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

Manifest Christ in our living

Grace to you

In Bristol in the United Kingdom is the oldest Methodist chapel, built in 1739 by John Wesley. It is called the New Room. The Chapel is still in use but is now part of the Museum at the New Room depicting the development of Methodism and the story of the Wesleys. The displays highlight the spiritual work as well as the social issues.

In the museum is a list of “Principles for the 18th century” by John Wesley. The museum added the line: A Political Manifesto for Today? The Principles seem to be a hope-list for the many hope-less, covering a broad catchall of human misery and failure of so many others over centuries, before and after Wesley. It did not only focus on the immediate needs but includes a broader world view.

 It is as relevant today, nearly 300 years later, as then, but more urgently so. Our land and people still weep for lost generations, lost opportunity and lost hope. Education, employment, modern slavery, intolerance, abuse, violence, inequality still destroy life, liberty, living and love. More recently we have become more and more aware of our abuse of our planet and the effects of human induced climate interference. We have also not yet freed ourselves from abusing those made in the image of God, especially women and children. By what principles are we living, if we profess Christ, how do we seek to manifest Christ in our living? What will be said of us in 300 years, or 30?

Moral issues are also raising new frontiers of contention. Politicians, businessmen and other leaders, even in the religious sector, can be blatantly dishonest, lie and cheat and continue in their positions with wheels of intervention turning slowly or not at all. Civil protest and taking a stand continues to be necessary instruments for change. Often, with profound personal consequences.

Martin Prozesky, a local professor, researcher and writer, wrote an article in the City Press titled: The Innocent Until Proven Guilty Fallacy. He writes: “there is a dangerous error about people who are suspected on good grounds of wrongdoing, but who have never been charged or found guilty in a court of law. The error is to claim that one is in fact innocent until proven guilty so that a person can legitimately occupy public office just like anybody with an impeccable legal and moral record. That is not what the law says. Our constitution in section 35, (3) (h) of the Bill of Rights says that every accused person has the right “to be presumed innocent” until proven guilty by a court of law. That is absolutely not the same as actually being innocent … the person is for the time being neither innocent, nor guilty, but in a position between them as if innocent, until law or disciplinary procedures have taken their course. Such a person therefore is actually under a cloud ethically.”

As we view our principles, what are we justifying as a community, or as an individual in relation to our inaction, our prejudice, our bias, and our forgetfulness of Christ in our living and Christ in our lives?

As we consciously try to become more Christ-like in our world, John Wesley challenges us to:

Do all the good you can,
by all the means you can,
in all the ways you can,
in all the places you can,
at all the times you can,
as long as ever you can
.

Grace,
Gilbert

Truth and grace lead to resurrection

Grace to you

Two weeks ago 2x Olympic Champion Caster Semenya lost her appeal against the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). Accordingly if Semenya is to compete in distances from 400m to a mile she will be forced to reduce her natural levels of testosterone. History will show this to be a terrible act of discrimination. As some have said, this decision is the “Sara Baartman” moment of the 21st century. Thankfully organisations like the World Medical Association have come out against the judgment and warn that any doctor who complies with the (IAAF) regulations, in relation to any athlete, will be breaking their oath to “do no harm”. Hopefully it does not take long for sanity to prevail so that people like Semenya can be free to do what they love – run fast.

In these days of Easter I was struck by a resurrection story that is connected to Caster Semenya. A story not dissimilar to the resurrection of Saul that we reflected on last Sunday: Remember Saul’s breath? He had a murderous breath towards those who were different to him. He wanted to correct, change and control other people who were worshipping and praying in different ways to himself. For Saul, difference was to be “regulated” rather than “celebrated”. His Damascus road resurrection took a while because it not only involved hearing heavenly truth but also personally meeting the people he believed should be corrected, changed and controlled. Deeper truth and grace-full relationship finally unlocked Saul from his tomb of deathly prejudice.

The two ingredients of grace and truth continue to resurrect people. Take for example of the resurrection of Madeleine Pape from Australia who competed against Semenya at the 2009 World Athletics Championships in Berlin. Pape said: “I was sore about losing to Caster Semenya … her performance [was] unfair”. Four years later she was doing her PhD in Sociology and began to learn the “heavenly” truth about women with naturally high testosterone. This deeper truth brought her to question her previously held convictions. Then, “critically, during this time I also befriended some women with high testosterone. [The question arose for me] “Was I willing to recognise my friends as women outside of sport yet deny them the right to compete alongside me on the track?”, reasoned Pape. Now she declares what is unfair is not Semenya’s performance but the way she is being treated. Truth (PhD) and Grace-full relationship (Friends) have resurrected Pape from her deathly othering of Semenya.

Now as we work and pray for the resurrection of the (IAAF) what about the church? The (IAAF) is an organisation that prevents Semenya to do what she loves – namely run. The Church is an organisation that prevents Semenya to love who she loves – namely Violet Raseboya – Semenya’s wife. Surely the Church is in far greater need to be resurrected?

Grace,
Alan

Picture: OkMzanzi  |  EPA/John G. Mabanglo

To love. To be loved.

Grace and peace to you

On the 8th May 2019 we will be casting our vote in the 6th national general elections. We tend to think that this is the most important part of our democratic process, as if it begins and ends with this one day. As democracies mature however, there is a reduction in voter turnout. There are many reasons for this behaviour: apathy, disenfranchisement, discontent, maladministration, electoral fraud and the plethora of mind blowing choices of political parties that confront the voter on the election ballot. We will have a choice of 48 national parties on 8 May!

All these factors contribute to feelings of disconnection and disengagement. It reinforces continued racist behaviours and intensifies polarisation. Political differences are seen as negative and destructive and not affirmative and constructive. There is increasing anger about unrealistic election promises from politicians. We are confronted with populist electioneering. The current rhetoric largely focuses on blaming, blatant xenophobia, hate speech and othering those who we assume will be making different choices to ‘us’.

Let us draw upon the wisdom of Arundhati Roy who reminds us “To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you.” So, where is love during the elections? How do we make a place for love in the elections? How do we let love into the election season? How can we think about and be present to the welfare of our entire democracy and not let it be reduced to election day?

It is very difficult to choose between parties we don’t think consider the needs of all the people in this country or care about the most pressing concerns facing us: poverty alleviation, economic transformation, jobs, education, safety and security for all people, climate change, sanitation, water, electricity, healthcare, and land reform to name a few. We need to complexify our thinking about the election and not simplify it. When we simplify issues we make our ‘created’ borders even smaller, more rigid, more inflexible and this is at a great cost to the spirit of democracy. We should remain vigilant, nourish and protect all our institutions of democracy every day and not just on election day or during election season. Corruption and maladministration steal from our poorest and most vulnerable citizens. We need to continue to fight unjust laws and hold all politicians, state officials and ourselves to account. We need to work hard to understand how the legacies of coloniality and apartheid contribute and shape our deeply unequal society.

Love is connection, it requires deep engagement, and a willingness to sit with unease and uncertainty. We need to act in the spirit of compassion as people who have a deep desire to change South Africa and the world. We need to engage in activities that break down walls and allow justice to come. We should be engaging in opportunities to connect with passion, positivity, and with life affirming actions, on election day and the many days before and the many days after. We do this so that love, courageous, pain shifting, all-encompassing love, can be revealed in our journeys with each other…

With love, Rose-Anne and Brandan

 

 

Mercy knows your name

Grace and mercy to you

Look what arrived in my junk-email box on Thursday morning:

“Dear Beloved,

I am Mrs. Mercy John from United Kingdom, a 60 years old dying woman who was diagnosed for cancer about 4 years ago. I have decided to donate to you for charitable goals. Please get back to me if you are interested in carrying out this task, so that I can give you more details and arrange the release of the funds to you. Hoping to hearing from you soon.

Best Regards,
Mrs. Mercy John”

Normally I would send such an email straight to trash, but the sender’s name paused my deleting finger mid-air – as mercy does. And I am glad it did because it gave me an opportunity to read the email in full. I can see why it ended up in my junk mail. It is obviously spam and it is obviously a scam of sorts, but on a fuller reading it does contain great grace. And isn’t it just like grace to attach itself to junk and thereby transforming it into a jewel? So here are The Seven Steps from Junk to Jewel:

  1. Although the email is sent to me it is safe to assume that it was sent to many others. The Phisher of people does not discriminate. In other words, the grace and truth, which it bears is for all and not simply for me. What I am saying is – this is your mail too, yes, Mercy knows your address!
  2. Mercy knows your name. Notice the mail addresses us by our correct name by using our original Baptismal name, spoken from the heavens. We are indeed Beloved. This is 100% accurate.
  3. Read again – slowly – the first five words of greeting: “I am Mrs. Mercy John”. As Moses can confirm God’s name is beautifully fixed in the present: “I AM”. “I AM who I AM”. Mrs. Mercy is probably the most accurate description of I AM. ‘God is Mercy’ is a three-word summary of everything Jesus came to teach us about I AM. John? Yes, we still don’t know who exactly John the letter writer is – but John did pen the most succinct character sketch of I AM ever written. Just read: 1 John 4:7-21.
  4. Mercy resides in the United Kingdom. Obviously. I mean where else? A Kingdom that is united where there is “no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised; slave or free; but Christ is all and in all.” Colossians 3:11. As Jesus prayed, “That they may be one as we are one”.
  5. Mercy has never been shy to ask for help. In fact, Mercy’s most frequent request is for partners to partner with her in healing this broken world.
  6. Mercy promises to bless us, to donate to us, to give to us. If this is not grace I don’t know what is, but please notice to what end: “for charitable goals”. Yes, not for our own private benefit but for the common good. Mercy invites us to be a conduit of love and justice.
  7. The next line jarred a bit. I was not expecting Mercy to say: “if you are interested in carrying out this task”. How did gift turn into a task between sentences? Yet on reflection, a truer word has not been spoken, for grace is gift that instantly turns into task the moment it is received… and task in turn releases and realises the grace. Like forgiveness: We are forgiven (gift) as we forgive (task).

So Mercy hopes to hear from us. Isn’t that the truth!?
Alan

SACC finds the utterances by the EFF leader regrettable

Media Release | Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana | 22 November 2018

The South African Council of Churches (SACC) finds regret-table the unfortunate utterances by the EFF leader, Mr Julius Malema, where he referred to Minister Pravin Gordhan as “a dog”. We take nothing away from Mr Malema or any other person’s freedom of speech. But we find it unacceptable that an elected public official can call a person, whether government minister or not, a dog; especially given the connotation of such an expression in African culture. Moreover, such name-calling by a popular political leader could easily incite followers to violent acts. It engenders an attitude in society that says other people do not matter. That is not Ubuntu. This kind of talk, accompanied by sabre-rattling and talk of war and possible bloodshed, on the eve of electioneering, is deeply concerning.

We also take issue with Mr Malema’s trashing of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry as a Mickey Mouse show. This is a Commission that was the recommendation of the Public Protector in the 2016 ground-breaking State of Capture report; and the whole country welcomed it and eagerly awaited its creation. We do not understand how it now becomes a Mickey Mouse show and a waste of money. We urge all South Africans to support the Zondo Commission and not have witnesses attacked and intimidated, as that will have the effect of burying the serious wrongdoings that might have been revealed in order to have recommendations for solutions that help cleanse our governmental environment.

We have seen Mr Malema and his party standing steadfastly against corruption, and demanding appropriate action. We cannot believe that he and his party no longer want to see corrupt practices exposed in a judicial inquiry such as the Zondo Commission. We believe that it is in the interests of the country and all citizens that all is exposed in order to begin the healing of our State institutions; and the Ubuntu ethos and values cultivated.

Archbishop Tutu said of Ubuntu: “It speaks of the very essence of being human… It is to say, my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours… A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.”

This is what we seek to cultivate as a South African character of life, inside politics, the State (Batho Pele) and in society as a whole. This is the nature of the South Africa we pray for as the South African churches. — End —

Issued by the office of the General Secretary of the SA Council of Churches,
Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana.

Womb-Justice

Grace to you

Imagine all of us here today were not quite born yet. Imagine we were still all hanging out in an extra large womb. Imagine we didn’t know who we would be once we were born. We could be any nationality, culture, religion, sexual orientation, gender, colour, age. We could be rich or desperately poor. We could be employed or jobless, with a home or homeless. We could be healthy or sickly. We could be blind or deaf or neither. Now imagine having an opportunity to write the laws for the society that we are about to be born into – but remember – we don’t know who we will be when we take our first breath. What values will you write into law for your future society?

The philosopher, John Rawls answered this question by suggesting that we would always want to secure the best possible situation for those who are in the worst possible position – just in case that person happens to be us. I agree with him. Every time I ask groups of people what they would do – the answer is unanimous: “We want equality. We want justice. We don’t want any super rich and desperately poor. No one must be homeless, etc.” I have yet to meet anyone willing to take the risk of being born into a society of great inequality. No one wants to play “birthing-roulette”. When there is the slightest possibility of us ourselves being at the bottom of society we become very clear on what a just and good society looks like. We become convicted that it is wrong to have a society of rich and poor and we write laws to prevent this.

The challenge is for us to honour the just life we so clearly could see while in the womb. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant by calling us to be “born again” and again and again. Live out of the knowledge of the womb! Jesus also told us that he knows who he will by outside the womb. He tells us he will be the poorest of the poor when he says: “What you do to the least of these you do to me” so another motivating factor for his followers is to write laws that not only protect us if we happen to be at the bottom but to protect Jesus who is already at the bottom.

Scripture is full of laws for society to practice to honour this innate sense of Womb-Justice. Here are a few verses from Leviticus 19: 

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:

9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.

10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.

13 You shall not defraud your neighbour; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a labourer until morning.

14 You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling-block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

15 You shall not render an unjust judgement; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbour.

16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbour: I am the Lord.

33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.

34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

35 You shall not cheat in measuring length, weight, or quantity.

36 You shall have honest balances, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.

37 You shall keep all my statutes and all my ordinances, and observe them: I am the Lord.

For Womb-Justice,
Alan

Live while you are alive

Grace to you

Arundhati Roy – author of the highly acclaimed “The God of Small Things” is in South Africa. She is here to promote her latest novel “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”. Yet, Roy would probably say that she is here for something far more significant than book promotion. She is not moved by prize or price or praise. Perhaps this is why she is such a compelling writer. She has higher interests and deeper values. “If you ask me what is at the core of what I write, it isn’t about ‘rights’, it’s about justice. Justice is a grand, beautiful, revolutionary idea.” Roy lives for justice. In this she imitates God’s own heart.

To do justice is to name and expose and mock and defy all the reasons given by society to justify unfairness and to unpick them thread-by-thread wherever they are woven together to entrench inequality in the systems of society. Above all, Roy calls out any and all who try and legislate love into colour or caste or any other constructed category. As her caste crossing characters silently grieve: “But what was there to say? Only that there were tears. Only that Quietness and Emptiness fitted together like stacked spoons. Only that there was a snuffling in the hollows at the base of a lovely throat. Only that a hard honey-colored shoulder had a semicircle of teeth marks on it. Only that they held each other close, long after it was over. Only that what they shared that night was not happiness, but hideous grief. Only that once again they broke the Love Laws. That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.”

Roy knows that the easiest way to prevent someone from doing justice is to make them a beneficiary of the status quo. Roy understands that fame can tame the pen: “Years of imprisoning and beheading writers never succeeded in shutting them out. However, placing them in the heart of a market and rewarding them with a lot of commercial success, has.” For this reason Jesus pointed out we cannot serve both God and mammon – “we either love the one and hate the other”.

Knowing we can chose death, God invites us to choose life. It is a choice, not a certainty. Jesus expressed his life’s purpose as bringing “life in all its fullness”, and Roy in her own poetically urgent way encourages us to make this same choice:

“The only dream worth having is to dream that you will live while you are alive, and die only when you are dead. To love, to be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of the life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

I share these thoughts as a comforting reminder that there are many who know the heart of God and who embody the teachings of Jesus without using the label Christian. Jesus never said “They will know you are my disciples by what you call yourself”. He said: “They will know you are my disciples by your love.”

Grace, Alan

Christ Reigns

Grace and peace to you

Today is the “Reign of Christ” Sunday marking the end of the Christian year. Today liturgically / symbolically invites us to trust that after all is said and done Christ will reign on high. Put differently, it means that everything Jesus believed in and gave his life for will win in the end: love will face down fear, truth will win the race against the lies and justice will satisfy the hungry. Mercy will be without measure and the gentle will finally inherit the earth.

We have seen evidence of this in the past couple of days. Oppressors fall (and fall asleep!) while the God who neither sleeps nor slumbers fans the flames of freedom within the human hearts of the dispossessed. And the Spirit hovers over our imaginations with new visions of what justice and peace really look like. What was whispered is now declared from the rooftops. That which was feared is now laughed at. What was covered up is exposed. This is true in neighbouring Zimbabwe as it will be true once more in our own land. The final score will be in Jesus’ favour.

Knowing the end score before the end of the game en-courage-s us to be bold and faithful, especially when all the evidence suggests that a loss is inevitable. Knowing justice and truth and freedom will win encourages us to follow the light while it is still dark and speak-up while many still whisper in fear. The end in Jesus’ favour demands we stay in the game and not forsake the field where justice and mercy are being contested. None of us know when the final whistle will blow just as a few weeks ago no one on the planet could foresee the resignation of Robert Mugabe this past week… and besides it is not for us to know dates and times of end whistles.

We must not be naïve though. This game is not a friendly. The fight is fierce. The stakes are high. There have been casualties and sadly there will be more. Listen to how Prof. Njabulo Ndebele – an academic and chairperson of the Nelson Mandela Foundation – describes the desperate state of South Africa today:

“The government that was elected to act according to, support and promote law, order and constitutional rule, has abdicated that responsibility. It has itself become a thief that steals… Under this government, syndicated thieving has become the very purpose of government, because government has become an instrument that protects itself from the consequences of its own transgressions.”

It is against this tragic truth that we dare to proclaim Christ Reigns.

Grace,
Alan

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