Last Saturday I attended the Grow to Live Workshop at the Soil for Life Resource Centre in Constantia. The workshop bio says: “Directly, or indirectly, all food comes from the soil. Today soils are tired, overworked, depleted, sick and poisoned by synthetic chemicals. The quality of our food has suffered and so has our health. All life will be healthy or unhealthy according to the fertility of the soil. Since soil is the basis for all human life, our only hope for a healthy world rests on re-establishing the harmony in the soil.”
Soil for Life is a public benefit organisation that teaches people how to grow their own food, improve their health and well-being, and nurture and protect the environment.
Soil for Life believes that “EVERYONE has the potential to grow nutritious food with whatever resources they have available. Since we started in 2002 we have helped thousands of people in resource-poor communities to develop productive and sustainable home food gardens”.
I can testify that just being in the abundantly luscious garden made me feel more alive. The connection with everything living was obvious. I think I even heard the food growing.
There was so much to learn and now so much to practice. There was a time when everyone grew their own food. The awareness of feeling more alive made me realise just how detached I am from what gives me life. Why was I not taught this at school when I was growing up? Seems crazy that it wasn’t on the syllabus year in and year out!
Please consider supporting this LIFE-GIVING work. I hope you will visit Soil for Life especially if you have not done so already. You can buy your vegetables from them and support their valuable training programmes.
PS: For Zoom link for Sunday’s service please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Reflection on Exodus 32:1-14
Truth is larger than fact. There are times when the facts simply can’t adequately hold the truth. For example, there is no fact that could sufficiently account for a parent’s love for their child. Or for the liberation of a long-oppressed people. When the facts fail the truth, we turn to metaphor and myth, satire and story, parable and poetry. To say that someone is the most beautiful person in all the world is not meant to be evaluated on a factual basis, but rather to be appreciated for the truth that the statement makes about their love or attraction toward the person.
Similarly, the validity of the Exodus narrative (and much of Scripture) does not rest on whether it factually took place once upon a time or not, but rather on the truth that it announces for all time. (It is most likely that the Exodus narrative was the accumulative wisdom gleaned from many cycles of oppression and liberation all sewn together into a single archetypal liberation narrative.) The narrative’s purpose is to speak timeless truth:
- The truth about God (ultimate reality) who is always on the side of truth and justice (the universe’s bending moral arc) and therefore forever listening to the cries of the oppressed and liberating the oppressed from bondage.
- The truth that little people (midwives) who remain faithful to the Life-Giver bring down genocidal fascists.
- The truth about how power hardens human hearts (Pharaoh had heart problems.)
- The truth about the anxious, stubborn, devious and paranoid ways of Empire (Time and time again the Pharaoh regime promised to let the people go but reneged each time. Power is very seldom given up willingly. Codesa 1 and Codesa 2.)
- The truth that when those who have access to the perks and privileges of palace power (Pharaoh’s daughter and Moses) choose rather to join in solidarity with the enslaved and exploited, a united front begins rolling mass action that not even all of Pharaoh’s chariots will be able to stop.
- The truth that exploitation of people goes hand in hand with the exploitation of the environment, with the environment ultimately rebelling via plagues. (Contaminated topsoil poisons the water.)
- The truth that liberation always looks impossible (like walking through an ocean) until it isn’t (ocean split in two) and then it looks inevitable.
- The truth that a liberated people move quickly from gratitude to complaint. From dancing praise of their courageous leaders to accusing them of selling out. (Moses have you brought us out here to die? HIV does not cause Aids.)
- The truth that a liberated people often forget their pain-filled past (we ate meat in Egypt) and soon begin to imitate the ways of their past oppressors. (Another name for State Capture is Greed.)
- The truth that populous ‘leaders’ (read: fascists) will always be ready to exploit the frustrations and fears of the people, promising everything they want but securing just the opposite (We see you Aaron. We see you CIC in red overalls. We see you with the MAGA cap.)
- The truth that it takes a long time for a new constitution to be carved into our hearts of stone and therefore in the interim it remains very tempting to return to the golden calf of oppression that falsely promises us a quick fix. (During the writing of our New Constitution our new leaders were negotiating the arms deal. A deal that was corrupt in essence and in process. A deal more in tune with the ways of Egypt than of liberation.)
This brings us to this Sunday’s reading: “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come make gods for us, who shall go before us … Aaron took the gold from them and formed it in a mould, and cast an image of a calf…”
It is important to note that the golden calf may be seen as a replacement of the liberating YHWH or a representation of YHWH. The latter is a far more subtle form of idolatry and therefore potentially more dangerous. An idolatrous representation of YHWH would include attributing non-liberative characteristics to YHWH (see last week’s reference to “make no wrongful use of the name of God”.) An example today is the prosperity teaching (read: heresy / cult) calling on Jesus’ name in order to prosper financially by TV evangelists who believe owning a private jet is crucial for them to spread the word about the humble sandalled Jesus. (The same Jesus who happened to warn that it was pretty impossible to fly a jet through the eye of a needle.)
An even subtler form of idolatry includes that which is not necessarily religious at all and as a result are seldom named as gods / idols, yet they solicit our unquestionable belief in their professed saving power. Like believing that the death penalty will save us from crime. Or the gun will keep me safe. Or low taxes on the rich will be good news for the poor. Or that the quality of health care or education must correlate to how much money one has. These come to us through laws and systems rather than doctrines and creeds. We learn proverbs like “time is money” off by heart until we believe that everything is a product to be traded and that the value of anything or worth of anyone is ultimately determined in monetary terms.
With the above-mentioned examples, it should be clear that there is no such thing as a “non-believer”. We all believe in something. We all worship something. And whatever we worship is our god – like it or not. If the word worship does not connect with you then ask yourself what is the object of your ultimate concern? (See: Paul Tillich.) The answer to this question is our god. Simply put, whatever we give our heart to is our god, religious or not. For this reason, we are called to do the urgent and crucial work of “know yourself” to discover who / what we believe in. Warning: We may be surprised to discover that we don’t always believe in what we would like to think we believe in or what we profess to believe in. (Not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord will enter the reign of God – says Jesus.) This is why the scriptures care less about atheism than they do about idolatry, because we could be worshiping the very ways that crucified Jesus while singing his praises on our lips.
How do we know the difference between God and an idol? Or God and false gods? In short: Idols or false gods always demand sacrifice. Idols take life while promising new life. Think of the military or of the idol of nationalism or tribalism that worship little lines in the ground called borders. Drawn and defended with blood. The true God on the other hand does not demand sacrifices. Rather the true God demands justice, mercy, humility, truth, gentleness. In other words, the true God demands that which will promote and protect life – all of Life in all its fullness.
This is the only scale that really matters: does our living bring life or death?
So just because we may never have carved out an image of a calf doesn’t mean we do not worship any idols. Furthermore, just because we have Jesus’ name repeatedly on our lips does not necessarily mean Jesus is our God. And for those of you reading this who think you are exempt from idolatry because you don’t believe in any God or god or idol – well once you have found the words that work for you – I invite you to check what your ultimate concern is and whether honouring your ultimate concern brings life or death – for all of life.
Know thyself sister. Know thyself brother.
Grace upon grace,
It is probably the first time in history that cold sober scientists are the ones making apocalyptic type predictions, rather than religious fanatics. Such is the devastating evidence of climate breakdown. The science says humanity must rapidly and radically change the way we live if human life (and many other forms of life) are to have any long-term prospects of survival. Yet the urgent changes necessary to save life remain largely off the agendas of those in power. Our refusal to change is selfish, stubborn and stupid. It is also suicidal. Sampson-like we are bringing down the roof on ourselves.
“The fierce urgency of now” demands we “unsuicide”. This is the dramatic word that Richard Powers uses in his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Overstory.
His exquisite novel is an invitation to enter into a learnership relationship with trees: “The tree is saying things, in words before words.” He humbles us when he asks: “Which is more childish, naïve, romantic, or mystical: the belief that we can get away with making Earth revolve around our personal appetites and fantasies, or the belief that a vast, multi-million-pronged project four and a half billion years old deserves a little reverent humility?”
To unsuicide is to live in reverent humility for all of life. It is to enter into a learnership relationship with the plants, as we heard last week: “Ask the plants of the earth and they will teach you.” (Job 12:7-8). This week we are invited to go even deeper and let the soil be our teacher. We are to put our ears to the ground to listen:
“The fields are devastated, the ground mourns.” (Joel 1:10).
“The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers; the heavens languish together with the earth. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth dwindled, and few people are left.” (Isaiah 24:4-6).
“How long will the land mourn, and the grass of every field wither? For the wickedness of those who live in it the animals and the birds are swept away, and because people said, ‘He is blind to our ways.’ … Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard, they have trampled down my portion, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness. They have made it a desolation; desolate, it mourns to me. The whole land is made desolate, but no one lays it to heart.” (Jeremiah 12:4, 10-11).
When we put our ear to the ground / to the soil / to the land we hear that the ground grieves. The soil sobs. The land laments. The soil does so as a result of bearing the weight of our sins (our deathly ways). For YHWH the liberation struggle of the soil is as important as the liberation struggle of the Hebrew slaves because all of life is interconnected. Therefore, just as YHWH heard the cries of the Hebrew slaves and worked for their freedom so we read that YHWH hears the cries of the soil and calls us to work for the soil’s liberation. And if we don’t, “even the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40). This is our unsuiciding work.
During our CMM Chat at 11h00 on 20/09/20 we will discuss the incredible interrelatedness between ourselves and the soil. If you would like to receive the zoom link for this conversation, please email: email@example.com
PS: Scripture this week is Genesis 4:1-16. We will also look at other scriptures, so please have your Bible handy for Sunday’s Chat.
PPS: Some soil stats:
A teaspoon of healthy soil holds more tiny organisms than there are people on earth. And, it’s not just about quantity; the diversity of this same teaspoon has been compared to that of the Amazon rainforest. This is an impressive quarter of all of Earth’s biodiversity. Some of these organisms are visible to the eye—things like earthworms, beetles, and ants—while others are impossible to discern from other elements in the soil—such as bacteria, algae, fungi, nematodes, and many more. In fact, soil organisms are so numerous and abundant that scientists are still in the very early stages of identifying and understanding them. These little creatures are major players in soil health and should be respected for the hard and important work they do.
When talking about soil health, we think it’s helpful to think of soil as a “macro-organism” or living network made up of smaller lifeforms. Soil is a complex web of interrelated organisms that rely on and support one another. It’s an ecosystem. Some use the analogy of a human body to show the importance of each (organ)ism to the whole. Soil is made up of these hard-working organisms along with organic matter, minerals like sand, clay, and rock particles—the non-living “dirt”—and the air and water in the spaces between. The health of soils is all about the balance and diversity of these components.
Another thing that makes this ecosystem unique is that most of these organisms don’t merely exist in the soil, they physically create it. They break down organic materials like dead leaves—burrowing, eating, and churning them up—resulting in the rich humus that crops and other plants need to grow. We (and all living things) rely on these organisms’ role in growing the food we eat and, increasingly, the potential for drawing harmful carbon dioxide gas out of the air.
Soil is a nonrenewable resource, meaning it cannot be created within a human’s lifespan. Unhealthy soils are subject to wind and water erosion, blown and washed away to areas where they cannot be used for agriculture. Globally, some scientists estimate that we have only 60 years of farming left, if we continue to degrade our soils. These facts are an important indication of the need for regenerative agriculture and building up soil carbon.
Thursday, 31 October is World Cities Day. By 2050, cities will be the ‘natural habitat’ for most of humanity, so how we build sustainable and inclusive places is important.
In SA, and particularly Cape Town, we have a dual challenge: not only do we need to plan innovatively for a better life for future generations of city-dwellers, we also need to redress the legacy of Apartheid cemented into our urban fabric.
Affordable housing in well-located areas is regarded as one of the keys to begin to undo this problem. However, cries for affordable housing close to the city is often met with the excuse that “there is no available land”. Yet on a little reflection it is easy to see that this is not true…
A report from the civil society organisation Ndifuna Ukwazi “City Leases” shows the lack of change is not for a lack of available land but rather that there is no political will to allocate public land for public good:
“We see golf courses on some of the best public land serving a few residents; parking lots that sit empty for sixteen hours of the day; bowling greens used once a week; and empty uncared for sports fields.
The City of Cape Town continues to lease well-located public land for next to nothing to private companies and associations. How is this use of land more important than a home? How is it prioritised over the rights of thousands of residents living in backyards and informal settlements? How can it stand in the way of bringing working-class people back into the areas from which they were violently evicted?
And yet, hundreds of leases of public land are renewed every year. These skewed priorities are being implemented, without thought, by city administrators and politicians.”
Golf courses must be the worst utilisation of inner-city land. Large, environmentally costly spaces reserved for use by a privileged few.
Similarly, inner city parking not only prioritises space for cars over people, but future generations will be aghast that we persisted for so long to let a major contributor to emissions dictate the shape of our city.
Even more distressing is the Philippi Horticultural Area, which provides up to 30% of Capetonians’ fresh vegetable and fruit, as well as livelihoods for many, is under threat to be rezoned for “development”. This is currently being challenged in the High Court.
Faced with the choice between recreation for a few vs. water and housing; carbon-dioxide-spewing cars vs. space for people; “development” vs. food and jobs, what would Jesus want?
As the prophets said: “They say that what is right is wrong and what is wrong is right; that black is white and white is black; bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.” Isaiah 5:20.
To mark World Cities Day, and in recognition for the struggle for housing, land and environmental justice in our country, we hoist another Yellow Banner on the CMM Steeple on Thursday at 13h00.
See you then,
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]
“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.
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.
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
Grace to you
The Prophet Isaiah was right when he declared: “and a little child shall lead them”. [Isa. 11:6] Greta Thunberg the 16 year old from Sweden is leading the world at the moment. We either listen to her and live, or we don’t listen to her and we die. Her talks are short and simple a bit like Jesus – stating the obvious that most are too afraid to mention – especially those in power. Here is part of her latest speech to the European Union. She brilliantly flips the accusation of who really are the naïve, the irresponsible and who needs to do their homework:
“Tens of thousands of children are school striking for the climate on the streets of Brussels. Hundreds of thousands are doing the same all over the world. We are school-striking because we have done our homework. People always tell us that they are so hopeful – they are hopeful that the young people are going to save the world, but we are not. There is simply not enough time to wait for us to grow up and become the ones in charge because by the year 2020 we need to have bended the emissions curve steep downwards – that is next year.
We know that most politicians don’t want to talk to us – good – we don’t want to talk to them either. We want them to talk to the scientists instead. Listen to them, because we are just repeating what they are saying and have been saying for decades. We want you to follow the Paris agreement and the IPCC report. We don’t have any other manifesto or demands – unite behind the science – that is our demand.
When many politicians talk of the school strike for the climate – they talk about almost anything except the climate crisis. Many people are trying to make the school strikes a question of whether we are promoting truancy or whether we should go back to school or not. They make up all sorts of conspiracies and call us puppets who cannot think for ourselves. They are desperate to try and remove the focus from climate crisis and change the subject. They don’t want to talk about it because they know that they cannot win this fight, because they know they haven’t done their homework, but we have.
Once you have done your homework you realise that we need new politics. We need new economics where everything is based on a rapidly declining and extremely limited remaining carbon budget. But that is not enough. We need a whole new way of thinking. The political system that you have created is all about competition. You cheat when you can because all that matters is to win, to get power. That must come to an end. We must stop competing with each other. We need to co-operate together and to share the resources of the planet in a fair way. We need to start living within the planetary boundaries and focus on equity and take a few steps back for the sake of all living species. We need to protect the biosphere, air, the oceans, soil, and the forests.
This may sound very naïve, but if you have done your homework then you know that we don’t have any other choice. We need to focus every inch of our being on climate change because if we fail to do so all our achievements and progress have been for nothing, and all that will remain of our political leaders’ legacy will be the greatest failure of human history and they will be remembered as the greatest villains of all time because they have chosen not to listen and not to act.
This does not have to be. There is still time. According to the IPCC report we are about 11 years away from where we set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control. To avoid that, unprecedented changes in all aspects of society need to have taken place within this coming decade, including a reduction of our CO2 emissions by at least 50% by the year 2030, and please note that those numbers do not include the aspect of equity which is absolutely necessary for the Paris Agreement to work on a global scale. Nor do they include tipping points or feedback loops like extremely powerful methane gas released from the thawing arctic permafrost. They do however, include negative emissions techniques of a huge planetary scale that is yet to be invented and many scientists fear will never be ready in time and will anyway be impossible to deliver at the scale assumed.
We have been told that the EU intends to improve its emissions reduction target. In the new target the EU is proposing to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 45% below 1990’s level by 2030. Some people say that is good or that is ambitious but this new target is still not enough to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. This target is not sufficient to protect the future for children growing up today. If the EU is going to make its fair contribution to stay within the carbon budget for the 2 degree limit then it needs a minimum of 80% reduction by 2030 and that includes aviation and shipping, so around twice as ambitious as the current proposal.
The actions required are beyond manifestos or any party politics. Once again they sweep their mess under the carpet for our generation to clean up and solve. Some people say we are fighting for our future, but that is not true, we are not fighting for our future – we are fighting for everyone’s future. And if you think that we should be in school instead then we suggest that you take our place in the streets striking from your work or better yet, join us so we can speed up the process.
And I am sorry but saying that everything will be alright and continue doing nothing at all is just not hopeful to us, in fact it is the opposite of hope and yet this is exactly what you keep doing. You can’t just sit around and wait for hope to come, then you are acting like spoiled irresponsible children. You don’t understand that hope is something you have to earn and if you still say we are wasting valuable lesson time then let me remind you that our political leaders have wasted decades through denial and inaction. And since our time is running out we have decided to take action. We have started to clean up your mess and we will not stop until we are done.”
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report
Grace to you
Walking up Kloof Corner to the front contour path of Table Mountain is quite something. There are a few sharp switchbacks to begin with – each switch surprising one with sweeping new views of the city and surrounding ocean. This past Monday afternoon as I rounded the first switchback that usually offers sight of an endless blue ocean creeping into Camps Bay I was shocked to see the sea was no more. The sea had sunk beneath a carpet of cotton wool. As if the sky and ocean had struck a deal to change places. It was an incredible sight.
It was warm on the path. Made warmer still by the ascent of 990m to the contour path and the cloudless sky provided no shade. On the next switchback that sharply turns one to face the harbour and beyond to the Northern suburbs I watched with horror as massive container ships were swallowed up in seconds – like someone moved a giant cursor over them and pushed delete. The fluffy cotton wool was now seen for what it was, a dangerous fog monster with a massive appetite.
On my way home I decided to drive down into Camps Bay. It was another world compared to the mountainside where the sun still shone. It was smoky, dark and drizzly. Macbeth-like. The glow of streetlights and headlights strained to make their presence felt. People on the beach looked like ghosts floating with some body parts having already succumbed to the monster’s bite. The ocean was still nowhere to be seen. It was easy to forget the mountain moments of warmth, sunlight and clear vision just minutes before and yet as I began to drive up the hill again the previous reality of clear sky and crisp sight slowly returned.
From this parable-like-experience I want to remember that life on the same day at the same time not far from each other can be worlds apart. I want to remember that my experience of life is not the only true and real experience. I want to remember that when the sky has fallen in on me that it is not true for the whole world. I want to remember that I must receive and relish the days of seeing far and feeling warmth because they will offer much needed guidance and sustenance for the journey into places of darkness and struggle.