What if we take Jesus seriously?

Philippi Horticultural Association Press Conference



With COP27 currently taking place in Egypt, highlighting the complex issues of climate change, the devastation caused by floods and droughts, feast or famine, unscrupulous exploitation of natural and other resources, there is still hope. Hope inspired by people and organisations who have made it their life’s work to bring climate justice to our planet and to those who would otherwise have no voice.

One such group is the Philippi Horticultural Association. This is a group of “farmers who seek to be good stewards of the land, given by the Creator as an ‘amana’ [trust] in safekeeping for future generations to come.” [See press release.]

A 2020 High Court judgement ordered that a proper assessment of the 500ha Oakland City Development on climate change, the aquifer and water scarcity take place. The developers have presented their study. It is now in the hands of MEC Anton Bredell who must make the call and decide whether to approve or not the developers’ proposal. The Western Cape Government had previously adopted the PHA Indego Study Protection Plan and identified the PHA food land as the city’s resilience against climate change. Only time will … either decision will impact the lives, livelihoods and the environment of all affected parties.

The relocation of people who are currently living on the Central Railway line to the Philippi area was announced by the Minister of Transport who apparently had not consulted the Ward Councillor in the Philippi area. The land earmarked belongs to various spheres of government as well as private owners. The impact on the water supply from the Cape Flats Aquifer, food production, the lack of basic services for human settlement and crime are some of the concerns raised by the PHA and others. The impact on climate change will also be felt as food will have to be produced elsewhere and brought from greater distances to the City’s growing population and the overuse of the Aquifer could lead to dwindling water supply. Who can forget the drought we experienced not so long ago! It is also important to know what the impact will be on the farmers who have put all they have into sustaining this project year after year. What will happen to them and their livelihoods? And … what about the people who have nowhere to call home? Where will they live?

Every person has a fundamental constitutional right to adequate housing and basic services. The livelihoods of those who have for many decades provided Cape Town with much needed fresh fruit and vegetables right on its doorstep also have their rights enshrined in our constitution. Where to from here?

The answers of course are far from simple or easy to find. Whatever decisions are taken by the Western Cape Government [and the delegates attending COP27], we are called to be custodians of Creation, to care for the widow, the orphan and the foreigner and not to glean to the edges of our fields. God entrusted the care of all of creation to humans – to care justly and holistically. I would like to suggest that we can start looking for answers by living out the greatest commandment Jesus gives: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Mark 12:30-31.

Justice is needed everywhere. I believe that should all of us (and especially those in powerful positions) take Jesus’ commandment seriously justice will be restored and it will prevail, particularly for the least among us.

With gratitude to all who heed the call for justice.


Sixty Harvests Left


Author of Farmageddon and Dead Zone, Philip Lymbery is at it again. His latest book: Sixty Harvests Left has taken its title from a chilling warning made by the United Nations that the world’s soils could be lost within a lifetime, Sixty Harvests Left uncovers how the food industry is threatening the planet. Put simply, humans have broken covenant with the soil. Without soils there will be no food: game over. And time is running out.

One of the horrors I discovered reading the book was that there is a 160,000 cattle-capacity site at Karan Beef feedlot south of Johannesburg. When I think of industrial cattle farms – I think US – which has over 26,000 such farms that hold over a thousand cattle each. “Instead of grass, these animals are mainly fed cereals: corn, wheat and barley, along with soya and leftovers like distillers grains.” [p 29] They are also “hormone-treated” on arrival. There are not many such industrial cattle farms in SA but who knew we had one of the largest in the world? I didn’t. Lymbery doesn’t use the word repentance in his book but his call to a new future through: regeneration, rethinking protein and rewilding is a clear call to repent – to change.

On a similar note. You may well have heard the ‘Anthem’ for Our Burning Planet, but just in case you have not, here it is. This “music journalism” of Daily Maverick deserves a punt. In 1965 Barry McGuire sang Eve of Destruction (written by PF Sloan). Please listen to it because it remains a prophetic (truthful) word for the world to heed. Well, Daily Maverick have now adapted Eve of Destruction with words that speak to our “Burning Planet”. Featuring Anneli Kamfer, they address through song and visuals the greatest challenge facing life on earth.

Here are words…but best to hear them sung and see video:

The burning world, it is explodin’,
The burning world, it is explodin’,
Violence flarin’, fear & loathin’,
You’re bad enough to scream, but your throat is chokin’,
You don’t believe in oil, but it’s your car that’s smokin’,
And even the Jordan river has no water floatin’,
But you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

 Don’t you understand, what I’m trying to say?
And can’t you feel the fears I’m feeling today?
When the threshold is crossed, it’s the end of the game,
There’ll be nothing to save when the world is aflame,
Take a look around you, girl, it’s bound to scare you, boy,
And tell me over and over and over again my friend,
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

Yeah, my blood’s so mad, feels like coagulatin’,
I’m sittin’ here, just contemplatin’,
I can’t twist the truth, it knows no regulation,
Handful of senators don’t pass legislation,
And marches alone don’t bring the solution,
When the human race is so close to dissolution’,
This whole crazy world is one big confusion,
And you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.
Think of all the coal that’s blazing your soul
Then look at your own town spinning down the hole
Ah, you may leave Earth, for four days in space,
But when you return, the same old scorching place,
The poundin’ of the drums, the fright and disgrace,
You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace,
Hate your next door neighbor, but don’t forget to say your grace
And you tell me over and over and over and over again my friend,
You don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction. 
No, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.

In grace, Alan

Days of Zondo



Every Sunday there is a set psalm. The set psalm for today is Psalm 65. Part of my practice is to read the Sunday -approaching-psalm throughout the week. Some weeks it feels like I am carrying the psalm. Other weeks it feels like the psalm is carrying me. To carry and be carried by ancient words. Ancient words that help me hear today’s words differently. This past week there was one line in particular from Psalm 65 that I have been living with: “At the rise of each morning, and as the sun sets at night, the people bow their heads in reverent gratitude.” (Translation from: Nan C. Merrill’s Psalms for Praying). The scented invitation of each day this past week has simply been to bow my head in reverent gratitude.

Now on Wednesday evening I attended the book launch of Days of Zondo written by Ferial Haffajee who was interviewed by fellow journalist Rebecca Davis. From the launch, I am convinced Days of Zondo will be an important and riveting read, but the book itself is not the focus of this note. Bowing my head in reverent gratitude is the point of this note. And that was the overwhelming desire I had when I left the book launch: to bow my head in reverent gratitude for these two people who constantly save our country from falling off the cliff into oblivion. They, and others like them, do this saving work day in and day out. Yes, salvation work is everlasting and never-ending work.

And what is salvation work? It is the work of healing and liberation. Healing work that flows from the implementation of justice and mercy. And liberation work that flows from the application of truth. Jesus told us the truth sets us free, but his crucified body tells us that the truth is also enormously threatening to those who live off systems built on lies. And this is why I was moved to bow my head in reverent gratitude on Wednesday evening. Reverent gratitude for two people who love the truth. That was my overriding sense: these two are in love with the truth. They will do anything to unearth the truth, expose the truth, explain the truth, broadcast the truth, publish the truth. And their love for the truth casts out their fear of those who fear the truth, and this enables them to continue their salvation work.

So, for all the truth tellers – I bow my head in reverent gratitude. For those who are fearlessly in love with truth – I bow my head in reverent gratitude. For every investigative journalist – I bow my head in reverent gratitude. For every independent truth-seeking media house – I bow my head in reverent gratitude. For every whistle-blower who places truth above their job or position – I bow my head in reverent gratitude. For every activist and civil society organisation hard pressed for finances and resources but doggedly continues to raise issues of injustice – I bow my head in reverent gratitude. For legal brains and legal firms that use the law for salvation work and not Stalingrad work – I bow my head in reverent gratitude. I bow my head in reverent gratitude to these salvation workers in our land today. I invite you to add to the list … and bow your head in reverent gratitude.

In grace,

Understanding Apathy


One of the people I return to over and over again for clarity of thought is Joanna Macy. She writes plainly:

“Life on our planet is in trouble. It is hard to go anywhere without being confronted by the wounding of our world, the tearing of the very fabric of life. We are assaulted by news of tornadoes and hurricanes, fleeing refugees, an entire village buried in mudslides, thousands of bodies under the rubble, another species lost, another city bombed. Our planet is sending us signals of distress that are so continual now they seem almost normal. Reports proliferate about the loss of cropland and the spreading of hunger, toxins in the air we breathe and the water we drink, the die-off of plant and animal species. These are warning signals that we live in a world that can end, at least as a home for conscious life. This is not to say that it will end, but it can end. That very possibility changes everything for us… In the face of what is happening, how do we avoid feeling overwhelmed and just giving up?” [World as Lover, World as Self p17-19]

Deep into her book she reminds me that our pain and despair for all that is going on in the world is our hope. Yes, our pain is our hope. Our despair is our hope. Why? Well, I guess because it means we can still feel. And if we can still feel it means that we are still alive. And if we are still alive it means there is hope. Much more despairing is an inability to feel despair. As Macy writes:

“Have we ceased to care what happens to life on earth? It can look that way. Activists decry public apathy. The cause of our apathy, however, is not indifference. It stems from a fear of the despair that lurks beneath the tenor of life-as-usual. Sometimes it manifests in dreams of mass destruction, and is exorcised in the morning jog and shower or in the public fantasies of disaster movies. Because of social taboos against despair and because of fear of pain, it is rarely acknowledged or expressed directly. It is kept at bay. The suppression of despair, like that of any deep recurrent response, produces a partial numbing of the psyche. Expressions of anguish or outrage are muted, deadened as if a nerve had been cut.

The refusal to feel takes a heavy toll. It not only impoverishes our emotional and sensory life – flowers are dimmer and less fragrant, our loves less ecstatic – but also impedes our capacity to process and respond to information. The energy expended in pushing down despair is diverted from more creative uses, depleting the resilience and imagination needed for fresh visions and strategies. Fear of despair erects an invisible screen, filtering out anxiety-provoking data. In a world where organisms require feedback in order to adapt and survive, this is suicidal. Now, when we most need to measure the effects of our acts, our attention and curiosity slacken as if we are already preparing for the Big Sleep. Doggedly attending to business-as-usual, we’re denying both our despair and our ability to cope with it.

So it’s good to look at what apathy is, to understand it with respect and compassion. Apatheia is a Greek word that means, literally, non-suffering. Giving its etymology, apathy is the inability or refusal to experience pain. What is the pain we feel – and desperately try not to feel – in this planet-time? It is of another order altogether that what the ancient Greeks could have known; it pertains not just to privations of wealth, health, reputation or loved ones, but to losses so vast we can hardly name them. It is pain for the world.

Pain for the world is not only natural, it is a necessary component of our healing. As in all organisms, pain has a purpose: it is a warning signal, designed to trigger remedial action. It is not to be banished by injections of optimism or sermons on “positive thinking”. It is to be named and validated as a healthy, normal human response to the situation we find ourselves in. Faced and experienced, its power can be used. As the frozen defenses of the psyche thaw, new energies and intelligence are released.

The problem lies not with our pain for the world, but in our repression of it. Our efforts to dodge or dull it surrender us to futility …

The prospect of uncovering our innermost feelings about what is happening in our world is daunting. How to confront what we scarcely dare to think? How to face such grief and fear and rage without going to pieces?

It is good to realise that falling apart is not such a bad thing. Indeed, it is as essential to evolutionary and psychological transformations as the cracking of outgrown shells. Polish psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski calls it “positive disintegration”.” [World as Lover, World as Self p 94-95]

In the sermon last week we touched on the language of Lament. Lament is the language that honours despair and therein lies its hope. By reading the book of Lamentations and many of the Psalms may our tongues be loosened to lament.

In grace,

Why we worship

The Cellists of Sarajevo



We become what we worship, so it says in the Psalms:

The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but they do not speak;
they have eyes, but they do not see;
they have ears, but they do not hear,
and there is no breath in their mouths.
Those who make them and all who trust them
shall become like them. [Psalm 135:15-18]

Therefore, all the more reason for us to be deliberately conscious of who/what we worship. The tricky part is that there can obviously be a difference between who/what we say we worship and who/what we actually worship. As Jesus said: “Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord…” Jesus also said that we have a tendency to worship both God and money and that this is practically impossible. It is either one or the other, says Jesus.

In other words, attending “Church” is not necessarily “proof” of the focus of our worship. Perhaps a more accurate measure is what we spend our money and time on. That said, to the extent that our weekly practice of worship is authentic, is to the extent that we will be transformed into the likeness of the One we worship. Last week we were reminded that God is a lover of the poor and a lover of justice and therefore one measure of the authenticity of our weekly worship is whether our love for the poor is deepening and our love for justice is strengthening. May this be so.

In grace,

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
– WB Yeats

Bread and Roses

Dedicated to the belief that the world and its abundance belongs to all of us — not only to a privileged few:

Bread and Roses was a poem and song that emerged during the women’s millworker strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912. Women were fighting for fair wages, child labour laws, overtime pay, fair working conditions. Part of their strike proclamation read:

We, the 20,000 textile workers of Lawrence, are out on strike for the right to live free from slavery and starvation; free from overwork and underpay; free from a state of affairs that had become so unbearable and beyond our control, that we were compelled to march out of the slave pens of Lawrence in united resistance against the wrongs and injustice of years and years of wage slavery.”

This song came to mind recently because of the workers who are fighting for jobs, and for their union bargaining rights — fighting against the rich and powerful who seem to be trying to make workers and labour unions the enemy. My heart goes out to all who struggle for bread and roses.

As we go marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,

For the people hear us singing: “Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”

 As we go marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women’s children, and we mother them again.

Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!

As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead,
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread,
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew,
Yes, it is bread we fight for — but we fight for roses, too!

As we go marching, marching, we bring the greater days,
The rising of the women means the rising of the race,
No more the drudge and idler — ten that toil where one reposes,

 But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!

 – John Oppenheim