2021 06 13 Alan Storey
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:
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
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.
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.
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
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso.
God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa.
Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika.
Hosi katekisa Afrika.
“We can only be satisfied and happy when: every child wakes up in a warm house, has a good nutritious breakfast, is able to say a loving good-bye to both working parents, goes to school in safe and reliable transport, is met at school by teachers who are there on time, ready and able to teach." 21 August 2012 in Kliptown
Imagine for a second an elephant – a huge bulky elephant walking on her or his tip-toes. It strikes me as a ridiculously humourous picture. And yet, you won’t believe it, but it is true for every step an elephant takes. In Lyall Watson’s beautiful book, Elephantoms he describes how elephants have the
uncanny ability to appear out of nowhere and disappear into thin air without a sound:
“This is made possible, for a start, by the construction of their feet. The digits of each limb are so steeply angled that elephants walk almost on tiptoe with a very pliant step. Behind each heel lies a large spongy pad of fatty tissue that not only supports the fingers and toes, but distributes the great body weight evenly across the wide horny sole of the foot. This inner sole forms a shock-absorbing cushion that behaves like a lightly inflated tyre. When the foot is lifted, it bulges from the underside, but as soon as it is set down, the pad splays out and smothers leaves and twigs beneath it, muffling sound and giving even these giant animals an elastic step and the stealth of a cat.”
Not only is this fascinating about elephants, but it reminds us more broadly that we need people who can help us to see. We need guides who open our
eyes to what is. We need people to help us to pay attention. For this reason, when roaming the bush it is most helpful to have a game ranger at our side to point out to us what we do not see or to help us understand what we do see.
We need guides to help us to see what we are blind to in our world and country. As Former President Kgalema Motlanthe said this past week at the funeral service about one of the great guides of our fresh democracy, Ahmed Kathrada:
“Today is the day on which we close the eyes of comrade Ahmed Kathrada, permanently; because during his lifetime he opened ours forever and saved us from the blindness of the heart. Along with countless men and women of a higher order of consciousness with whom he cast his lot in pursuance of deep ideals, comrade Kathy helped unleash human possibilities.”
Similarly we need guides to help us to see what we do not see about ourselves and to help us understand what we do see. Among other things Lent is traditionally a time of reflection. A time where we take time to look at ourselves and within ourselves. Some of us can only see the worst within ourselves while others of us exclusively focus on the best. This is why a guide or mentor or therapist or wise friend is needed – to help us to see and understand the deeper richness of who we are.
I am hoping each of us will honour this Lenten time by taking time to connect with someone who can help us to see.
Life goes beyond death, because life is called to life, not death. That is the plan of its creator. But life blossoms into full flower only in those who nurture life here on earth; in those who defend its rights, protect its dignity, and are even willing to accept death in their witness to it. Those who violate life, deprive others of life, and crucify the living, will remain seeds that fail to take root, buds that fail to open, and cocoons that are forever closed-in upon themselves. Their fate is absolute and total frustration.
All those who die like Jesus, sacrificing their lives out of love for the sake of a more dignified human life, will inherit life in all its fullness. They are like grains of wheat, dying to produce life, being buried in the ground only to break through and grow.
~ Leonardo Boff
As we continue to mark 20 years of our democracy and begin to digest the election results of the past week, Psalm 23 reminds us of who our true leader is as well as the Divine job description set for all leaders.
To declare “The Lord is my Shepherd” was in those day equivalent to saying: “The Lord is my President/Premier.” Sadly because we have tended to turn to this psalm almost exclusively within the context of a funeral service (due to that hauntingly beautiful line, best heard in the Old King James Version: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”) we have lost the political nature of its original intent.
This political use of the term “shepherd” is easily seen in Ezekiel 34 where the prophet accuses the leaders/shepherds of “feeding themselves” while failing to “strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bound the injured and seek out the lost”.
If the psalmist were asked: “So who should I vote for?” the answer would have been clear: “Vote for the Lord!” Meaning, make sure your ultimate loyalty, trust and obedience is for the Lord’s ways. To vote for the Lord is to vote with the vulnerable widow, orphan and foreigner in our hearts. It is to vote for good news for the poor and a deep love for those considered to be least among us.
Therefore a leader’s first task is to prevent people living in ‘want’. In other words a leader must make sure that people have enough to live on — providing food (green pastures) and water (still streams) and education (right paths, rod and staff). Conversely the psalm is a challenge to those of us who live with more than enough. And if we don’t think we are one of those living opulent lives — then maybe Mr Wesley can help us with a little perspective. Wesley said: “…when you are laying out that money in costly apparel which you could have otherwise spared for the poor, you thereby deprive them of what God, the proprietor of all, had lodged in your hands for their use. If so, what you put upon yourself, you are, in effect tearing from the back of the naked; so the costly and delicate food which you eat, you are snatching from the mouth of the hungry.”
Dare we still vote for the Lord? The poor are praying that we do.
Give us courage to vote with our lives, O Lord.