A Good Friday Lament

My God, my God, how can you not be angry?

How can you be silent at a time like this?
Can you not hear the plaintive cries of your suffering Son?

You have seen it all, and from the beginning of time.

A world created as home for your children.
Reduced to deserts and wasteland,
Paradise raped by violent men and money,
machines of death and monsters
that devour resources like fried chicken.

My God, my God how can you not be livid?

A people born of your love, each one shaped in your image.
Now turned rogue and renegade,
Rejecting the life offered and embodied in Jesus.
The gentle healer is brutalised and bloody,
one more victim and casualty.
Wood and nails

My God, my God how can you not be enraged?

Betrayal and corruption everywhere.
The son of God sold for a month’s salary,
thirty pieces of silver,
Rent and groceries.
A beloved country held hostage by a criminal president
puppeteering with power while people live impoverished.

And what about us huddled here
Full of Facebook fear
WhatsApping our opinions to those who agree with us
Saying we want change
But never changing ourselves.

My God, my God how can you not be incensed?

Or are you?

Are you angry?

Is this crushing of Jesus, your violent rage?
In your fury do you need to break something,
… someone?
… him?
Are threats of brimstone damnation not enough?
Are you finally so fed up that bones must splinter,
blood must be spilt?
Do you have to unleash your wrath on this innocent man
and how the Hell does that satisfy anything?

Are you a rapist or a redeemer?

Are you frustrated and fickle,
or
might you still be the Father this bloodied dying man said you are?

We need to know God.
We need to know God.
We need to know.
For Christ’s sake God, say something!

My God, my God by forsaking him, have you also forsaken us?

That cannot be true.
It must no be true

Here’s the thing God…
If you aren’t who Jesus described you to be,
you may as well hang us on that cross with him
and be done with it all for eternity.

Father into your hands we commit our confusion.

Amen

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How to avoid being President.

notpresident

Having been overexposed to the election and inauguration of the 45th president of the United States while being simultaneously overwhelmed by last year’s reportage on the president of this fair land I have come to a decision. I hereby give formal notice that I don’t want to be the president of the USA, RSA or any other country,… ever.
So determined am I never be nominated, let alone elected to the office, I have made up my mind to develop the following range of characteristics that will disqualify me from consideration.

Firstly, I will work hard at not being a bully. No matter how much power I may have, I will never use that power to strong-arm people into submission. My money, resources or position will never be a reason to humiliate and abuse weaker people or groups.

Secondly, I will continue to be inclusive of all ideas especially those that differ from my own. Aware that I have learnt most from people who challenge my thinking, I will consciously open myself to hearing views and opinions I don’t enjoy or agree with. I will try to understand how my opposers came to believe as they do.

Thirdly, I am not going to trust my ego to guide my decisions and behaviour. Suspicious of my tendency to be selfish and self serving and aware of how much I like to be liked, I will choose truth over popularity and fame. I will also remind myself that praise and blame are both imposters who don’t stick around for long.

Fourthly, I am going to see women, gay, LGBTQ persons and disabled people as deserving of exactly the same consideration as heterosexual men. Cognisant of my uniqueness, I will afford others the courtesy of being their own unique selves too. I know that gender, sexual orientation and physicality are not the measure of worth in people. Oh yes, and I will not mock or mimic people from these groups in an attempt to be funny.

Fifthly, when I do something to assist another it will not be to get something in return or to privilege someone from my family or friends. My guiding truth will be that every person is equal before the law and should have equal opportunity to compete for positions and profits without prejudice or preference.

Lastly I am going to sustain interest in the diversity of all people on the planet. Their cultures, languages, religions and customs fascinate me and I will try to learn from them without trying to make them conform to my code and my creed.

I believe the six values and habits outlined here are a sure way to avoid being a candidate for president. Being a person like this I know no one will vote for me and I will avoid having what some have described as the most stressful jobs on the planet.

I will never be famous or followed but perhaps I will live peacefully with my soul.

Don’t underestimate the power of addiction.

fb-addictedA few weeks weeks into this year there’s a good chance your resolutions haven’t made it this far The idea that we can change our behaviour as easily as making a new year declaration is an ancient but impractical one.

Like the new year fireworks that dazzle for a few minutes and then are overwhelmed by the dark night, our good intentions glimmer with the hope of a different way of being, but soon succumb to the dark ruts of our well formed habits. Perhaps it is time we realise that what we regard as unskillful ways of living may be the only ways we are able to cope with the reality of our harsh lives? Maybe it is going to take more than intention, a self help article or a motivational speaker to get me out of the the rut that is my life?
One reason resolutions for change don’t work is we underestimate the power of our addictions. Many of the reforms we want to see in the new year relate to deeply entrenched habits we depend on to survive.

It is sad that our culture defines substance abusers as the only kind of people to be called addicts. That is a misunderstanding says Gabor Maté MD a Canadian doctor and leading thinker in the field of addiction recovery. Gabor believes that transcending genetics or bad choices, the root of our addictions grows out of childhood pain. His 2010 bestseller “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction” spells out his perspective.
Addiction is a complex process that involves brain, body, emotions, psychology and social relationships. Addiction is any behaviour where a person craves and finds temporary pleasure or relief in something, despite suffering negative outcomes from that behaviour.
Addiction could be substance-related but it can also be sex, gambling, eating, shopping, work, extreme sports, relationships or cellphone use. It could be anything. It’s not the activity as such but rather that it provides temporary relief or pleasure from our pain? Maté calls addictive behaviour “self-soothing”. It’s an attempt to heal a deep hurt.

Does this behaviour create craving when you don’t have it? Does it create negative consequences, and is it difficult to give up despite those consequences? If those are the case, it’s an addiction.

Maté is clear. At the core of all addictions lies childhood trauma. Adverse childhood experiences increase the risk of addiction later on in life. It may not be that bad things happen, it could be that good things don’t happen when they should. A child has fundamental needs for emotional development and also for brain development and these development thresholds have to be met by the environment. If not met, the brain’s reward circuitry is impaired because when the reward centres should have been nurtured awake, stressed and busy parents did not have the time, energy or skill to nurture their children.

Our culture breeds addictions which may kill us, but they may also be the only way to cope with our alienated lives.

Link to talks by Gabor Mate’

A Tale for Twenty Seventeen

brokentoolsWith all the rage about decolonising and stripping all signs of our European past, I am not sure we should speak about colonial history in 2017? Let’s do it anyway, for despite our hindsight smugness there are inspirational tales worth remembering.

by George Charles Beresford, platinum print, 8 October 1913
by George Charles Beresford, platinum print, 8 October 1913

One of these is of Leander Starr Jameson (1853-1917). A successful British medical doctor, Jameson had Paul Kruger and Matebele chief, Lobengula as patients. Sadly he is best remembered for an abortive raid he led against Kruger’s wealthy Boer Republic, in an attempt to bring the Witwatersrand Goldfields under British control.
The raid took place from December 29th 1895 to January 2nd 1896, one hundred and twenty one years ago. The strategy was to use the unhappiness of expat foreign nationals on the goldfields, rudely called “Uitlanders” by the boers, to back Jameson’s Rhodesian police raiders.

mapJameson set out from Pitsani in Botswana and marched through the night, but by the time he reached Zeerust, Kruger already knew of the raid. The riders managed to get past Randfontein when they were confronted by over 400 boers and were forced to surrender 30 kilometers from Johannesburg.

The failure of the plan meant Joseph Chamberlain and Cecil Rhodes couldn’t admit to colluding, so Jameson was scapegoated as a renegade and shipped to England for trial. His reputation in tatters, this honorary Matebele induna, and Administrator of Mashonaland was sentenced to fifteen months imprisonment by a British High Court. His life seemed over.

Noted for his “Jameson charm”, the disaster did not get him down and after serving just three months he was pardoned on grounds of ill health and returned to Africa. Jameson went on to lead the Progressive Party in the Cape Colony and on winning the election, became Prime Minister of the Cape from 1904 to 1908.

This depth of character led the famous British writer Rudyard Kipling, a frequent visitor to the Cape, to pen a poem for his son John based on Jameson’s example. You know the poem well. It is titled “If”.

kiplingHere are some excerpts. “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, or being hated, don’t give way to hating… If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same. If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, and stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:… If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, yours is the earth and everything that’s in it, and—which is more—you’ll be a man, my son.”

Sadly, Kipling’s only son died in WW1 aged 18.220px-my_boy_jack_john_kipling

The past is passed, what new chapter awaits?

photos

It’s a common practice. No matter the place, no matter the era, humans need to make marks as we pass through the tunnel of time. The days of our birth, anniversaries of significant life events, and even the date on which our lives end are all recorded and remembered. It’s as if the stream of time is too inexorable and its current too strong that without markers on the banks, our lives would seem to be a chaotic flood. As the hymn writer Isaac Watts wrote in 1719, “Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away; they fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.

Yet in spite of all our remembrances we don’t really know how to explain time. No lesser mind than Saint Augustine was as puzzled as we are and wrote, ‘What then is time? Provided that no one asks me, I know. If I want to explain it to an inquirer, I do not know.’ (Confessions 397-400 CE)
What Augustine hints at it the reality that we each have a unique understanding of ourselves in time. Each person has collected a set of snapshot memories for the year 2016. These memories lie in our minds like a box of jumbled photographs in no particular order. If one were to stack the photographs and flash through them, the sequence would make no sense at all.

Videographer Ti Tracy illustrated this with two YouTube videos.
Both were filmed over a minute just before midnight on 3 June 2015 on the Las Vegas Strip, the videos contain the same set of a few thousand images.

In the first, the time ordering was scrambled; the second shows the images in the original time sequence. The video with the scrambled images makes no sense.

The second is quite logical as the brain can process the flow of images through the traffic in a logical order.

It is a mysterious property of our minds that connects the random events of life and threads them together into a logical flow which can make sense. We sort our memories into story sequences to give life logic and meaning . Eduardo Galeano wrote ‘Out of fear of dying, the art of storytelling was born.’

Tonight 2016 will tick itself to death at 23h59m59s and in the very next second 2017 will be born. In that moment will anything have changed? It’s hard to know. What is clear is how much we need an opportunity at least every three hundred and sixty five days to believe that a page has turned, the past has passed and a new beginning awaits.

Tonight we will paint the past with nostalgia, and bravely face our fears and premonitions of what awaits. We will hope, we will hug, and be as human as all who have gone before us in time.

May chapter 2017 of your life story be filled with meaning and peace.

Happy new year to us all.

A Dolphin Leap of Faith

Photo Credit:http://www.talbotcollection.com/images/posters/lp01.jpg
Thumbnail Image courtesy of the Talbot Collection.com

Being on holiday means being in unfamiliar rooms and staring at unknown pictures on the wall. I had seen the Talbot collection print of a leaping dolphin before, but never attended to the inscription underneath. “Delphinus Delphis” got me wondering why the common dolphin would be named after a Greek site associated with the famous oracle of Delphi? My question led to the Homeric legend in which a dolphin leapt onto the deck of Homer’s ship, transformed into the god Apollo, and instructed the winds to blow the ship to safety in the harbour below Delphi.

Apollo the son of Zeus is thus the link between Delphi and dolphins. The Delphic shrine is dedicated to the worship of Apollo with the role of the oracle being central to Apollonian worship. One of the human priestesses was appointed to channel messages from the gods. Archaeologists have discovered that the shrine was close to an underground gas vent which emitted small doses of intoxicating ethylene, probably enhancing the oracle’s prophetic abilities!

The shrine gave us the word “music” too, as Apollo was also god of the nine muses and thereby a master musician.
Humans have long been fascinated with these divine encounters which connect our lives to something bigger and offer direction for our uncertain futures.

Seemingly Christmas has nothing to do with Delphi, the oracle, or Greek gods or does it? It is a Middle Eastern story about a god who showed up disguised not as a dolphin but as a little baby. Similar to Apollo this incarnation also had a divine message.

The Gospels record how when Jesus of Nazareth was born, oracular angels appeared in the night skies around Bethlehem and sang to shepherds, “Peace on earth, and goodwill to all people.” The place where Jesus was supposed to have been born is commonly known as the grotto and more formally as the Church of the Nativity. Before the shrine was built in 327 by command of Helena the mother Emperor Constantine, it had been a shrine to another Greek god Adonis, the son of Myrrha who had tricked her father into having sex with her and was punished by being turned into a myrrh tree.
Ironically myrrh was a gift given to the infant Jesus by the three star following kings. Adonis (from the semitic word Adonai meaning Lord) was a most beautiful man and Apollo fell in love with him and they became lovers.

As I mused on the leaping dolphin, Delphic oracles and contemplated Christmas I realised nothing remains sacred for too long. Gassed oracles in Delphi, and incestuous homosexual gods are reminders of just how human we really are.

There is much that is sacred within us. But we are dark and sensual too. Over time we trade our gods for novelty and immediate pleasure. Angels, wise men and birthing virgins are replaced by jolly red Santa’s with container laden sleighs.

Wherever and however you worship this Christmas I trust you will be blessed.

We’ll do anything to appear normal

homeostasis-300x209It’s called homeostasis and describes the process of living organisms to balance their physical and chemical environments to maintain life. It is homeostasis that maintains the hydration of the cells in our bodies, our blood pressure and even the rate at which we perspire.

The concept was described by French physiologist Claude Bernard in 1865 and the word was coined by Walter Bradford Cannon in 1926. Despite originating from the study of human organisms the term homeostasis has expanded to physical control systems like thermostats and even to social systems in psychology and sociology.

What these studies have revealed is that dysfunctional or diseased systems may continue to function with an imbalance through adjusting to disease as if it were a normal state. This happens in the case of smokers and substance abusers where body chemistry adapts to the foreign chemicals ingested allowing the system to function despite the presence of life threatening toxins.

Similarly in family and social systems homeostasis is achieved by the dysfunctional family adjusting to destructive behaviour as if that were the norm. This adjustment is referred to as “equilibration”. Just as we calibrate the instruments of an aircraft to reflect the actual altitude, level and speed that a plane is travelling, so a dysfunctional family will equilibrate to addiction or violent behaviours and assume that is normal life. Imagine an aircraft that has been flying with its wings tilted at forty five degrees for so long that the pilot has adjusted the instruments to define that angle as level. That’s equilibration. The naming of what is abnormal as normal. The problem arises when the plane does eventually fly level and all the instruments start screaming that it is in trouble!

It is because of equilibration that rehabilitation programmes seldom succeed. The “sick” person is removed from the distorted system and “cured” only to be reintroduced to the off balance family where homeostasis demands that the person return to their previous behaviour so that everyone can feel normal again. As bizarre as it may seem this eqilibrating behaviour can be seen all around us.

This past week saw the ANC’s national executive committee equilibrate to the dysfunction of its maverick and unmanageable president, by adjusting for the deviance and pretending that everything is normal within the party. The party that has been losing credibility and contact with its constituency for years decided this week to adjust all its instruments to say that this is the new normal for South Africa. “The fact that we have not forced a president of the ANC to step aside means that we have affirmed him as president of the ANC and the Republic.” Secretary Gwebe Mantashe said in a press statement on Tuesday, after a marathon NEC session where Zuma’s recall was suggested.

Such denial is symptomatic of a diseased system. It’s what stops couples coming for marriage counselling, families of addicts from kicking them out, and what keeps recalcitrant presidents in power. Fasten your seat belts!

Food or Shopping? Black Friday blues.

black-friday

If Black Friday’s shopping frenzy leaves you as frazzled as it does me every year, you may be interested in its counterpoint called, “Buy Nothing Day”?
Founded by artist Ted Dave in Vancouver Canada in 1992, Buy Nothing Day or BND is an international day of protest against consumerism. In North America, Britain and Sweden the day is observed on the same day as Black Friday (the Friday after Thanksgiving) and in other countries it is on the Saturday after Black Friday.

Promoted by the “not for profit, anti-consumerist, pro-environment”, Adbusters movement, BND wants to raise awareness about the destructiveness of blind consumerism and how it affects people and the planet.
Some of the activities BND participants undertake are the public cutting up of credit cards, dressing up as zombies and wandering aimlessly through malls as a parody of shoppers, as well as public protests.

At this time of year we watch our mailboxes and magazines bulge with advertising flyers all convincing us that we cannot possibly live without the wares displayed within. So we do know just how powerful the search for bargains and special deals is. Do we ever stop to ask, “Do I really need this?”

The BND organisers realise that one day will not change consumer behaviour but they do hope to raise awareness about the insidious power of advertising to manipulate our consciousness and unleash frenetic spending. So in addition to the Buy Nothing Campaign, Adbusters also runs anti-ad campaigns blaming advertising for playing a central role in creating, and maintaining consumer culture. They argue that the advertising industry goes to great effort and expense to link our identity with commodities and brands. “Are you a (product name here) man or woman?”

These movements need to be seen against the recently released figures from the Department of Statistics, Community Survey 2016 which show that 3,3 million South African households reported running out of money to buy food in the past year. The Eastern Cape total for this phenomenon was 464 838 households. The survey also measured the possession of household appliances and stated, “Ownership of household’s goods is crucially important in measuring the standard of living for the household. Ownership of some household goods such as a cellphone, electric stove, TV, fridge, washing machine, DSTV, motor vehicle and a computer have seen significant increases in 2016 as compared to in 2011.” (the last census)
It is great that more people can live comfortably, but one has to ask how many of those appliances were bought on credit? And could debt be the reason that there sometimes isn’t money for food in over 3,3 million homes?

Christopher Lasch the American social critic and author of “The Culture of Narcissism” wrote, “It is the logic of consumerism that undermines the values of loyalty and permanence and promotes a different set of values that is destructive of family life.”

Let’s be careful not to destroy our families while shopping for them.

We can never go back to paradise

flamin-sword-angel-paradiseWe all want to live in paradise. Americans have just voted to go back there. Something in every human heart wants to return to the wholeness of the Garden of Eden. We long for a place where everything is perfect. A utopian kingdom where everyone is at peace and our daily evils are gone.

Englishman Thomas More coined the word “utopia” when writing his book by that name, creating the word from the Greek, “ou-topos” meaning “no place” or “nowhere”. He was punning on the almost identical Greek word “eu-topos” meaning “good place”. More’s little joke that there is no place that’s a completely good place.

More was also finance minister (treasurer of the exchequer) to King Henry VIII who beheaded him 1535 for opposing his divorce plans. No public protector back then!
Written in 1516 More’s utopia was an elaborate democracy without hierarchies and corruption, similar to the biblical paradise where Adam “walks with God in the cool of the day”. What wonderful equality and freedom!

Just as Thomas More’s utopia referred to no possible place, our dreams of returning to paradise somehow ignore that in the biblical narrative there’s an angel with a flaming sword guarding the entrance. A sad reminder that we can never go back home.
How evident that is in South Africa’s life right now! With almost everything we fear being expressed in some trending hashtag, it seems #paradisehasfallen.

How did South Africa come to this? The rainbow nation in 1994, we were the world’s newest and most envied democracy with an equally enviable economy too. Now we teeter on the edge of being rated with the world’s junk both in economics and political ethics.
Were we deluded in 1994 to think in Milton’s words that we had “regained paradise” from the hell realms of Nationalist Apartheid? Was the “New South Africa” an illusion? Are the 101 ANC stalwarts who back Pravin Gordham against King Jacob, just nostalgic old folks trying to salvage our non-racial democracy? And was Mandela, the ultimate utopian idealist whose dreams made sense on an island off Cape Town, but couldn’t survive the relentless heat of the African sun?

If we aren’t deluded utopians, exiled from the paradise of our democratic dreams, who are we? And how far will we wander into this political wilderness before we become another Zimbabwe ruin? Interesting to archaeologists, but with no practical currency in the unfolding global story.
How the hell we get here? Simple. We gobbled the forbidden fruit of self interest, croneyism and greed.

There is an old joke about Adam and Eve’s sin that got them expelled from the garden. When God called them to account, Adam blamed Eve. She blamed the snake, and the poor serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on.
Outside the gates of our Saxonwold paradise the blaming has just begun. The axe is swinging and who knows who will slither away when it’s over?

Religion is more than promises that are out of this world

It is a truism that no one person suffers in the same way as another. The African-american song lyric made famous by Louis Armstrong puts it like this: “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Sometimes I’m up, and sometimes I’m down, Yes, Lord, you know sometimes I’m almost to the ground. Nobody knows but Jesus.”

happy-old-man-nepal
To listen to the songs of the poor is to hear the voices of hope and longing. Somehow faith is fuelled in the deep struggles of daily life. This could be the reason the only place the church is still growing is in the poorer third world. Sadly, in many cases religion has done little to remove the suffering of people in their present situations and has rather deferred the solution of life’s problems to another lifetime. Heaven is promised to those who faithfully bear the pain of the present. Listen to the words of slave hymns and you will hear the delayed gratification for current injustice. “When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there” “Oh when the saints go marching in.” A favourite Xhosa hymn is “Jerusalem Ikhaya lam” the first verse translates as “Jerusalem,my home, that which I love; when will you hear my striving, so I may rest in you.”
It is this delayed reward for current wrongs suffered that led Karl Marx to observe, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”.
Despite questioning the justice and ethics of substituting future salvation for current reparation, it cannot be denied that these promissory songs have the power to enable their singers to bear the unbearable. It never ceases to amaze me that the deepest joy is to be found amidst the most abysmal human conditions. The starving child smiles, the penniless widow sings, and the overwhelmed single parent opens her heart to care for others in her community.

Contrast that with the attitudes of the affluent whose entire lives collapse at the smallest inconvenience. A chipped finger nail, not finding a parking space for the flashy car, or the shirt on sale but not in your size. Despite our complete conversion to materialism as the object of our devotion, we seem unable to synchronise our wealth with happiness and contentment. Is there more joy in Motherwell than Mill Park? More satisfaction in Sidwell than Summerstrand? (See note)
How can those with so little of the material have such soulful contentment?
The error materialists make is a simple one. They look in the wrong places. Peace of mind is exactly what it says. If we cannot convince our minds of the intrinsic joy of life in any circumstances we will never be satisfied. Buddhists have known for centuries that suffering exists when we keep resisting the changing nature of reality. Peace arises when we allow the impermanence of life to bring us to that place of non-attachment to anything or anyone.

 

Note: In Port Elizabeth South Africa, Motherwell and Sidwell are poorer housing areas, Mill Park and Summerstarand are theelite suburbs.