What kind of future city are we building today?

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,
Alan

‘You are us.’

Prime Minister of New Zealand:

Jacinda Ardern

 

Photograph: Kirk Hargreaves, Christchurch City Council


Grace and peace to you

As we reflected last Sunday, after calling Herod a fox, Jesus cried: “Jerusalem Jerusalem … how often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” (Luke 13)

Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern has lived this text into being this past week. In so doing she has shown the world what healthy, wise and strong leadership looks like. Ardern is not reading from a prepared script. She is simply honouring her heart and head – a heart that feels deeply and a head that is deeply thoughtful. Her own grief has set the tone for her nation’s grief. She articulates both her anger at the cause of grief and expresses her gentleness for the grieving. She rightly chooses to keep the spotlight on the loved ones of the deceased rather than the killer.

Ardern’s repeated words to the grieving: “You are us.”, are the most healing words she could possibly say. Spoken with the authority of a surgeon, she sews together with her words the truth that the killer attempted to shatter with his bullets. We are all one. These words at the same time expose the killer’s blindness and the blindness of Islamaphobia as well as all other forms of discrimination.

Without hesitation she has named the instrument (actually it’s an idol) – the gun – that when mixed with fear and hate, causes death on a massive scale. Simply put: she cares more about saving lives than a tiny group of people’s desire to own a firearm.

Prime Minister Ardern is a challenging sign of hope to us all.

Grace,
Alan


A story by Steve Mellon: “A woman approached the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh mostly unnoticed and carefully placed a bouquet of yellow flowers among the branches of a bush near the center’s concrete steps. She then crossed Bigelow Boulevard and sat on a stone retaining wall and wept.

She said she’d lost a family member when a man of hate entered the Tree of Life synagogue in October and gunned down people of faith. Now bullets had shattered lives at two New Zealand mosques.

The flowers and her quiet, anony- mous presence were gestures of solidarity with the Muslim community, she said. When a man at the mosque learned of the woman’s presence, he briefly held his hand to his heart, then crossed the street to chat with her.

Moments later, he guided her back across Bigelow Boulevard, up the concrete steps, and into the center’s lobby. The man offered the woman a chair and introduced her to others then gathering for traditional Friday prayers.

In the sunlit room, people of different faiths gathered in a small circle and shared stories of pain and sadness and strength and hope.”

@Stevemellon412

Psalms that awaken the heart

Grace to you

Today we are going to reflect on Psalm 1. It is therefore as good a time as any to make a commitment to read the whole Psalter – starting today with one psalm a day for the next 150 days.

To accompany us on the journey I can’t recommend highly enough Nan C. Merrill’s book: Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness. She has translated all 150 psalms with poetic and theological brilliance. She helps us see the word through her feminist and non-violent lens. Here is the preface to her book:

“Who among us has not yearned TO KNOW the Unknowable? For most, these moments are fleeting glimpses that may last a lifetime; in some, a Fire is kindled and life becomes a quest to live in Holy Surrender; and though fewer in number, saints dwell among us who know the Beloved, who aspire simply to co-create in harmony with the One, who is Love and Light and Power. To cherish the Beloved as you are cherished is to live in a mutual bonding that calls for action.

The Psalms have ever been a response to these deep yearnings: cries of the soul … songs of surrender … paeans of praise. The Psalms of the Hebrew Scripture often reflect a patriarchal society based on fear and guilt that projects evil and sin onto outer enemies. Psalms for Praying reflects the reciprocity of Divine Love that opens the heart to forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing. Affirming the life-giving |fruits of love and acknowledging the isolation and loneliness of those separated from Love, may serve to awaken the heart to move toward wholeness and holiness.

Aspiring to live in a spirit of cooperation, co-creation, and companionship with the Beloved, rather than invoking a spirit of competition with God, other individuals and nations – so much a part of the Hebrew Scripture Psalms – seems clearly a more loving movement toward engendering peace, harmony, and healing in our wounded world.

Yet, let it be understood that Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness is in no way meant to replace the well-loved, still meaningful, and historically important Psalms of the Hebrew Scripture. May it stand as a companion, a dialogue, if you will, of one age speaking with a later age. May it serve as an invitation to listen to the Voice of Silence that speaks within your own soul.”

Psalm 1

Blessed are those
who walk hand in hand
with goodness,
who stand beside virtue,
who sit in the seat of truth;
For their delight is in the Spirit of Love
,and in Love’s heart they dwell
day and night.
They are like trees planted by
streams of water,
that yield fruit in due season,
and their leaves flourish;
And in all that they do, they give life. 

The unloving are not so;
they are like dandelions which
the wind blows away.
Turning from the Heart of Love
they will know suffering and pain.
They will be isolated from wisdom;
for Love knows the way of truth,
the way of ignorance will perish
as Love’s penetrating Light
breaks through hearts
filled with illusions:
forgiveness is the way.

Plant gardens when others plant bombs

Grace to you

Two weeks back I recommended some Advent-time reading. During Advent-time our imaginations are stretched to include the possibilities of a world where the poor are prioritised and not persecuted and suggested that Tomatoes and Taxi Ranks will help us in this reorientation of our priorities. Advent-time is also most beautifully and powerfully honoured by those who dare to “prefigure” a hoped-for-future in the present. This is wonder-fully captured by a war photojournalist by the name of Lalage Snow in her book: War Gardens – A journey through conflict in search of calm.

Snow honours Advent-time by refusing to deny the horrors of war while at the same time exposing people’s stubbornness against despair as expressed through their daring and caring acts of garden planting.

While interviewing one restorer of gardens in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, Snow got the sense that they “were effectively tidying up after two decades of chaos, the conflict erupting around them and all the trappings which skip alongside war were merely an annoyance rather than an existential threat. The restoration almost belittles the war. It says, ‘OK, you guys carry on fighting, we’ve got more important things to sort out.’ If war is anxious, uncertain and terrifying, gardens are the antithesis. They are solid worlds of hope and life, and their gardeners work at a cognitive distance from violence.”

In another interview, Mohammed Kabir is introduced as a gardener for the Kabul municipality. His garden is mostly for subsistence living – beans, potatoes, okra. Snow writes: “’But what about the flowers?’ I point at the messy square of colour in the middle of the courtyard. ‘Well’, Kabir says, ‘I just decided to bring some seeds from my home and plant them in the courtyard. The soldiers helped me to dig and water. I am an old man,’ he reminds me. I ask him why he would make a garden in the ruins of a forgotten palace where only the military and the ghosts will see it. He looks at me as if I’ve asked him to count up to three. ‘Everyone needs a garden. This is our soil. When you work with it, things grow. It’s nature, life. I am a poor man, sometimes my family and I only eat once a day, but I can live without food; I couldn’t live without seeing green leaves and flowers. They come from heaven. Each one,’ he insists ‘is a symbol of paradise. I have a flower in my garden at home and have counted seventy colours in its petals; tell me that it doesn’t come from heaven!’ he exclaims… ‘Since starting this garden I feel I am getting younger. Every tree, every plant, every flower gives me energy.’

Alexi lives in Donetsk in the Ukraine and declares: ‘Tonight I will sleep in the shelter in the ground like my plants.’ While Hamidullah in Parwan, Afghanistan explains: ‘I had a friend in the army, an officer. He was like a brother to me. He was killed, fighting, about a year and a half ago. I was so sad. I … I couldn’t sleep for grief. I tried to garden to forget him but in the end, I planted to remember him and when one grew, it was like I had a new friend.’

Advent-time is planting a garden when others are planting bombs.

Grace,
Alan

God has no favourites

Grace to you

Over the past two weeks we have reflected on the radical resistance story found in the book of Esther. We tasted early on that it is marinated in masculine entitlement and further sauced with religious, cultural, ethical and nationalistic supremacy. If we are honest, much of Scripture is marinated and sauced with both – and many since have sought to justify both as the will of God because of their prominence in scripture. Yet if we take our cue from Jesus, we will notice how he constantly subverted the marinade and sauce of the dominant class – choosing rather to salt it with a flavouring of those considered the least and lowly and left out to specifically remind us that God has no favourites.

The Psalms – as beautiful as they sound are very often extremely violent and patriarchal – perpetuating a false understanding of God that Jesus came to correct. According to Jesus God is not violent, but vulnerable. God’s purpose is to gently restore rather than vengefully destroy.

One of my favourite authors who is able to re-salt the scriptures in this Jesus-like-way is Nan Merrill. In her translation of the Psalms she replaces the militaristic patriarchy with profoundly beautiful images that remind us that our real enemy is fear within rather than foes without. This enemy within is only ever defeated through acceptance and love for only “love can cast out fear”. Here is her translation of Psalm 91 (in part):

Psalm 91

Those who dwell in the shelter of
                Infinite Light,
Who abide in the wings of
                Infinite Love,
Will raise their voices in praise:
                “My refuge and my strength;
                In You alone will I trust.”
For You deliver me from the webs
                of fear,
                from all that separates and divides;
You protect me as an eagle shields
                its young,
                Your faithfulness is sure, like
                an arrow set upon the mark.
I will not fear the shadows of the night,
                nor the confusion that comes
                by day,
Nor the dreams that awaken me from
                sleep,
                nor the daily changes that
                life brings.

Though a thousand may deride this
                radical trust,
                ten thousand laugh as I seek
                to do your Will,
Yet will I surrender myself to You,
                abandoning myself into your Hands
                without reserve.

~ Nan C. Merrill, Psalms for Praying

Redemption Song

Grace and Peace

One of the psalms set for today is Psalm 107. It is a “redemption song” that recounts the myriads of occasions of the Lord’s steadfast love delivering a despairing people. A people lost, wandering aimlessly in desert wastes. A people hungry and thirsty, about to faint with fatigue. A people sitting in darkness, unable to see and stand. A people locked in leg irons, prisoner to the past in the present. A people broken and bent by hard labour. A people sick and dying of disease. A people tossed about on stormy seas drenched in fear. But then, interspersed between the trauma and tragedy the psalmist sings: “They then cried to the Lord in their trouble, and the Lord saved them from their distress. Let them thank the Lord for the Lord’s steadfast love and wonderful works to humankind.”

This redemption song was sung to en-courage all the despairing to doggedly resist their despair. To ‘vasbyt’ and keep the faith, the hope and the love when doubt, despair and fear monopolised the evidence on hand. Singing of redemption past was more than a mere act of memory. It was a protest. It was to re-member it to the now. To sing of redemption past was to subversively plant redemption into the soil of the present that would break open a new future.

Redemption may sound like a religious word to our modern-day ears but long ago it meant being set free for the sake of the just-ordering of society where everyone had enough and none was superior or inferior to the other.

As we witness “things fall apart …” in our present days, one redemption song we must not tire to sing into the present is that of our Constitution. Yes, our Constitution is a redemption song. The preamble of which encapsulates so succinctly and contextually the gospel’s call for redemption: the just and merciful ordering of society. It was written in the wake of what many called a miracle. A miracle because many thought it was impossible. As it was written before the cement of what was possible and impossible could set, it calls us to imagine again what some have stopped believing is possible in SA today: a truly just land and healed people. God’s steadfast love has not given up on us. Our past tells us the impossible is possible…again…and again. We must keep singing our redemption song:

We, the people of South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to

  • Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
  • Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
  • Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
  • Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations. May God protect
    our people.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso.
God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa.
Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika.
Hosi katekisa Afrika.

Alan

ANC MP Dr Makhosi Khoza
is a shining example of courageous leadership and integrity.

I have been trying to rest but now it is not the time for me to retreat.

I have been singled out as a troublemaker by those that would have me go quiet. I have been accused of extreme ill-discipline for standing for what I believe.

Whilst many of my comrades support me some have come after me, accused me of sedition as they have chosen to side with those that would hurt me, our movement and indeed murder of our nation.

I made a conscious decision when these death threats began that if indeed death was to be my reward then I was not going to die silently.

Many of our comrades have died silently – the memory of a young woman who dared to “cry rape” against a powerful man lingers in the atmosphere, even as she was banished to die a silent death.

Our comrades have dropped like flies in Richmond, Umzimkhulu and other areas – the deaths amount to over 80 in total; yet before even one person has been brought to justice for the merciless killing of our comrades, it is me that they would want to exact their sinister justice on. Yet, why should I die silently? Why should my body be added to those who have died innocently and keep quiet about it? Many of my comrades died while remaining silent, many of my comrades will die silently still, (especially as December approaches) yet those who accuse me have done nothing about it. They have let our dead comrades down, now they come for those of us who are alive. They can’t kill us all. Let them label me but I for one have made my mind up, I will not go quietly into the night. The death threats continue.

Makhosi Busisiwe Khoza
20 July 2017


 Grace and peace to you and through you

There is a modern day parable about a Monastery that had fallen on hard times…basically the old monks were dying without being replaced by the next generation. So the Abbot of the Monastery goes to visit a Rabbi who occasionally retreated at a hut deep in the forest. The Abbot asks for advice but the Rabbi says he has none to give…except a parting comment about “the messiah is among you” or as some versions say, “the messiah is one of you”. As the parable goes the monks begin to relate to each other in new and wonder-full ways…all due to the possibility that one of them may be the messiah. And slowly the monastery is revitalised with a new Spirit and this begins to attract the interest of visitors to the area.

As a parable there are beautiful meanings we can draw from it, not least we learn that often it is our parting or throw away comments that land and take greatest effect.

At other times when we go looking for guidance we find the Rabbi is absent and the destined forest hut unoccupied. Its emptiness enlarges our own sense of emptiness and its vacancy adds to our lost-ness.

With time and with grace we may be nourished in the emptiness or with more time and lots more grace, the emptiness itself may be transformed into nourishment. It is impossible to explain, a bit like water into wine.

For the passing comments that have given us new life – let us be grateful. And for the nourishment within emptiness and nourishment of emptiness – let us bow.

Here is a poem that invites us to trust if we find the forest hut empty…

A wanderer comes at last
to the forest hut where it was promised
someone wise would receive him.
And there’s no one there; birds and small animals
flutter and vanish, then return to observe.
No human eyes meet his.
But in the hut there’s food,
set to keep warm beside glowing logs,
and fragrant garments to fit him, replacing
the rags of his journey,
and a bed of heather from the hills.
He stays there waiting. Each day the fire
is replenished, the pot refilled while he sleeps.
He draws up water from the well,
writes of his travels, listens for footsteps.
Little by little he finds
the absent sage is speaking to him,
is present.
This is the way
you have spoken to me, the way – startled –
I find I have heard you. When I need it,
a book or a slip of paper
appears in my hand, inscribed by yours: messages
until I would listen.

“The Spirits Appeased” by Denise Levertov

Grace,
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

Let’s change

Grace and Peace to you

Tershia’s letter

The letter (picture above and text below) was sent to the media by Pam Jackson – Director of Ons Plek Projects for Female Street Children – a project of CMM. Her accompanying letter gave context to the impact of Xenophobia on the vulnerable girls “local and foreign” at Ons Plek. The young girls react and respond differently. For some there is real fear, flashbacks to their previous life, living in hope, but often disappointed, at risk of abuse of all kinds and struggling to see Christ in their lived experience. Threats even, from other girls of xenophobic bullying. And then the big fear. That violence will come into their very home.

The staff actively dealt with the issue. Tough discussion, with hard questions helped to ease the tension. Part of the process was letter-writing by all the girls. Tershia, a South African, expresses her feelings of the pain of rejection. Her letter is addressed to our President and her appeal is clear. Read it carefully. Think of all the vulnerable children of foreigners in our homes, shelters, schools, Sunday schools, sports clubs, on our streets … wherever.

Have we as adults engaged on the issue of xenophobia in a meaningful way? Have I?

We all need to look deeper at our own bias, prejudice and yes, our xenophobic attitudes and tendencies.

We read in 1 John 4 :” There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear Those who say, I love God and hate their brother or sister are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

With Tershia will we “keep on praying and doing my bit to help those who feel hopeless”?

Peace, Gilbert


Tershia’s letter

Dear President

It is so sad to see innocent people die.  People in south Africa are very selfish. They don’t care about how others feel of killing their families and as well they loved one’s. To watch news everyday and watching people die or physical abuse its so hurting. We as South Africans should understand that we are Africans and should treat each other with equal rights and they should feel welcome here in our countrie. One biggest commandment that God said was we should love one another and also accept each others difference’s. I will keep on praying and doing my bit to help those who feel hopeless. You the president you in charge of this country stand up for the righteousness and speak up for the hopless. LETS CHANGE SOUTH AFRICA TO A BETTER COUNTRY. We really love our brothers and sisters and don’t want them to get hurt just because of jealousy.

From Ons Plek Girls – Tershia

NO XeNOphobia

Grace and peace to you …

On 18 May 2008 Alan wrote the following letter to the Calvary Methodist Church congregation during his time of ministry in Midrand:

“Dear Friends

The violence this past week towards foreigners in Alexandra has been terribly frightening and casts a worrying cloud over the peaceable future of so many of our communities.

The Oxford Dictionary defines Xenophobia to be the ‘morbid dislike for foreigners’. The extent of xenophobia that seems to plague so many of us – yes us – is alarming. At present there seems to be a morbid dislike for Zimbabweans – ‘coming to take our jobs, our women, our opportunities, cause trouble and commit crime – they should go back to where they came from’. Well that is the sort of stuff I have heard – yes personally heard – and it frightens me.

It frightens me because it seems that we have forgotten that we are all family – the human family. That the Apartheid between nations is an Apartheid system that will also one day crumble – because Jesus has prayed that we all be One like he and his Father are One – and nothing is going to stand against that prayer forever. It frightens me because it seems we have forgotten that our deepest identity does not come from which country (piece of God’s earth) we have been born in, but rather from the image of God that is carved at the core of each of us. It frightens me because making foreigners into scapegoats for our problems never helps us solve our problems. It frightens me because it seems we have forgotten so soon how our neighbours assisted many of our people who were once in exile – assisting with jobs and education and opportunities to develop in order to have skills that will one day be fruitfully employed when they return.

May God cleanse our thoughts and mouths of the morbid dislike of foreigners. Alan.”

_________________

Although it appears as if little has changed since 2008, there are those who are brave and saying NO to XeNOphobia and continue to welcome the foreigner among them! Please continue to pray for courage and God’s grace to help us embrace the Holy Trinity – the widow, the orphan and the foreigner – among us and stop our ‘morbid dislike of foreigners’.

Peace, Alan!


Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they know
the unutterable beauty of simple things.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they have dared
to risk their hearts by giving of their love.

Blessed are the meek, for the gentle earth shall
embrace them and hallow them as its own.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for
righteousness, for they shall know the taste
of noble thoughts and deeds.

Blessed are the merciful, for in return theirs is
the gift of giving.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall be
at one with themselves and the universe.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for theirs is a kinship
with everything that is holy.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for
righteousness’ sake, for the truth will set them free.

~ F. Forrester Church