I am the way, not the route

May, 10 2020 Alan Storey: I am the way, not the route [Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14]

Hi everyone,

It was lovely to see so many of your faces on Thursday evening during our Zoom test / connect. It felt Easter-ish: Facial recognition resurrects relationships! To hear familiar voices and laughter is life-giving.

A group call with so many people can be quite chaotic. But as the angels say: “Be not afraid” for there is beauty in the chaos, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_theory. As we keep open to learning how to be with each other in this new way, let’s double up on patience, kindness and a sense of humour. When in doubt, breathe and smile. We are not all the same. What energises one, drains the next. As we are attentive to our different experiences, may we feel free to express our learnings, ideas and suggestions so that we all take responsibility for the space we share. The feedback, since Thursday has already been helpful. Thank you.

It would be rather entertaining (and concerning) were someone to get out of a swimming pool and walk on dry ground while continuing to wave breaststroke arms. In other words, a new medium invites a new way. Similarly, it is not possible nor wise to try and replicate the actual with the virtual. This means there are going to be some things we simply miss as they are irreplaceable because they are bound within a particular medium.

Learning what we miss can also be a gift. I have realised over the last few weeks that preaching is a particular medium that cannot (certainly not for me) be replicated by a podcast. I was always taught that true preaching is relational, but I have only now come to see that to be true. Missing the congregation has revealed this to me. If I am honest, podcasts feel kind of dead. (Please stop reading and take a moment to pray for the resurrection of dead podcasts … and a particular struggling podcaster.)

I have also missed liturgy, prayer, readings and song in their own right, but also in the way in which they support and stretch the sermon. Sunday services are more than the sum of their parts. A sermon is a thread, while Sunday services are a tapestry. I miss this greater sense of wholeness. The different voices from different perspectives addressing life as we know it from the uniqueness of our hearts, hands and voices.

In the light of all of this we are going to try something new this Sunday. At 11:11 we will have a conversation (on Zoom). The springboard for our conversation will be the Sunday readings and reflection. Please email Adrienne at welcome@cmm.org.za for the Zoom link if you would like to be part of this. We will stick to 50 minutes max (like therapy – except it will not be therapy!). In our quest to be a questioning community, this Sunday we will simply ask the question: “What questions arise for us from the readings and reflection?” Instead of brainstorming answers, we will brainstorm questions.

One of the concerns about all this online stuff is how exclusive and excluding it can be. It is dependent on having access to data and internet access as well as the technology in the first place. We know therefore that many at CMM are excluded from this form of gathering. This is a concern. I am not exactly sure what the answer is but would like us to be mindful of it. If you can help bridge the gap with those who you know from CMM who are not online, please do. Any suggestions?

On Thursday I shared a bit about the present state of the sanctuary (stripped bare) and the new opportunities it presents for us, especially in relation to a different form of seating that will allow greater flexibility for the use of the sanctuary and to make it more functional in the service of the community. This discussion is important not only regarding the historical nature of the building, but because it raises questions about who we are, and who we are called to be as followers of Jesus.

Yet the challenge is, this window of opportunity coincides with restricted interaction and limited channels of communication. We would like as many people as possible to be part of these conversations. I therefore appeal to you, if you have thoughts and questions about this, please contact me. We want to make this journey together.

I am mindful that as a community we moved straight from housing refugees for 5 months to Covid-19 lockdown. In other words, from one challenge to another even greater challenge without time to process the first. This is not healthy. We have much to learn from the last 6-7 months as a community. We need to be deliberate about coming back to it when we are able to do so.

Lastly, a big thank you to those who continue to generously support the ministries of CMM as well as Stepping Stones Children’s Centre.

Grace,
Alan

 

What gardening has taught me…

My gardening and spiritual journeys are closely intertwined.

Starting out as a student of Horticulture at the then Natal Technikon, my training and approach to a garden was very traditional and Eurocentric. You made compost in a certain way, you propagated plants in a certain way and the approach to laying out a garden was seasonal, in that flower beds were planted out with annual colour in Spring and Autumn.

My approach to Church was similar in many ways. I made an effort to attend Church most Sundays and felt guilty if I did not. The reading of my Bible was done just before I went to bed and early Morning Prayer ensured that I faced the day armed with the knowledge that God was on my side.

My gardening and my spiritual lives were rule-based and rigid. I ignored and hid my own truths and instincts.

During my military training in the late 80’s, I read a book by the conservationist Ian Player. His writing opened my eyes to the beauty and importance of our indigenous plant material as well as the value of Zulu culture. Up and until that point the garden was a place within a boundary wall that was mine to own, to control and to show off, while the bush or veld was on the outside of that boundary fence.

I then became evangelical about our indigenous plant material, to the point that everything local was good and that all exotic plant material needed to be removed and replaced with indigenous trees and shrubs. At the same time I stopped going to Church as I started to struggle with my own personal truths. On a spiritual level I felt as if I was moving away from God, who in my head remained very much part of the physical church structure. 

It was a period of starting to come to terms with my truths, both as a gardener on the Southern tip of Africa, as well as who I was as a man. I also learned that once you start embracing your truths, new doors open and new challenges are sent your way.

I then discovered the joy of food gardening, and that the organic approach of not using any synthetically produced chemicals or fertilisers, was the right way to garden.

When you start to grow food, you start to share it. You share seeds and young plants and learn about different and alternate ways of doing things. Working with other gardeners from different faiths, cultures and parts of the world, helped me to start seeing that they were no different from me. This also meant that I visited Mosques, Shuls and Hindu shrines (who have the best gardens); and I recognised the incredible simplicity and beauty of the gatherings of the Zion Church worshippers, on a beach in Durban or in the open veld around Johannesburg.

It taught me the importance and divinity of diversity, both in the garden and in my spiritual life.

Gardening for me now is less about the outcome or show, but rather about the act of actually gardening and sometimes just observing the simple truths that Mother Nature presents to me. The wildness has leapt over the boundary fence and invaded my garden and the way I garden.

So too with my spiritual life and my journey with God. I am more at ease with my own individuality and the individuality of others and the truths that they represent.

Gardening taught me that.

Sincerely,
Athol