The Silencing of Lady Justice

The Pain and Praise of our Birth…

“For it was you who formed my inward parts, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know every well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”
Psalm 139: 13-15


 No wonder there is a Jewish proverb that goes something like this:
“God could not be everywhere and therefore God made mothers.”

On Ascension Day I officiated at a wedding. The couple have been in love for a long time and finally decided to come out in the open and get married.

The ceremony took place at the World Economic Forum between Big Business and Government. To our surprise we walked right up to the entrance of the CTICC to where all the delegates were getting out of their cars. (Then again, others have recently managed to land a commercial aeroplane at a military base filled with wedding guests – so perhaps we should not be too surprised.) Then the cops moved us to the perimeter – after removing the “shower head” that was hovering over the beautiful bride’s (Government) head. Five SAPS vans, one Nyala and three Metro Police then followed us.

There were a number of corruption scandals who gathered to witness and celebrate the wedding.

Big Business and Government then exchanged vows: “I call on all the corruption scandals here present to witness that I Government do take thee Big Business to be my (un)lawful wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better and NOT for worse, for richer and NOT for poorer, in sickness (of others) and in health (of us) to love and to cherish, and forsaking all others (especially the poor) till death us do part (or until the money runs out).”

Lady Justice tried to voice her objection but was quickly silenced by the Secrecy Bill and the Key Point Legislation Act. All the scandals applauded when I gave the couple permission to kiss.

Ascension Day reminds us that God alone has ultimate power and calls us to hold the powers of this world to account and to mock their belief that they have absolute power. To call them out every time they ignore the vulnerable who they are called to serve. In 2012 R30 billion was stolen through corruption. We say “No to R1 – one vote”.

This is one marriage that should dissolve. Alan

Hoping against hope

On Wednesday morning I was introduced to a new group of participants attending the second semester at The Carpenters Shop. Over the next 10 weeks they hope to learn new skills that will help them find a job. A job is the Holy Grail all of them are seeking. A job and the money that comes with it so that: “I don’t have to steal”; “I don’t have to be part of a gang”; “I can support my family”; ”I can be a man”; “I won’t ever go back to living on the street”; “I can start over”.

I have never really understood St. Paul’s phrase: “hoping against hope” but if it means what I think it may mean then it resonates with this situation. The longing to have a future that is different from the past – “I want a new life” – was said with blunt clarity.

I felt their longing but I also felt the underlying doubt upon which their longing rested. I confess I shared this doubt of whether change was at all likely – after all, where are these jobs going to come from? I felt a despair for our future. To use Melanie Judge’s words that I quoted in last week’s sermon, there are just too many people who have been “actively locked out of livelihoods of dignity”. Locked out by things like a failing education system. This is the primary violence within society that is seldom ever recognised as violence. It results in rage. Suppressed rage. Expressed rage. And ultimately rage that will probably end up being jailed and beaten into submission … resulting in ever more rage.

During the session I had with the group I was peppered with questions: “Where was God when I was stabbed in my face?” “If God loves me then why doesn’t God protect me?” “If God cares for me then why is my life such a mess?” “God may love me but God is up there somewhere – and I am down here”. Each question revealing how locked out they feel. Even locked out from God’s goodness and mercy.

The Easter narratives tell of Jesus coming and standing among his disciples who were locked behind closed doors. With this we are invited to trust that Jesus will always find a way to break into our lives no matter what we are locked behind or locked out of.

He comes, breathing peace and not judgement. He comes focused more on our future than our failed past. He en-courage-s us to start over again believing that we can change.

Payment for receiving this gift is to make it our task. To do to others what Jesus has done for us. To stand among those locked out of livelihoods of dignity. To stand among them breathing peace while hoping against hope that change is possible.

I believe Lord. Help my unbelief,

Conversation at the Book Lounge:

Sanctuary: How an Inner-City Church spilled out onto a Sidewalk by Christa Kuljian

Thursday 25 April, at 6 p.m.

After years of sporadic media attention and posturing by politicians, Kuljian has made it her business to find out exactly what has been going on at the Central Methodist Church in downtown Johannesburg, where the Church acts as a gateway to the city – an Ellis Island for South Africa, the place where many migrants first go to get their bearings. How did a place of worship turn into a shelter for thousands of refugees? Where did they come from? Why are they still there? Seeking to answer such questions, Kuljian fluently combines many elements: interviews with members of the refugee community and residents of the Church, and key figures like Bishop Paul Verryn, who has often been at the centre of the storm; historical material on the church and its role in the city since the early years; and an understanding of urban dynamics, migrancy, and South African and southern African politics.

The result is a complex, open-eyed book that grapples with some of South Africa’s most urgent social problems as they are refracted through one appalling, frustrating, inspiring place.

Christa will be in conversation with Alan Storey at the Book Lounge.

Inner contradictions

Cape Town’s own Charlie Chaplin protesting (silently) outside parliament this week. Insightfully holding a model airplane (bought during the arms deal) to his head like a gun in the one hand and a copy of our Constitution in the other. I am always inspired to see “Charlie”. He has never spoken to me (or anyone), but he is present among us as a silent but very graphic parable. He is an “old” person yet he gets out and makes his voice “heard”.

 This past week has felt heavy. the spilling of blood in Israel / Palestine highlights again the deep veins of fear and hatred that embed our humanity. Even as we pray for the peace deal to take hold we must ask when we will learn that after all the blood has been shed – we will still have to come round a table to talk – so why not learn to do so as the first response and not the last response. This is simple logic but difficult practice!

And even as I reflect on this with regard to international conflict I cannot ignore the fact that it is as true in many of our personal relationships. It is not easy to “be angry and not sin” [Eph. 4:26] or to “speak the truth in love” [Eph. 4:15]. Sometimes we think that because what we are saying is the truth (at least as far as we perceive it to be) then we can say it any way we want to – but this merely plows the field for further animosity to be sown in the field of that person’s life. Oh Jesus help us to learn to speak the truth with the hope that love will flower. But sometimes the desire to see another hurt is too delicious a taste, and let us not be too quick to deny this.

I find the following words from the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung challenging – inviting us to look within ourselves to discover our own inner contradictions that play out as conflict in the world:

Today humanity, as never before, is split into two apparently irreconcilable halves. The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate. That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his (sic) inner contradictions, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposite halves. C. G. Jung 1959

Some of you are aware of the work of Peter Rollins – a theologian from Ireland. We have reflected on a couple of his parables from his book: The Orthodox Heretic.

Here is an extract from his up-coming book called the Idolatry of God. I find him a challenging author to wrestle with …

Strength for the journey inwards, Alan

Moonlight Mass is this Wednesday evening!

Toilet revolution

Cape Town was cold, wet, windy and miserable this past weekend. In a story headlined “Brace yourself for a stormy weekend”, the Cape Times advised its readers that “you might be wise to opt for the duvet, a crackling fire and a good supply of something to warm the cockles”. This was surely a sensible suggestion for those with a warm place to sleep and a bit of cash for supplies.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, when the northwester was pounding in at more than 50km/h, accompanied by torrents of rain and a spectacular lightning storm, I woke up with the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League and the Democratic Alliance (DA) in mind. These two organisations have been arguing as protests engulfed the Cape Flats in recent weeks.

Last Friday, about 500 residents of Kanana and New Rest informal settlements occupied the N2, reportedly threw stones and faeces at the police, and disrupted flight schedules at Cape Town International. Clearly the toilet revolution is yet to be settled.

A recent report by Municipal IQ says that this year has been the biggest protest year in South Africa since 2004, with the Western Cape leading at 24%. Karen Heese, Municipal IQ’s economist, is quoted as saying: “It was worrying that 88% of protests last month were violent. Almost half of the protests in July occurred in informal settlements.” Indeed, the protests claimed the life of a bus driver in Khayelitsha earlier this month.

These protests are everywhere, including Johannesburg’s financial hub, Sandton, where violence flared up last week, partially closing the highway. Their national profile indicates that poor people are simply fed up and are fast losing any remaining confidence in the ability of any government to change their living conditions.

So why do Western Cape premier Helen Zille and Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille believe Cape Town to be different? If we buy their argument, residents of Kanana and New Rest got up at 4am on Friday and occupied the N2 because the youth league told them to make the city “ungovernable”.

The mayor and the premier were so terrified of this youth league that they filed a criminal complaint under the Intimidation Act seeking recourse through the criminal justice system. The youth league must really be powerful.

But this is a straw man. Zille and De Lille are calculating politicians. They aim to create a different narrative aimed at reassuring the core base of the DA. The message is that an otherwise beautiful and functioning Cape Town has suddenly come under siege by a violent and unruly youth league and that the police will be all out to restore law and order.

This narrative is meant to make it “acceptable” to see images of police shooting rubber bullets in battles with residents who are living in shacks. The subtext is that the cops are out looking for criminally violent youth leaguers.

This has a strong whiff of “swart gevaar” — the message of the apartheid government when it faced stiff resistance. The government tried in vain to reassure white South Africa by claiming that “terrorists” were putting schoolchildren in the front lines of protests.

So when De Lille says, “What is particularly disturbing in this well-directed action — with evidence again indicating that this was led by the (youth league) — schoolchildren were deliberately put in the front lines,” it sounds disturbingly familiar.

But what should come as a surprise to the mayor and the premier is that the N2 is not permanently occupied. Anyone driving along the highway is aware that those settlements are a time bomb waiting to explode — a place where any populist campaign will find fertile ground.

The reality is that protests are breaking out across South Africa because millions of poor people are sick and tired of the conditions they encounter every day. And the DA is facing the same crisis of legitimacy in the areas it rules that the ANC faces on a national scale.

The real SA is full of angry poor people. They are in revolt. Zille and De Lille can’t wish or charge them away. Instead, they’d better do something — fast.

• Morudu is a writer based in Cape Town.

[I would just add that we ALL better do something fast! Praying for courage, Alan]