2021 03 07 Alan Storey
Checking our God
South Africa is an extremely violent country. This was confirmed on Friday by Police Minister Bheki Cele. He reported that between October – December 2020 the number of people murdered had increased by 6.6% and the number of people raped had increased by 1.5%. This means that 4,124 people were murdered (2,481 people were murdered in public places and 1,643 people were killed at the home of the victim or of the perpetrator) and 12,218 people were raped, of which more than 4,900 took place at the home of the victim or the home of the rapist. All this in only 3 months!
South Africa is an extremely violent country. This was confirmed on Thursday by The Children’s Institute that launched the South African Child Gauge 2020.
The report describes the deteriorating nutritional status of children as “the slow violence of malnutrition”. The “slow violence” is “hidden” within the permanent negative outcomes that include, stunted growth, a compromised immune system and reduced cognitive ability. This will be a contributing factor in whether a child starting Grade 1 actually completes Grade 12. (On Friday the Matric pass rate for 2020 was announced as 98.07% – yet what is hidden within that percentage is that it only about 50% of the total number of learners who entered Grade 1 twelve years ago.)
South Africa is an extremely violent country. There is the explicit violence and the hidden violence. They are linked. The explicit is underpinned by the hidden. To address the explicit, the hidden must be uncovered, brought into the light and acknowledged if it is to be healed. Yet the explicit violence mentioned by the Police Minister is often the only violence actually recognised as violence. This is the violence one most commonly thinks of when we hear the words “South Africa is an extremely violent country”. As a result, according to the Police Minister, the solution is for the “the police to dig deep and put the shoulder to the wheel”. Yet the hidden violence of one’s human dignity being denied as a result of not having the very basics to live on, runs deeper and is far more extensive than any increased police beat.
Millions of people in South Africa literally live in a permanent state of violence. Of violation. A violation that is not seen or recognised as a violation. As Parker Palmer insightfully says: “Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.” One way to interpret what he is saying is that explicit violence will result from hidden violence not being validated.
Therefore, the first step to reducing violence in South Africa is to recognise the hidden violence. This is the violence that must come first into our minds when we hear “South Africa is an extremely violent society”. This is the crime that we must first consider when we speak of South Africa as a crime ridden society. This is the primary crime.
I refer you to a paper by Prof. Anthony Collins on violence. In my mind one the most helpful and insightful papers on violence in South Africa.
Within this paper he decides to turn things on its head and ask the question: How to create a violent society. Sadly, you will see that South Africa ticks all the boxes to create a violent society.
To reduce and end violence is our work. This is the work Jesus calls us into. This includes both the hidden and the explicit violence. This violence resides both within us and around us. It therefore includes work within our hearts as well as work on the streets and in the institutions that shape our lives. Our approach is always confessional. Meaning, that we start by asking ourselves where we are part of the problem. To the extent that we can be truthful in this, is the extent to which we can ultimately be set free and in doing so bring change within and beyond ourselves.
Ultimately the work Jesus calls us to in reducing and ending violence, is a work of celebration. The celebration of the sacredness of all Life.
We will explore this further this Sunday at 10am. The zoom link is available from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bonus: Interview with Prof. Julian May, from the Centre of Excellence in Food Security.
Unlike many of Jesus’ peeps through the ages, Jesus is not hung up on his name. Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus go round repeating: “In Jesus’ name. In Jesus’ name…” Whether something is Christlike or not has little to do with what it is named, and everything to do with who is served. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Jesus said it himself that “not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven”. (Matthew 7:21)
In fact, sometimes those who shout “Lord” the loudest can be the furthest thing from Christlikeness, while sometimes those who refuse to have that word on the lips can be end up being his most faithful friends. Once again this should not surprise us, because Jesus said as much in the sheep and goat story, we find in Matthew 25:31-46.
This sheep and goat story reminds us that whatever we do to the least (vulnerable and oppressed), we do to Jesus. And therefore this is the only authentic measure on whether something is Christlike or not.
With this in mind I would like to encourage you to subscribe and donate to GroundUp. GroundUp, according to what I have just said above, is an incredibly Christlike newspaper. Not because it has any association with the Christian faith / church / religion / evangelism or anything Jesus-explicit etc., but because they exist to serve the least – the vulnerable and oppressed of society. Here is how they describe their work: GroundUp is a weekly online newspaper that reports “news that is in the public interest, with an emphasis on the human rights of vulnerable communities.”
GroundUp centers on those who are usually kept to the margins. They amplify the voice of those usually silenced. Instead of representing the interests of the privileged few, they put the hardships and suffering of the overwhelming majority of people in this country into words as well as documenting the resilience of the same overwhelming majority to rise to another day. It is despairing and inspiring reading all at once. The stories reveal how the political plays out in people’s personal lives, in harrowing and heroic ways.
GroundUp reminds me of the truth of my context that I am inclined to ignore and forget. Only when we take the truth they share week in and week out seriously and then respond by doing God’s liberating and healing will of doing justice, offering mercy while walking humbly, will we all be free.
Here are two examples from their latest Friday offering:
I give thanks for GroundUp – a Christ-like incarnational newspaper without needing to say Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…
P.S. I will be away for the next 10 days, sitting Vipassana.
P.S.S. Please remember to email: email@example.com if you would like the Zoom link for the Sunday Service.
On Friday we celebrated ‘Ma’ Lingeveldt’s life. Ma died on Tuesday, just three months shy of 100. A remarkable age, yet Ma’s life cannot be measured in years. The length of her life, though remarkable does not compare to her remarkable character. The salt and light of Ma’s life was a gift and guide to many of us at CMM. In the words of her daughter, Michelle “she taught us Jesus”. She did indeed.
There was something timeless about Ma – again not so much because of her age, but rather because of her consistency of character. She was the same, yesterday, today and forever. I share four observations of her beatitude-like-character with you, that I trust will continue to teach us Jesus. Ma’s life, like the beatitudes of Jesus, invites us into a way of paradox. More specifically, a way of paradoxical truth. A way of ‘both / and’ rather than ‘either / or’.
Ma was grounded and transcended. From her, I understand what Jesus meant when he instructed us to be in the world but not of the world. When I spent time in Ma’s presence I got the sense that Ma, though vitally present to the moment had already entered the MORE of life. She had “passed over” to the other side, while still on this side. In this she gifted us with a curious openness to the MORE of life. In Celtic spirituality they speak of ‘thin places’ referring to places where the veil between this measured world and the mystery of MORE is so thin that one is able see through it. In this sense, Ma was a ‘thin person’.
One of the great privileges of my time at CMM has included walking into the sanctuary and overhearing Ma praying for someone. Someone she had taken fully into her heart in love. To hear her pray was to hear Jesus speak. She prayed ‘thin prayers’.
Humility is what holds grounded and transcended together as one. Ma was humble. She had no need to push herself to be seen, heard or noticed. She never drew attention to herself. She had no need to promote herself. She had nothing to prove and no image to protect. She embraced silence, stillness and solitude without effort. Ma’s humble presence spoke for itself. And … people were drawn to her. People from all round the world who visited this sanctuary were drawn to sit next to her and to tell her their story. And at the same time she was ever willing to “give an accounting of the hope within her”. [1 Peter 3]
Ma became frail over the last few years. Frail, yet strong. In fact, the more obviously frail she became – the more her strength, fortitude, resilience shone through. As if to highlight for all of us (just in case we still didn’t get it) that her strength was given to her as gift.
Ma’s life taught us the meaning of these scriptures: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities for the sake of Christ: for whenever I am weak, I am strong.” [2 Corinthians 12]
“I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have a little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” [Philippians 4]
Ma was content. Content does not mean condone. Ma’s contentment was rooted in a Centre that she trusted would hold. This released her to hold the circumstances that surrounded her, be they good or ill, more lightly. A good day for Ma had nothing to do with comfort or ease, but rather whether she was able to discern the presence of Jesus and walk in his ways. This will only sound glib to those who know not the history of her life. When Ma said: “Die Here is goed.” (The Lord is good.) it meant something.
Ma’s experience of life taught her that she was no better or more than any other person. And her faith in Jesus taught her that she was no less than anyone. From this place of truth Ma was able to compassionately connect with everyone. Ma knew that people can’t live without bread, but she also knew that people could not live by bread alone. From this place of deep knowing Ma did to others as she would have others do to her.
Ma gave birth to 10 children, and yet she was also the mother of us all. Her greeting to just about all of us, regardless of age: “Hello my kind (Hello my child)”. What her age gave her permission to do, her theology compelled her to do. She took seriously the words of Jesus from the Cross. Words spoken first to his mother and then to his disciple: “Woman here is your son. Here is your mother. Jesus came to remind us that we are all family, and he would even die telling us this truth. Ma dared to live this truth out. Calling everyone – be they the gangster from her Hanover Park and the priest from the church – “my kind” (my child). As a result of seeing everyone as family – she had love for all and fear for none.
In closing l once again read from scripture … the script of her life. Scripture that could have easily come from Ma – and surely does come from her to us through her living: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in [Ma], and the God of peace will be with you.” [Philippians 4:8-9].
PS. Please remember that the best way we can care for others in this season of COVID, is to limit our physical contact and reduce our travel to only what is absolutely necessary. Our health sector is under huge strain. Please adhere to all the Government regulations and be weary of anti-mask and anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.
A reminder that if you would like the zoom link for the Sunday Service 10 am,
please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the clock completes its annual circuit, we are invited to pause…
To pause to examine our lives. To go through each month of the past year – remembering what took place around us and within us. We do so without judgement and without the need to justify anything. We steer between the unhelpful cliffs of condemnation and complacency. Instead, we hold all things – all situations and all people in compassion. Compassion is the life-giving combination of grace and truth. Truth without grace can be mean, while grace without truth is meaningless. Together they convict and comfort (strengthen)… this frees us to make our confession (get real about our living).
We pray: Spirit of truth and grace come and convict and comfort me today, that I may get real about my living. Amen.
This past year:
These questions are simple signposts inviting us to explore a particular direction of our living. How far we would like to wander along each path is up to each of us…
Note: This time of pause is served best if we carve out unhurried time. We cannot “speed reflect” – like we may be able to speed read. We can only do 30 minutes reflection in 30 minutes – no more. If a question fails to connect with us straight away, we are invited to stick with it for a little longer …
Below are a few reflections from Augustine of Hippo. A person known for his confessions. The Augustine Confessions is, next to the Bible, the most widely read book in history. It is also the first autobiography as we know them. It is devoted to telling Augustine’s passionate journey of faith and life. We are invited to read and re-read his words – sensitive to what convicts and comforts us.
“Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so…
O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: “I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me”.
Accordingly, I looked for a way to gain the strength I needed to enjoy you, but I did not find it until I embraced the mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.
Clear is your response, but not all hear it clearly. They all appeal to you about what they want, but do not always hear what they want to hear. Your best servant is the one who is less intent on hearing from you what accords with his own will, and more on embracing with his will what he has heard from you.
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you, they would not have been at all.
You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
When at last I cling to you with my whole being there will be no more anguish or labour for me, and my life will be alive indeed, alive because filled with you. But now it is very different. Anyone whom you fill you also uplift; but I am not full of you, and so I am a burden to myself. Joys over which I ought to weep do battle with sorrows that should be matter of joy, and I do not know which will be victorious. But I also see griefs that are evil at war in me with joys that are good, and I do not know which will win the day.
This is agony, Lord, have pity on me! It is agony! See, I do not hide my wounds; you are the physician, and I am sick; you are merciful, I in need of mercy.”
2020 12 20 Alan Storey
Advent Evangelism: Graced to Grace 2
It seems that Covid-19’s second bite is bigger than its first bite. “The Western Cape has more cases confirmed in the second wave, than compared to the first wave.” This is according to Dr Keith Cloete, the Head of the Department of Health in the Western Cape. My own anecdotal evidence confirms this. I know far more people with COVID-19 during this second wave than I did during the first. I also know of more people this time around who have died, and others who are struggling in ICU.
As many have said, if we are not careful over this Christmas time this could be our last Christmas. For this reason, we will not be having any in-person services at CMM. Our services will remain via zoom, including Christmas Day at 10 am. We will re-assess this situation only when there is a marked reduction in the spread of COVID-19.
Please remember to wear a mask, wash hands and keep at least 1.5 m away from each other. This prevention trinity is the kindest thing we can do for each other at this time. In the short term this will remain true until we have all received the vaccine. In the medium to long term, if we do not radically change the way we humans do life on earth, we can expect more lethal and frequent pandemics in the future. The choice really is, change or die.
Tragically not everyone agrees with the science. Some think COVID-19 is a hoax and sadly only find out it is not when they struggle to breathe. We may debate each other, but reality does not debate. Reality reigns. Gravity will bring us down every time.
Equally disturbing are those who are anti-vaxxers. History shows that vaccines are nothing short of miraculous in the way they have reduced death rates. From the mandatory smallpox vaccination in the 19th century to the polio vaccine of about sixty years ago, the world has been spared much suffering. Yet from the beginning of vaccines there has been opposition by a minority for a number of reasons, many of which continue to motivate anti-vaxxers to this day. Namely:
We can go to the internet to find out the latest anti-vaccine theories and how they have been debunked, especially around the measles-mumps-rubella vaccines supposed link to autism. This continues to circulate even though it has long since been shown to have zero merit. With equal ease however, we can go to the internet to have any number of conspiracy theories validated. I guess this is a case of, “we will find whatever we are looking for”. This points to another deathly virus plaguing the world: the spread of misinformation.
Anti-vaxxers are not the only stumbling block to the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccination. Rich countries have placed hoarding orders (some countries have ordered up to six times more doses than their population size) making it almost impossible for poor countries to secure enough vaccines.
In the wilderness of old, the freshly freed slaves from Egypt learnt that hoarding stinks of death. When some have too much, others will have too little. One would therefore have hoped that we would have learnt something from COVID-19, that we are all interdependent, and that we are only as healthy as the sickest among us, but sadly not.
It reminds me of the story of the 10 lepers who were healed by Jesus and only one of them returned to say thank you. This person was a Samaritan (Luke 17:11-19). They were all united together when they suffered leprosy together, but as soon as they were healed, other divisions, like ethnicity, came to the fore. Separating them again. In today’s situation a nationalism and classism, rather than a world-wide humanitarianism, now determine who will be first in line for vaccine treatment.
This past week South Africa together with India and later supported by Eswatini and Kenya, requested the World Trade Organisation TRIPS Council that certain provisions of the TRIPS agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19 be waved to ensure greater ease to acquire the COVID-19 vaccine. This was not agreed to. Unsurprisingly, the debate was pretty much split along economics: rich countries vs poor countries.
Time is running out for the human species to mature. To literally grow up and recognise the real reality (that does not debate, but reigns) of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all of life. Only then will we end the apartheid between nations that selfishly secures privilege for a few at the exclusion and exploitation of the many. In short, a mature human person recognises that all people are family. For this reason, we pray: OUR Father / Mother in heaven… To take that three-letter word seriously is to change the world we live in.
If you would like the Zoom link for Sunday’s Service – please email: email@example.com