Making meaning

Soweto’s inspiring soccer gogos risk losing their home field to developers. Aspasia Karras

 

Hi Friends,

I saw a group of people playing soccer in a park the other day. The teams at play were the shirts vs. the shirt-less. The shirts of the shirt-less marked the four corners of the soccer field. A couple of stacked bricks formed the goalposts. There was no referee. Everyone was the referee.

I remember playing similar games of soccer when I was a kid. With makeshift goal posts and no chalk lines to mark the field.  I also remember that we would have many arguments about whether the ball was ‘in’ or ‘out’. We had graphic ways of “proving” how the ball passed either below or over the invisible goal post. When ‘they’ scored the goalposts shrunk. We ‘we’ scored the goal posts stood tall. Quite miraculous.

During every neighbourhood championship we were not only improving our soccer skills. We were sharpening our debating skills. We were learning ethics. With the help of a couple of t-shirt corner-posts and brick-stacked goalposts and argued-out ethics, the game remained enjoyable. It remained enjoyable because it continued to have meaning.

It seems to me that one of the consequences of Covid-19 is that many of the ‘lines’ that demarcate the field of our lives have been erased. Think of how the ‘lines’ of routine have been erased or the ‘lines’ of employment, and of roles and responsibilities. With each line erased there is a threat of enjoyment fading because of the loss of meaning.

To the extent that we are able to creatively improvise with a couple of t-shirt corner posts and brick-stacked goal posts, may be to the extent that we are able to hold on to meaning and the joy that flows from meaning in these days of Covid erasing. To the extent that we are able to argue out an ethic of what is fair, may be to the extent that we learn greater truth about ourselves and society than we would otherwise have learnt without this Covid erasing. A truth that offers us the possibility of a deeper freedom if we give ourselves to it.

[I realise that this analogy can play the other way: The erasing of ‘lines’ gives us an opportunity to redesign the ‘game’. No ‘lines’ allows for new ‘lines’ to be drawn, etc. Yay! This may be a wonderful act of liberation. Take the analogy whichever way you need.]

Here is a link to a joyful and meaningful soccer story from which the top photo comes.

This Wednesday for our Lenten journey of deliberately designing our days with “sacred pause” by surrendering to Silence, Stillness and Solitude will move from theory into practice. Instead of meeting for an hour or so online this Wednesday evening, we are encouraged to practice Silence, Stillness and Solitude.

The CMM Sanctuary will be open on Wednesday 10th March from 17h30 to 18h30 if you would like to hold silence with others. (All Covid regulations will be observed … in silence.)

We will pick up our Lenten discussion on Wednesday 17th March at 20h00.

If you would like the Zoom link for Sunday please email welcome@cmm.org.za or request via that same email to be put on the WhatsApp group.

In grace,
Alan

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A Work of Celebration

Friends,

South Africa is an extremely violent country. This was confirmed on Friday by Police Minister Bheki Cele. He reported that between October – December 2020 the number of people murdered had increased by 6.6% and the number of people raped had increased by 1.5%. This means that 4,124 people were murdered (2,481 people were murdered in public places and 1,643 people were killed at the home of the victim or of the perpetrator) and 12,218 people were raped, of which more than 4,900 took place at the home of the victim or the home of the rapist. All this in only 3 months!

South Africa is an extremely violent country. This was confirmed on Thursday by The Children’s Institute that launched the South African Child Gauge 2020.

The report describes the deteriorating nutritional status of children as “the slow violence of malnutrition”. The “slow violence” is “hidden” within the permanent negative outcomes that include, stunted growth, a compromised immune system and reduced cognitive ability. This will be a contributing factor in whether a child starting Grade 1 actually completes Grade 12. (On Friday the Matric pass rate for 2020 was announced as 98.07% – yet what is hidden within that percentage is that it only about 50% of the total number of learners who entered Grade 1 twelve years ago.)

South Africa is an extremely violent country. There is the explicit violence and the hidden violence. They are linked. The explicit is underpinned by the hidden. To address the explicit, the hidden must be uncovered, brought into the light and acknowledged if it is to be healed. Yet the explicit violence mentioned by the Police Minister is often the only violence actually recognised as violence. This is the violence one most commonly thinks of when we hear the words “South Africa is an extremely violent country”. As a result, according to the Police Minister, the solution is for the “the police to dig deep and put the shoulder to the wheel”. Yet the hidden violence of one’s human dignity being denied as a result of not having the very basics to live on, runs deeper and is far more extensive than any increased police beat.

Millions of people in South Africa literally live in a permanent state of violence. Of violation. A violation that is not seen or recognised as a violation. As Parker Palmer insightfully says: “Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.” One way to interpret what he is saying is that explicit violence will result from hidden violence not being validated.

Therefore, the first step to reducing violence in South Africa is to recognise the hidden violence. This is the violence that must come first into our minds when we hear “South Africa is an extremely violent society”. This is the crime that we must first consider when we speak of South Africa as a crime ridden society. This is the primary crime.

I refer you to a paper by Prof. Anthony Collins on violence. In my mind one the most helpful and insightful papers on violence in South Africa.

Within this paper he decides to turn things on its head and ask the question: How to create a violent society. Sadly, you will see that South Africa ticks all the boxes to create a violent society.

To reduce and end violence is our work. This is the work Jesus calls us into. This includes both the hidden and the explicit violence. This violence resides both within us and around us. It therefore includes work within our hearts as well as work on the streets and in the institutions that shape our lives. Our approach is always confessional. Meaning, that we start by asking ourselves where we are part of the problem. To the extent that we can be truthful in this, is the extent to which we can ultimately be set free and in doing so bring change within and beyond ourselves.

Ultimately the work Jesus calls us to in reducing and ending violence, is a work of celebration. The celebration of the sacredness of all Life.

We will explore this further this Sunday at 10am. The zoom link is available from welcome@cmm.org.za.

In grace,

Alan

Bonus: Interview with Prof. Julian May, from the Centre of Excellence in Food Security.

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Lent

 

Friends,

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. And on Wednesday Lent begins with smudges of ASH. The hope is that the vision we receive on the Mount of Transfiguration somehow sustains us when we are in the wilderness valley surrounded by sickness and suffering and sand and more sand. May this be so…

Our ASH Wednesday (zoom) service will begin at 8 p.m. We will meet every Wednesday of Lent at 8 p.m. for a Lenten reflection. A zoom link will be sent out on the CMM WhatsApp group. If you would like the link please email welcome@cmm.org.za

This past Wednesday some of us gathered online to prepare for Lent. We were reminded of the beautiful documentary called: My Octopus Teacher. The reason for the documentary in the first place was that a certain film maker who was suffering from burnout, made a commitment to enter the ocean every day for a year with the hope of renewal and reconnection to self and Life. In this act of daily “baptism” / commitment, the film maker was doing what people seeking renewal in just about every faith tradition have done for centuries: and that is to deliberately design one’s day to Pause. Pause consisting of a combination of silence, stillness, solitude. This Pause often involved an immersion in nature. We learn from The Octopus Teacher – that when a person honours their journey for healing with deliberate daily pause – they are gifted with renewed reconnection with themselves and Life and all that lives, and over and above that, the world is given the gift of a beautiful reconnecting story.

This Lent we are invited to deliberately design our days with Pause – silence, stillness and solitude. Our Wednesday Lenten reflections will draw partly from these moments of Pause.

Please note: We will not be opening the sanctuary for in-person services any time soon, even though Covid-19 regulations make this possible.

The reason remains that it is still too risky even though we are coming to the end of the “second wave”. In all likelihood there will be a third wave before we have all been vaccinated. And if trends continue, the third wave may prove to be more deadly than the first and second. For example, this week we were informed by our Covid-19 advisory team that “during the first wave it took three months to reach 5 000 deaths while the second wave took only four weeks to reach 10 000 deaths.

We therefore need to be very vigilant in these days. Keep practicing the Trinity: wear a mask, wash hands, keep 1.5 m distance.

In grace,
Alan

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