Start small

Margherita Peak

 

16763 ft (5109 m) above sea level  |  The highest point in Uganda


Grace to you

We know of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania – the highest summit in Africa, but have you heard of Rwenzori Mountain? I hadn’t until this week. It is Africa’s third highest summit and is situated on Uganda’s western border.

Within its shadow is the very poor and remote community of Kasese. Kasese is strung out between three national parks and dwarfed by Rwenzori Mountain. The mountain is capped with snow all year round and very significant to the Kesese people. So much so that they call themselves Banyarwenzururu i.e. people of the snow. (Banyarwen = people, Nzururu = snow)

The growing numbers of people in the village and their reliance on biomass and kerosene for cooking have been putting strain on the conservation area. They could see that, but what could they do? They don’t have electricity, because it was not feasible for the power companies in Uganda to supply them. Who would pay for the infrastructure and service especially with many household incomes literally being zero?

This was until the snow cap on their mountain started melting. This was very serious. With the snow gone they would lose their identity. So they decided to implement a plan for their area to become 100% Renewable. They created a community-owned Renewable Energy Power business and connected people in the village to the power grid. For remote areas they got funding from the WWF for standalone Solar Power systems. They got enough money for 4,000. They bought the systems and the community learnt to install it themselves. Then they charged the people a small fee every month similar to what they would have paid for kerosene. Now they have money to roll out another 17,000.

They now have LED streetlights, replacing the lamps they had and saving 50% in energy costs. All of this has created employment. They are planting trees, growing food through-out the year, and a host of other activities. Their case study is bringing people from all over the world to see what they are doing. By 2020 they want no more smoke hanging over the city. The mayor of Kasese (Godfrey Baluku Kabbyanga Kime) reminds the community and those from around the world who come to learn: “It’s from the small initiatives that we grow and develop the courage to tackle the larger ones”.

There are three lessons I learn from this:

  1. When we reaslise that our identity is interconnected to our environment (the snow) and that to lose or damage the environment is to lose and damage our humanity, then we will be more inclined to do something.
  2. [a] If the poorest of the poor can make this change there is no excuse for the wealthy. [b] Wealth may be our actual problem. Truly I tell you, it is easier for a solar panel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the Kin-dom of simple living.
  3. This is another “feeding of the 5000” story that invites us to trust “when a little is shared it becomes a lot”. When we start with the small initiatives the large problems get sorted.

Grace,
Alan

Sustainable Living

Grace and Peace

I am spending this weekend at Bulungula Lodge which is on the Wild Coast overlooking the (hopefully warm) Indian Ocean. It is situated around 300 km north of East London. If you hit Coffee Bay you have gone too far by about 56 km. If you hit Durban phone a therapist.

I first heard of Bulungula Lodge when I was exploring building an “off-the-grid-house” a couple of years ago. As you know, the Eastern Cape is beset with traumatising poverty and unemployment. This environmentally sustainable lodge, which is embedded within the Nqileni community, hopes to overcome poverty with minimal impact on the environment.

The founders and co-owners, David Martin and Rejane Woodroffe “realised that the biggest problem in the world is the unsustainable economic system we were chasing”. When they first began in the area there was nearly 100% unemployment. Once the Bulungula Lodge opened in 2004 and began to grow in popularity, cash into the area increased slowly.

Social entrepreneurial community interventions, through the Bulungula Incubator (www.bulungulaincubator.org) includes numerous micro-enterprises as well as health and education services covering the full cycle of life – womb to tomb.

While access to quality formal education has always been challenging in the region, cattle farming and farming for staple foods and vegetables is a way of life. It is this traditional knowledge and lifestyle that is leveraged and built upon to improve livelihoods, nutrition and provide opportunities for income-generation and wealth-creation.

The first 18 people directly employed by the lodge were carefully selected by the community as those who needed it most. Many are disabled ex-mine workers or their widows. I would call this Gospel Governance.

Both Martin and Woodroffe believe that despite its poverty, Nqileni is miles ahead of the First World in terms of achieving a form of sustainable living. Nobody owns a car in the village. The village is powered by solar energy and wind power. A solar pump draws water from a spring for the showers while rain water is the drinking source. The famous rocket showers are powered by paraffin that only heats the water that is used, so nothing is wasted. Grey water is recycled through the banana plantation. Compost toilets with a urine diversion system take care of sanitation.

Martin says: “For our community to become a model sustainable and happy society is considerably easier than for, say, Newlands or Sandton, which seem doomed for the next few decades to live fearfully behind high walls, unsustainably addicted to energy that’s running out.”

In gratitude for those who help us to live life in life-giving ways,
Alan

I thirst

Grace and Peace to you … 

We all know about “load-shedding” in relation to power supply, but how many of us know about “water-shedding”? I don’t think it will be long before we all find out. Having 24/7 access to clean running water will one day be viewed as an impossible luxury.

Last week after teaching at the Methodist Seminary in Pietermaritz-burg I spent an evening with old friends in Ballito Bay. In December last year there was a two week period when Ballito had no water and since then they have had severe shortages. So my friends bought a 4 500 litre “JoJo” tank and had planned for the municipality to come and fill it with grey water (recycled sewerage water) later in the week at the cost of R960. However that very evening after the JoJo was connected up to the gutters from their garage (85 m2) the rains came; measuring around 90 mm which nearly completely filled the 4 500 litre JoJo. As my friends said: “God filled it for us! Praise be to God our Provider”.

Here is the thing: God actually does provide us with enough water but we waste it as well as fail to catch it! My friends have subsequently reduced their water consumption from 40 000 kilolitre to 14 000 kilolitre per month.

Even if we are unable to make use of a JoJo, we can get creative in our use of water. I know for myself it takes between 4 – 5 litres for the water in my shower to get hot. This water is easily bucketed and then used to flush the toilet or to water the plants. The idea of using crystal clear drinking water to flush the toilet is ludicrous and I have no doubt will be a criminal offense in the not too distant future.

The crucifying cry “I thirst” is sure to be on the parched lips of a growing number of people around the world, not least in our own land. Giving someone a cup of water really will be seen as a great gift done in Jesus’ service.

Let’s do it…

Grace and peace, Alan

Repentance = Healing

At an anti-FIFA protest on Mother’s Day, May 11 2014, a mother fights police trying to arrest her son. She cries: “We cannot accept that the working poor youth continue to be terrorized and murdered throughout the whole country by the military police. Nor can we accept that every time we decide to lift our voices against injustice, we decided to protest and speak out, the state calls ‘security forces’ to repress us. They treat us like criminals, accuse us of ‘conspiracy,’ ‘vandalism’ etc. No! We are not criminals! We do not accept the criminalization of social struggles! We demand the right to free expression! ”


Grace and peace to you …

Except for a week of sleepless jetlagged nights, it is good to be back home! On my trip to the U.S. I returned to Holden Village (www.holdenvillage.org) in Washington State. It remains such a beautiful place of inspiration and hope for me. Some of you will know that Holden Village is a Lutheran ministry situated high up in the North Cascade Mountain range close to the Canadian border where there is no cell phone coverage which is glorious. The Village welcomes people of all ages, ethnicities, faiths and backgrounds, offering modest yet comfortable amenities in a wilderness setting. Life in the village is punctuated with Bible Study and worship which is what I was involved with while there.

Holden Village used to be a copper mine until it closed down in the 1950s and over the past three years they have undergone a huge project of mine remediation. This is basically big business practicing repentance.

The Holden mine remediation project is a multi-million dollar effort to clean up contaminants (potential threats to human and environmental health) that were left from the Howe Sound Holden Mine era (1937-57). Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest mining groups, is managing and paying for the cleanup under the supervision of the U.S. Forest Service.

Witnessing the remediation process is both hopeful and disturbing. It is disturbing to realise the extent of humanity’s wounding of the planet. Wounds that bleed many years after the last cut was made. Wounds that ultimately lead to the wounding (poisoning) of our own selves. Yet hopeful to see that we can begin to act justly towards the earth and do the costly work of restoring what we have destroyed.

Repentance is always going to be costly. The only thing more costly than repentance is not repenting.

Grace, Alan

Viva Palm Sunday

Grace and Peace to you

On Palm Sunday we witness Jesus perform some seriously prophetic (truth revealing) street theatre that hilariously screams for everyone to hear: “The Emperor is not wearing any clothes”. This prophetic tradition is continued by an amazingly imaginative Rabbi Arthur Waskow.

Last Sunday afternoon, about 150 people met – seriously and joyously – at the West End Synagogue in Manhattan for a religious service, followed by an hour of street theatre – both aimed in the spirit of Passover and Palm Sunday, at the Carbon Pharaohs of our generation, especially the Koch Brothers.

The street theatre took place near and on Lincoln Center, at the David Koch Theatre. It featured a dramatic collision between a figure costumed as Pharaoh, traveling with a Pyramid of Power and followed by a gaggle of people carrying oil cans, coal bags, etc.

VERSUS

the Prophet Miriam as Mother Earth, traveling with a large globe and followed by a band of people with windmills, solar panels, and earth-friendly banners.

Mother Earth won …
Viva Palm Sunday Protests Viva!

 

Picture of Cross of Nails: With gratitude and recognition to http://dogbreathsoup.deviantart.com/

Parenting for God’s Economy

Or as the author of Hebrews put it:
“Jesus is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” Hebrews 1:3

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Grace and peace to you …

Over the last two weeks I have written a few thoughts about faith and finance. Finances are the “canary in the coalmine” when it comes to alerting us to whether we are following Jesus faithfully. Jesus himself says that what we do with our money reveals the location of our hearts: “For where your treasure is there your heart will be also” [Matt 6:21]

Below is an article written by Susan Taylor from the Faith and Money Network in which she helpfully discusses “Parenting for God’s Economy”:

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“In our materialistic culture, God-grounded parenting around money issues is a daily adventure, full of missteps and the occasional triumph.

My husband and I have learned to be (mostly) honest with our children about money. When I’m saying no to a request to purchase something or go somewhere, I almost never say, “We can’t afford that,” because that is rarely true. We could afford most anything we want to have or do. But that’s not the main criterion in making and modelling financial decisions.

I don’t want them to think we’re poor. I want them to understand that, as children of God, we’re inexpressibly rich. I want them to feel the joy and security of our abundance, of God’s abundance. So instead of saying, “We can’t afford it,” I say: “We’re choosing not to spend our money that way.” How much more empowering is that?

Sometimes we feel good about our parenting around money issues. Other things haven’t gone so well.

I’ve tried that much-prescribed method of dividing allowance into savings, spending and sharing. This simply doesn’t work for us. Somehow, all the pools get blended. Not only do our daughter’s savings get co-mingled with her sharing money, but somehow her money gets blended with her brother’s money occasionally.

Another persistent failure has been that the kids’ money is frequently not with us when we go to the store. So the negotiations go something like this: “I’ll buy this with my allowance money.” “Do you have that much money?” “Sure, mom.” “Okay, you can pay me back when we get home.” But when we get home, we’ve all lost track of the deal. Here, we’ve demonstrated using credit, not keeping track of our money, not preparing ahead for going to the store, and a long list of other bad money habits. I’m aware that we have more difficult and much more expensive lessons ahead.

As our children have matured, their understanding of the interrelationships within our global economy deepens. They now insist on shopping first at locally owned stores and the farmers’ market. They are convinced that fair trade chocolate tastes better than “regular” chocolate.

They know about these things because we talk about them. We explain why we’re shopping one place versus another. We’ve demonstrated being willing to put in a bit of extra effort to make a more just choice. As U.S. consumers demand ever-lower prices, we explain the cost to the people who make those products.

My best moment yet as a parent trying to teach faith and economics in this crazy culture happened recently. In the car, I was thinking of making the next light as my daughter looked out the window. As we passed the big-box “discount” store she quietly said, “Cheaper for whom?” My heart is still singing.”

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This is a wonderful illustration of what it means to be a Christian parent. It is more conscientising our children about justice than getting them to recite a creed.

Grace, Alan

Economy and Ecology

Countless times a day we are given the exchange rates and the stock market indicators. These “numbers” are the benediction to every single news broadcast on both radio and TV. We may be tempted to think of these numbers as referring to the economy but that would be a terrible reduction of meaning.

There are three words that come from the Greek root oikos. Their meanings helpfully overlap and point to three vital areas every one of us should be concerned about.

The English word economy comes from two Greek words: oikos-nomos, meaning the management or rules of the household. Let’s take a moment to think about our own households. Surely the uppermost concern within our households is that everyone has enough? Regardless of the numbers our primary aim is to use our resources to secure the best and most equal opportunity for all within our home. To tolerate a situation in our homes where some have too much while others go without would result in the breakdown of our family. Similarly, world inequality results in conflict.

The economy is directly rooted/related to ecology — oikos-logos. This is not surprising because the earth is our home. Therefore the primary responsibility of the economy should be to care for the earth. Sadly this is not the case. Although we have only one Planet Earth, we leave an ecological footprint of 1.5 planets; that is, we are currently using 50 percent more resources than our planet can regenerate to meet our current consumption needs. As a consequence, one-third of our agricultural land has disappeared over the past 40 years.

Both economy and ecology are related to human solidarity/family or ecumenism. The word ecumenical comes from the Greek word oikoumene. Economy and ecology join together to provide an abundant living for all inhabitants. When the human family is divided and at odds with each other the economy and ecology will not be honoured as they should. Today we gather for Holy Communion which is the great sign of economy, ecology and ecumenism coming together as God had hoped and promised.

Grace Alan

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We believe in the Merciful One
who calls us to reject all idols and who seeks a deep communion with us.

We believe in the Merciful One
who is not remote but who is immersed in the life of this world sharing its hope
and feeling its pain.

We believe in the Merciful One
who identifies with the poor and the oppressed and those who long for faith and who calls us to stand with them.

We believe in the Merciful One
whose love is vulnerable, whose heart is aching and whose covenant with all people
is unshakeable.

 Christian Conference of Asia News1

Life vs Life

Newspaper House parking garage flooded on 18 May 2014

 

 PENTECOST PROMISE

At Pentecost, the church celebrates the coming of the Spirit — the outpouring of the sudden power of God to transform a wounded and disillusioned band of stragglers into a community that changed the world.

It was a power that was both awaited in obedience, and utterly unexpected in its energy and urgency. It generated both a deep interior fire, and immediate, compelling and outrageous public witness.

~ Janet Morley

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This past week we witnessed the cruel eviction of some 200 families from the informal settlement in Lwandle. Who was actually responsible for the eviction or whether it was “legal or not” is not the issue. The timing and the manner in which it was conducted was neither just nor merciful and therefore it was anti-Christ-like.

We are collecting food, clothes, blankets, toiletries, baby food and the like. If you would like to drop them off here at CMM during the week we will make sure that they are delivered with your love.

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On 18 May at the time we were getting ready for our morning service a driver hit a water pipe in the basement garage of Newspaper House around the corner from us. With nowhere to run the water quickly rose — reaching a height of 1.5 m in some areas — that is up to the windows of some cars! As a result of the “flood” an electrical grid was “knocked out”. And since 19 May until 3 June about six of these giant generators have been keeping the lights on (see insert). For nearly three weeks these generators have been rumbling noisily 24/7. This has provoked many thoughts within me — most of which have not been polite, especially as the sleepless nights add up.

But now I think it’s good to have had the non-stop rumbling to be reminded of our incessant consumption of fossil fuels that we rely on to sustain our unsustainable modern lives. The truth of the creation groaning in agony (Romans 8:22) is too often hidden within the silence of electrical currents allowing us to pretend that our way of life is less harmful than it is. So I began to hear the assaulting noise of the generators as the earth’s cry in response to our assaulting extraction of coal from which most of our power supply comes. I fear we will only stop destroying the planet when we are personally disturbed.

As I write this I have just received an invitation to sign an online petition calling the new Minister of Mineral Resources to scrap the possibility of a coal mine being developed right on the borders of the spectacular Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park — the world’s greatest rhino sanctuary. The humbling truth is that it is easier to sign an online petition than to reduce my own dependency on fossil fuels. In my mind I ask: Where does one even begin and what difference will it make? But this is the challenge that should be occupying all of us.

Grace, Alan

Goodness and Mercy

On Wednesday my day was hemmed in behind and before with goodness and mercy.

My day began by visiting a TrashBack delivery station in Canterbury Street by the Service Dining Hall. It was awesome to witness the interaction between the TrashBack staff member and one of the participants in the programme who had brought his bag of white-paper to be weighed and recycled.

It was lovely to see how excited the staff member was to announce how much money the collector was to be paid for his bundle of paper, as he said to this modern day gleaner: “Wow — well done — you have earned R56 today. I hope you have another good day collecting. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.” It was so cool to witness the genuineness of delight by this paymaster and to witness the joy of one in desperate need receiving affirmation and payment for work done.

TrashBack is therefore not just a recycling business but it is also an employment business for those who would otherwise most certainly be unemployed. TrashBack does not always deal in cash. It has developed a system of responsible rewards, where earnings can be spent on beneficial items such as food and clothing with local vendors. Cash vouchers allows for leveraging off existing retailers, resulting in a flexible rewards programme that contributes towards greater economic empowerment. Furthermore the broader community reaps the rewards of a cleaner environment and the associated health and safety benefits.

I left inspired…

My Wednesday concluded with Connections in the evening. It began with 30 minutes of silence.

Silence, is a magnifying glass through which our lives are brought into enlarged focus. Silence makes us more sensitive to the Spirit of Love that runs through all of life. Silence primes us to hear God’s still small voice. Silence is to our soul what food is to our body.

After the silence a handful of us discussed the Covenant Prayer from last Sunday’s worship service. That great prayer and promise of abandonment to Christ that is both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. The prayer that leaves us vulnerable and scared as well as providing us with a goal and deep sense of belonging. The prayer that invites us to worry less about our circumstances, good, bad or ugly, and more about honouring Christ in all circumstances.

It was encouraging to hear from others just what praying the Covenant Prayer meant to them. Without pretense people shared and in doing so we were nourished by one another’s continued commitment to faith and life.

I left inspired.

These mid-week Connections are like a welcome watering table in the middle of what often feels like a marathon week. The Alpha and Omega of my Wednesday was truly filled with goodness and mercy.

Another opportunity to be watered and fed during the week starts this Thursday when we begin DISCIPLE III. This is a great study course on the Old Testament Prophets (first half of the year) and Paul’s Letters (second half of the year). Today is the last day to sign up for it. If you in two minds — let me help you — just do it!

 Grace, Alan

Mindfulness

Thích Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist. He lives in the Plum Village Monastery in the Dordogne region in the South of France.

Below follows Thích Nhat Hanh’s Five Mindfulness Trainings which represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair.

Remember the first key (Manna and Mercy) of Christian interpretation is to ask: “Would Jesus say amen to this?” I invite you to hold this question as you read through these Five Mindfulness Trainings…

The Five Mindfulness Trainings
1. Reverence For Life
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

2. True Happiness
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

3. True Love
Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

4. Loving Speech and Deep Listening
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

5. Nourishment and Healing
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

By: Thích Nhat Hanh | www.plumvillage.org