“Our Ocean is Sacred, You Can’t Mine Heaven”

The Crocheted Coral Reef

 

Friends,
Last week we witnessed how Paul subversively impregnated his Colossians narrative with echoes from the past liberation movements of God, by using well known words and phrases aimed at jolting his audience’s memory. Artists have done this through the ages. Here is the example from the band Bright Blue and their song: Weeping (1987). If you listen to the recording you will hear the then banned ANC national anthem being played – an echoing melody line around 1:32 seconds into the song, subversively stating that there will only be peace when everyone is free… until then the fear, the fire and guns remain. This song escaped that paranoid censorship laws of the Apartheid regime and actually became No. 1 on Radio 5, an SABC station.

I knew a man who lived in fear
It was huge, it was angry, it was drawing near
Behind his house, a secret place
Was the shadow of the demon he could never face
He built a wall of steel and flame
And men with guns, to keep it tame
Then standing back, he made it plain
That the nightmare would never ever rise again
But the fear and the fire and the guns remain

It doesn’t matter now
It’s over anyhow
He tells the world that it’s sleeping
But as the night came ’round
I heard its lonely sound
It wasn’t roaring, it was weeping
It wasn’t roaring, it was weeping

And then one day the neighbours came
They were curious to know about the smoke and flame
They stood around outside the wall
But of course there was nothing to be heard at all

“My friends, ” he said, “We’ve reached our goal”
“The threat is under firm control”
“As long as peace and order reign”
“I’ll be damned if I can see a reason to explain”
“Why the fear and the fire and the guns remain”

The 28th July was Earth Overshoot Day – which marks the date in a year when humanity has used all the ecological resources that the earth regenerates during that entire year. Rose-Anne will be sharing more about this during today’s service. In this light please check out the exhibition at our space on the corner of Church and Burg Streets, which will take place between 4 August and 30 September.

Our Ocean is Sacred, You Can’t Mine Heaven:

A public storytelling and radical ‘an-archive’ on intangible ocean heritage, exhibits at the Zero Gallery, Cape Town in collaboration with EITZ.

 “Our ocean is sacred, you can’t mine heaven” was a recent slogan seen on placards held by protestors against seismic surveys and ocean oil and gas exploration along the South African west and east coast.

Recent High Court judgments weighing in favour of small-scale fishers and communities over massive Oil and Gas companies, have sparked greater traction and public interest (and advocacy) against the rush for minerals and oil and gas in the sea, and has, in its own way, created a new public conversation around ocean heritages, cultures, and livelihoods that are deeply entangled and related to the Ocean.

This collaboratively curated exhibition is funded by EITZ, the One Ocean Hub’s Deep Fund and the National Arts Festival 2022. One Ocean Hub’s South African Country Director Dr. Dylan McGarry and senior researcher at the Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC) at the University currently known at Rhodes, has lead a team of cultural practitioners alongside Dr. Boudina McConnachie at the International Library of African Music (ILAM) to develop a multi-genre audio-visual storytelling project, which shares some of the rich cultural artefacts resurfacing (and in some cases emerging) as reflections of South African ocean culture. McGarry explains: “Some of the artwork in the exhibition were used as evidence alongside the rich affidavits and testimonies of Small Scale Fishers and customary rights holders in the court interdicts, thereby expanding the arguments against oil and gas exploration to go beyond positivist scientific debate, into socio-cultural discourse – this lead to new legal precedents, where judges recognised the Ocean as sacred to South Africans, with specific reference to the Ocean as the sacred realm of the ancestors”.

The Crocheted Coral Reef

One of the stand-out pieces was the “The crocheted coral reef” installation created by the Woodstock Art Reef Project. This crochet coral reef took 12 years to create, and is an ongoing and expanding installation that is lovingly made by hundreds of citizens across South Africa. It is one of many satellite crochet coral reefs that adorn and warm up spaces around the world. The cosy reef coral holds powerful symbolism and figuration of solidarity in times of climate change. While coral bleaching due to ocean acidification and rising sea temperatures threatens the future of many ocean ecosystems, there are ecological citizens gathering around the world in solidarity.

Press Release: Our Ocean Is Sacred, You Can’t Mine Heaven

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Expose the Empire

 

Friends,

We are in the middle of a three week reflection on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Last week we noted that every word of Paul subversively called the authority of the Roman Empire into question. At every corner Paul contested the empire’s narrative of reality. For Paul, the empire was a great pretender that needed to be exposed: The empire promised life but it delivered nothing but death. The Roman Empire, like all empires before and after, relied on military violence, heavy taxation (to pay for the military and create a landless underclass), the myth of divine favour (religion as good news for the rich), and a strict segregation of society into an oppressive hierarchy (a strategy of divide and conquer that was on endless repeat).

Paul penned his letter from a Roman jail. Yes, he was in detention without trial. This fact alone should prevent anybody ever reading this letter with a-political eyes. Paul was sitting in the belly of the beast when he wrote this letter. To ignore this context is to render his letter meaningless.

There are many well-known letters, books and diaries that have been written from within a prison cell or soon thereafter. To name three SA political prison memoirs: Hell-Hole Robben Island: Reminiscences of a Political Prisoner by Moses Dlamini; One Hundred and Seventeen Days: An Account of Confinement and Interrogation by Ruth First; There and Back: Robben Island 1964 – 1979 by Eddie Daniels.

Paul Gready, helps us tremendously in understanding the context of Prison-writer-Paul in his studies over many years regarding Writing as Resistance (Political Prison Writing in the Apartheid Era).

“The word is a weapon that both inflicts pain and secures power. Prisoners are relentlessly rewritten within the official ‘power of writing’, from interrogation and the making of a statement, through legislation and the political trial, to the regulations governing imprisonment. Within this process the prisoner’s sense of self and world is undermined, pain is made visible and objectified in writing and converted into state power. Language becomes subject to the dominant characteristics of the state: the lawlessness of absolute power renders the word a lie. However, the ‘power of writing’ is a contested arena. Prisoners write to restore a sense of self and world, to reclaim the ‘truth’ from the apartheid lie, to seek empowerment in an oppositional ‘power of writing’ by writing against the official text of imprisonment.” (P Gready: Journal for Southern African Studies, 1993, Vol 19(3) p 489-523)

Another SA political prison memoir is, The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs. Sachs was arrested on 1 October 1963, under Apartheid South Africa’s notorious Ninety Days Law. He was held without trial for 168 days and kept in solitary confinement. He recalls in the preface of his book, that as soon as he was released:

“…I wrote it all by hand, rapidly, in secret, and relied on friends to have it typed. The police were everywhere; we had to be careful, the typists as well as myself. This was the time when Nelson Mandela and others, including two friends of mine, were on trial for their lives. Our movement was being crushed. It was a bitter period, and writing was more than a release for me. It was the only joyous activity I could manage, an intimate form of clandestine resistance.”

I remember when I read Sachs’ book I could not stop thinking of him in solitary confinement and this context impregnated every word with arresting meaning. This is how we are called to read Colossians.

With grace,
Alan

 

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Dividing Walls

 
The Plaque reads: “This is an original segment of the former East German Communist Regime on 13 August 1961 to stem the flood of people fleeing from East Germany to freedom in the west, and to isolate the western sectors of Berlin.
 
The wall soon became a sad symbol, not only of the artificial separation of Berliners but also of the political divisions of Germany and Europe as a whole. A symbol of the suppression of freedom and violation of human rights. Its fall on 9 November 1989 was the climax of the peaceful revolution of the East German people and opened the road to freedom in Eastern Europe as well.
 
During its existence the wall underwent several “improvements”. This segment is part of the last configuration. The massive base was intended to foil breakthrough attempts by vehicles, whereas on top and not represented here – slippery tubes and barbed wire were to thwart attempts to climb across.
 
The eastern part was painted white so that border guards could better spot – and shoot at – refugees. The final deterrent, a so called “death strip” was plastered mines, booby traps, trip wires and was patrolled by marksmen with watch dogs.
 
On the western side graffiti artists took it on as a challenge to express their protests and revulsion, or simply to “beautify” it.
 
588 people died trying to overcome the wall.”

Friends,

Almost every day I walk past a segment of wall that is no longer a wall. It is a reminder of a wall. It is a reminder of the breakdown of a wall. It is an original segment of the Berlin Wall. Its dividing death-span lasted from 13 August 1961 to 9 November 1989.

Sadly, since then many more dividing walls have been built. “It is a worldwide phenomenon in which the cement has been mixed and the concrete laid without most of us even noticing. Thousands of miles of walls and fences have gone up around the world in the twenty-first century. At least sixty-five countries, more than a third of the world’s nation states, have built barriers along their borders; half of those erected since the Second World War sprang up between 2000 and now.”[DIVIDED – Why We’re Living In An Age of Walls, by Tim Marshall].

This is not surprising when we witness on a daily basis “A key controversy in every major election campaign of our time—in the United States, United Kingdom, continental Europe, Asia, and Africa—is that of strangers at the frontier, whether they go by the name of migrant, immigrant, refugee, alien, or invader. Who is in and who is out? Who belongs to the nation and who does not? Who deserves shelter and who does not? Who should stay and who should go? Back to where they came from—if there is anything left for them? Who decides the answer to these questions? And according to what criteria, interests, and intentions?” [Radical Hospitality. From Thought To Action, by Richard Kearney and Melissa Fitzpatrick].

According to Kearney and Fitzpatrick:

“The crisis is acute, and it is set to worsen exponentially as the climate situation grows more alarming and despotic leaders on every continent increasingly endanger their own peoples. Never has the stranger been more in need of hosts to provide shelter, sustenance, and dignity. And never have the doors of welcome seemed more shut.” (p.2)

They propose that a new understanding or interpretation “of hospitality is needed in our age of mounting hostility.” (p.3) They call one such form or experiment of hospitality “narrative hospitality”. They explored this in “The Guestbook Project” that was founded in 2009. They write:

“It began as an interdisciplinary seminar focusing on the theme of “Hosting the Stranger: Between Hostility and Hospitality.” The project was intellectually inspired by the fact that, in most Indo-European languages, the word for “guest” and “enemy” is the same—for example, hostis in Latin is the common root of both “hostility” and “hospitality.” So too for xenos in Greek (xenophobia and xenophilia), Gast in Old German (friendly guest or ghastly enemy), and so on. The aim of Guestbook was to explore how enmity could be translated into empathy by acts of narrative exchange, transforming cycles of violence into radically imaginative moments of welcoming the stranger.” (p.25-26)

Here is the powerful story that motivated Kearney to start the Guestbook:

“In the 1980s, at the height of “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland, I was invited as a young professor of philosophy to come to Derry, a city divided by war, to moderate a workshop between republican and loyalist prisoners. During the workshop, one of the IRA [Irish Republican Army] prisoners told of how one night he was asleep in his bed when a loyalist gang broke into the house, bound, gagged and blindfolded him, threw him into the boot of a car, and drove him to a barn outside Derry. Strapped to a chair and about to be shot, he asked if he could smoke a last cigarette. His captor consented and offered him one. And as he smoked the cigarette—very slowly—he told the story of how he had become involved in republican violence: how his grandfather had been brutally murdered by the British police force, how his father had been incarcerated and tortured, how his mother had become an alcoholic and suffered a nervous breakdown, how his brother had been knee-capped and maimed for the rest of his life… And he went on until he finished his cigarette. Then he waited for the gun to go off. But it didn’t. There was no sound. No movement. He waited for five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes—Nothing. Eventually, he managed to free himself and looked around. There was nobody there; the barn was empty. He walked home. When the IRA prisoner finished sharing this in the workshop I was chairing, another man, a Loyalist paramilitary prisoner, stood up at the back of the hall and said, “I was the assassin who gave you that cigarette. And I would have shot you. But I couldn’t shoot you because, when I heard your story, I realized it was my story.” (p.26-27)

Who knew that listening to another’s story can breakdown walls?

With grace,
Alan

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