Can anyone remember these?
They were collectable stickers from (I think?) the late 70’s and 80’s.
It is Wednesday morning and I am at the Carpenter’s Shop sitting around a table with a group of mostly young men between the ages of 20 and 30. There is one woman in the group and 3 or 4 older men. We open our time together by checking-in about the week that was.
I ask: “How was Mother’s Day?” “Like any other day”, someone replies. Only two out of the group of 20-odd people had any contact with their mothers. I took the gap to ask how many of them connect with their fathers and learnt that not one person had contact with their father – either because he had died or because they were estranged from him.
We then moved on to speak about love. I asked: “What happens when you fall in love with someone? Let’s make a list together…” At that, I noticed the corners of some mouths begin to stretch into a smile as their mind’s eye focused on a love moment in their recent or distant past.
“Love is sharing… yes that is what love is.” Others agreed with the opening speaker – “Ya sharing … sharing your bodies…” This provoked some laughter and some less quotable talk. So I chipped in, “OK, love is sharing. Sharing what?”
“Sharing time… yes when I am in love and I am meant to meet her at 8 o’clock I make sure I get there at 7 o’clock”. Followed by some more laughter as well as a couple of “Ya me too … you waste lots of time in love but it’s not really a waste if you understand?”
“Love is sharing your money… ya you spoil them too much when you in love.” Everyone agreed. “Love is not cheap.” We went through a quick list: “I buy for her a cool drink on a hot day”, “new shoes” “or we hire a DVD to watch together”.
“Love is sharing secrets…” added another. This seemed to resonate with everyone, “… when you love someone you not scared to tell them everything – you don’t hide anything … you tell the truth…” Someone interjected, “Ya, but you don’t tell the one girl about the other girl.” More laughter. “That is sex, not love. You can have sex with many but you can only love one.” another argued back.
This then led to a conversation about how men can “have many” without the woman knowing but woman cannot do so without the man knowing. It was a serious conversation based on “logic”. I found it a terribly disturbing understanding of masculinity and couldn’t help making the link between it and the huge violation (especially sexual violation) of women in South Africa.
And then the same person who started us out on this bumpy road of disturbance turned sharply onto a new path taking us all with him. “Hey pastor, ag I mean Alan, where in the Bible does it say that stuff about love… read it to us… I think it was Petros who said it.” “No you idiot it was Paulos” someone enjoyed correcting him. “Well read it anyway…” he pleaded.
I started to read from 1 Corinthians 13…”Love is patient, love is kind”. “Ya that is the one… read it… you “ous” listen to it… hey shut up and listen… it is telling about love…” So I continued to read: “Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…”
We finish our time together by holding each other’s hands – heads bowed – held by the silence. We ask God to help us to trust that we are loveable and to show us that we have love to share with others.
In love – by love and for love, Alan
The Pain and Praise of our Birth…
“For it was you who formed my inward parts, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know every well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”
Psalm 139: 13-15
No wonder there is a Jewish proverb that goes something like this:
On Ascension Day I officiated at a wedding. The couple have been in love for a long time and finally decided to come out in the open and get married.
“God could not be everywhere and therefore God made mothers.”
The ceremony took place at the World Economic Forum between Big Business and Government. To our surprise we walked right up to the entrance of the CTICC to where all the delegates were getting out of their cars. (Then again, others have recently managed to land a commercial aeroplane at a military base filled with wedding guests – so perhaps we should not be too surprised.) Then the cops moved us to the perimeter – after removing the “shower head” that was hovering over the beautiful bride’s (Government) head. Five SAPS vans, one Nyala and three Metro Police then followed us.
There were a number of corruption scandals who gathered to witness and celebrate the wedding.
Big Business and Government then exchanged vows: “I call on all the corruption scandals here present to witness that I Government do take thee Big Business to be my (un)lawful wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better and NOT for worse, for richer and NOT for poorer, in sickness (of others) and in health (of us) to love and to cherish, and forsaking all others (especially the poor) till death us do part (or until the money runs out).”
Ascension Day reminds us that God alone has ultimate power and calls us to hold the powers of this world to account and to mock their belief that they have absolute power. To call them out every time they ignore the vulnerable who they are called to serve. In 2012 R30 billion was stolen through corruption. We say “No to R1 – one vote”.
This is one marriage that should dissolve. Alan
This is 8 year old Martin Richard.
Martin was killed in the Boston Marathon bombing.
His poster reads: No more hurting people. Peace.
At the time his second grade class was studying non-violent
resistance through the lives of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
Bobby Constantino (who took the photo) came to speak to the class about his protest march modeled after James Meredith’s 1966
“March Against Fear”. Constantino invited the class to become ahimsakas — a Gandhian term for activists committed to
“doing no harm”.
Every six years Methodist ministers are given a three month sabbatical. A sabbatical is not so much to rest from work as it is to rest in order to work. Of course we all need to rest and that is what holidays are for. Yet a sabbatical is more than a holiday. It is really a wonderful gift that offers the opportunity for one to be renewed, re-charged and re-aligned. Re-aligned to one’s core calling.
I am often surprised when my car goes in for a service to be told that the wheels need to be re-aligned. I am surprised because I didn’t notice they were out of alignment. That’s just it. Our living can be out of alignment with our core purpose or calling and yet we may not even notice it. Quite often we have learnt to compensate for the defect and therefore keep it hidden for longer. The tyres do not escape damage though — with some areas being worn dangerously smooth. The same applies to our lives that become dangerously thin in the very places that should provide us with tread to live. So from June through August I am booking my life in for a “service” – sabbatical.
Stephen Covey – the bestselling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – reminds us of the necessity of “Sharpening the Saw”. Covey tells the story of how a woodcutter became increasingly less productive in his work. So the woodcutter extended his working hours and increased his effort – but his production continued to decline. Why? Because he never stopped to sharpen the saw. So as I plan to sharpen the saw during sabbatical I hope you too will be deliberate to stop and sharpen the saw within your own life.
Sabbatical is not only a gift for the minister but also for the congregation. During my sabbatical you will be given the opportunity to hear the hearts of other preachers. This is so important as it reminds us that we all have a story of God’s grace and truth to share and that no single person has the complete truth. It has been said that a preacher only really has one sermon in them that they find different ways to share over and over again, which means that during my sabbatical you will be gifted with multiple opportunities to engage with truly different sermons. I promise you that you will hear new things and I trust that the change will sharpen the saw of this community.
I have nothing really planned for sabbatical (which is awesome) except that I do hope to take a few days to cycle to Knysna along Route 62. May there be enough oxygen in my lungs and air in my tyres.
In hope of resurrection, Alan
Do you remember that day? That day when we stood in the longest of queues as if we were entering the holy of holies, knowing that what we were about to do was of sacramental significance — consecrated by the courage, blood and prayers of too many people to name.
On that day of new beginnings it was as if God said again: “Let there be light — and there was light.” We were separated from the darkness and given light to recognise each other as the gifts of God that we all are. Now as this light flickers vulnerably in the encroaching breeze of secrecy, I invite you to return to the Light-shining words of our Constitution’s Preamble:We, the people of South Africa: Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to
Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.
As with the liberation of the Hebrews of old, 27 April 1994 was a watershed day for our beloved country. We stood on dry land with the ocean of oppression behind us and the uncharted sea of promise before us. To the extent that we remember God’s deliverance in our past is to the extent that we will be set free to trust God’s promise of service delivery in our future.
May be never forget.
In hope, Alan.
On Wednesday morning I was introduced to a new group of participants attending the second semester at The Carpenters Shop. Over the next 10 weeks they hope to learn new skills that will help them find a job. A job is the Holy Grail all of them are seeking. A job and the money that comes with it so that: “I don’t have to steal”; “I don’t have to be part of a gang”; “I can support my family”; ”I can be a man”; “I won’t ever go back to living on the street”; “I can start over”.
I have never really understood St. Paul’s phrase: “hoping against hope” but if it means what I think it may mean then it resonates with this situation. The longing to have a future that is different from the past – “I want a new life” – was said with blunt clarity.
I felt their longing but I also felt the underlying doubt upon which their longing rested. I confess I shared this doubt of whether change was at all likely – after all, where are these jobs going to come from? I felt a despair for our future. To use Melanie Judge’s words that I quoted in last week’s sermon, there are just too many people who have been “actively locked out of livelihoods of dignity”. Locked out by things like a failing education system. This is the primary violence within society that is seldom ever recognised as violence. It results in rage. Suppressed rage. Expressed rage. And ultimately rage that will probably end up being jailed and beaten into submission … resulting in ever more rage.
During the session I had with the group I was peppered with questions: “Where was God when I was stabbed in my face?” “If God loves me then why doesn’t God protect me?” “If God cares for me then why is my life such a mess?” “God may love me but God is up there somewhere – and I am down here”. Each question revealing how locked out they feel. Even locked out from God’s goodness and mercy.
The Easter narratives tell of Jesus coming and standing among his disciples who were locked behind closed doors. With this we are invited to trust that Jesus will always find a way to break into our lives no matter what we are locked behind or locked out of.
He comes, breathing peace and not judgement. He comes focused more on our future than our failed past. He en-courage-s us to start over again believing that we can change.
Payment for receiving this gift is to make it our task. To do to others what Jesus has done for us. To stand among those locked out of livelihoods of dignity. To stand among them breathing peace while hoping against hope that change is possible.
I believe Lord. Help my unbelief,
Conversation at the Book Lounge:
Sanctuary: How an Inner-City Church spilled out onto a Sidewalk by Christa Kuljian
Thursday 25 April, at 6 p.m.
After years of sporadic media attention and posturing by politicians, Kuljian has made it her business to find out exactly what has been going on at the Central Methodist Church in downtown Johannesburg, where the Church acts as a gateway to the city – an Ellis Island for South Africa, the place where many migrants first go to get their bearings. How did a place of worship turn into a shelter for thousands of refugees? Where did they come from? Why are they still there? Seeking to answer such questions, Kuljian fluently combines many elements: interviews with members of the refugee community and residents of the Church, and key figures like Bishop Paul Verryn, who has often been at the centre of the storm; historical material on the church and its role in the city since the early years; and an understanding of urban dynamics, migrancy, and South African and southern African politics.
The result is a complex, open-eyed book that grapples with some of South Africa’s most urgent social problems as they are refracted through one appalling, frustrating, inspiring place.
Christa will be in conversation with Alan Storey at the Book Lounge.
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.
PS: Today’s service is being recorded by the SABC and will be broadcasted on SAFM Radio next Sunday at 11 a.m.
So who will have their feet washed?
The only one willing to surrender is spaced-out and high –
he’s already annihilated his ego. From a fix to a foot wash
He lands down in our chair.
Relaxed but stiff – he can’t take his shoes off.
Shoelaces in knots!
How to release these feet from these pointy white shoes?
Wet shoelaces are a real struggle – slowly tug by tug
much wrestling with the shoe – his foot is released
Next defence – Sodden skeleton socks!
The stench as high as he is …
The socks have disintegrated into just an ankle and a toe, with no sole.
Strip them off.
Roll up the wet, oversized, sagging tracksuit pants
Now to the washing – the standard is high,
If you know love and attention, give love and attention
Hands on street feet –
Rough, calloused street feet –
White bunion on black skin street feet –
Swollen ankles street feet –
Dark areas between the toes street feet –
Dirty, sandy, mucky street feet –
Looking up to check if he’s still with us?
From half-closing eyes he moves to a spaced-out smile
What was that – the distant realm of heart?
One foot done and wrapped in a towel!
Now to wage war on that other locked-in foot.
Is this how it was unbinding Lazarus?
At least Jesus had a friend to welcome back when the job was done.
Who is this spaced-out, floppy, stiff person with one black-gloved hand
and animal fur and bright cloth beady stuff on the other?
Now to put warm, clean-ish feet back into wet skeleton socks!
Wide feet, wet socks, into pointy white shoes, onto dead feet.
The cheap imitation leather folds at the heel.
You have to help me here – push!
The Father calls to the slaves –
bring a pumice stone and healing foot balm
bring new dry shoelaces
bring the best seamless socks
For tonight my son is lost in a fix and he’s come to have his feet washed.
This past week we have been reflecting on the parable of the Prodigal Son or as other more accurately call it the parable of the Waiting Father. The parable is one of death and resurrection – as the Father later confirmed: “This son of mine was dead but is now alive again.”
None of the characters in the parable have names. Their identity comes through their relationships: father, son and brother. To break the relationship is to lose your identity. To lose your identity is to die. No one is an island. I am who I am because you are who you are. We exist in togetherness or not at all. We call it Ubuntu.
Death in the scriptures is not reduced to whether we have a pulse or not. The younger son was still breathing but he was dead because he was no longer living in relationship with his father and brother. He was tempted by the illusion of independence and the lie that you can live a separate selfish life and still live.
Both sons in different ways separate themselves from the Father – or as Miroslav Volf says they try and “un-son” themselves. The younger one travels to a distant land while the older son remains outside in anger. Both cause the Father grief. Grieving. For he has lost a loved one.
When the child returns to relationship he is resurrected. He is born again. We are born again when we live life lovingly again.
On Monday evening I read an extract from a beautiful book called: “Father Joe”. In it the author records a time when he came to Father Joe for confession after many, many years of being in a “distant land” and with “the pigs”. After he shared some of the gory details about his life, Father Joe says to him:
These are great imperfections, dear. But they’re not what you really want to say, are they?” He was right… there was something, but I couldn’t quite reach down far enough to find it. “Say what’s in your heart now, dear.”
“I seem incapable of love, Father Joe. Utterly incapable of feeling it, even thinking it. Even wanting it. No, that’s not true. I want to love, terribly. But it won’t come … I hate love. It feels the way a sin used to. Like when you got a present as a kid and for no reason at all you’d smash it into little pieces…”
“Tony dear, you will only be able to love when you understand how much you are loved. You are loved, dear, with a limitless… fathomless… all-embracing love.”
Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. That Jesus is alive and that Jesus is Lord. And we also celebrate that by allowing him to love us we too are resurrected to new life. To a loved life. To a life lived lovingly.
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.
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
It is Thursday evening on Human Rights Day at about 10 p.m. and I am standing on Long Street just round the corner from the Church, chatting to a friend. While we are speaking I notice something about some of the people walking past me. You know the feeling when you know you are being looked at? You can feel it. So each time this would occur I would lock eyes with the person looking at me. They did not turn away. Instead their gaze became more intense – like we were playing a game to see who will blink first. Some would just continue looking at me while others would make other facial gestures – raise an eyebrow or nod their head. All making for a rather obvious pick up – except they weren’t trying to pick me up.
They were trying to see if I wanted to purchase some drugs. In the space of my hour conversation on the street there must have been about 10 people trying to get a sale from me. My friend had no clue what was going on – so at one point I indicated to one of the guys that I was interested. He came over and I asked him, “what you got for me?”. He said “weed, coke – some ice”. As simple as that. On telling him that “I would give it a skip tonight”, he proceeded to insist that I take his number – which I did.
A few minutes later we witnessed a Taxi driver vacuum clean some white stuff off the roof of his car with his nose – with an eager seller by his side. A second later he was giving two unsuspecting tourists a lift to their requested destination.
This experience happens every time I am on the street and not only at night. Drug sellers are walking around all the time as easy-going pedestrians. If you don’t know what you’re looking for you will not notice them. They do not carry any drugs on them – so the likelihood of them being caught is minimal. They call someone on the phone – and it is left to be picked up. And besides being difficult to link these guys – everyone knows that if one of them is arrested there are 9 more to replace him within the hour.
Drugs are terror-fying! The tragedy they cause is beyond measure. They are like a suicide bomb, being slowly detonated.
Ripping through an individual’s life and destroying their family and friends and community, at the same time. Every day we have courageous people coming to CMM to battle with their addictions (AA and NA lunchtime meetings) – they need our prayers more than anyone. But what haunted me on Thursday night was that the doors of CMM were closed and I felt quite useless not knowing what to do about it.
CMM is a city Church – a city Sanctuary and yet for the most part we are divorced from this context – oblivious to its existence. This troubles me – for I know that the Gospels tell us that Jesus spent more time on the streets than in the temple.
The recurring thought in my head went something like this: “I do not know what it would mean for our doors to be open but I do know what it means for our doors to be closed.” It sounds like a bit of a riddle I know – but I share it with you nevertheless – maybe we can make sense of it together.
Not unrelated to this I am inspired by Pope Francis who has decided to celebrate his first Maundy Thursday next week by washing inmates’ feet at a mass at Rome’s Casal del Marmo Juvenile Detention Centre. The Vatican said, “In his ministry as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) used to celebrate this mass in a prison or hospital or home for the poor.” Traditionally the Last Supper mass takes place at the church of St. John Lateran, a former papal palace. The decision to celebrate such an important Holy Week mass at a juvenile hall is in keeping with the themes of humility and simplicity struck early on in his week-old papacy. “If the ministry of the Bishop of Rome also implies power,” said Francis in his inaugural mass on Tuesday, “let us never forget that real power is in serving others, and that even the pope, in order to exercise power, must always enter into that service, which has its shining summit on the cross. “He must welcome with warmth and tenderness all of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, and the smallest. “Those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or in jail”.
What power there is in moving from a papal palace to a prison to wash feet and share bread. It is a Jesus move if I have ever seen one. So after our Maundy Service this Thursday – with our feet still wet and our lips still sweet having shared bread and juice together, we will go out onto the streets and offer to wash people’s feet and share Holy Communion with them. From sanctuary to the streets …
May God enlarge our love for this journey. Alan