Dividing Walls

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

Friends,

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

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

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

According to Kearney and Fitzpatrick:

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

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

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

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

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

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

With grace,
Alan

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

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)

 

 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email