The greatest love story

Grace to you

The Bible is a love story. A love story about the Great Lover of the Universe who is in love with every particle of life. A love story about those who carry the potential to love just as the Great Lover of the Universe loves, yet who sadly settle for substitutes that promise nourishment but leave us more hungry. A love story about the radical interconnection of all that is alive, reminding us that if one part suffers, then all parts will eventually suffer. Sadly this love story has been interpreted by some throughout the ages in ways that lead to the diminishment, destruction and death of Life, rather than the Great Lover’s hope of this story guiding us all to an abundance of Life in all its fullness.

Instead of affirming the sacredness of all of life, the Bible has been interpreted by some to proclaim the superiority of some aspects of life over others. Think of how some have turned to the scriptures to support the supremacy of “their group” over another: White people superior to black people. Men superior to women. Colonial nations superior to invaded nations. Straight people superior to LGBTI people. Healthy people are superior to people who are ill. Christians superior to people of other religions or no religion. The list could go on! In each case scripture is used to validate discrimination and bless the lie that some are superior and others are inferior, normally for the sake of securing unjust privilege and power.

In each of these cases the struggle for justice and equality (which is how love is incarnated in a society) is made all the more difficult to attain because the perpetrators or beneficiaries of the discrimination believe they are being obedient to God and therefore acting righteously rather than sinfully. History has shown that eventually the Christian Church is called to humble itself in confession and declare: “we were wrong when we thought we were right”.

Another such interpretation of Scripture that may well be the most sinful (read: deathly) of all interpretations is that humanity is superior to all other creatures and life forms. This interpretation has served to validate humanities exploitation of all life on the planet. Calling what is selfish greed a divine blessing. It has promoted the lie that we are independent from the rest of life on the planet. This interpretation has also blinded humanity from the gruesome truth that we are the most destructive animal that has ever existed on the planet and that if we ceased to exist tomorrow, all of life would flourish as a result thereafter.

In this light I refer you to an article that hopefully will humble our opinion of ourselves as a species:

“The bees have been declared the most important living beings on this planet, the Earthwatch Institute concluded in the last meeting of the Royal Geographical Society of London. However, according to wildlife experts and scientists, the bees have joined the endangered species long list.

The recent studies show a dramatic decline of the bees’ number as almost 90 percent of the bee population has disappeared in the last few years. The uncontrolled use of pesticides, deforestation or lack of flowers are the main reasons for their extinction.

However, why would such a little being be named the most important creature on Earth? Well, the answer is actually more simple than you ever thought. Seventy percent of the world’s agriculture depends exclusively on bees. Needless to mention the pollination is the bees’ job, although the plants would not be able to reproduce, therefore the fauna would have been gone in a very short time. More than that, a study … concluded that the bees are the only living being who does not carry any type of pathogen.

After all, Albert Einstein’s say about bees has never been truer. “If the bees disappear, humans would have 4 years to live,” the famous physicist said.

Since the bees’ importance is crucial in our planet’s ecosystems and they’ve also been declared an endangered species, we really need to be as careful as possible on the matter. And we need to act quickly as we still have some solutions.”
The Science Times July 2019, by Chardynne Joy H. Concio

Grace,
Alan

 

Inequality

The South African Nightmare

(A poem of lament for this beloved country)

I hate this country in which one’s race is the single most significant determinant of one’s fluency in funeral songs
Because Death is racist and blackness requires being prepared for him in and out of season

I hate this country where rain means different things to different people
How some can celebrate the filling of the dams, while others’ homes, belongings and belonging get washed away

I hate this country where nothing makes any sense
Where people talk about a housing crisis, while multi-million rand mansions stand unoccupied for most months of the year

I hate this country that too often feels like a knotted mess that cannot be undone
Because the oppressor/oppressed dynamics are so entangled within our beings that in the process of untangling it feels impossible not to lose pieces of ourselves

I hate this country that means vastly different things to different people
Simultaneously occupying lists of the best places to live in the world, and the most dangerous places to live in
the world

I hate this country that is so two-faced in its reception of people into its borders
Welcoming some with open arms, while perpetually making others feel like the unwanted stepchildren who don’t belong

I hate this country that doesn’t even bother to hide its idolatry of capital
Where money can buy you education, healthcare, dignity, and even humanity, but if you can’t afford it you can forget about it

I hate this country that doesn’t even bother to hide its racism
Where white peoples’ right to play golf is prioritised over black peoples’ rights to health, food, housing and sanitation

I hate this country where having a vagina far too often represents a death sentence
And penises are weaponised to maintain the oppression of womxn and children

I hate this country where the church is just as dangerous a space for womxn as anywhere else
And theology is twisted to uphold the strongholds of patriarchy and violence

I hate this country where proximity to whiteness is proxy for the amount of attention one’s murder is given
And the brutal violence experienced daily by so many is deemed unworthy of outcry

I hate this country that is too often the stuff of nightmares
Where you can become as woke as you like, but there is no waking from this mess

By Thandi Gamedze

If you would like to read more of Thandi Gamedze remarkable poetic laments, visit https://www.warehouse.org.za/author/thandi-gamedze/page/2/

Grace, Alan

 

Taizé

Grace and peace to you

In 1941 a 26 year old named Roger wrote: “The defeat of France awoke powerful sympathy. If a house could be found there, of the kind we had dreamed of, it would offer a possible way of assisting some of those most discouraged, those deprived of a livelihood; and it could become a place of silence and work…” As Gonzalez Balado explains the house they dreamed of: “A house to live the essentials of the Gospel with others – a new reality. France it must be, a land of wartime suffering but a land of inner freedom.”

So, Roger went looking for a house in the poor areas of France. In the tiny town of Taizé he was given a simple meal from an old woman who, after hearing Roger tell of his idea, said: “Stay here with us; we are so poor, so isolated and the times are so bad!” He stayed.

Roger’s first task was to offer hospitality to refugees from the war – many of them Jews fleeing to Switzerland for safety. In 1942 his house of hospitality was taken over by the Gestapo and he had to go home to Geneva. Yet after the war he returned with his first brothers; and one of his first tasks was to care for German prisoners of war – which was far from popular at the time! They did so while keeping a simple rule of life:

Throughout your day let work and rest be quickened by the Word of God.

Keep inner silence in all things and you will dwell in Christ.

Be filled with the spirit of the Beatitudes: Joy, simplicity, mercy.

In 1948 Roger received permission to use the local Catholic Church in the area – the first non-Catholics to be allowed to do so. No doubt inspired by his grandmother who during the terrible conflict between Protestant and Catholics who, as a Protestant, used to worship regularly at the local Catholic church showing all that “we are all one”. Later Brother Roger and a few others from Taizé were the only non-Catholics to be invited by Pope John to attend the 2nd Vatican Council.

This brief history shows how Br. Roger and Taizé became a community that consistently crossed divides for decades – especially during the cold war between Eastern and Western Europe. Each year literally hundreds of thousands of young people between the ages of 15 and 30 would make a pilgrimage to Taizé to practice prayer, seek silence and meet with people otherwise divided by an Iron Curtain. Taizé would play a huge, yet hidden (humble) role in the Velvet Revolution of the late 80s inspired by many who had Taizé in their spirits…

Just over a week ago Taizé held a Pilgrimage of Trust in Cape Town – drawing around 2000 young people into silence, prayer and community. It did not make any headlines. Jesus stuff seldom does because most often it is impossible to measure – and we live in a world that says if you can’t measure it then it is probably meaningless. But let it be known that the future of our land and continent will be nudged towards freedom and justice because of what was silently planted in the lives of young people last week.

Grace,
Alan

Power, Permission and Non-Violence

As a human race, in our unaware state driven by a fear of being separate from Love, we organise ourselves around power. This plays out on a societal level with the combination of power and bias creating the violent oppression of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, xenophobia and so on. The effects of living with this oppression are far reaching, many of which cannot even be discerned because the dynamic is so familiar, it seems real and true. The extent to which people question that reality and choose to live a different one, is generally the extent to which they are isolated, rejected, resisted, shunned, blamed, maimed or killed.

Other systems of oppression we live in today are perhaps quite subtle, feeling like the norm of our day and age—materialism, consumerism, capitalism… where the currency used to stay in the in group is performance, drivenness, social media presence, greed, attention and a pursuit of more, bigger, better, faster and newer. 

Most of us are seduced in one way or another daily, and are not even aware of it. Red push notifications from the apps on a phone, designed to grab your attention and keep you coming back for more; marketing and advertising convincing you of a need you didn’t know you had, and the resultant answer to that need which is something you didn’t know existed; Netflix series episodes rolling from one into the next before you’ve had time to press stop.

Further still are the daily oppressive beliefs we have of what makes us worthy of love and belonging, whether that be our looks, our ability to succeed or produce, the number of people who like us or praise us, our need to be perfect or to stand out… Not only do we face oppressive systems on the outside with their deathly effects, we hand our personal power over to some violent value judgment that leaves us in a place of anxiety, shame, anger, despair or depression.

At the same time, there is another Way in this world, a way that comes from a different place, from Love, a belief of Oneness. It is a voice of permission. Permission to Be. Be exactly who you are. In the words of one who is speaking Truth to systems of oppression in our day, Brenè Brown, “Imperfect and enough”.

What does permission look like for each of us today? Permission to question a system, protocol or expectation of us from outside ourselves, or become curious about the voice of the critic within that leaves us with a sense of unworthiness. Permission to feel all our feelings, to be different, to not conform, to have boundaries, to pull aside into stillness, silence, solitude. Permission to connect with a different Way, to connect with non-violent teachers such as nature, children, animals, art, dance, music. Permission to take a break from the intensity of social media and news, or hurtful, burdening or unhelpful conversations. Permission to acknowledge our needs, get to know them, express them, and put time, effort, and resources into meeting them. Give permission to the different parts of ourselves that are looking for expression, acceptance and love to be witnessed.

When we know the freedom, joy and life that that permission produces in us, we will be compelled, enCOURAGEd to work for it for those around us who are struggling to see or access a reality outside of the system. Because we are One, my freedom and well-being is inextricably linked to the freedom and well-being of all.

May we grow more and more confident in the Power of Love.
Catherine

 

 

The kingdom of God is like …

If you watched the Cape Town Marathon zigzag through the streets of the city last Sunday, you would have witnessed an amazing sign of what Jesus called the ‘Kingdom of God’ – his way of describing how the world is meant to be.

I reckon if Jesus were hanging out in the Gardens with his disciples last Sunday he would have said to them while pointing to the runners passing by: “Behold, the Kingdom of God is like this marathon.” In reply we can hear one disciple boasting about being the fastest, provoking Jesus to look skyward in exasperation. And Peter asking, “Does this mean we must first complete a marathon to be saved?” And with some irritation in his voice, Jesus replies, “Oh Peter I wish you would stop taking me so literally … no, you don’t have to become a marathon runner, but can’t you see a glimpse of God’s reign passing by right in front of you? Oh those who have eyes yet cannot see … Let me touch your eyes again Peter … now look and tell me what do you see?”

“I see people – lots of people – all types of people. I see women and men. I see Greyhound-like-athletes flying past as well as joggers, walkers and hobblers. All of them moving at different speeds, yet strangely all moving as one. I see tall people, short people, thin-as-a-rake people and round-as-a-ball people … raking, rolling and running. All respect, and all are respected. I see a blind person holding the arm of his guide. I see a kid in a wheelchair grinning with a winner’s ear-to-ear smile. I see a person with one leg … one leg … swaying, almost dancing between his crutches. I see grandparents wrinkled and worn as well as youth still smooth and sleek. I see skin colours of every shade. I see running vests that indicate people are from every single part of this country and some from other countries and even continents.”

“Yes Peter, the reign of God is inclusive of all. Now what do you hear?”

“I hear heavy breathing …” “Peter, get serious!” “Ok, I hear multitudes of languages. I hear conversations of encouragement and care and laughter … even from the tired-legged. I hear singing, some chanting a meditation, another a hymn – one is even about what a friend you are Jesus … some sing in toyi-toyi-ing unison to a beat that seems to rise up from the soil while others observe strict silence. I hear music – carried by runners as well as played by the supporters. Music of every variety: 1980s Disco, House, R&B, Reggae, Beats and more R&B!

I hear a supporter (one of many) call out: “Take what you need” as they point to a spread of food and drink … in fact all the food and drink along the route is there for everyone – not only a privileged few.

“Yes Peter, the reign of God is where no one will be in need. And what else do you notice Peter?”

“I notice that every runner only takes what they need. No-one is grabbing 10 cups of coke … there is no hoarding … and look there is enough for everyone … in fact there is more than enough … an abundance. Not only does everyone have access to the same nourishment but also the same medical care along the way.”

“Yes Peter that is why they all run in peace, because no one has too much and no one has too little. Fairness, justice, equality bring peace … blessed are those who know this.”

“One last thing Peter, what is it about this marathon that is NOT a sign of God’s reign of justice and mercy? Look and see Peter … there on the ground … littered all over … what do you see?”

“I see thousands of blue plastic water sachets lying like blue bottles on a beach …”

“Yes Peter, and sadly many of these will end up on the beach too.” “But Jesus they advertised this as an eco-friendly marathon!?” “Peter … go ye and think about that …”

Grace,
Alan

For another Kingdom of God marathon story visit https://www.bruceclarkwriter.net/2016/11/boston/

 

 

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

Mend what you can, where you can

Grace to you

The pain of this past week is beyond words to describe … yet words are all we have … and with them we must resist the temptation to be silenced when fear grips us by the throat.

We live with war-zone-levels of violence in this country on a daily basis. Violence, or in the very least, news of violence assaults us daily – yet this past week felt like a ferocious flood that just kept on rising and rising – pushing past our usual defenses leaving us afraid that we will all drown. Drown in blood and grief and anger. Every time we thought the tide of blood couldn’t rise any higher … it did.

  • The deadly violence of men against women
  • The deadly violence of men against children
  • The deadly violence of South African citizens’ against people of other countries (mostly but not exclusively from the rest of the African continent).

And these violences (plural) themselves are the consequence of deep systemic-source-violences. The violences of patriarchy and racism. The violences of dispossession and oppression and exclusion and the further violences that flow from these violences, like poverty and hunger and unemployment. And tragically the people who suffer the most from the systemic-source-violences are the very people most likely to suffer the violence that we witnessed this week.

All these violences make us a deeply traumatised society. I am convinced that almost all of us live with PTSD. PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – yet in our context I think it should also stand for PRESENT Traumatic Stress Disorder because the reasons for our trauma are constant – as one reason passes, another instantly takes its place. To live with Present TSD is abnormal. To live in a society that inscribes Present TSD is abnormal. So if we find ourselves acting in ways that might otherwise be deemed abnormal, this is in fact normal. 

So if you are feeling constantly overwhelmed – it is normal. If you are feeling anxious and edgy – it is normal. If you are feeling exhausted with constant fatigue – it is normal. If you can’t sleep – it is normal. If all you want to do is sleep – it is normal. If you can’t focus or concentrate – it is normal. If you have outbursts of strong emotions – it is normal. If you feel numb – it is normal. If you feel you can’t be around large crowds of people or around men – it is normal. All this is normal for a traumatised person to experience. What is important is that we feel what we feel without judgement, guilt and self-condemnation. Feelings are not good or bad – they just are and they long for full acknowledgement.

My hope is that if any of this resonates with you that you will find at least one other person to connect with to speak about what you are feeling. (And if someone decides to speak to any of us – that we will commit to listen without judgement or the need to give advice, and hold what is shared with love.)

In these days I have found myself returning to Clarissa Pinkola Estés, “Letter to a Young Activist during Troubled Times.” Especially these words:

…Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely.

…One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. … The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires … causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these, to be fierce and to show mercy toward others – both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do. (Please go to http://mavenproductions.com for the full letter.)

Grace,
Alan

When does God get angry?

Grace to you

One may be inclined to think that criticism of religious practice would be at its most cutting from the lips of those who are “unbelievers”. Yet, according to the prophets of old, the harshest criticism of the religious comes from the mouth of God. Listen:

“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams…I do not delight in the blood of bulls…who asked this from you? Bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me…I cannot endure solemn assemblies …your appointed festivals my soul hates…they have become a burden to me…even though you make many prayers I will not listen…”[Isaiah 1]

According to the prophets, God gets angry with religious people, whenever we begin to believe that it is our religious practice (Sunday worship, Holy Communion, Baptism, prayer, tithing, etc.) that impresses God as an end in itself. Here religion is idolatrous. From here it is a slippery slope to worshiping the way we worship and our religion becoming our God. This is one of the unique temptations that face religious people – and according to the prophets we keep falling for it.

God desires just and merciful relationships and our religious practice is meant to remind us of this. When our religious practice doesn’t remind us of this, the prophets say God will have none of it. James understood this: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” [James 1:27]

Prophets specialise in connecting cause and consequence and according to biblical prophets there is a direct relationship between the health of the most vulnerable of society (repeatedly symbolised in the “vulnerable trinity” of orphans, widows and foreigners) and the health of society at large. To neglect the vulnerable is to cause societal collapse. Conversely when the vulnerable are valued and prioritised the land and all the people will flourish. In other words, the best measure of society’s health is not the Rand/Dollar exchange or Stocks index or GDP figures but rather whether the marginalised are the centre of society’s compassion or not.

There are few things that must anger God more than the stealing of money, resources and services meant to liberate the poor and heal the desperate. This is especially true when stolen by people in the name of caring and liberating the poor. It is this travesty in our recent history that the Zondo Commission gives testimony to and when added to our long history of injustice it is not surprising that our land hovers close to the edge of collapse.

The prophets of old would declare the imminent collapse of society as God’s wrath. Yet, God’s wrath is not punishment per se. God’s wrath is the refusal to allow the principles of God to be mocked without consequence. In other words the principle of society’s health matching the health of the “vulnerable trinity” will ultimately be applied. To flout the care of the “vulnerable trinity” of society without societal collapse as a consequence is like expecting the law of gravity not to apply to oneself when stepping off a building. Gravity doesn’t punish us, it just is. Similarly, God doesn’t punish us. God’s principles just are: prioritise the vulnerable and flourish or ignore the case of the widow and perish. The flourishing or perishing of every society throughout human history hinges on this principle.

May we have ears to hear, hearts to feel and hands to act.
Alan

Ok is not okay

Grace and peace to you

Last Sunday a funeral was held for the first glacier killed by human-caused climate breakdown. According to news reports the glacier was even issued a death certificate. Articles I’ve read state the following:

In 1901, a geological map of Iceland’s Central Highlands depicted the Okjökull glacier as a large swathe of ice spanning 38 square kilometers. By 1945 it had shrunk to just 5 square kilometers. Not long after 2005, it was all but gone. In 2014, Okjökull lost its glacier status; now, it’s just a shield volcano with no glacial cover at all.”

A team of researchers and documentary makers have now highlighted this loss – as well as the losses to come – by creating a memorial for the lost Okjökull glacier (these days referred to simply as Ok, having lost the -jökull or “glacier” part of its name).

Andri Snaer Magnason, the author of the memorial, titles the plaque “A letter to the future”:

“Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier.
In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path.
This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done.
Only you know if we did it.”

Along with this passage, the memorial also includes the number 415ppm CO2: the record level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere reached in May this year, the first time this has happened in human history.

“This will be the first monument to a glacier lost to climate change anywhere in the world,” says anthropologist Cymene Howe from Rice University. “By marking Ok’s passing, we hope to draw attention to what is being lost as Earth’s glaciers expire. These bodies of ice are the largest freshwater reserves on the planet and frozen within them are histories of the atmosphere.”

“Many glaciers, in Iceland and elsewhere on the planet, are losing a huge amount of ice to a warming climate. With Asia’s mountain glaciers rapidly melting and depleting the region’s people of precious water resources, and with Antarctica alone losing 252 billion tons of ice annually, the onus is on us to do something. One of our Icelandic colleagues put it very wisely when he said, ‘Memorials are not for the dead; they are for the living.'” Howe said.

“With this memorial, we want to underscore that it is up to us, the living, to collectively respond to the rapid loss of glaciers and the ongoing impacts of climate change. For Ok glacier it is already too late; it is now what scientists call ‘dead ice.'” [JACINTA BOWLER in Science Alert 20 AUG 2019]

This memorial service (even more pertinent in the light of the Amazon fires) reminds us of our interconnectedness to the whole web of life. It reminds us that the way we live our brief span matters in the whole big scheme of things. It says to us that the consequences of our living may only be truly known long after we are gone. As the ice melts we are invited to hear the “creation groaning”, not in labour pains as Paul wrote in Romans 8:22, but rather in death throws.

This memorial service leaves us with Yhwh’s pleading: “There is life and death before you… choose life.” [Deuteronomy 30:15-19]

Grace,
Alan


“I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” Donald Trump. President of the United States.

Disloyal Jew

I am a disloyal Jew.
I am not loyal to a political party.
Nor will I be loyal to dictators and mad kings.
I am not loyal to walls or cages.
I am not loyal to taunts or tweets.
I am not loyal to hatred, to Jew-baiting, to the gloating connivings of white supremacy.

I am a disloyal Jew.
I am not loyal to any foreign power.
Nor to abuse of power at home.
I am not loyal to a legacy of conquest, erasure and exploitation.
I am not loyal to stories that tell me whom I should hate.

I am a loyal Jew.
I am loyal to the inconveniences of kindness.
I am loyal to the dream of justice.
I am loyal to this suffering Earth.
And to all life.

I am not loyal to any founding fathers.
But I am loyal to the children who will come.
And to the quality of world we leave them.
I am not loyal to what America has become.

But to what America could be.
I am loyal to Emma Lazarus. To huddled masses.
To freedom and welcome,
Holiness, hope and love.

By Reb Irwin Keller

Reb lives in Sonoma County California and is a student member of Ohalah, the Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal.


The New Colossus (Statue of Liberty)

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

by Emma Lazarus

Reclaim the city

A letter from the co-ordinating committee of Reclaim the City and all residents at Cissie Gool House to the Mayor of Cape Town:

“Dear Mayor Dan Plato,

On Tuesday 6 August 2019 at 2pm you will meet with the rest of the City of Cape Town Mayoral Committee to discuss the future of occupied Cissie Gool House in Woodstock and make a decision whether you will evict us. We want to explain why that would be a terrible decision.

You will remember that we first occupied public buildings in early 2017 when former Premier Helen Zille refused to stop the sale of the Tafelberg site, one of the last parcels of state land in Sea Point. You were in her cabinet at the time.

Since then many promises have been made to redistribute well-located state land for affordable housing. Most have been broken or delayed. It’s still true to say that no new affordable public housing has been built in the inner city and surrounds or any well-located area since the end of apartheid.

As a result, we are now hundreds living at Cissie Gool House and thousands in our occupations across the inner city and surrounds.

We are ordinary families forced to take extraordinary steps to avoid being evicted and displaced by a property system and economic model that does not work for us. We are those who can no longer pay exorbitant rents and rates. We are those who have witnessed our streets and heritage slowly ruptured by racially segregated and exclusive housing projects for the wealthy. We are those who are tired of living in shacks with temporary poor quality services and no land security. We are those who can no longer make the dangerous and delayed journeys by public transport to find work or keep our jobs.

An attempted eviction of residents at Cissie Gool House will be the biggest in the inner city since the destruction of District Six. So let us be clear. Like the generation who came before us we will be forced to resist. We have nowhere else to go.

We know the law well because we defend our members from eviction every day. The courts are aware that you have failed in your mandate to deliver affordable housing in well-located areas. Now you have cancelled the few commitments you did make. The courts know you do not have any alternative accommodation available for even one evictee let alone all of us who would be made homeless. The courts know you have resorted to offering four pieces of zinc and some wooden poles to erect a shack in a backyard because your unjust relocation camps are full. We will never go there.

The law requires meaningful engagement before a decision to evict is made. We want to engage with you because we want to realise something much greater than just a roof over our heads: We have a vision of an inclusive, just and equal city for all poor and working-class people. We have a vision for what dignified affordable housing could be and we have started to build that right here and now.

In this old broken hospital, we have built a community that we are proud of with the little resources we have. We are newborn babies, we are students, we are elderly and we are disabled people. We are a community that celebrates birthdays, marriages and deaths across race and religion. A community where we feed those who are hungry from our gardens.

We have written to you but you’ve refused to meet. Even the slum lords have the decency to look their tenants in the eye before they evict them.

So, we are asking you again to come and visit us at the occupation before you decide to evict. Come listen to why we are living here, learn about what we have achieved so far, and think about what might be possible if you work together with residents.

Do the right thing this time. Show your commitment to advancing spatial justice by saving Cissie Gool House.

Regards,
The co-ordinating committee of Reclaim the City and all residents at Cissie Gool House.”

PSALM 82

O Merciful and Just Watcher,
You take your place in the divine council;
in the realm of conscience, You make yourself known.

You give due warning to those in power: “How long will you rule with injustice
and oppress the poor?
Act with integrity toward the weak
and the unfortunate;
maintain the rights of the afflicted
and the destitute.
Assist the needy
and reverence all people’s freedom; deliver them from the hand of the oppressor.”

Arise! Awaken to the new dawn!
Come into the Light;
shed darkness like skin on the snake!
For the foundations of the cosmos are shaking with injustice.

I say, “Within you dwells the Beloved,
the Breath of your breath;
Open your heart in the Silence and
know the One in the many.”

Arise! Join in the new creation!
Let harmony reign among all the nations

Nan C. Merrill ~ Psalms for Praying

“To Love. To be loved.
To never forget your own insignificance.
To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you.
To seek joy in the saddest places.
To pursue beauty to its lair.
To never simplify what is complicated or complicate
what is simple.
To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch.
To try and understand.
To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

– Arundhati Roy, The End of Imagination