Commission of Inquiry in State Capture

Friends,

This past week Chief Justice Zondo handed over the final report (Part VI) of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture to President Ramaphosa. A monumental achievement to bring thousands of hours of testimony together into a document that pin-points many involved in large scale corruption with the hope of holding them to account as well as reveal the corrupt mechanisms employed with the hope that it will be more difficult to do so in the future. Commissions of Inquiry seldom bring instant gratification. They do however provide an important public record that says to denialism, this far and no further. They provide a mirror for society to see itself more truthfully. And to the extent that the report is acted upon, and not simply read, they provide a purchase point from which systemic change may be levered.

Commenting on the State Capture report Stephen Grootes in Daily Maverick writes:

As a result, this mammoth document is likely to also be looked to as a blueprint for our future, a bible for a new South African state. And as it was the case when the Christian Bible was put together in the 5th century Alexandria, one of the most contentious issues will be which of Zondo’s recommendations will be followed and which will not.

There are important reasons to be cynical. It is a certainty almost everywhere that politicians are loath to accept changes to the system that got them into their positions. This is why large-scale change often has to be forced on them through elections, or revolutions.

There is also the disappointing history of the National Development Plan. It too was a blueprint for our future and it had wide public and political support. Despite being passed by acclamation at the ANC’s 2012 Mangaung Conference, most of it was ignored.

It is entirely possible the same fate could befall the Zondo Commission Report.

We should know the truth of these words better than most, because we know how the Bible has been used throughout history. The Bible is a mixed bag. It includes the most radical principles of justice, equality and liberation ever imagined as well as texts that are terribly oppressive, ethnocentric and patriarchal. Yes, not everything that is biblical is Christ-like. Yet, sadly we have too often shown more energy in using these unjust texts to support systems of exclusive privilege and power in society. We obsess about matters sexual of which Jesus says very little, while we all but ignore matters of war, of which Jesus says a great deal. On an analysis of Church history you would swear that Jesus is anti sex and pro war … resulting in too many people shameful of sex and too many proud of war. We “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matt. 23:24)

So as we consider the many responses to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, we are invited to consider how we selectively use and misuse the Bible.

Now, just as most of us will read summaries of the Zondo report rather than wade through all 5 500+ pages, may I suggest we re-read the Sermon on the Mount (just in case you’re not up to wading through all 66 books of the Bible). You will find the Sermon on the Mount in three succinct chapters: Matthew 5-7. If you have never read it before, a gift awaits you. Notably Jesus ends off with these words, which also holds true for the Zondo Commission report: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise person who built their house on rock…” Matt. 7:24. If we don’t want our country to be washed away by corruption we better act on this Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. And if we don’t want more Commissions of Inquiry we better act on the Sermon on the Mount.

With grace,
Alan

Here is the link to the The Nathan Commission of Inquiry – seeing the Commission into State Capture through the lens of David’s rape of Bathsheba.

 —

COVID Update

The Wearing of Masks is no longer mandatory—herewith communication from Bishop Yvette Moses:

Today an official announcement was made by Government authorities and formally Gazetted in which Covid-19 Regulations have changed with immediate effect. The wearing of masks is no longer mandatory and there are no longer any limitation on numbers in any gathering.

It was further stated that should people, for whatever reason, choose to wear masks, this should not be discouraged. The fact is that Covid-19 is not over – we are simply learning to live with this reality. We are also in the middle of winter, which is cold and flu season. Many of us continue to live with long-Covid and compromised immune systems, as well as the reality of poverty and its impact on living conditions which often leads to poor health and access to healthcare.

It is wise to encourage voluntary mask wearing by those who are vulnerable, have flu or other respiratory conditions, or who may be compromised in any way. No discrimination should be shown towards any who choose to wear masks or any who choose not to do so. We continue to encourage vaccination against Covid-19 and flu, as this remains the most effective way to protect against more serious flu and serious Covid-19 infection and hospitalisation.

As Methodists people we are guided by our Rule of Life – Do no harm, Do good, and attending upon the ordinances of God – as we seek to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8)

 

 

Self-Interest

Friends,

I have a brother who tries to keep me in touch with some of the ABC financial realities of running a business. He sent this financial proverb to me the other day:

  1. If somebody buys something for themselves with their own money, they will be mindful of both cost and quality.
  2. If they buy something for someone else with their own money, they will be mindful only of cost.
  3. If they buy something for themselves with other people’s money, they will be mindful only of quality.
  4. If they buy something for someone else with someone else’s money, they will be mindful of neither quality nor cost.

 

A one word summary: self-interest.

Yes we are moved by self-interest. This is the naked truth. We might not like to admit it, but we would be naïve to ignore it, or as the Bible says: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” [1 John 1:8].

Yet we are not only moved by self-interest. It is possible to be moved by the interest of our neighbour and ultimately the interest of the common good. To love our neighbour is to seek the best interest of the common good. If we love someone who we are buying something for, then quality matters. If we love the person whose money we are spending, then cost matters. And with just laws and just systems together with processes of accountability, this love may be expanded beyond the individual to protect society from being run by the lowest common denominator of self-interest.

Over the last few years we have witnessed how self-interest has stolen billions of Rands from budgets and funds and organisations and government entities that were meant to serve the common good. I find it impossible to get my head around some of the numbers. They are so big that they become a bit meaningless to me. I guess, billions baffles brains. For this reason a few figures quoted in a Daily Maverick article from Kyle Cowan’s book: Sabotage – Eskom Under Siege grabbed my attention:

Chief Operating officer of Eskom, Jan Oberholzer uncovered a plethora of disgraceful lapses – including the basics, such as Eskom paying R54 for a single black bag, R22 for a roll of single-ply toilet paper and double that for a litre of milk.

‘I visited the distribution centre in King William’s Town, and the one guy there said to me, you people at head office don’t know what you are doing. He explained that if he wanted to buy coffee or milk, he had to get it delivered from Johannesburg, where he could buy it locally for half the price. And that’s when I realised there were middlemen everywhere making a fortune,’ Oberholzer said. In those early days, he made it a priority to start relinking procurement of such basic goods to power stations and offices, decentralising it all.

But contracts for milk and sugar, while emblematic of Eskom’s state, were not the biggest problems he would have to deal with.

In other words they were paying R540 for 10 black bags, while we can buy 10 black bags for R34 at a local super-market. We would only do this if were not spending our own money and if you were reaping the benefits of a corrupt tender process.

The movement from self-interest to the interest of the common good is the continuous conversion that disciples of Jesus undergo. Over and over… surrendering and laying down our life for the good of our neighbour.

In grace,
Alan

On fire for justice and jubilee

 

 

Happy Pentecost!

Yes, today is Pentecost. If you didn’t know this, don’t feel bad – I can understand why. You see, there is zero advertising for this day. Unlike Christmas and Easter, Pentecost is yet to be used by marketing managers to get us to buy more stuff.

It seems Pentecost is too hot to handle and therefore unwise to cover in chocolate and uncomfortable to dress in a red jump suit. Besides, Cardies has not figured out how to come up with an equivalent to cute bunnies or red-nosed reindeer to mark the day. Most thankfully, Boney M has not written a song about Pentecost. But regardless of whether you know it or not, today is Pentecost.

Pentecost is the Greek name for the Jewish harvest festival (Shavuot), a prominent feast in the calendar of the ancient Hebrews, celebrating the giving of the Law to Moses at Sinai. Since Shavuot occurs 50 days after Passover, Hellenistic Jews gave it the name Pentecost (fiftieth day). Years later, it marked the day when a bunch of discouraged and defeated followers of Jesus were set on fire to live out his dream of justice and mercy for the world. A great wind swept their fear away and set them free to speak truthfully and live justly.

This resulted in a radically new community that we are told “had all things in common”. “They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds … and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common … [and] there was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold … it was distributed to each as any had need.” [Extracts from Acts 2 and 4].

In other words on this 50th day after Passover, these Spirit inspired disciples began to fulfil the Year of Jubilee – the year of economic redistribution to reset society on an equal footing. This economic Sabbath is recorded in Leviticus 25:  “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family.” [Lev. 25:10]

A truly Pentecostal people practice Jubilee and petition for its implementation within society. This means that the issue of landlessness and inequality are Pentecostal issues. “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, says the Lord, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.” [Lev 25:23]. In other words, long before Section 25 of our Bill of Rights calls for “land reforms”, the Spirit of Pentecost calls for reparations through the redistribution of land. The year of Jubilee lived into being at Pentecost reminds us that the land belongs to God and not to us, and God longs for all to share in its hospitality and nourishment.

If we are not moved by the Spirit of justice and healing to address the issue of landlessness in SA, we will ultimately be moved by the Spirit of resentment and rage. If we are not moved by the fire of the Spirit, we will be moved by the fire of burning tyres. If we do not address this voluntarily, it will be addressed violently. A nation that has bricks to build high walls to insulate the wealthy but has no bricks to build houses to shelter the poor, can only collapse.

Come Holy Spirit and set us on fire for justice and Jubilee.

In grace,
Alan

Religious Freedom

MUHAMMADIYAH MASJID – TENNYSON STREET MOSQUE, SALT RIVER

Friends,

Today I share with you an open letter written by Zackie Achmat (long-time community organiser and justice activist) to the Mayor of Cape Town, Geordin Hill-Lewis. I share it with you as CMM joins in solidarity to highlight and oppose the discriminating notice sent from the City of Cape Town to the Tennyson Street Masjid describing the athaan (call to prayer) as a “noise nuisance”. I was touched by this letter. It is both persuasive and beautiful. I love hearing the athaan in the early mornings. The call to prayer emanating from the Bo-Kaap is especially clear when the North Wester is blowing. Prayers carried on the wings of the wind to bless the city below.

We are graced to live in a country where we not only have freedom of religion but in fact have very good relationships across the religious spectrum. We have never had a religious war in this country. This will continue as long as “we do to others as we would have them do to us”.

Finally, while reading Zackie’s letter I was reminded of a quote by Gerald Stern that I hope will percolate some thought within you: “Mine was not faith in anything divine, unless the salvation of oppressed people can be called divine.” You may want to reflect on Matthew 25 with this quote in mind – where Jesus says: “What you do to the least (oppressed) of these you do to me”.

With grace,
Alan

 

MUHAMMADIYAH MASJID – TENNYSON STREET MOSQUE

OPEN LETTER TO MAYOR OF CAPE TOWN GEORDIN HILL-LEWIS

Dear Mayor Hill-Lewis

My system of belief, ethics, and conscience requires one to love one’s neighbour as oneself, to protect oneself and others from harm, and to promote justice, equality, and freedom. I have no religion, apart from my system of ethics and I struggle to uphold it.

I have read the letter of a certain Mrs Estelle Thyssen to the Imam of the Salt River Muslim Congregation at the Muhammadiyah Masjid in Tennyson Street, a letter that reads like a charge sheet for a crime.

The Tennyson Street Masjid was the second home to my family, we prayed there, the funeral ceremonies of my grandparents were conducted there, my aunts were married from there—and there I learnt that all people should be treated equally. My grandfather Ebrahim Adams often prayed by himself in the mosque especially when wars raged across the world whether they were wars instigated by Pakistan against Bangladesh or Israel against the Palestinian people. He would tell me: “We are all the children of Nabi Ebrahim (Abraham) and we should love one another”.

In 1969, standing on the balcony of our one-bedroomed flat at 17 Chatham Road with my late grandmother, Asa Adams, and my aunts, I heard the call to prayer, watched people fill the street from that mosque and march towards the cemetery to join the burial of the late Imam Abdullah Haroon, murdered by Spyker van Wyk and other security policemen. Many mosques in our city performed the same ritual in the martyred Imam’s memory.

Every Friday, all the school boys would walk hand-in-hand from Kipling St Primary School dressed in white through Pope Street down Chatham Road and turn left, where we would find the Tennyson Street Masjid, a place of sanctuary to pray. Once, I performed the athaan (call to prayer). The congregation treated my call to prayer as a noise nuisance because I was completely off-key. Apart from that, to this day, even though I am not a believer, the call to prayer is an integral part of my identity, the call I first heard at the Tennyson Street Masjid. The only verse of the morning prayer that I found difficult to observe at that time was “Asalatu Khair Minal Naum”, it is better to pray than to sleep. None of our Christian neighbours ever regarded the athaan as a noise nuisance.

As a socialist, it is my duty to defend every democratic right, including the right to worship a god or ancestor of one’s choice. I believe the letter describing the athaan as a “noise nuisance” is not only discriminatory but also deeply offensive to the Muslim community. I have no doubt that all reasonable people of faith, whether Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, or ancestral worship and atheists regard the City of Cape Town’s letter as an unconscionable infringement of religious freedom.

I refuse to succumb to any form of identity politics. But as a citizen, defined by the philosopher Michel Foucault as a person who can criticise their rulers without fear of consequence, I demand that you withdraw this obnoxious notice from the City of Cape Town that can also be construed as racist. It cannot be that an apartheid law of 1989 is applied in an Islamophobic manner.

Thus far, you have been a Mayor that walks our streets, one who listens to all the people you encounter, engages all opinions especially those you disagree with in a respectful manner. Geordin, a personal friend of long-standing, I know that you hold your Christian faith dearly and would find any attempt to banish the cross from the public sphere because it offends a Muslim, Jewish or atheist sensibility as an intolerable crime against religious freedom.

Just as we have a duty to oppose anti-Semitism, anti-Christian and all forms of racism, I must add my voice to the demand that you withdraw this Islamophobic notice issued by Mrs Estelle Thyssen and apologise to the Muslim community of our country and elsewhere.

Warm regards
Zackie Achmat

 

 

Missing Moments

 

EITZ Visual Artists

(corner Burg and Church Streets)

 

Friends,

It is amazing how the briefest of moments can determine the direction of our life. This can be true for good or for ill. Sometimes these brief moments are barely recognised as moments, yet their effect can last a life time. A child plays the piano. A parent listens. The child makes a mistake. The parent sighs. Between the notes, the child hears their parent’s sigh and out of the corner of their eye, the child notices their parent lower their head ever so slightly. This is interpreted by the child as disappointment and disapproval and perhaps embarrassment to listen any further. Afterwards, there is no discussion between the child and parent. No clarification. This is communication without conversation. Feelings are felt but not mentioned. All in all the sigh and the slight lowering of head took no more than a second, yet from that moment on, the child now middle aged, decided never to play the piano again. Just as big doors swing on little hinges, so our lives swing on the briefest of moments.

How terribly sad to be silenced by a sigh. How terribly disturbing that it is possible we may mute the music of another by the slight lowering of our head.

Sometimes our relationships with others are determined by moments that are missed moments. The moment that seems to have a sell-by-date embedded within it. The moment within a moment that somehow we feel has now passed, making whatever we had committed to do in the moment, no longer right or true or even possible. That what would have been appropriate is no longer so. And this scarcely conscious sense may end up determining a relationship forever.

The following is an extract from Kazuo Ishiguro’s book entitled, The Unconsoled. Ishiguro has an amazing ability to turn up the volume on our own internal dialogues so that we can hear ourselves.

“With that she had turned and disappeared out of the room. It had occurred to me to follow her through into the next room, visitors or no visitors, and bring her back for a talk. But in the end I had decided in favour of waiting where I was for her return. Sure enough, a few minutes later, Sophie had come back into the room, but something in her manner had prevented me from speaking and she had gone out again. In fact, although during the following half-hour Sophie had entered and left the room several more times, for all my resolve to make my feelings known to her, I had remained silent. Eventually, after a certain point, I had realised any chance to broach the topic without looking ridiculous had passed, and I had returned to my newspaper with a strong sense of hurt and frustration.”

One of the gifts of an author, in fact, one of the gifts of all artists, is that they help us to hear what we are deaf to and see what we are blind to. They bring to attention what we miss. Art is birthed in attentiveness. Artists gift us with the fruit of their attentiveness. Often they introduce us to ourselves as they help us to recognise ourselves and to know ourselves more truthfully. In this, artists help us to become more alive to life.

We would all become more alive to life were we to be more attentive to our living. Attentiveness however, requires stillness. And we live in an age of distraction that makes stillness an immense challenge. For this reason many have found the Examen Prayer that involves the daily practice of pause to be healing and helpful. The examen prayer invites us to pause and attentively examine or review our day. Without condemnation and without complacency, we are encouraged to compassionately reflect on our living. By grace we are invited to gently discern how we chose life or death in each moment and perhaps even the moments within each moment. The hope is that over time our lives may be less easily silenced and less prone to silence others.

With grace,
Alan

 

Mother Earth

 

Friends,

On this Mother’s Day, I share with you two reflections. Please see the website for the links to the two websites for further reading.

In grace, Alan

The first is an extract from A Rose for Your Pocket: An Appreciation of Motherhood by Thich Nhat Hanh:

“The thought “mother” cannot be separated from that of “love.” Love is sweet, tender, and delicious. Without love, a child cannot flower, an adult cannot mature. Without love, we weaken, wither. The day my mother died, I made this entry in my journal: “The greatest misfortune of my life has come!” Even an old person, when he loses his mother, doesn’t feel ready. He too has the impression that he is not yet ripe, that he is suddenly alone. He feels as abandoned and unhappy as a young orphan…

People in the countryside do not understand the complicated language of city people. When people from the city say that mother is “a treasure of love”, that is already too complex for them. Country people in Vietnam compare their mothers to the finest varieties of bananas or to honey, sweet rice, or sugar cane. They express their love in these simple and direct ways. For me, a mother is like a “ba huong” banana of the highest quality, like the best “nep mot” sweet rice, the most delicious “mia lau” sugar cane!

There are moments after a fever when you have a bitter, flat taste in your mouth, and nothing tastes good. Only when your mother comes and tucks you in, gently pulls the covers over your chin, puts her hand on your burning forehead – is it really a hand, or is it the silk of heaven? – and gently whispers, “My poor darling!” do you feel restored, surrounded with the sweetness of maternal love. Her love is so fragrant, like a banana, like sweet rice, like sugar cane…

Mother’s devotion is overflowing, like water from a mountain spring. Maternal love is our first taste of love, the origin of all feelings of love. Our mother is the teacher who first teaches us love, the most important subject in life. Without my mother I could never have known how to love. Thanks to her I can love my neighbours. Thanks to her I can love all living beings. Through her I acquired my first notions of understanding and compassion. Mother is the foundation of all love, and many religious traditions recognise this and pay deep honour to a maternal figure, the Virgin Mary, the goddess Kwan Yin. Hardly an infant has opened her mouth to cry without her mother already running to the cradle. Mother is a gentle and sweet spirit who makes unhappiness and worries disappear. When the word “mother” is uttered, already we feel our hearts overflowing with love. From love, the distance to belief and action is very short…

If I were to have any advice, it would be this: Tonight, when you return from school or work or, if you live far away, the next time you visit your mother, you may wish to go into her room and, with a calm and silent smile, sit down beside her. Without saying anything, make her stop working. Then, look at her for a long time, look at her deeply. Do this in order to see her, to realise that she is there, she is alive, beside you. Take her hand and ask her one short question to capture her attention, “Mother, do you know something?” She will be a little surprised and will probably smile when she asks you, “What, dear?” Keep looking into her eyes, smiling serenely, and say, “Do you know that I love you?” Ask this question without waiting for an answer. Even if you are thirty or forty years old, or older, ask her as the child of your mother. Your mother and you will be happy, conscious of living in eternal love. Then tomorrow, when she leaves you, you will have no regrets…”

The second is an extract from Humanity’s Attachment to Mother Earth by Oumar Konare, a former intern in the United Nations University Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP):

 “…Philosopher Mircea Eliade proposed a reflection about the “Mother Earth”. He compared Earth to the mother, on a symbolic level. Just like the mother, it is the first object of attachment that we encounter in the objective world. Earth holds us like a mother, it nurtures us like a mother does, providing food, chemicals, wood, and answering our every need in a seemingly omnipotent way, akin to the vision an infant has of its all-powerful mother until it has grown enough to fend for itself.

Moreover, clinical experience has demonstrated instances when patients separated from their homeland (immigrant workers, refugees, nomads) exhibit symptoms of depression and anxiety, echoing the situation of a child deprived of its mother’s care. The similarity comes from the feeling of abandonment from the loss of a familiar, known, secure, gratifying object.

Psychoanalyst Melanie Klein theorized, from her observation of babies, that an infant at some stage fears that it has “damaged” its mother by clinging to her and feeding off her, and this causes the child to enter a phase of depression subsequent to so much guilt. This guilt actually allows us to mature enough and form a psyche that can both withstand frustration and develop an ability to feel remorse.

This would mean that guilt and the ensuing need to “repair” are experienced at the very early moments of our life. While these theories are quite controversial, the central message is that humankind is capable of developing a stable psyche because of our very deep capacity to feel bad about our actions, and to delve into a more ”gentle” identity and accept to make amends by learning, by “being good”, and then by repairing the damage we have caused. As children, we thrive on a “good enough mother”, rather than an all-powerful mother, and the guilt from damaging the mother, by claiming too much from her — in another form of all-powerfulness — is one step towards socialization and the integration of norms and values.

In practice, it is often very apparent in adults how many of their everyday actions have a source in their early interactions with their mothers. In regards to Earth, this is something that is quite apparent too: we do feel deeply moved by the consequences of our use of Earth and our all-powerfulness towards her.

One main question remains though: are we moved enough by the plight of the planet to question ourselves, deal with depression and make amends at the same time? If we are not, we should think of ways to allow ourselves to be moved by those feelings so familiar and yet so terrifying because they force us to confront the possibility that we are in fact powerless and our ultimate fear of becoming victims of something we cannot control at all — the revenge of she who created and fed, and on whom we depend for everything…”

 

The Murdered Monks of Tibhirine

The Murdered Monks of Tibhirine
1996

 

Friends,

When it comes to Resurrection, words fail. Resurrection is simply too impossible and unimaginable for words to describe. When used to convince others of Resurrection, words sound like an “idle tale” (Luke 24:11). The only Resurrection currency that holds its value over time is a changed life. An empty tomb with leftover grave clothes is merely proof of an empty tomb with left over grave clothes. It is not proof of Resurrection. A changed life is the closest thing to “proof” of the Resurrection that there is.

For this reason, I shared the story of the monks at Tibhirine on Easter Sunday. A story I believe to hold Resurrection currency. I read to you the letter written by Trappist Father Christian-Marie de Cherge, one of seven monks slain in Algeria in 1996.  He wrote the letter sometime between December 1, 1993 and January 1, 1994 — between which dates members of the Armed Islamic Group first visited the monastery. It was marked to be opened at his death. The monk’s family sent the letter to France’s daily Catholic newspaper, La Croix, which published the text in full on May 28, 1996.

The deaths of the monks were blamed on Islamic jihadists, but suspicions linger that the Algerian government and possibly the French government too may have been involved. A Time magazine story in 2009 reported that testimony of a retired French general indicates the deaths may have been the result of an Algerian military operation gone awry. The bodies of the monks were never found.

Here is the letter:

“If it should happen one day—and it could be today—that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country.

I ask them to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure.

I ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?

I ask them to be able to associate such a death with the many other deaths that were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity.

My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood.

I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, even in that which would strike me blindly.

I should like, when the time comes, to have a clear space which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of all my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this.

I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice if this people I love were to be accused indiscriminately of my murder. It would be to pay too dearly for what will, perhaps, be called “the grace of martyrdom,” to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.

I know the scorn with which Algerians as a whole can be regarded. I know also the caricature of Islam which a certain kind of Islamism encourages.

It is too easy to give oneself a good conscience by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideologies of the extremists.

For me, Algeria and Islam are something different; they are a body and a soul.

I have proclaimed this often enough, I believe, in the sure knowledge of what I have received in Algeria, in the respect of believing Muslims—finding there so often that true strand of the Gospel I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church.

My death, clearly, will appear to justify those who hastily judged me naïve or idealistic: “Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!”

But these people must realize that my most avid curiosity will then be satisfied.

This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills—immerse my gaze in that of the Father, to contemplate with him his children of Islam just as he sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, the fruit of his Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and to refashion the likeness, delighting in the differences.

For this life given up, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God who seems to have wished it entirely for the sake of that joy in everything and in spite of everything.

In this “thank you,” which is said for everything in my life from now on, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you my friends of this place, along with my mother and father, my brothers and sisters and their families—the hundredfold granted as was promised!

And you also, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing. Yes, for you also I wish this “thank you”—and this adieu—to commend you to the God whose face I see in yours.

And may we find each other, happy “good thieves,” in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen”.

Easter is serious

 

If we kill the truth-tellers

their truth will be resurrected ten-fold

in the  generations to come. 

Long live the Truth, long live.

 

Friends,

“Easter is serious. Easter is a demand as well as
a promise. Easter demands not sympathy for the crucified Lord but loyalty to the risen one; it
demands an end to all our complicity in crucifixion.”

– William Sloane Coffin

 

Easter is serious because to trust in its truth is to affirm that the way of Jesus really is the way of Life. It is to affirm Jesus’ teaching and lived example which pretty much goes against almost all the accepted wisdom of the world.

Like:
Welcome-in strangers. Hang-out with outcasts. Tell the truth regardless. Better to help someone lying in a ditch on a dangerous road than make it in time for church. Don’t hit back. You don’t own what you have. Give and give again without counting the cost. Worry not about tomorrow—not even today. Pray all night. Fall in love with the people who hate you. Fear no-one. Forgive people who are wrong—even if they are really, really wrong. Forgive again. Serve all people—especially the “least”. Make friends with the poor.

This is serious stuff. Easter is serious stuff.

Joyfully disturbed by resurrection,
Alan

On this day of Resurrection I invite you to slowly wander through this poem by the Brazilian liberation theologian, Rubem Alves.

What is hope?
It is a presentiment that imagination is more real
and reality less real
than it looks.

It is a hunch that the overwhelming brutality of facts
that oppress and repress
is not the last word.

It is a suspicion that reality is more complex
than realism wants us to believe
and that the frontiers of the possible are not determined

by the limits of the actual
and that in a miraculous and unexpected way
life is preparing the creative events
which will open the way to freedom and resurrection . . .

The two, suffering and hope, live from each other.
Suffering without hope produces resentment and despair,
hope without suffering creates illusions, naiveté,
and drunkenness . . .

Let us plant dates
even though those who plant them will never eat them.

We must live by the love of what we will never see.
This is the secret discipline.

It is a refusal to let the creative act be dissolved
in immediate sense experience
and a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren.

Such disciplined love is what has given
prophets, revolutionaries and saints
the courage to die for the future they envisaged.

They make their own bodies the seed of their
highest hope.

– Rubem Alves, Brazil

 

Palm Sunday Performance Protest

Pussy Riot perform “Punk Prayer” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

February 2012

 

Friends,

Palm Sunday was an act of political performance art. The purpose of political performance art is to expose the powers. Exposing the powers to protest the powers. To hold up a mirror to them. To take the micky out of them. It is basically to declare: “The emperor has no clothes”.

Political performance art is all about symbolism and timing and place. Jesus was a whizz at this stuff. He knew how to put his finger on the political nerve of the Roman regime as we will find out again this Palm Sunday. The palm waving parade, complete with a Zechariah inspired donkey ride was political theatre at its best. This was immediately followed by Jesus’ dramatic performance shakedown of the religious powers in showing how to deep clean a state-captured-temple.

Jesus’ performance art would secure his execution for sure. Having peeved off both political and religious big wigs – it was a no brainer that they would come together to vote in favour of his killing. The state would supply the wood and nails and the religious establishment would guarantee divine approval.

It is a dangerous thing to dig up and expose the powerlines of any oppressive regime. Here are a few more recent examples of political performance art. Some explicit. Some more subtle. Some planned long in advance. Some spontaneous. 

 

See Pussy Riot perform “Punk Prayer” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in February 2012. For an explanation of the lyrics, see this article.

 

See the beginnings of the #RhodesMustFall student movement,
with Chumani Maxwele who threw poo on the UCT Rhodes Statue.
He describes in detail all the symbolism that informed the
performance protest.

 

 

 

See Pope Francis spontaneously stop and pray at the Apartheid-Israel wall soon after

 

 

 

praying at the Jerusalem’s Western wall.

 

 

 

 

And then finally some protest theatre against State Capture way back on 12 May 2013 wonderfully coinciding with 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. 

See 2013 State Capture performance protest from civil society organisations in the city of Cape Town.

 

 

 

 

Economic War

 

Friends,

This week we heard that South Africa’s unemployment rate reached a new record high of 35.3% at the end of 2021. (Compare to other countries.) According to an expanded definition of unemployment that includes those discouraged from seeking work, 46.2% of the labour force was without work in the fourth quarter of 2021. While the youth unemployment rate is at an unbelievable 65.5%.

Behind these figures are suffering and hungry people. It was reported this week that seven children died of starvation in the Eastern Cape where an estimated 72% of the population live below the poverty line. What a horror to be unable to feed one’s family. Without any sign of things changing, people live in a perpetual state of present traumatic stress disorder. All this is only a stone’s throw away from places of extensive wealth, causing despair and desperation to easily couple with anger and rage.

When the Kremlin spokesperson recently said the West was waging “economic war” against Russia, I thought how true this is for the unemployed and destitute of South Africa. To be sanctioned or prevented from economic participation is to be attacked. For Russia it happened instantly and justifiably as a result of their unprovoked attack on Ukraine, but for 60% of South Africans who live below the poverty line it has been brought to the boil slowly and as such it is not recognised as war. Without recognition that 60% of SA are in a war there is little urgency to end the war. What war?

I am always astounded at the ingenuity that accompanies war. All sorts of industries are instantly converted to assist the “war effort” as ploughshares and pruning-hooks are miraculously turned into swords and spears. When the victims of the war are “only the poor”, however, the idea of turning swords and spears into nourishing utilities is impossibly unrealistic according to the untouched powers that be.

When the stones, that are only a stone’s throw away begin to fly, those who throw them will be called violent criminals and dealt with accordingly. Few will see them as a desperate people finally taking up stones in a war they have long suffered. Stones will be met with urgent State action – often violent – until “peace” is restored. For the 60% this “peace” is in reality the continuation of economic war against them. A war that is not recognised as a war. This self-defeating cycle will repeat itself again and again with growing intensity. And in the end protecting a false peace will be far more costly than the establishment of justice and fairness.

It is within this context that populist politics gain traction and authoritarianism takes root. In an economic war the ‘enemy’ is easily hidden, if not invisible, and this energises the search for visible scapegoats. It is therefore not surprising in these times that xenophobic and vigilante organisations rise in search of these scapegoats to blame and beat. Tragically, the scapegoats close at hand are people equally poor and desperate. In SA these often take the human form of vulnerable foreign nationals. As in Bredasdorp where more than 1000 people, mostly from Zimbabwe and Malawi, are now living in municipal halls and a mosque after they were targeted and chased out of their homes. The traumatised traumatising the traumatised.

With all of this in mind we gather today to share in the sacrament of Holy Communion. This is not a private ritual of forgiveness to secure a spot on a heavenly cloud. At this table, Jesus our host, reminds us of his economic dream of equality on earth where all are included and all receive as we have need. To share in Holy Communion is to commit ourselves to an economy of nourishment for all. To share in this sacrament is to commit to the forgiveness of debts that keep people in various forms of systemic slavery. It is to be reminded that it is not God’s will that some are rich and some are poor. Inequality is at odds with God and leads to self-destruction. God is the great lover of justice who longs for a fair balance where those who have much, do not have too much and those who have little, do not have too little.

A sacrament is a sign. Today we share in a sign of Holy Communion with the commitment to work for incarnation of this sign of Holy Communion in the world. The work of justice and equality is Holy Communion work. Wherever this justice work is done, Holy Communion is taking place. Whoever is doing this justice work is administering Holy Communion. Whenever this justice work is being experienced, Holy Communion is being celebrated.

With grace,
Alan