Inequality

The South African Nightmare

(A poem of lament for this beloved country)

I hate this country in which one’s race is the single most significant determinant of one’s fluency in funeral songs
Because Death is racist and blackness requires being prepared for him in and out of season

I hate this country where rain means different things to different people
How some can celebrate the filling of the dams, while others’ homes, belongings and belonging get washed away

I hate this country where nothing makes any sense
Where people talk about a housing crisis, while multi-million rand mansions stand unoccupied for most months of the year

I hate this country that too often feels like a knotted mess that cannot be undone
Because the oppressor/oppressed dynamics are so entangled within our beings that in the process of untangling it feels impossible not to lose pieces of ourselves

I hate this country that means vastly different things to different people
Simultaneously occupying lists of the best places to live in the world, and the most dangerous places to live in
the world

I hate this country that is so two-faced in its reception of people into its borders
Welcoming some with open arms, while perpetually making others feel like the unwanted stepchildren who don’t belong

I hate this country that doesn’t even bother to hide its idolatry of capital
Where money can buy you education, healthcare, dignity, and even humanity, but if you can’t afford it you can forget about it

I hate this country that doesn’t even bother to hide its racism
Where white peoples’ right to play golf is prioritised over black peoples’ rights to health, food, housing and sanitation

I hate this country where having a vagina far too often represents a death sentence
And penises are weaponised to maintain the oppression of womxn and children

I hate this country where the church is just as dangerous a space for womxn as anywhere else
And theology is twisted to uphold the strongholds of patriarchy and violence

I hate this country where proximity to whiteness is proxy for the amount of attention one’s murder is given
And the brutal violence experienced daily by so many is deemed unworthy of outcry

I hate this country that is too often the stuff of nightmares
Where you can become as woke as you like, but there is no waking from this mess

By Thandi Gamedze

If you would like to read more of Thandi Gamedze remarkable poetic laments, visit https://www.warehouse.org.za/author/thandi-gamedze/page/2/

Grace, Alan

 

Skin Colour

Grace and peace to you

While reading the following poems, Skin by Pie Corbett and What’s your colour? by Julia Donaldson, I reflected on the pain of skin colour that continues to haunt us during our twenty-five years of democracy. The power of the colour of skin and its ability to discriminate and inflict pain and suffering on humanity, is intolerable.

The issue of skin keeps appearing in our media and in our conversations. Why are we still so intimidated by people of another colour; or sometimes, only certain people of a certain skin colour?

Thuli Madonsela suggests that it is about recognising enduring racially-skewed power relations as a legacy of the past artificial racial categories.

The way in which we perceive people and practice colourism, continues to impede the growth and development of a new humanity in our country. It is all about how we treat and value human life, when we allow skin colour to dictate and determine a person’s worth and place in our society. Our colour prejudices, our perceptions and our generalisations of “the others” need to change if we are going to make a difference in God’s world.

 Skin 

What is it about skin; That gets people so excited?
Skin is the body bag; That holds us together.
Skin is the smothering; That keeps out the weather.
Skin is the curtain – Drawn down at the start.
Skin is the wrapper – That contains the heart.
Skin is the spray – Round the ragbag of bone.
Skin is the sleeping bag – Into which we are sown.
Skin is thin – Even a rose thorn can rip skin.
And yet some people – Are afraid of it –
Even though we are all made of it.

(Pie Corbett)

This poem confronts us with the truth that God the loving creator has covered us all with skin. So then as followers of Jesus, how are we measuring up to Jesus’ words: “I have come that you might have life and life in all its fullness.”? Are we aligned to the plumb-line and example of Jesus’ life, ”the man for others”, of love, justice, compassion, forgiveness? Are we able to look beyond skin colour and are we able to relate to others who are different; especially those folk who choose not to be tolerant in the creation of a new humanity for all. This is our daily struggle to move from resentment and suspicion, to acceptance and growth and understanding that we all need each other or as Martin Luther King challenges us “to live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools”.

What’s your colour? 

‘What’s your colour, the colour of your skin.’
‘The colour of the envelope that you’re wrapped in.’

(Julia Donaldson)

The above two lines are the repetitive refrain from a poem that focuses on skin colour. Reflecting on the question that the poet asks, demonstrates the role of the skin as an envelope that contains the body and all that it is: body, mind and soul. The skin as an organ is referred to as an instrument which has the capacity to shape our identity and determine and define our being.

Maybe we should all stop and reflect now on the following questions: What kind of envelope is containing me, shaping me, defining me and by whom? What is restricting me or freeing me to be? What is my exterior about and how is it aligned to my inner being? Can I reflect on my skin as an organ which has the power to determine the manner in which I relate to others in our world? What are my choices of access to opportunities or access denied at the moment? Am I a victim because of the colour of my skin or am I wrestling with my being called “You are my beloved daughter, you are my beloved son.”?

We are all vulnerable and in need of healing and in need of each other as we together work at making a difference in God’s world, regardless of skin colour!

Jane

Prepare the way for the Lord

Grace to you

John the Baptiser heard the call to “prepare the way for the Lord”. His scriptural instructions were: to smooth the potholed path, to lower the mountainous path and to make straight the crooked path. Sounds like the construction business – road construction to be precise. This is difficult work – hot work – hard work – thankless work – anonymous work … and if you don’t believe me ask yourself when last you ever stopped to get to know and show appreciation for those who disturb the flow of traffic in order to reconstruct a highway or build a bridge?

On 5 December (the anniversary of Mandela’s death as well as Sobukwe’s birth) I spent the night on Robben Island. Pilgrimaging through the cells, I was struck by how many of the political prisoners I had never heard of. Some of them stayed on Robben Island even longer than Mandela! Truly the social con-struction business of preparing the way of the Lord – which is the way of justice, gentleness, generosity, truth, mercy, integrity, radical inclusion, etc. – is often a thankless and anonymous task that demands huge courage and deep humility.

All photographs are of political prisoners on Robben Island are photos of John the Baptiser with different names.

Grace,
Alan

 

Time is money

Grace to you

The unquestioned mantra of our times is: TIME IS MONEY. The dominant economic order turns everything into a commodity. In our time everything is capitalised. Time is something we “spend”, rather than share.

The Christian calendar – we were reminded last week – invites us to do time differently. To tell the time not according to hours, minutes and seconds and certainly not according to money, but rather according to the inevitable events that shape a life of faithfulness. Faithfulness defined as living life as it was originally intended to be lived: justly, gently, generously, truthfully, mercifully…

Advent-time is when we prepare for the arrival of a Higher Power – higher than any other power. At Christmas time this Higher Power – God – is grounded among us. When we zoom in using facial recognition software we notice this God’s appearance is one of dispossessed disfigurement. God has taken the form of the godforsaken among us. Thus Advent-time is preparing the world to prioritise rather than persecute the godforsaken among us. As Jesus would say when he is an adult: “What you do to the least of these you do to me.” Advent-time is when we reorientate our lives to prioritise the marginalised and dispossessed, the vulnerable and exploited, the frail and the abused.

Advent-time does not deny the ugly truth of the world’s pain but nor is it determined by it. Advent-time navigates the narrow gap between denial and despair by daring to do something different that neither denial can deter nor despair can determine.

Advent-time lasts 4 weeks on the secular calendar – but in actual fact it takes a lifetime for most of us to reorientate our lives to be good news for the poor, if at all. Each week takes a different theme. The first week of Advent-time aims to stretch our imaginations to include the possibility of a different world where the poor do actually hear good news. Without our imaginations stretched in this way we are unlikely to give our lives to realise such a world.

A recent book that goes a long way to help us to honour Advent-time is, Tomatoes and Taxis Ranks by the Consuming Urban Poverty research group based at UCT that astutely notes “we are surrounded by food, awash with hunger”. They do not deny the harrowing hunger that stalks so many but at the same time they dare to dream of African cities where there is enough for all, and of cities run in such a way that “fill the food gap”.

Today we occupy Church Street. Our occupation is in the form of a beautiful banquet prepared for those who are often hungry in this city that is saturated with food. With our many partners we boldly declare this to be, in the closing words of the Eucharist: “a foretaste of the heavenly banquet prepared for all the world”. May it be on earth as it is in heaven.

Grace,
Alan

Refuse to sit down

Grace to you

Question: How do you stop a jumbo jet from taking off?
Answer: You stand up. You refuse to sit down. You keep standing. (Eph. 6:13-14)

You may have seen the viral video clip by now of Swedish activist Elin Ersson (21) live-streaming her protest to pre-vent an asylum seeker from being deported back to Afghanistan. Ersson refused to sit down and fasten her safety belt. She delayed the flight until eventually the person to be deported was taken off the plane.

Facing frustrated and angry passengers she stood her Elin- Ersson-ground: “I’m not going to sit down until this person (asylum seeker) is off the plane. I’m just asking: What is more important, a life or your time?” Her protest was motivated by simple logic: “Afghanistan is a land at war, but European countries continue to deport people to a place where they can’t be sure if they will live for another day … It’s my firm belief that no one should be deported to a land at war.” This is long-hand for “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

The commentary about her actions have focused on the power of what “one individual” can do. This is crucial to remember when we are tempted to rationalise doing nothing because “I am only me … just a drop in the ocean”. Every week we end our service with the following words of benediction: “And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.” Ersson was surely blessed in this sense.

But on another level it is not true that Ersson was “just one individual”. This is crucial for us to remember. She was part of an organisation working to safeguard the lives and dignity of asylum seekers. She was well informed about the law. She knew her rights. She was following a well thought-out strategy. She was aware of the “pressure point” of the context: that the pilot could make the decision about the passenger being deported or not, and that the plane couldn’t take off while she was standing. She also strategically used livestreaming. In other words it is organisations employing creative actions that enable individuals to make a life-saving difference in the world.

Some have scoffed at her actions pointing out that she did not stop the deportation, but merely delayed it and what is more she may be charged for disobeying the pilot and receive jail time herself. This is true but it misses the point of her action. The power of doing what is right or just (as in choosing life when life and death are before us) does not rest on its so-called success, as in achieving one’s immediate and permanent goal without suffering any personal cost. The power of doing right (serving life) is immeasureably powerfiul in and of itself.

Like the tiny seeds distributed by a bursting flower hidden to the naked eye, doing justice spreads new life far and wide – only to be noticed in a season or two’s time. I foresee a beautiful field of Errson-flowers in the future.

Stand,
Alan

Violation provokes violence

SA Navy to spend R60 million on weapon barely used since World War 2

As reported in Sunday Times 15th October 2017

The SA Navy is set to buy new torpedoes for its submarines, despite it battling to keep its standard fleet operational. According to a report in the Sunday Times, Armscor has confirmed plans to buy a new torpedo system for Heroine-class submarines. The new torpedoes are said to cost up to R60 million each. Industry experts told the Sunday Times that South Africa does not need new torpedoes. Worldwide, there have been only three torpedo engagements since World War 2.

https://mybroadband.co.za/news/government/233261-sa-navy-to-spend-r60-million-on-weapon-barely-used-since-world-war-2.html

 


Grace to you

One of the great lies that the world is ever tempted to swallow (and swallow it does) is that violence can be good, righteous and sacred and therefore necessary. It is this lie that Jesus – the Truth – came to set us free from, yet we refuse to be released and thus remain willing prisoners ever-protective of our chains.

And if not Jesus, then one would think that the history of violence’s horror would have brought us to our senses, but alas we overwhelmingly continue to believe that our violence is morally good while the violence of those against us is morally evil. We rage about “their” violence but are blind to our violence. Our “good cause” is what blinds us. Ours is a righteous violence … but not for the family of those we kill … for them it’s the soil of suffering that justifies the planting of the seeds of revenge. This deathly logic plays itself out daily in a million different ways: gang violence; gender based violence; police brutality and war.

Last Saturday a huge truck bomb killed over 300 people in Mogadishu, Somalia. This was done in retaliation to one of the many raids by local troops and US special forces in which countless civilians have been killed over many years in a never-ending cycle of violence.

A recent United Nations study found that in “a majority of cases, state action appears to be the primary factor finally pushing individuals into violent extremism in Africa”. Of more than 500 former members of militant organisations interviewed for the report, 71% pointed to “government action”, including “killing of a family member or friend” or “arrest of a family member or friend” as the incident that prompted them to join a group.

Violation provokes violence which begets more violence.

And while we lament the violence, we forget that we have supported it from the beginning – by refusing to pass laws that prevent it, like banning guns, and by paying for the weapons responsible for it like the SA Navy buying deathly wasteful torpedoes for millions.

When it comes to the cycle of violence in the world the Christian Church has much blood on its hands, not just directly but indirectly in the way we have propagated the false narrative of “sacred violence”. For the idea of “sacred violence” is deeply rooted in interpreting the Crucifixion of Christ as a necessary sacrifice (act of violence) in order for God to save the world. This is a terror-ble lie. Rather the Cross of Christ reveals to us the grace-full truth that God would rather suffer violence than ever perpetrate it.

Devastatingly the greatest act of non-violent loving has consistently been interpreted as an act of Divine violence by the Christian faith itself, turning the greatest gift the Christian faith has to offer the world into its greatest stumbling block to world peace. The d-evil must dance with delight as we do its work.

Jesus reveals God as Love. Therefore for God to stop loving is for God to stop being. We are born in the image of Love and when we stop loving we die and cause death.

Grace,
Alan

 

 

More expensive to be poor

Occupying Woodstock Hospital

Picture: Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp (Creative Commons License CC BY-ND 4.0) 


Grace and peace to you and through you

Over the past few weeks Reclaim the City has occupied the vacant Helen Bowden building and Woodstock Hospital as an act of peaceful civil disobedience. The purpose of Reclaim the City is to challenge and change the Apartheid spatial planning that continues to shape our lives through the development of affordable housing within the city of Cape Town.

Affordable housing in well-located areas are a necessity if we are ever going to seriously address the legacy of Apartheid politics and economics. This is true especially in Cape Town, which remains more segregated than other cities in South Africa.

For those working in low wage jobs to be living miles away in places like Blikkiesdorp and Wolwerivier, is to stretch their minimum wages beyond breaking point. They are not only far from their place of work but also good schools and reliable medical care.

This points to the double whammy of being poor: it is more expensive to be poor than to be rich. Those with the least amount of money live furthest away from work, which means that they spend more money on getting to work. The far distances affect the prices of just about everything they need to purchase to live. A loaf of bread in Blikkiesdorp is more expensive than in the city. Therefore the poor have less to save and as a result it is less likely for their situation to ever change. While the opposite is true for the wealthy! This stretches the inequalities of yesterday into the future.

In this situation it is difficult not to become hopeless. Hopelessness is the absence of any reason why tomorrow will be any better than today. And hopelessness ignored will end in rage! And then…

And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away.

And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need.

And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.

The great owners ignored the three cries of history. The land fell into fewer hands, the number of the dispossessed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression. The money was spent for arms, for gas to protect the great holdings, and spies were sent to catch the murmuring of revolt so that it might be stamped out. The changing economy was ignored; and only means to destroy revolt were considered, while the causes of revolt went on.

The tractors which throw men out of work, the belt lines which carry loads, the machines which produce, all were increased; and more and more families scampered on the highways, looking for crumbs from the great holdings, lusting after the land beside the roads. The great owners formed associations for protection and they met to discuss ways to intimidate, to kill, to gas.

And always they were in fear of a principal–three hundred thousand–if they ever move under a leader–the end. Three hundred thousand, hungry and miserable; if they ever know themselves, the land will be theirs and all the gas, all the rifles in the world won’t stop them.

And the great owners, who had become through their holdings both more and less than men, ran to their destruction, and used every means that in the long run would destroy them. Every little means, every violence, every raid on a Hooverville, every deputy swaggering through a ragged camp put off the day a little and cemented the inevitability of the day.

~ John Steinbeck: Grapes of Wrath

Praying that our conscience be resurrected lest our crucifixion be inevitable.

Grace,
Alan

Suffering of the Ignored

Masiphumelele protesters blocked roads at the weekend, cutting the Cape Town Cycle Tour short.
(Photo: Ryan Johardien, GroundUp)

Grace and peace to you and through you

Last Sunday would have been the 40th Cape Argus Cycle Tour – but at about 6:55 am we were notified that wind had stopped play. There have been enough video clips of cyclists being blown over by the foreshore wind – making us gasp and laugh. A good advert if there ever was one for #WindPower.

An earlier message that most people have forgotten about or may not even have known of, came at 5:39 am: “The cycle tour will be diverted over Glencairn Express Way due to protest action en route. Distance now 78km.” Because of the wind as well as the devastating fire in Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay, the protest action from some of the residents of Masiphumelele has fallen off the social radar. The unavailability of land, as well as a terrible lack of basic services is the root cause of the rock throwing anger that blocked the cycle route. People are angry because they have not been listened to or taken seriously for years and years. Not only is there enormous suffering which is mostly ignored, but life seems to carry on in a jolly-old-fashioned-way around them … in fact some people – like me – are out riding their bicycles in their very neighbourhood. Surely any reasonable person would snap under such contradictory conditions. As Parker Palmer says: “Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering”.

Take this as a small taste of what life is going to be like in SA for the foreseeable future! The lives of the rich will be constantly disrupted because that is the only way the poor will secure a moment’s attention. And in this country there is no way to re-route every race or event to escape this … and nor should there be.

Saul Alinsky makes a challenging point in his famous book Rules for Radicals:

Concern for our private, material well-being with disregard for the well-being of others is immoral according to the precepts of our Judaeo-Christian civilization, but worse, it is stupidity worthy of the lower animals. …We now live in a world where no man [sic] can have a loaf of bread while his neighbour has none. If he does not share his bread, he dare not sleep, for his neighbour will kill him. To eat and sleep in safety man must do the right thing, if for seemingly the wrong reasons, and be in practice his brother’s keeper. I believe that man is about to learn that the most practical life is the moral life and that the moral life is the only road to survival. He is beginning to learn that he will either share part of his material wealth or lose all of it…

Let’s be clear that the suffering of the people of Masiphumelele is far more demanding of our attention than wind-swept-cyclists.

Grace,
Alan

Africa’s Day

25 May is Africa Day

Remember Africa’s truth-tellers and truth-seekers.

At the birth of our democracy South Africa’s press freedom ranked first in Africa.
In the last decade we have fallen to 5th place, 
42nd worldwide!
www.r2k.org.za

A critical, and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy.
Nelson Mandela

___________________________________________

 

What a great day to gather together and to worship the Lord! It is an especially joyous day for me since I have the opportunity to be with you in this breathtaking city and in this wonderfully welcoming worship community. My name is Alease Brown and I will be with you throughout June and July as a ministerial intern from Duke Divinity School in the U.S.

A little about me: my family is American with no other known country of origin (except that one great-great-grandparent came to the U.S. from Ireland). I was born and raised in New York and practiced law before embarking on my journey in church ministry.

I was raised in the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), which is an offshoot of the Methodist church. After finishing school, I joined a non-denominational charismatic church, The Brooklyn Tabernacle. It was there that I was mentored as a Christian lay leader and received my call to serve God in a more official capacity. Since entering divinity school, I have become a member of the United Methodist Church and plan to pursue ordination as an Elder. My prayer is that my life would be a testament to a desperately needy world of Christ’s aliveness, of Christ’s love, and of Christ’s power, so that in our generation we might continue to bear witness to miraculous transformations in our own lives and within our culture.

Intentionally, I studied little about South Africa and Cape Town before arriving. My hope was to learn about the people and the country, your triumphs and struggles, by living among you and listening to your stories. To this end, it would be a privilege and an honor for me to be able to spend time with you (yes you), perhaps over coffee or over a meal, and to listen to your story of life as a Capetonian. The few stories that have been shared with me thus far have been fascinating and enlightening and I am eager to know more! You must feel free to ask me anything as well!

I am truly looking forward to the next nine weeks of us learning and growing together.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all in a special way during this season.

Peace to you, Alease

Believing the right way

It is difficult to respect and value and appreciate people with whom we profoundly disagree. Conversely it is easy to undermine and belittle them. It is easy to over-simplify their views and punctuate our reviews of their standpoint with false characterisations. It is easy to label them so we don’t have to take them seriously.

This is true in the Church as it is outside the Church. I have witnessed (and participated in) this in regard to debates around conscription, abortion and the death penalty over the years and more recently about same-sex relationships. In other words it can happen that we “stand up for Jesus” in un-Christ-like ways. We forget that there is no commandment to be right! But there are plenty of commandments to be loving.

In these debates the emphasis has largely been on Orthodoxy – the word ‘orthodoxy’ is derived from the Greek roots ortho meaning ‘correct’ and doxa meaning ‘belief’, and so has generally been understood as referring to the importance of right belief. This emphasis makes it difficult to allow space for the divergent convictions of others as difference is experienced as a violation of one’s own conviction and integrity. Yet such a concern betrays a distorted understanding of the integrity of the church as vesting solely in the orthodox beliefs that the church upholds.

The teaching of Jesus demonstrates that right belief is not enough to live a transformed life that bears faithful testimony to the love and goodness of God. The deeper truth of authentic orthodoxy is that it is less focused on the importance of right belief than it is on the importance of believing in the right way – which is, of course, the way of love as shown to us by Jesus.          

In other words, the way in which we hold our beliefs matters every bit as much as the actual beliefs themselves. If our convictions are expressed in arrogant, judgmental and domineering ways, then regardless of what we believe, there will be nothing of Christ evident in us. But if our convictions are expressed with humility, selflessness and compassion, whatever inadequacies there may be in the content of our theological understanding, the spirit of Christ will be evident in whatever we do.

This is the deeper meaning of the orthodoxy to which the church is called. It also offers great hope to us in the midst of the same-sex debate. For it is possible to faithfully hold fast to our gospel convictions as our conscience dictates, but in a Christ-like way that affords others the space to do likewise. Far from compromising the integrity of the church, such a way of believing deepens our credibility as those who claim to be the followers of Christ.

If the Methodist Church of Southern Africa is serious about allowing the expression of diverse convictions on the issue of same-sex relationships, it needs to accept that such a move will not be without considerable difficulty and pain, even while holding the promise of rich and joyful discoveries of what it means to be the church.

The ongoing process of us engaging this issue with honesty and integrity will require much humility, compassion and prayer. Mistakes will certainly be made and injuries inflicted. There will be those on both sides of the debate that will accuse the church of compromising the values of the Kingdom. In the midst of it all will be real women and men whose sense of place and belonging within the church will rest crucially on the sorts of decisions that are made.

Challenging though this task before us may be, the opportunity that it presents is truly immense. In a world increasingly characterised by sectarian intolerance, we can offer a life-giving witness as to the true nature of Christian unity – a unity that is not devoid of disagreement or divergence, but rather seeks to make space for the ‘disturbing other’.

Such a radical hospitality of the spirit will surely open us to the sacred in our midst, and will enable the common life we share together as the body of Christ to point more faithfully to the exquisite beauty of an infinite God in whose image we have all been made.

Grace, Alan

This is an extract from DEWCOM [Doctrine Ethics Worship Committee]