It was Henri Nouwen who said: “Our greatest fulfilment lies in giving ourselves to others … beyond all our desires to be appreciated, rewarded and acknowledged, there lies a simple and pure desire – to give.”
This should not surprise us. Our faith invites us to trust that humanity is born in the image of a lovingly generous and generously loving God. In other words, we are born to be lovingly generous and generously loving. Is this not why we feel more in love with life when we choose to be generous and why we feel shrunken within ourselves when we decide against being generous? The generous choice is commonly motivated by love, and its opposite by fear. Deciding to pay someone the most we can afford tastes different to paying someone as little as we can get away with. Love is sweet on the tongue and nourishing for the body, while fear tastes sour in the mouth and fails to fill the stomach.
If there is any truth in what I’ve just written, then we would be wise not to leave our generosity up to “chance”, but rather do some planning. We make plans to earn money so why not make plans when we give money? Planned generosity actively searches for opportunities to be generous. Where our passions meet the pain of the world is a good place to start. And once we know where we want to give then we can set out to grow our generosity. For some, 10% of income is a good place to start, for others 10% of income is a good goal to aim for.
CMM as a community sets aside 10% of all offerings received. Over the years even when we did not actually have the cash in the bank, we kept the tithe amount on the books to remind us that 10% of everything that comes in, must flow out for it simply does not belong to us. The giving plan of CMM works as follows: 80% of CMM’s tithe go to the following 6 areas: HIV/Aids; Education; Informal Settlements; Violence/Peacemaking; Poverty/Unemployment; Youth. 20% goes to miscellaneous concerns or emergencies. We also favour local (Western Cape) versus not local on a 70 – 30% split.
Recently we have been privileged to give R200k to pre-school education (including schools within informal settlements and the city). Another R50k will soon be going to pre-schools in Namaqualand. A remarkable organisation working to alleviate poverty and unemployment in the city received R50k on top of the R60k that they already receive annually from CMM. An organisation that has responded quite miraculously to the hunger crisis as a result of COVID-19 also received R50k. We continue to offer sustainable finance to city traders in the vicinity of the Church office. We foresee that these instalments of around R10k will need to be repeated a few more times to help traders keep their stores open until the passing foot traffic increases once again.
At CMM we are not taught to give to the church per se, as if funding a church equals “giving to God” (this teaching at best forgets that God so loved the world – not the church – and at worst it can be a manipulative disguise for personal and institutional greed). Instead, we are simply taught to be generous and to grow in a generosity that is good news to the poor. We do not give in order to get, but there is a definite reward in giving. The reward: We come alive when we give. We come alive because we honour the image of God at our core of who we are, and we honour our neighbour with whom we are one. The preacher’s task is to constantly invite us to come alive through generosity rather than determine the destination of our generosity.
I trust that every act of generosity that is good news for the poor and vulnerable is an act of life-giving partnership with the Lover-of-the-world-God. Writing out a cheque to care for vulnerable children; putting food into hungry bellies through Gift of the Givers; supporting an anti-gender-based-violence campaign; enabling reforestation to take root or for investigative journalists to continue to courageously expose death-creating corruption are all holy acts. As holy as any Sunday offering.
For this reason, I am aware that CMM is just one avenue for the gift of your generosity and therefore I write with gratitude to you. Your giving enables CMM to give. We do so with the hope of touching some of the pain of this world that God so loves with a loving generosity that heals.
Please continue to practice the COVID Trinity:  wear a mask  regularly wash hands  keep physical distance. As the 3rd wave surges to dangerous and deadly levels, please take this seriously. Attached is a letter from the Bishop (Synod COVID task team).
Please note that the safest way to attend CMM’s Sunday service is via zoom (Zoom link available via firstname.lastname@example.org).
Unlike many of Jesus’ peeps through the ages, Jesus is not hung up on his name. Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus go round repeating: “In Jesus’ name. In Jesus’ name…” Whether something is Christlike or not has little to do with what it is named, and everything to do with who is served. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Jesus said it himself that “not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven”. (Matthew 7:21)
In fact, sometimes those who shout “Lord” the loudest can be the furthest thing from Christlikeness, while sometimes those who refuse to have that word on the lips can be end up being his most faithful friends. Once again this should not surprise us, because Jesus said as much in the sheep and goat story, we find in Matthew 25:31-46.
This sheep and goat story reminds us that whatever we do to the least (vulnerable and oppressed), we do to Jesus. And therefore this is the only authentic measure on whether something is Christlike or not.
With this in mind I would like to encourage you to subscribe and donate to GroundUp. GroundUp, according to what I have just said above, is an incredibly Christlike newspaper. Not because it has any association with the Christian faith / church / religion / evangelism or anything Jesus-explicit etc., but because they exist to serve the least – the vulnerable and oppressed of society. Here is how they describe their work: GroundUp is a weekly online newspaper that reports “news that is in the public interest, with an emphasis on the human rights of vulnerable communities.”
GroundUp centers on those who are usually kept to the margins. They amplify the voice of those usually silenced. Instead of representing the interests of the privileged few, they put the hardships and suffering of the overwhelming majority of people in this country into words as well as documenting the resilience of the same overwhelming majority to rise to another day. It is despairing and inspiring reading all at once. The stories reveal how the political plays out in people’s personal lives, in harrowing and heroic ways.
GroundUp reminds me of the truth of my context that I am inclined to ignore and forget. Only when we take the truth they share week in and week out seriously and then respond by doing God’s liberating and healing will of doing justice, offering mercy while walking humbly, will we all be free.
Here are two examples from their latest Friday offering:
- Nomathemba Mali, 54, from Extension 8 said she has been renting for many years and could no longer afford it. “I’m a domestic worker and only work a few hours for three days a week. I get R1,440 a month and have to buy groceries, electricity, R24 per taxi trip to work, and R600 for rent. “I’m a single mother living with my 16-year-old granddaughter. For the whole month we depend on this money. The R600 rent we now won’t have to pay will make a difference,” said Mali. Read the full article here.
- A R120 chunk of the R350 Nomangesi Ndwayana and Nandile Ngemntu will each receive from the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant will go to pay the driver who brought them 50 kilometres from Peddie to Makhanda to queue outside the post office.The two travelled 50 kilometres from their Peddie village to Makhanda, arriving at 3 a.m., only to find people already queueing. Read the full article here.
I give thanks for GroundUp – a Christ-like incarnational newspaper without needing to say Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…
P.S. I will be away for the next 10 days, sitting Vipassana.
P.S.S. Please remember to email: email@example.com if you would like the Zoom link for the Sunday Service.
2020 12 20 Alan Storey
Advent Evangelism: Graced to Grace 2
It seems that Covid-19’s second bite is bigger than its first bite. “The Western Cape has more cases confirmed in the second wave, than compared to the first wave.” This is according to Dr Keith Cloete, the Head of the Department of Health in the Western Cape. My own anecdotal evidence confirms this. I know far more people with COVID-19 during this second wave than I did during the first. I also know of more people this time around who have died, and others who are struggling in ICU.
As many have said, if we are not careful over this Christmas time this could be our last Christmas. For this reason, we will not be having any in-person services at CMM. Our services will remain via zoom, including Christmas Day at 10 am. We will re-assess this situation only when there is a marked reduction in the spread of COVID-19.
Please remember to wear a mask, wash hands and keep at least 1.5 m away from each other. This prevention trinity is the kindest thing we can do for each other at this time. In the short term this will remain true until we have all received the vaccine. In the medium to long term, if we do not radically change the way we humans do life on earth, we can expect more lethal and frequent pandemics in the future. The choice really is, change or die.
Tragically not everyone agrees with the science. Some think COVID-19 is a hoax and sadly only find out it is not when they struggle to breathe. We may debate each other, but reality does not debate. Reality reigns. Gravity will bring us down every time.
Equally disturbing are those who are anti-vaxxers. History shows that vaccines are nothing short of miraculous in the way they have reduced death rates. From the mandatory smallpox vaccination in the 19th century to the polio vaccine of about sixty years ago, the world has been spared much suffering. Yet from the beginning of vaccines there has been opposition by a minority for a number of reasons, many of which continue to motivate anti-vaxxers to this day. Namely:
- The assault on people’s autonomy.
- Government overreach.
- “Religious” reasons around “de-fouling” the natural order or a supposed link to the “mark of the beast” or the school that says, “simply have faith”.
- Suspicion of big pharmaceutical companies’ manufacturing the problem or at least exploiting it.
We can go to the internet to find out the latest anti-vaccine theories and how they have been debunked, especially around the measles-mumps-rubella vaccines supposed link to autism. This continues to circulate even though it has long since been shown to have zero merit. With equal ease however, we can go to the internet to have any number of conspiracy theories validated. I guess this is a case of, “we will find whatever we are looking for”. This points to another deathly virus plaguing the world: the spread of misinformation.
Anti-vaxxers are not the only stumbling block to the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccination. Rich countries have placed hoarding orders (some countries have ordered up to six times more doses than their population size) making it almost impossible for poor countries to secure enough vaccines.
In the wilderness of old, the freshly freed slaves from Egypt learnt that hoarding stinks of death. When some have too much, others will have too little. One would therefore have hoped that we would have learnt something from COVID-19, that we are all interdependent, and that we are only as healthy as the sickest among us, but sadly not.
It reminds me of the story of the 10 lepers who were healed by Jesus and only one of them returned to say thank you. This person was a Samaritan (Luke 17:11-19). They were all united together when they suffered leprosy together, but as soon as they were healed, other divisions, like ethnicity, came to the fore. Separating them again. In today’s situation a nationalism and classism, rather than a world-wide humanitarianism, now determine who will be first in line for vaccine treatment.
This past week South Africa together with India and later supported by Eswatini and Kenya, requested the World Trade Organisation TRIPS Council that certain provisions of the TRIPS agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19 be waved to ensure greater ease to acquire the COVID-19 vaccine. This was not agreed to. Unsurprisingly, the debate was pretty much split along economics: rich countries vs poor countries.
Time is running out for the human species to mature. To literally grow up and recognise the real reality (that does not debate, but reigns) of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all of life. Only then will we end the apartheid between nations that selfishly secures privilege for a few at the exclusion and exploitation of the many. In short, a mature human person recognises that all people are family. For this reason, we pray: OUR Father / Mother in heaven… To take that three-letter word seriously is to change the world we live in.
If you would like the Zoom link for Sunday’s Service – please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Grace and Peace to you …
Today is Pentecost. The forming of authentic community was one of the miracles that took place that first Pentecost. The author of the Pentecostal story writes that every nation under heaven was present. The author’s exaggerated point is clear. No one was excluded. In fact the author does something even more imaginative. Out of the 16 nations that the author lists, some of them no longer existed at the time. They were literally extinct. Pentecost is therefore the forming of what is deemed ‘impossible community’. Yet this type of community where no one is excluded is the only community worth striving for because it is the only community that will save us in the end.
As deep and as difficult as the race issue is in South Africa I think class is our biggest challenge when it comes to forming truly diverse community. Having worked in many non-racial church communities, I am yet to find much evidence that the rich and poor can come together to form any sort of authentic community. It seems impossible.
In short, the rich fear the poor and therefore avoid the poor. Who am I talking about when I refer to the rich? I am speaking about myself and others like me. According to www.globalrichlist.com when I plug in my +R15 000 p.m. (R180 000 p.a.) net salary into their smart little app, I end up in the top 0.95% of the world, making me the 56,932,476th richest person on earth by income. It further tells me that I earn R93.75 per hour while the average labourer in Zimbabwe makes just R2.89 in the same time and that it will take the average labourer in Indonesia 44 years to earn what I do in a year. This means the next time I protest about the world’s wealthy 1% I should bring a mirror. [www.globalrichlist.com uses 2008 figures for their calculation so they may be a little out of date yet the point still stands.]
These sobering stats should give us a clue why the rich fear and avoid the poor. I fear and avoid the poor because I know that for authentic community to exist the inequality must end. And for the inequality to end means that I must change my lifestyle, which feels too much like loss, until of course my eyes are opened to the richness of a truly diverse community where no one is excluded.
Rich and poor forming authentic community may seem impossible but what really is impossible is the continued sustainability of the divide. If this divide is not addressed voluntarily then in the end it will be addressed violently. A nation that has bricks to build high walls to insulate the wealthy but not houses to shelter the poor will collapse because God will not be mocked.