Tag Archive: social justice


‘My dad always used to say, “Fight fire with fire” which is why he got thrown out of the fire brigade.’ [Harry Hill]

Yesterday, i posted this as my status on Facebook:

What is happening with the fires sweeping across Cape Town is a tragedy and worth attention, mobilisation and investment and it’s been incredible watching Cape Town rise to the occasion. i think it is also important to reflect, even for just a minute, on what our response has been on numerous occasions in the past where serious shack settlement fires have happened and many have been killed, because the fact that they seem very different, i feel, has a lot to say to us about us. [Not talking either/or, but both/and]. Discuss.

Naturally the internet exploded [well, not quite, but we did get some lively discussion going and one unfriend and some Taylor Swift therapy followed]:

Shortly after that we attended the Ron Sider meeting at the Warehouse that i shared some thoughts from yesterday and bumped into my friend Craig Stewart [who runs the Warehouse] and he was just about to jump on and share some thoughts on my status. But instead, he offered them to me to stick up here and this is an incredibly helpful perspective.

craig

Brett and a few other friends of mine posted comments over the last few days expressing frustration at the apparent disconnect, on social media at least, between the responses of people in Cape Town to the current fires blazing all around us and the regular fires that destroy homes, livelihoods and people a few times a month each summer in Cape Town.

Whilst I recognise the tension I haven’t found myself particularly affected by it. This is even though I consider myself someone who cares pretty passionately about people who are poor and the historic and current injustices of our country.

This is partially because I think there may well be a false equivalency between the fires but its also because I’ve been involved over the last couple of years in a city wide church based disaster response network under the banner of the Consultation of Christian Churches in Cape Town. In this role I’ve engaged with all of the larger fire disasters in the City over the last few years and a fair number of other ones. In each case there was a good response, even sometimes an overwhelming response.

For the most part the fire department, disaster management and civil society respond well and effectively to these fires and the crises are addressed quickly and effectively.

As is the case with mountain fires often the societal response is more rooted in what we think is needed rather than what is actually needed and that can create problems of its own. Just ask the Cape Town fire department about the huge amounts of donated clothing lying in warehouse because it can’t be used anywhere.

But my experience is that for significant fires and floods affecting people across this city, the people of this city are willing to sacrificially work and donate to resolve the crisis. But then we get on with our lives and forget about the every day disasters of people’s daily lives in this city. Once we’ve got people back to the awful reality of day to day life we move on.

The problem of course is that for a disaster response to be effective it should be rapid, appropriate and short lived but the disaster of everyday life is going to take much more than that. What would it take for us to sustain a sacrificial, coordinated, all hands on deck effort over the next few decades that would see us dramatically change the face of this city and nation?

In moments of disaster we put aside expectations, entitlements and comforts and we stare the situation in the face and deal with it. Our current reality will require such an effort but we will need to sustain it.

When a fynbos mountain burns it is part of the cycle of life of that mountain. And the burning itself initiates growth and sprouting and life that has being lying dormant for many years. Life will explode across the mountains over the next few months. We need a fire like that to burn through this city – a justice revival fire perhaps.

This morning tbV and i went to the Warehouse in Wetton for an informal talk and conversation with Ron Sider [ah, you see what i did there, you should apologise for thinking bad thoughts about my spelling prowess!] who is the author of, among other things, ‘Rich Christians in an age of hunger’ which is completely the sound of a book title that needs to be in my queue.

Anyways we had a most excellent time as he looked some issues regarding to Christians and Social Justice from a theological [but seriously not boring and completely relevant and hands on] point of view. He will be doing another session there tonight [12 Plantation Road at 7pm, rsvp Linda@warehouse.org.za] and if you can make it, you really should try and come.

But i thought i’d share some thoughts in the form of one liners and sound bytes that i was able to furiously scribble down [cos seriously, who writes these days? You take your finger muscles completely by hysterical surprise any time you try to] during the speak and Q & A that followed. This is obviously not as helpful as if you’d been there [come tonight!] but hopefully there are some moments of lightbulb that you can take away from this:

Firstly, Ron Sider is a 75 year old Jewish man who converted to becoming a follower of Jesus and then got completely dissatisfied at their response to issues of poverty and social justice until he researched a little more and saw that Jesus and the whole bible was actually all over that stuff:

One of the things Craig [who MC’d the vibe] mentioned was that when he was a frustrated Christ follower during his varsity days because of the disparity between the politics of the land and the actions of the church, that reading Ron’s book gave him permission to have an authentic faith that caused him to engage with the politics of the land. [Too many of us were shut down by the ‘You can’t mix the church and politics’ narrative when we were growing up and yet if God is a part of every part of your life then surely He needs to be in your politics?]

# Maybe the statement i liked best out of the whole morning was another one Craig said while speaking about Ron’s stance from his book which was ‘I’m not a social activist, i’m a disciple of Jesus.’ That is just s beautifully true. These are not the acts of a social activist specifically or separate to them being the acts of someone who genuinely follows Jesus and tries to live up to His teaching and example.

# From a conversation Ron had with a jewish student one day who was attracted to the passion of the christians in terms of meeting together and so ended up at one of their conferences, but then ended up in long conversation with Ron saying, ‘I don’t want to be like these white christians who sing about heaven and talk about Jesus but don’t care about justice in South Africa.’

# Referred to the book of Amos and how this prophet tackled both the sexual injustice that existed in the present time BUT ALSO the structural and economic injustices that were rife. How often we as the church have picked and emphasised the first almost at the complete expense of the latter.

# The importance for both evangelism [ we need ‘good people’ so people who have been transformed by God] and structural change.

# That the Gospel is NOT purely forgiveness of sin, but the Good News of the Kingdom. Jesus formed a new community when He came, who lived out His message and challenged the status quo in many ways:

– Jesus and the lepers and blind people was Jesus connecting with groups of people who had been completely alienated and shut outside of the city

– Jesus and His attention and focus on women was radical for that time period where they were considered not just not equal to men, but as animals in some cases – the one quote Ron read was that a jewish saying at the time was that it was better to burn the Torah [the first 5 books of our bible] than to teach it to a woman [we’re talking hectically radical in approach of both teaching and living.

So both the forgiveness of sin and the formation of a new Messianic community where justice and peace break in.

# Also Ron mentioned, like in the Acts 2 and 4 pictures of the church, that a huge evangelistic tool that the early church had was the way in which they lived this teaching out, like in areas of social justice – looking after widows and orphans and the poor.

# Ron shared about how in Romans 8 it talks of the groaning creation that will be liberated. In Revelation 21 and 22 it talks of the glory of the nations being taken up into the New Jerusalem and then later about the healing of the nations. And then referred to the N.T.Wright book ‘Surprised by Hope’ where one of the conclusions is that we don’t try to escape the world [christians with a heaven only point of view] but we try to change it.

# An important mindset to cultivate is that God is obviously on the side of the poor [hundreds of verses throughout the bible back this up] but that God loves both the oppressed AND the oppressor and is wanting both sides to be liberated.

# Ron said that he thought many people misunderstood the Acts 2 and 4 passages as indicating that the early church had a common purse [shared money that belonged to everyone]  – the form of the Greek verbs gives the translation to be more like ‘In the habit of’ when it comes to giving so it was not an obligation but something that seemed to come naturally to them because of their changed dispositions.

They were so committed to each other that they went to dramatic extents.

In Deuteronomy 15 vs 3-4 it says ‘If you live this way there will be no poor among you’ [echoes of Acts 2] but then a few verses later it says there will always be poor among you. [As if it’s a wink from God saying because I know you].

One part of what it means to be the church = dramatic and significant economic sharing.

And a quote from i forget where, ‘As long as some christians are trapped in poverty, the eucharistic celebration is imperfect.’ 

One of Ron’s last points was almost like a prophetic declaration, saying that, ‘It would be an incredible thing if the whole church of South Africa would get the economic call of the bible and start living it out. This would be the hugest witness to the world – it would involve costly redistribution..

And then during the questions, a comment that my friend Rene made, was ‘The church doesn’t see itself as the empire’ and there is much to be discussed around that and i think it touches on the whole race/reconciliation/privilege conversation as well. It’s not me – it must be someone else.

But all in all a really great session – hope there was a morsel in there for you to grab hold of and if you are in Cape Town and can possibly make yourself free for tonight – this does feel like it will be a significant meeting time.

ron

This is the last passage i will be sharing from the book, ‘Robert Sobukwe: How Can Man Die Better’ [because you do need to go and get a copy and read the whole thing, you know!] And this is a look forward to how Sobukwe might have felt about the current situation with a big focus on justice and what i think lies ahead of us in terms of a move from racial focus to that of social and economic justice.

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When we got to spend some time on Robben Island recently, we were privileged to get to hang out with the former Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane. This next passage from the book became more significant as we had encountered the person it was talking about:

‘The Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane, spoke about Sobukwe’s legacy in the struggle for liberation in the memorial lecture in 2004: by focusing on the pass laws he had ‘addressed what was at the very heart and core of the oppression of black people in South Africa’. Sobukwe’s ‘eloquence, charisma, decisiveness and clear objectives caught the imagination of many’. And, going on a personal note, said Ndungane, his encounter with Sobukwe had changed the course of his life.: ‘It marked the beginning of a journey which saw me involved in political activism and landed me on Robben Island for three years. A journey which began in chains and has now ended in freedom; a journey which saw a prisoner from Robben island becoming an archbishop.’

Ndungane, renowned for his liberal views on homosexuality and his urging of action to tackle South Africa’s HIV/AIDS scourge, had been a student at the University of Cape Town in 1960 and took part in the PAC’s anti-pass demonstrations. He continued working underground after the PAC was banned and in 1963 was jailed for three years. He was on Robben Island while Sobukwe was there. 

Ndungane assessed Sobukwe in the context of the grave problems in the liberated South Africa: ‘I wonder what he would have made of the continued economic conditions in which most black people still live, and of the fact that the rich in South Africa are getting even richer? Over half the African population is living in poverty – even in destitution. Would he have applauded the fact that the rich – even the mega-rich – in our country now include black people? I am sure that he would have been glad to see that black people have the opportunity to develop their capacities to the full – including their entrepreneurial capacities. 

‘But my own feeling is that he would have been shocked by the continued lack of freedom in South Africa today. I think he would have been shocked that so many human beings live without freedom. A person is not free if they do not have enough to eat, if they have to hear their children cry in vain for food. A person is not free if they have to sell their bodies in one way or another for a very tiny mess of potage. A person is not free if they cannot read and write in a society that rewards only the literate. A person is not free if they must beg on the streets, or go irredeemably into debt, or steal from others – in other words, beg, borrow or steal. That is the condition of the majority of the black population – and some from other population groups as well. The astonishing thing is how many do NOT resort to crime, considering the alternatives.

In other words, I think that Robert Sobukwe would have mourned the continued economic injustice in South Africa today. Black Consciousness was not only about dignity and self-respect – thought that was the personal individual core of it. It was also about justice. I don’t think he would have thought it is enough to have a vote – though that is a basic human right and essential for our dignity. I think he would have thought a vote, to be useful, should be able to carry in its wake justice for those who were marginalised.

I believe Robert Sobukwe would have moved on from the emphasis on equality and reconciliation between the races to an emphasis on economic justice. That indeed IS the struggle that lies ahead of us.’

[To return to the beginning of this series, click here]

i don’t have anything to write today, but that’s not going to stop me writing it

i don’t have anything to say, but that’s not going to stop me from saying it

i don’t have an opinion of my own, so let me just regurgitate what everyone else is saying

the thoughts i think are far too controversial to think out loud, so let me write something that will generate mass appeal

i am not involved in any social justice personally, so it is imperative i regularly fill out my status with the latest trend

let me forward this video clip to show you what i think you should be getting more involved in

let me comment on this article i haven’t completely read through because something in the title and opening paragraph caught my eye

and now let me express my strong opinion on this person who will never read this statement as my way of holding them accountable

[and argue and make personal statements about you who might think differently]

and let me keep up with the latest trending hashtag [you know, so i can stay relevant]

i don’t even have enough words to finish this post

i don’t have anything to write today, but

on the way to the CCDA conference in Minneapolis that a bunch of us from the Simple Way are currently attending, three of us stopped over at a Nurturing Communities event hosted by David Janzen who has just released a book on community and met up with a bunch of people from different intentional communities all over the country and spent a really great day connecting and dialoging and having an opportunity to connect with some of the monks at this incredible place called St John’s Abbey.

the one idea that came out of a few people [and especially from the monks from this 1500 year or more old order] was a concept that i have semi visited sporadically over the last few years in terms of thinking about it but never really written anything on it and that is the idea of STABILITY.

the world as most of us know it is not currently well aligned for the concept – we have become a people of instant gratification whether it be microwaved meals or instant messaging or 2 year stints at a job before changing company or sometimes even vocation and so the idea of sticking with something for a long time does not come as naturally as it once did.

but there is something valuable in STABILITY, well a lot of things, but possibly the most powerful is RELATIONSHIPS.

try as we might by poking and retweeting and being skype-able we have just not been able to come up with instant relationships… well not often, and certainly not effectively. i mean we have definitely given a shot and as witnessed perhaps by a rising divorce or single parent rate the concept of disposability is also something we’ve quickly embraced as opposed to perseverance, hard work and commitment. if you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it as Beyonce so famously sang, followed quickly by if you stop liking it then remove the ring and if possible put it on the next person or thing that you like… walk away, don’t look back [remember Lot’s wife] just turn away and keep walking, and then rush to the next thing…

the monk’s take a vow of stability and it was interesting to hear that these Benedicting monks take a vow to the specific monastery as opposed to the denomination or Benedictine group as a whole… so there is commitment to the movement but the specific commitment in the form of a vow is aimed at the specific location [and it is not set in absolute stone and so there are ways to move to another monastery but it is quite a big deal – for the most part it means a commitment for life or a significant portion thereof]

when i think of intentional community and being part of neighborhood change then the idea of STABILITY resonates strongly with me – especially in a neighborhood as transient as ours where many people might be there for six months or less at times – there needs to be some form of stability somewhere to strengthen, encourage and build into those people who do stay longer and might decide [or have it decided for them] to make this place their home.

we look back at something that happened last year and try to speak of the change we see in our community whereas these monks refer to incidents that happened 50 or 100 years ago that helped shape their common life… it is a completely different mindset and one that bears much thought and consideration…

what if more people put down their roots and committed to a specific place and a specific people… or group of people… for ten years or even twenty… what kind of long-term change might be possible then? how much would our focus on the long-term nature of our community and the bigger questions of justice weigh on us?

definitely think this is a topic that demands a lot more thought and conversation…

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