is but a dim reflection,
a faint echo of the sanctuary found within every human heart.

May our national lockdown awaken us to this sanctuary within and make us not be so reliant on mediated experiences of everything ? including God.

Every human being is but a breath away from an unmediated, first-hand experience of the numinous. 

Good spiritual practices will teach you to access this. Bad theology makes you unduly reliant on others to fatten and feed you constantly. It is God’s Spirit within that groans, murmurs and knows how to pray. 

Perhaps now’s the time to delve into that forgotten or neglected part of our nature, and not ? dare I say ? be spoonfed a diet of spirituality that distracts us from being alone with ourselves, alone with our demons, and alone with God for days (21 or more). We do Lent such lip service!

Nor is it a time to be too glued to our small or big screens, to be fed a streaming diet of Eucharists. I mean, honestly!

We are so addicted to our screens anyway. Why are we so afraid to be alone with the Alone?

This is our wilderness moment. Our Jesus in the heremon moment (often translated as desert, but better still, Jesus in a place of solitude, devoid of others, distractions and addictions, tablets, laptops, podcasts, cellphones)…

Good liturgies will always take you to a place where you will find the courage to dispense of them ? put them aside – for a first-hand experience of God.

I pray you the blessing of one such liturgy. 
The blessing of truly being alone with the Alone”.

Grace,
Alan