Maruwaan // A Year Later

In contrast to the grinding cycle of set-backs that seemed to epitomize Cru62 life, mid-2016, was the emerging story of Maruwaan. By now he had been clean from heroin for 15 months, had become a full-time Cru62 staff member and was headed to Johannesburg with Jonathan to raise awareness for a project they were starting to address the failing education system in Manenberg. They planned to do this by walking the 1592kms back home over 60 days, assisted by Jaryd their support driver, stopping off in communities and churches along the way and advocating for Manenberg’s high school students. It was the most high-profile initiative we had ever attempted to pull off and, midst the questions – will they make it? Will they raise the money they need? What might go wrong? Where will they sleep? – there was much excitement and strong support. Maruwaan and Jonathan had got to Johannesburg two weeks before the walk began to share their backstory with churches around the city. They had appeared on radio shows, spoken to newspaper reporters, launched a website and crowdfunding page, and received an impressive amount of donated equipment they would need along the way. The weekend before they set off was Maruwaan’s 21st birthday. He had never been so far from home in his life and was understandably upset not to be able to celebrate with friends and family back in Cape Town. So Jonathan organized a party, Sarah flew up and surprised him, and our church community gave money towards his first smartphone enabling him to stay in touch throughout the walk.

From time to time, Jonathan sent through videos of Maruwaan preaching, the two of them training together, and even a few prophetic words people had given them as they prepared to embark. One of the words Maruwaan received was that God had anointed his feet for the walk and would look after his family whilst he was gone – and that he needn’t worry about them as they were in God’s hands. This was apt, as Maruwaan’s mother was in hospital, two of his siblings had pretty serious mental health issues stemming from substance abuse, and there was a daily struggle to put food on the table.

The day of the walk came, and they set off from Hillbrow at 4.30am, anxious to make the minimum of 38 kilometres a day to reach Cape Town as planned sixty days later. Beyond the inevitable blisters and aching limbs, there were no significant complications. Jaryd had driven ahead and prepared meals and rest stops at various intervals. By early evening they arrived at Emthonjeni, a community with whom they were to stay the night, near Sebokeng in the South West of Johannesburg, and got an early night.

The next day, accompanied by some of the community members, they started walking again bright and early. Mid-morning I received a what’s app message from Maruwaan.
‘Can I ask you a favour?’
‘Sure – what?’
‘Could you send me a bible passage every morning so I can lead devotions with whoever is walking with us?’
He was adamant that this walk would change lives – not just in Manenberg, but along the road. He was determined that all he encountered should hear about the phenomenal story of how he had met Jesus and been transformed. I sent him Isaiah 35, having prayed it over him and Jonno the day before. I was especially drawn to verses 8 to 10:

And a highway will be there;
It will be called the Way of Holiness.
The unclean will not journey on it;
It will be for those who walk in that way;
Wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
Nor will any ferocious beast get up on it;
They will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
And the ransomed of the Lord will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
Everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
And sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Having sent him his bible passage and said a few words of prayer for him and Jonno, I got on with my day – building a wooden fence in the boys’ house front garden with Waydin and Preswin.

At that point I was blissfully unaware it was about to become the worst day of my life.

About an hour later Sarah called me.

She was sitting in the car in the driveway looking white as a sheet.
“Hi love, what’s wrong?” She was obviously agitated and was breathing heavily.
“There’s been an accident.”
“An accident where? What do you mean?”
“With the walk.”
“What?” My heart started to race and my mind immediately started imagining various hypothetical scenarios.
“I just got a call from one of the friends they’re with. A car ran into the group as they were walking. I don’t know the exact details – but…”
“But what?”

Sarah paused. Silence.

Then, in a whisper,
“…they said there’s a body.”

We both sat there, panicking and trembling. None of the scenarios I’d imagined had involved a body. I began to think of all the different people I knew were walking with Jonathan and Maruwaan that day. Friends from Hillbrow, community members from Enthonjeni – many of whom I didn’t know.

The phone rang again. A deafening hush filled the car. Sarah picked up, and put the phone on loudspeaker so I could hear.
“Sarah? Are you there?”
“Yes, I’m here with Pete. What’s going on?”
“Guys, I’m so sorry…” the voiced trailed off.
“What? Sorry about what?”
“I’m so sorry. The body is Maruwaan.”

Sarah screamed.

A long, piercing scream of a mother who had lost a child. I sat in silence, stunned, unable to speak or let out a sound. The friend at the other end of the phone repeated over and over ‘I’m just so sorry.’ Sitting in our car parked in our driveway, neither of us could comprehend the news. In desperation we demanded a doctor officially declare Maruwaan dead. But for our friends at the accident scene it was obvious. He had taken the full force of a car hurtling into him at 120kmph whilst standing on the hard shoulder. Killed instantly. A bright light snuffed out on the spot. One of the most promising lives we’d ever encountered, gone. Just like that. Finished. Over. Dead. Not only that, but Jonathan and Jaryd were both in critical condition – the crash had catapulted the parked car into them and sent them flying. Jaryd had severe head trauma and Jonathan had sustained multiple internal injuries. It was touch and go as to whether they would survive.

That day it felt like my hope died. No words of comfort, no theological explanations (and boy there were many – well meant, but entirely misguided), no meditating on scripture or time of prayer, made any dent in the the total and utter hopelessness I felt. And the guilt.

Guilt fuelled from never having lost anyone before their time, and not knowing how to deal with it. Guilt from holding to warped subconscious theological assumptions that anything other than external optimism and inner joy was prohibited. Ultimately, a naïve refusal to acknowledge the feelings of nihilism and numbness that can surround, swamp and slowly suffocate you in a time of trauma and grief. An accusing voice repeatedly condemned me for my despair. You say Jesus is hope in all circumstances – what about now then? How can God honestly be good if he allowed this? Where’s your faith you spineless fraud – the one time your faith is meant to make a difference, you fall to pieces. What would people think if they knew what you’re really like?

The next day I found myself on a ‘plane to Johannesburg. Officially, we were going to identify Maruwaan’s body and make arrangements to bring it home. But really we were going to pray for him to rise from the dead. We weren’t sure how to do it, but were convinced that it is as theologically orthodox to raise the dead as it is to love your neighbor. After all, at least nine people are clearly raised from the dead in the Bible. In the New Testament alone, Jesus raised a widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17), a religious leader’s daughter (Mark 5:35-43), and his friend Lazarus (John 11: 38-44), and then empowered us to do even greater works than he had done (John 14:12). Accordingly, Peter and Paul each raised a dead person (Acts 9:36-42 and 20:9-12), and Jesus himself rose after being crucified. In direct contradiction to those who counselled me that it was ‘obviously Maruwaan’s time to go home’, we had pages of prophecies over his life that he was only just beginning to step into. Promises from the mouth of the Father wrapped up in embodied, earthly adventures for his son to discover. Maruwaan carried so much of the light, love and power of Jesus that Satan took him out, pure and simple. It was a robbery. Manenberg, South Africa and the world were robbed of the hope he exuded.

So Sarah and I, Leon, Maruwaan’s mum and cousin, Jonathan’s sister, and two of Jaryd’s sisters got into the huge rental car and drove to Emthonjeni, the community where Maruwaan had stayed for his final night before the accident. I was on my phone nonstop, making arrangements in a city I didn’t know, booking cars, thanking people I’d never met for letting us max out their credit card on flights – I felt like a traumatized tour manager arranging a holiday from hell, full of distraught, weeping people. It was the absolute worst experience I’ve ever been through.

And then, late in the evening, we got to Emthonjeni. We were hours late as I had botched the arrival arrangements but Trevor Nthlola, the inimitable leader of the community, had arranged a most tenderhearted welcome for us. We were each met at the door by a personal hugger, mamas with their arms wide open, and were enveloped and held as we each wept like babies. Singing began, accompanied by djembe and piano and we joined in with our brothers and sisters whom we had never met, but whose embrace was helping soak up our grief, in the most spine-tinglingly beautiful time of worship of which I’d ever been part.

As if the evening couldn’t get both sadder and more epic, people began to share stories of Maruwaan’s effect on their community in the short time they had known him. Each shared testimony of the ways in which Maruwaan had touched their heart. “He was such a gentle spirit.” “He had a father’s heart.” “When I heard his past, I couldn’t believe the man standing in front of me.” “He was a walking miracle.” And so the stories went on. His last words were a joyful affirmation of the word he’d been given before the walk began – ‘My feet are anointed!’ I turned to look at Shanaaz, Maruwaan’s mother. She was sitting in the corner of the room, deeply affected and crying silently.

We prayed for resurrection for five days straight. Tree of Life met in Manenberg for hours on end, worshipping and speaking life into Maruwaan, whilst declaring the prophetic words spoken over his life. It just seemed like the most reasonable thing to do. Yes we were desperate, but we figured it was humanly impossible one way or the other to raise Maruwaan – and it didn’t become less likely the more time wore on. But by the fifth day we needed to let go. Sarah anointed his feet with oil, and we left, distraught and finally coming to terms with the fact we’d never see him again.

Back in Cape Town, there was a funeral to organize. Newspapers had picked up on the accident and were writing up the story with various degrees of inaccuracy. We decided to allow news cameras at the funeral, as ever since Maruwaan was a young boy he had wanted to be famous. Now he would be – and for all the right reasons. A significant issue arose that some of his family wanted to bury him in accordance with Muslim rites. An aunt was offering to cover the entire funeral costs as long as his mother agreed to bury him a Muslim. This would have been a travesty, and completely against Maruwaan’s own wishes. And having heard so many testimonies whilst we were in Johannesburg of Maruwaan’s transformation, Shanaaz recognized that, however embarrassing Maruwaan’s conversion may have been to some in the family, his new found faith in Jesus was both profound and authentic.

Common sense prevailed, and arrangements for a Christian service began. Never before had I seen so many Muslims and gangsters in a church. The place was jam-packed, with not even standing room left. The press behaved badly and thrust cameras in mourners’ faces. At the graveside, four of Maruwaan’s Cru62 brothers lowered his coffin into the ground as the rest of us sang his song through distraught tears. ‘From my mother’s womb you have chosen me, love has called my name. I’ve been born again into a family, your blood flows through my veins. I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.’

The day Maruwaan was killed I prayed ‘Lord, I demand souls and more souls for this man’s life.’ Tertullian’s famous adage that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church was front and centre in my mind. A few short months after that, members of his family asked to receive this same Jesus that Maruwaan had come to love into their own lives. We baptized his mother and two younger siblings in the ocean at Muizenberg. A proportion of the money given towards the healing journey of the families affected by the accident was put towards the same two siblings’ school fees, and his family are now part of Tree of Life – all in line with the prophetic word Maruwaan had been given days before the accident, that God would look after his family whilst he was gone.

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On Being Mentored by Those Society Hates

“Stories have been used to dispossess and malign. But stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people but stories can also repair that broken dignity.” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

It’s easy to become obsessed with ‘issues’ – from war in the middle east and the ensuing refugee crisis, to the negative gastrointestinal effects of gluten on our gut, there is no shortage of issues to address and causes to fight. If I’m honest, I’ve begun to become just a little skeptical about some of the fads of what causes churches adopt. (I’m aware the notion of there even being ‘fashionable’ causes for which to advocate is pretty grotesque, but it’s all around us.) These issues and causes can easily become all-encompassing and all-consuming. Shane Claiborne, a well-known Christian activist, suggests a different starting point. He urges us, “don’t choose issues, choose people. Then the issues will choose themselves.” It never ceases to amaze me how polarized our advocacy can become. Couldn’t we be pro-life AND pro-choice? What about choosing to love the good in both Israel AND Palestine? What if, sometimes, we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater? What if we carefully held the baby and loved it as best we could? And, if we poured the bathwater onto a flower bed or vegetable patch, we could even find generative ways to redemptively use something we’d previously written off as waste.

I didn’t expect one of the most upsetting aspects in being friends with young people in gangs and on drugs to be the misunderstanding and judgmentalism of others. Namely, the ear-bashing that more polished, less-obviously-addicted people, enjoying the trappings and conveniences of living in the centre of inequality-exacerbating systems, give me about the moral nihilism of my marginalized friends, whom they have never met. And from that skewed logic, the question is asked ‘how can you work with those people, aren’t you scared?’ or, even worse is the naïve notion that society’s problems would all be solved by locking all of them up in prison.

[As an aside – some thoughts on prison, why it’s a self-defeating idea, and will never solve the problem of gangsterism:

  •  Institutions don’t change people; people change people. (This shouldn’t surprise those of us who profess to following Jesus, because he tells us the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.)
  • Pro-social change comes about when inner core beliefs are altered in a person. Punishment, or fear of punishment, will never change someone’s core beliefs. At best, it might bring about behavioural change – but when all those around you are dragging you down, your polished behavior won’t last long. Have a look at the re-offending rates for those who leave prison. – Retributive justice never gets to the root issue behind a crime. Want to reduce crime levels? Then have a go at addressing poverty, sexual abuse, hopelessness, trauma, absent or neglectful parents etc. (The epitome of hopelessly misguided retribution is, of course, the death penalty – ‘we are killing you in order to show that killing people is wrong’.)
  • Because prison gangs run the prisons, to be incarcerated in South Africa is often synonymous with becoming more deeply embroiled in gang activity. ie, not only does prison rarely help, but it can actually criminalise you more.]

 

Please Don’t Feed the Trolls

A couple of months ago I came across a deeply distressing and violent story on a certain ‘Gangwatch’ Facebook page. It was a post notifying people of what had recently taken place in a Cape Flats community nearby. There were four photos of an unconscious young man lying on the street at night, with blood on the ground around his head and hands. In one of the photos, someone had taken the young man’s trousers off. The ominous title was, ‘Meet his match’, and the description to the update was as follows: “This is the after-math when u break in , he was caught this morning at 3,45am in… [a certain road], breaking in for the numerous time,, and he got a hiding of his life. [His name and address were then given]…he says that he steals anything of value and exhange it for heroin at a merchant in the Vlei.”

The young man in the photos was reported to have been addicted to heroin to such an extent that he had resorted to house-breaking in order to fund his habit. He had been caught and beaten to death by local community members. It was a brutally violent end to what had presumably been a troubled life. It disturbs me that, whether on a local or national level, people think that killing others is ever a legitimate way of showing the righteousness of one’s own cause. Yet what was equally disturbing was the barrage of hate-filled diatribe in the comments section. It seemed that the majority of those commenting genuinely approved of the killing of a drug addict. Such was the anger towards him that when one young female posted a comment condemning the violence, she was met with numerous personal attacks.

She wrote: “I don’t care what this guy done! This is inhuman and indignifying. I’m not justifying his actions but his crime does not make it okay to expose him like this. He is still a human. He needs to be dealt with accordingly but not like this. Whoever done this to him and still had the audacity to take pictures and expose him is no better than the drug addict who tried to break in.”

Responses were as follows (I have just edited out people’s names – the rest is copy and pasted):

“[You] live in an imaginary world where drug addicts just need a hug. In the real world this is what is needed a lot more of it and seriously with more brutality.”… “If you defending these criminals you part of the problem”… “This man got what was coming to him. If the law fails us, we do it ourselves… WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE! People like you help these scoundrels get away with murder! Or maybe you’re just from another planet. If so, welcome to Cape Town!”… “it rips ur heart out knowing you worked so hard for what you want paid so much money for your stuff and along comes mr druggie not only steals your stuff but to ad insult to injury he sells it for next to nothing. not trying to be rude or anything but stick a memory card up your behind and save that bs for someone who cares”… “he can be glad we’re not in a Muslim country…because then he’ll have no hands!!😯 so he should consider himself lucky ;)”… “he deserved it. Why does he not sell his fancy clothes and shoes to satisfy his disgusting habit. The problem is the justice system does no justice, he would be out on the street doing the same thing again. People are fed up and will not tolerate this type of behavior. Peace.”… “Moer die vark”… “He deserves its becoz all the pple sweat nd hard work just fell on him….pple must stop covering for drug addicts becoz that’s y they never cum right! Y must u work hard nd the next person just takes they had to chop of his hands then he won’t steal better of won’t do drugs too lol….”… “One less many more to go!”… “He got what he deserved! !! Let this be a lesson to the rest of the slime!!!!”… “he’s lucky i wasn’t there i would of burn plastic bags on him.”

This callous insensitivity towards those who struggle with drug addiction is fairly common place in Cape Town. It is another one of the things I find saddest – that those who have no clue about another person’s story make a moral judgment about them. There’s a line that says ‘your enemy is just someone who’s story you haven’t heard.’ I sometimes act judgmentally unthinkingly, almost instinctively, and I hate that I do. Ultimately, we will probably never know the amount of pain those even closest to us carry – let alone someone we meet in a fleeting encounter. Therefore, as each person we meet is most likely more broken than we would imagine, we should always aim to be kinder than others think is reasonable. Besides, if it boils down to choosing one over the other, I’d much rather be unreasonably kind, than just reasonably kind.

 

Beauty in Brokenness

One of my heroes is an Canadian Catholic theologian called Jean Vanier. Here, he writes about living life with the physically and mentally disabled. He is gloriously honest about his flaws, his propensity to anger, and his longing for plaudits. “They have been teaching me that behind the need for me to win, there are my own fears and anguish, the fear of being devalued or pushed aside, the fear of opening up my heart and of being vulnerable, or of feeling helpless in front of others in pain; there is the pain and brokenness of my own heart. I discovered something which I had never confronted before, that there were immense forces of darkness and hatred within my own heart. At particular moments of fatigue or stress, I saw forces of hate rising up inside me, and the capacity to hurt someone who was weak and was provoking me. That, I think, was what caused me the most pain: to discover who I really am, and to realize that maybe I did not want to know who I really was! I did not want to admit all the garbage inside me. And then I had to decide whether I would just continue to pretend that I was okay and throw myself into hyperactivity, projects where I could forget all the garbage and prove to others how good I was.” (From Brokenness to Community, p.19)

This is something Manenberg teaches me better than anywhere else I’ve lived. High Risk Youth (who are in some ways marginalized by mainstream society in parallel ways to the physically or mentally disabled, in that many don’t seem to know ‘what to do with them’) are often dirty, always angry, masters of manipulation, violent to the extreme, and yet often they cry themselves to sleep at night. You can smell, see and touch their brokenness and pain – there’s no hiding it. And as one intentionally seeks friendship with these conspicuously broken people, one’s own less conspicuous brokenness rises to the surface. As this happens, you realize how we are all in the same boat, you see how much pain you’ve hidden from others your whole life, and how much grace others show you day by day. And so your heart becomes more thankful for forgiveness and friends, and you grow in humility and gratitude. This was a journey I hadn’t ever learnt living anywhere else. Growing up in the privileged mainstream, I’d always been taught that to be transparent about brokenness or pain is perceived as awkward at best or, at worst, shamefully weak. Friends and community in Manenberg have shown me that there is more than one story about each one us, and that there truly is ‘beauty in my brokenness’.

Gangs and Drugs – a Very Cape Town Problem

To what extent could society at large be held responsible for issues of gangsterism, drugs and crime in Manenberg and similar communities?

The Academic and the Elephant in the Room
One evening last week, Sarah and I, some friends visiting from the USA, and the Cru62 boys all went to a talk by a well-known journalist, academic and researcher of all things gang-related. He has just released a book about the nature of Cape Town’s gang pandemic and some of the contributive factors causing it. He was articulate and insightful as he expounded his ideas based upon four decades of research. But whilst his theories relating epigenetics to a chemical predisposition towards addiction, and his stinging critique of Patricia De Lille’s (Mayor of Cape Town) shameless neo-liberal agenda, were fascinating, by the time he finished his presentation and invited questions from the floor, I found myself bothered by something much simpler and more obvious. The entire audience, except a group of us from Manenberg in one corner, was white and middle class. The irony of this – a room full of white people listening to a white man talk about the gang problem – was not once mentioned. And whilst the questions that this demographic posed to Dr. Pinnock were worded eloquently and opinionated in tone, they betrayed an ignorance about or reticence towards two of the most undealt-with issues in Cape Town – race and inequality.
One lady with a plump face and frizzy blonde hair asked (somewhat rhetorically) whether the speaker agreed that the gang problem could be solved by imposing a year of military service. He gave a nuanced and rather gracious reply, suggesting this could be a small part of an answer. Another lady, bespectacled and demure, aired her views that better town planning would sort everything out.

There were a few elephants in the room that evening. Yet the biggest elephant was also least acknowledged. The majority of opinions given by the middle aged, white audience, aired in the form of questions, were all centred around a single narrative. In their eyes, coloured youth that join gangs are a problem to be solved, a threat to their suburban security, and an embarrassment to an otherwise world class city. There was no mention of the fact that 95% of people in that room were still, 22 years into non-racial democracy, surfing the wave of wealth, entitlement and privilege left to whites as an inheritance from apartheid – and that this might just be a significant factor in perpetuating violent crime, anger and hopelessness amongst vast swathes of young coloured men.

Saul Alinksy, the father of community organizing, wrote that “to unslum the slum… [means] battling all of those forces in the city and the nation which converge to create the human junkyard.” In other words, there is “a dynamic interrelationship between a community and the general social scene.” (Saul Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals, p.59,61). These words were written in Chicago in 1946 by a Jewish American of Russian descent, and yet they encapsulate the grand narrative that desperately needs addressing in Cape Town today. Manenberg’s gang problem is dynamically interrelated to the rampant racism and economic inequality in Cape Town today. Every time a gangster is shot dead, it’s a reflection of the state of Cape Town as a whole. Very little, if anything, will change until the violence and drugs and crime in Manenberg affects those in wider Cape Town beyond just motivating people to build higher walls, and install more armed response panic buttons. And until the ‘haves’ stop pointing blame-assigning fingers at the ‘have nots’, no amount of expert research and eloquent opinions will count for much.

Let me tell a couple of stories in an attempt to illustrate my point. In a period of three months during the first year of running Cru62, whilst driving with the boys around various parts of Cape Town, Sarah and I were stopped and search by police seven times. Neither of us had ever been stopped and searched previously, except for an occasional police roadblock. One evening when Dowayne was driving the boys to Narcotics Anonymous in Observatory, they were stopped and searched and made to lie face down on the road as the police stood on them, interrogated them and checked that the car wasn’t stolen. What was it about the sight of five young men driving a citi golf in Observatory that sounded alarms for the police? What was it about that totally normal scenario that led them to suspect criminal activity? Another time, five of the boys were prohibited by security guards from entering a shopping mall, with no reason given. They had saved up money they’d earnt working at Jou Ma Se Kombuis (our community’s coffee shop in Manenberg) in order to take a trip to the mall to play video games. Their planned trip was ruined, just because security didn’t like the look of them. Recently, at a cinema, a group of white people got up and left when Sarah walked into a movie with the boys with her, and she is regularly followed by shop attendants when food shopping with one of the boys.

You’re Sitting on My Dinner
One Saturday evening, I went out with the boys to buy gatsbys (footlong sub rolls filled with meat, chips and salad – a firm local favourite). We decided we would like to go to a viewing spot about 20 minutes drive away to watch the sunset over the city. We arrived at the car park to see that the gate was closed, prohibiting cars from entering. So I turned the car around, and we decided to head home. As we were turning out of the road, a police van pulled up alongside us and two black poliemen told us to get out of the car. We complied, though slightly confused as to what we had done wrong. We were made to put our hands on the vehicle as police searched us and then the inside of the car. As they searched, they asked us what we were doing there.
“We’ve come to watch the sunset and have dinner.”
“Where’s your dinner then?”
“You’re sitting on it.”
“Don’t be cheeky.”
“I’m not – you are literally sitting on our dinner.”
“Where are you from?”
“We all live in Manenberg.”
“So what are you doing here?”
“We just explained – we’ve…”
“But if you’re from Manenberg you shouldn’t be here. You need to come to the police station with me so I can take your finger prints.”
Of course, we put up a fuss – why ‘shouldn’t’ we have been there? Especially galling was that the policemen made all four of the boys sit in the back of the police van on the way to the station – as if they were criminals who had been caught breaking the law. Once at the station, finger prints were taken (though I had to make them take my finger prints too – I was equally (un)guilty), questions were asked and when, to the police man’s utter disbelief (he was convinced we were dealing drugs), a more thorough search of the car yielded no illicit substances, they had to let us go. One of the policemen picked up a semi-automatic rifle and marched us to the door, with the words, “now get out of my area.” The single story rearing its ugly head through figures of authority.

You Know they are Planning to Mug You, Right?
Three friends from Kansas City were visiting our community in Manenberg for a couple of weeks. On their bucket list was a climb up Lion’s Head – which is also one of the boys’ favourite things to do. So they went together. As they reached the top, a concerned-looking young white South African approached Jordan.
“Hey broe, those coloured guys who were chatting to you and followed you up here – you do know they’re planning to mug you don’t you? You’re welcome to walk down with us if you want – it would be much safer.”
Jordan replied that ‘those coloured guys’ were actually his friends and they walked up together. He called out the young white South African’s racism, and said “I appreciate you trying to be kind, but you’re actually being a jerk.”

Multiple unrelated occasions. Different parts of Cape Town. Police and public, white and black alike. A single story circulated and recirculated. Fear, distrust, condemnation.

How would you view yourself if everyone else in your city saw you as an urban menace, good for nothing, inherently bad, a social ill to be contained?

You Stink
Think about it this way – if you told someone you knew, every time you saw them, that they stink, they might begin to wash more, though simultaneously start resenting you. If you continued to tell them they stink, despite them washing multiple times a day and wearing deodorant and clean clothes, they might begin to believe that they really do smell and that there’s nothing that can be done about it. And they would probably hold some level of anger towards you for so rudely telling them they smell but not doing anything to help them with what you perceive to be a problem they have. It seems to me that this isn’t dissimilar to the problem faced by young coloured men trying to leave gangs and drugs behind. Systems, authority structures and individuals are all against them, continually telling them they stink (despite the fact that they don’t), doing nothing to help them, and refusing to examine prevailing judgmental presuppositions, all the while compounding the lie that ‘people like that will never change’. Cape Town, we have a problem. It’s not the gangs, the drugs or the crime. It’s us.

Facts vs Truth: The Most Important Battle Christians face?

I live and work in a community called Manenberg on the outskirts of Cape Town. It’s fair to say that Manenberg is quite well known – potentially for all the wrong reasons. The prevailing view amongst most Capetonians about Manenberg is that it is a hopeless hellhole populated entirely by gangsters and drug addicts. In short, people are asking ‘can anything good ever come out of Manenberg’? (that should ring a bell…) Sure, I’m generalizing, but this generalization is based on six years of repeatedly attempting to justify the hope I have for Manenberg, to countless locals who obviously know better than this clueless Brit. You’ll just have to trust my ever-so-slightly-generalised assertions. I do know there are some gloriously hope-filled Capetonians around, too!

Fusion, the organisation I’m part of, working with young gang members and drug addicts, holds quarterly 24/7 Prayer Weeks. [Jargon alert. A 24/7 Prayer Week is simply non-stop prayer, night and day, for a week.] You sign up for hourly slots, and come to pray in our little prayer room in a dark corner of a tired community centre in the middle of contested gang turf. Sounds idyllic, right? Well, in this inauspicious setting, we’ve seen friends receive the gift of tongues whilst de-toxing off heroin, we’ve heard of Muslims encountering Jesus, we’ve witness people break down weeping the moment they entered the room, we’ve shared communion as bullets flew through our office window, and sometimes late at night we’ve fallen asleep from sheer exhaustion (don’t tell anyone).

Each prayer week has a theme. The most recent one was “Truth vs Facts”. In other words, acknowledging that whilst there are some fairly grisly facts out there, eternal truth trumps temporal fact. Every time. So, for example, it is a sad fact that drug related crime has risen in Manenberg by 600% in the last decade. Yet the truth is that drugs can only offer a dull counterfeit to Holy Spirit-fuelled community, and God is stirring Christians in collaboration with police and government to work towards sustainable solutions to addiction and its negative spill over.

Another fact is that fatherlessness and unemployment are two significant factors in young men joining gangs. There is a greater truth that trumps this – that God is father to the fatherless. Having opened a house for such young men just two months ago, we have seen God work in each of their hearts to especially affirm his love for them as father. These young men, whom we are ‘re-parenting’ as part of the discipleship process, have chosen to leave gang pasts behind and are now working two days a week in our coffee shop to learn how to become employable in the long-term. Sure, it’s very small scale at the moment, and there’s a marathon to run, but I’m learning to not write off the ‘day of small beginnings’.

We are told that God “calls into being things that [are] not” (Rom 4:17). This isn’t a call to gloss over the facts, nor is it a call to naïve ignorance. It is a reminder that followers of Jesus are privileged/entitled/empowered (whichever word you prefer, I think they’re all true) to live lives of generative hope, through the practice of feasting on truth (even – especially – that which is not yet visible).

When I, in my weaker moments, allow temporal facts too much airtime in my mind, I attribute to them a ‘truth’ status they do not deserve. I recently heard it suggested that ‘faith for the future generates power for the present’ – and here in our little corner of Manenberg, I’m learning the daily discipline of believing the best over fearing the worst.

And you? Where is your fact vs truth battleground today?

A Post-apartheid Incarnational Theology

The phrase ‘post-apartheid incarnational theology’ sounds a bit fancy. But actually it’s really simple. It basically entails those who currently have lots of power and privilege giving it up in order to bring about reconciliation and equality. I see it consisting of five foundational values: (1) it is multi-racial and builds bridges across divides, (2) it has its own theological narrative, (3) it is rooted in place, (4) it is oriented around community, and (5) it embraces those at the margins. I shall look at each of these in turn.

1 Multi-racial and builds bridges across divides
This is significant, as it looks to address and level out the racial hierarchy so entrenched in South African culture. Rowan Williams states that the “incarnation…is the bridge between human and divine society, the revelation of how human community is rooted in the communal existence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” (Rowan Williams, On Christian Theology, p.226) If, theologically speaking, the incarnation acts as a bridge between an otherwise insurmountable divide, the ‘knock on’ effects are obvious in a divided society, with inter-racial dialogue and genuine friendships key considerations. A post-apartheid incarnational theology must look at where bridges need to be built, and then set about building them. This might relate to race, space, faith, politics, gender, or any number of other strands of the fabric of society. Williams comments, “the Christian movement…is a missionary movement: that is, it works on the assumption that it has something to say that is communicable beyond its present boundaries and is humanly attractive or compelling across these boundaries.” (Williams, p.230) If boundaries represent opportunity, there is certainly no lack of opportunity in South Africa for bridges to be built.

2 Has its own theological narrative
This stands in contrast to Eurocentric (white-based) conceptions of race that consistently look to construct a mono-racial history. Every place has its own story, and that story is rooted in place. To position ourselves in a particular place and time mirrors God’s example. For example, in South African, coloureds were uniquely marginalized and so have a unique story that needs to be told without perpetuating racial categories set by apartheid. As this story is told, a coloured theology will emerge that stands apart from other experiences. How does this theology address coloured issues of ‘hybridity’, trauma of living amongst a growing gang presence, and disillusionment with a current democratic ‘freedom’ that arguably offers less opportunity than past political oppression? Coloured ‘placedness’ is a unique experience – so a theology of the displaced communities of the Cape Flats should aim to “comprehend the relationship between local theologies and the grand narratives of the Christian tradition” (James Cochrane, Circles of Dignity, p.162) neither neglecting as yet unheard stories and experiences, both individual and corporate, nor disregarding the bigger theological discourse to which it can contribute.

3 Rooted in place
There are three issues to which a rootedness in place responds. It acts as redemption to historic forced removals, it stands against the placenessness of globalization, and it does so right in the midst of the violent territoriality of gangsterism. This is an inherently relational view of place, for “places and people are irrevocably linked.” (John Inge, Theology of Place, p.130) The linking of place and people translates to ‘neighbourliness’ that follows the model of the incarnation as “the very best form of evangelization.” (Inge, p.136). Christians are responsible for demonstrating to the world the transformative effects of valuing place and community – “our ‘placement’ is much more important than is generally imagined. It is no mere backdrop to actions and thoughts. This needs to be part of the ‘unavoidable witness’ of the Christian community.” (Inge, p.137). A post-apartheid incarnational theology in the coloured Cape Flats will thus cultivate a celebration of place as a potent redemption of a segregated past, and in emphatic opposition to a globalised present.

4 Oriented around community.
Here, again, we see the negative combination of past forced removals and current neoliberal mindsets. The cultivation of community is essential for two reasons. First, to counter effects of displaced families during forced removals and the high incidence of absent fathers; second, as an alternative to governmental and non-governmental organisations that stress institutionalized professionalism at the expense of inter-personal relationship and thereby manifest the neoliberal mindset that results in powerlessness and dependency. Tony Samara advocates for small-scale, community based organizations, a “network of community insiders…crucial in building the kinds of relationships often absent between communities and police.” (Tony Samara, Cape Town After Apartheid, p.176). Christian engagement with place through the cultivation of community in areas of high crime, where young people join gangs in order to belong, “will not only therefore afford nourishment to the community itself, but will be a powerful prophetic action.” (Inge, xi.) In this way the shared identity, not individual activity, of those who faithfully tell and live the story of Jesus’ kingdom, will “contradict the exclusionary logic of democratic nation-states” (Luke Bretherton, Christianity and Contemporary Politics, p.137) , will welcome the ‘racial other’ and will contribute to turning fear into trust.

5 Embraces those at the margins
Ernst Conradie suggests a vital consideration for incarnational theology “entail[s] reflection on the art of cohabitation, of learning to live together with others in the same space.” (Ernst Conradie, ‘Towards a Theology of Place in South African Context’, p.15). Embracing those at the margins of society, the weakest and the last, can be a ‘sacred encounter’, transformative for both parties. Being amongst is more powerful than being for. This is to say; to deliberately place oneself amongst those on the racial, economic or geographic margins invites participation in the way that merely being sympathetic to does not – “really being somewhere means to be committed to a place rather than simply an observer.” (Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred, p.12). This has obvious connotations for post-apartheid incarnational theology, because becoming a recognised part of a community and participating in communal life is in total contrast to, for example, a professional service-provider who merely works for a specific cause during office hours. The neoliberal state tends to see incarceration as the most effective solution for those living out the social effects of exclusion. However this is more of “an antidevelopment strategy” than anything else, serving to criminalizing the otherwise “politically invisible” (Samara, 177,186) coloured youth of the Cape Flats. If it is true that there is a “dynamic inter-relationship between a community and the general social scene” (Saul Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals, p.59), then the health and prosperity of marginalized coloured communities directly affects the world city aspirations of Cape Town’s political elite, and “the long-term consequences of this abandonment [of those at the margins], barring radical interventions, are likely to be disastrous not only for the youth, whose situation is already dire, but also for society as a whole.” (Samara, p.187).

So where to from here? I would argue we need a wholesale paradigm shift in our thinking. “A vital aspect of a paradigm shift is the need for exemplars – people or groups who can model the new paradigm, challenge our presuppositions and draw us into the belief that the new paradigm might actually be possible…[showing], as the church is called to show, that Christianity is true by demonstrating what community would look like if the gospel were true.” (John Swinton, in Hauerwas and Vanier, Living Gently in a Violent World, p.17-18).

Who’s up for being an exemplar?

Little White Cup

Four years ago my dad bought me a cup.

white cup

I remember the day well. It was in December 2009. We were driving to Plettenberg Bay, and stopped at a pottery by the side of the road. I had only been in South Africa 11 months at the time, but had developed a deep love for a community called Manenberg. So passionate was I for people I had met whilst walking the streets that year that I decided I would like to become part of the community and move in during the following year. I moved in, May 2010.

Whilst I can see looking back, I was pretty clueless in many respects (oh hindsight you wise, glorious friend), there was an exciting underlying narrative behind my idea. Here’s an excerpt from my diary:

17 September 2010.
“I’m sitting here in the living room at 2a Cam St, pretty desperately hoping and praying others will be up for getting involved with all that’s going on in Fusion. Missional community is something I want to cultivate more and more, and is (I reckon) a really powerful way of altering prevailing mindsets in an area like Manenberg.

I’m so hopeful for people to come and join with what I’m doing because I’ve found it so so hard this last month – what with the car and the house getting broken into, and then finding out that [a close friend] relapsed whilst I was away (how on earth does this stronghold run so deep?) I’ve come to realize its not about where one lives, but who does life with. That’s to say, it’s not living in a difficult area that makes my life hard, but that I’m living with and parenting and teaching and discipling drug addicts all at the same time – it’s wonderful in so many ways, and what God is asking of me for this season, but it is intensely draining doing it alone. The day to day travelling and shopping and going from place to place alone, always alone often gets me down.

So, the reality I’m praying for is of living amongst prayer warriors and close friends in Manenberg – to do life with, and see miracles with and pray into the late hours of the night and early hours of the morning with, and weep and laugh with, and see many come to faith with, and love Manenberg and Cape Town with.”

That is why I bought a white cup at a pottery months previously – because the moment I saw it something in me (I’d call it my spirit) knew that cup was going to be very useful. I saw it being used for taking communion many times with friends in Manenberg, gathered as a family of families that some might call church.

Fast forward to August 2014 (four years after I wrote my slightly pathetic diary entry)…we are in the early days of putting some structure to what we’re calling ‘Tree of Life’ – a church plant of friends and family in Manenberg. Until a week ago the little white cup had only every sat on shelves and in boxes, alone. But last Sunday, as we were gathered together in our newly renovated house, God reminded me of the vision contained in that cup which we were passing around as we had communion.

So what?

Well, “hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12)

I guess my point is, there really are way fewer coincidences than we might li
ke to think. So may you hold fast to the hope you’re carrying right now, whatever physical circumstances may try and tell you. And may you see the fulfillment of your God-inspired longings.

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Crowdfunding the Manenberg House: the Good and the Not-So-Good

Various friends have emailed me in regards to our recent crowdfunding campaign that finished on Monday, having raised GBP25, 493 (or, 102% of the total we’d originally budgeted/hoped for).The first thing to say is a ma-hoo-sive thank you to each of the 229 individuals who gave anywhere between GBP2 and GBP3,000. You’re all amazing!

So here it is – my experience of crowdfunding – the good, and the not-so-good:

THE GOOD:
Making the video and creating the campaign
It was a huge help having such a dynamic and generous team crafting the video. Bolly – animator extraordinaire, Jake – musical dream weaver, Nick – catalytic visionary, Sarah – untapped TV talent, and me – script fudger. Just thinking through the concept (did we want jaunty and lighthearted, or heavy and morose?), writing the script (Bolly: “length definitely matters”), researching existing campaigns online (spying out the competition), creating imaginative financial perks (emailing an Oxford professor back and forth, sourcing reasonable quotes for photos, etc), and then writing the indiegogo blurb explaining who we are and what the bigger Fusion picture is – it took a lot of time and thought. Whilst I loved all of it, just getting the campaign to go live probably took four times more time and effort than I’d imagined. It paid off in more ways than one – Bolly has now received so much interest for animation that he’s gone freelance, has set up his own business with Jake working alongside him. The fact is, time and expertise were given for free – if they’d charged me, it would have been in the region of R35-40,000. I love that when you give away what you yourself have received, and partner with God’s ideas you get splashed with unexpected blessing!

The givers
The initial flurry of donations, the unprecedented messages of support (and less helpful messages telling us in no uncertain terms we’re crazy, and asking if we’ve thought about the most obvious things), the thrill of watching the green line go up and up. Yet, probably the best part of this was receiving an email every time someone gave – and knowing the identity of even the anonymous givers, some of whom I haven’t been in contact with, let alone seen, in 10 years! I actually broke down crying one evening as I reflected on the generosity of the human spirit, consciously or unconsciously, when galvanized by a God-vision.

The emerging international ‘community’
Emails from well-wishers I’ve never met, from Cape Town to the USA, to Germany to Colombia. Google analytics tells us the campaign was viewed in over 100 countries – more than half the countries on earth!

The media coverage
Big thanks to each website that featured us (that we know about!)

we-are-awesome.com,
2oceansvibe.com,
kfm.co.za,
10and5.com,
bitchesmustknow.co.za,
Highveld.co.za,
24-7prayer.com.

Along with a couple of local newspapers and even interest from a local TV station (which we turned down in the end), it’s fair to say we were stoked with the amount of positive buzz created through social media.

Creative generosity
One of the prayers we prayed right as we launched the campaign was that it would inspire creativity as a response. We weren’t disappointed! One friend shared his idea to do a series of sponsored challenges to raise money. Another, a teacher, mentioned getting their pupils to find fun ways of donating. A local individual got in touch to ask if we would like parts of a kitchen they were renovating. Another offered burglar bars they weren’t using (they sent an email the day after I’d realized we’d forgotten to get a quote for burglar bars..!). Someone else has been in touch offering to fit a kitchen for us. A local plumber, Peter Heath, of Premier Plumbing (www.premierplumbing.co.za) is giving us a fantastic deal, and another friend, Callen Jefferson, went so far as to get the family business involved in creative generosity – to all at Cape Plumbing and Bathrooms (www.cpandb.co.za), for the donation of plumbing and bathroom supplies: THANK YOU!

THE-NOT-SO-GOOD

The limitations of a campaign pitch
Whilst I was so pleased with the production values and finished product of the campaign video, the personal specificity of the narrative did somewhat detract from the bigger Fusion Manenberg picture. That is to say, zooming in on one thing –renovating the house Sarah and I had bought – inevitably meant neglecting to tell the shared group narrative. This meant difficult conversations needed to be had as a community, and offense felt towards each other needed to be exposed and dealt with. In actual fact, it has ended up strengthening friendship and sharpening vision – it just didn’t feel good at the time..!

The Effect of money
A vulnerable one, this. Basically, I hadn’t realized the allure of money quite as much as I now do. I found this out by virtue of the fact the first thing I’d do in the morning, whilst lying in bed, was check how much the total had risen during the night. I began to see that this was an inherently unhealthy way of starting each day – either I had a good day defined by lots of money coming in, or I had a bad day because very little had come in – either way, my days became defined by money, and I could hear the insidious lies linking my personal worth to financial ‘success’ or ‘failure’. If you decide to crowd-fund something, know this – the endorsement (or otherwise) of others does not define your project nor your personal value.

Misrepresentation through media
This was the most emotionally exhausting factor of the whole campaign. Long story short, we were completely misrepresented by a newspaper that wrote a sensationalist article on us. It said that we were basically going to flood a quiet corner of Manenberg with hard-core gangsters and addicts. The local community then read the article. We received intimidating emails, an anonymous letter was put up in the local mosque, circulating a rumour that the house was going to become a drug den and even that Sarah and I were working for a notorious gang leader. It would have been laughable if only people hadn’t believed it. We ended up meeting with the local imam (and taking the offer to purchase contract in order to quell rumours the gang boss had bought the house), and apologizing profusely to nearby neighbours – all of whom seem to be very supportive and friendly now they know the truth. At the time, this led to anxiety, time off work, and quite a few sleepless nights as we reflected on the poisoned chalice that publicity can be.

So there you have it – my experience of crowdfunding. Hallelujah that the campaign was a ‘success’ in many more ways than one. We move in on Monday, and work will start on the house on Tuesday – funded entirely by the generosity of individuals from all around the world.

A Talk I Gave at Deep River on Friday 17th Jan

Have you ever heard what John Wesley said about preaching?
He said he knew he’d not preached the gospel in its fullness if he wasn’t thrown out of town afterwards.

Prophecy comes with responsibility. To discern and obey.

“Ride the wave of the Holy Spirit like never before”
We fear ‘excess’, but the early church didn’t. We esteem a book the apostles didn’t have, all the while forgetting about the spirit that they did have. Acts 1: WAIT. Possibly the only time Jesus told them to slow down and WAIT. No good to anyone without the Spirit. And nor are we.

To ride a wave, you need to paddle like crazy. You have to consciously decide to go for it, and then paddle like crazy to get there. I’m sure a lot of the time my spirit looks a lot less like a surfer and more like a beached whale. Or at least someone sitting with a coffee and croissant from Knead, watching other people surf.

Avoiding error of others too strongly will leave you in equal measure of error, just on the other scale of the spectrum. Whilst they’re busy blowing up, you’re busy drying up. For example…

If you go to an ‘all you can eat’ buffet, you don’t take a tiny portion, push it round the plate, and then judge others for embracing all the food, whilst you stay hungry?! Yet, equally stupid would be to eat 8 plates of food each day, and never spend anytime time exercising. If you do that, you’ll get FAT.

Fill up, pour out. Fill up, pour out. As you do that, your capacity for fullness with grow, and you’ll be able to pour out in greater measure and anointing. That’s the exercise of discipline.

What is happening at Deep River/ in Cape Town will be different “from anywhere else on the planet”.

We need to celebrate the local. Bethel, Pemba, Toronto, Hong Kong are not Cape Town. We seem to get more excited about what’s going on 5000miles away than right here in Cape Town.

(By the way, who wants the same anointing as, say, Heidi Baker? How much will you pay? Do you even know what you’d be asking for?! Stoning, persecution, illness, affliction, political opposition, slander from within the church…)

Of course certain things are hallmarks of revival culture: hunger, presence, glory, signs and wonders, souls saved. Let’s copy THAT for sure (though that is copying the early church, not some new American church culture), but let’s agree that revival will look TOTALLY different here in Cape Town to some other places around the world.

We have a unique history, we have 11 official languages, and this country is arguably one of the most exciting, spiritually open places on earth. Cape Town is currently all over the ‘Top places to visit 2014’ on online articles – people the world over are already calling it heaven on earth.

Yet we have the greatest inequality between rich and poor in the world – which is the reason we also have one of the highest crime rates.

Did you know, a teenager in Cape Town is statistically more likely to be shot to death than die in a traffic accident or of natural causes?! For the majority of Capetonians, life here is not heaven on earth, but hell on earth. Do we get that?

OUR SITUATION IS UNIQUE. And it’s URGENT. And you and I are HERE (nowhere else) – born for NOW. (cf. ‘What time is it..? Paul Manwaring)

“There is a synchronization of the heart of God with the heart of the church, and God is calling the church to rise to the occasion…the Lord is healing the land.”

A blanket of PURITY, HOLINESS and HEALTH sounds like revival to me!
But the meaning of the word has been hijacked. More helpful is the word ‘transformation’. What would transformation in Cape Town look like?

Well – what has already been formed?

The meaning of revival means God takes what has already been formed – and reforms it – so it is transformed.
Formation → re-formation → trans-formation.

That’s why revival is not the homogenized package we’re led to believe it is – God looks at what’s in the hands of his people NOW, and uses whatever he finds to redeem situations brought about by the past actions of others.

“The Lord is healing the land.”
Cape Town – South Africa – has scars everywhere. From the early settlers right up to 1994, this land has been disfigured with surgical precision. OUR CITY LOOKS LIKE A BOTCHED PLASTIC SURGERY JOB.

God gave me a picture: The beautiful face of South Africa was beaten, and cut, and rearranged so that it was unrecognizable. The highways and railways separating people based on race – these remain scars on the landscape. They continue to breed fear and disunity – they are still here.

We still talk about white areas, black areas, coloured areas, and think that’s normal. What?!

Here is a map of Cape Town today. The different colour dots represent different colours of people (Pink: White, Blue: Black, Orange: Coloured, Green: Indian). One dot = 25 people.

Racial segregation in CT today remains along the lines created apartheid.

Racial segregation in CT today remains along the lines created apartheid.

Might a healing of the land involve a mixing of these dots? Might we go further and say the land will never be healed unless those dots are mixed together? How many of the dots on the edges have the ability to move into the centre? Probably very few. The onus is on the ‘haves’ to initiate the mixing of dots.

For a synchronizing of God’s heart with the heart of the church, we need to ask a big question:

What IS God’s heart?

You could say someone’s ‘heart’ for something is the foundation of what they believe and who they are.
Psalm 89:14 tells us – “Righteousness and Justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.”

God’s heart is JUSTICE.

And what about the church?
We look at that map and see the truth remains in Martin Luther King’s words – ‘the most segregated hour is 11’oclock on Sunday morning’.

If there is discrepancy between God and church on this, the error lies with us, not Him!

None of us would say we don’t want justice in our city. Yet, do we feel the injustice happening to those on the margins of society, or are we feeding a system that actually causes that injustice and judgement?

You know, people who steal cars or break into houses are not evil, sub-human devils. They are beautiful humans made in God’s image, tainted only by the fact they are victims of the spirit of apartheid living on despite the laws of apartheid having been abolished. Many are victims of past injustice and racism. And yet they are also victims of a current system that ignores them.

There’s a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota with a deep interest in Cape Town. He writes: “marginalized youth are ignored until they come into conflict with the law, at which point they are dragged into a criminal justice system as unsuited today as it was ten, twenty, or thirty years ago.” The result of this is “a city outraged by violent crime but whose response is often misdirected and counterproductive if the goal is transformation of the lives of its young people…In the process, the narrative of townships as problems is reinforced, and the notion of the black menace revived in the form of the Cape Flats gangster.”

Two lenses inform our attitudes towards those involved in criminal activities:

1. problem – standing in the way of my entitlement to peace and prosperity.
2. victim – of centuries of violence and oppression (because apartheid was an injustice to all – blacks, whites, coloureds).

Lens 1 criminalises people from the start.
Lens 2 creates an opportunity for restoration.

Which Lens do you think God sees through? How do you think God views such people? Remember, his heart is justice. Is sending an addicted, angry 18-year-old boy to Pollsmoor, where he may get sodomised and coerced into further violence and gangsterism, really justice?

We need to grapple with these questions if we’re going to be part of healing this land. True justice will cost everyone in this room.

It may cost you your felt entitlement to your money,

or your house,

your social life,

or your comforts.

If you’re worried that if you invite a homeless person into your house they’ll steal your stuff, what should you do? GET RID OF YOUR STUFF. It’s simple. If we use our stuff, our shit TV’s and tablets, our jewelry and iphones, to stop us loving the poor, shame on us.

Some people see ‘getting stuff’ as evidence of God’s blessing. It’s the complete opposite – it’s often the most insidious curse, and has become one of our generation’s greatest obstacles to loving God radically through loving the poor. The bible is clear that whenever we’re serving the poor, we’re serving God.

And yet some people have more of a problem that I just swore in church, than the fact that we’re happily getting on with our ‘Christian’ lives of careless ease in the most segregated city of the most unequal nation on earth.

And what does ‘serving the poor’ look like? Is it ‘clever’ first-world solutions to provide shoes?! (No – the greatest need is hardly shoelessness. These schemes often create more trouble than good). Is it stuffing homeless people full of soup and sandwiches once a month? No! The poor generally don’t need shoes or soup or sandwiches from well meaning people who go back to houses with spare bedrooms. THEY NEED A PLACE AT YOUR TABLE FOR THE NEXT 20 YEARS.

It’s not enough to have our encounter with God once a month at Deep River and think we’re going to change the world. We’re not. Not unless we synchronise our hearts with his. And his heart BURNS for those we have disempowered through our demonic systems of accumulating wealth, his heart BURNS for those whom we build high fences to keep away from, his heart BURNS for those we ignore at the traffic lights, his heart BURNS for those lost boys in Manenberg shooting the hell out of each other. But once we synchonise our hearts with that burning – then THAT’S the fertile ground for endless possibilities.

“This is a season where things are shifting…there are new attitudes for new altitudes…some of you God wants to take higher, but you’ve got to change your mindset to a whole new way of thinking, a whole new way of living.”

John chapter 1 tells us God’s big plan for saving the world was to ‘move into the neighbourhood’. Jesus swapped the privilege of heaven for the limits of human existence, and walked the earth as an ordinary human in right relationship with father God. In other words – GOD’S WAY OF SAVING HUMANITY WAS TO MOVE TOWARDS DANGER, VIOLENCE, INJUSTICE, and POVERTY. Yet we want to run away from all of that! We desperately need a new way of thinking – a new way of living.

We sing ‘I’m a friend of God – he calls me friend’, but if Jesus was just God in skin, do we really call HIM friend?

JESUS WAS HOMELESS (Matt 8:20)

JESUS WAS A REFUGEE (Matt 2:13)

JESUS CAME FROM A PLACE NOONE WANTED TO COME FROM. (John 1:46 – can anything good come from there?!)

JESUS WAS A JEW (an oppressed minority)

Where do you think Jesus would live in Cape Town, based on that description? How many friends do we have like Him?

Are we a friend of God?

When will the church begin to CRY OUT FOR Inter-racial relationship-building

CRY OUT FOR Encountering God’s signs and wonders in the local

CRY OUT FOR a bride centred on (diverse) family, not church attendance.

CRY OUT FOR the current margins becoming the new centre

If not us, then who?
If not here, then where?
If not now, then when?

“Here’s the most important thing: THE PRESENCE OF GOD. If we miss the presence of God, everything else is meaningless.”

We never graduate from the presence. The sweet presence of God is the very thing that brings heaven down to earth. What is it like in heaven?

Revelation 7:9
“There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the lamb.”

One Evening Last Week: Thoughts on Neoliberal Cape Town

Part 1 of (maybe) three posts on Cape Town life. The hope is that whilst the following might come across as slightly negative, there will be hope and smiles all round by Part 3.

Last week I went to an event consisting of talks and discussion around fear, insecurity and division in South Africa. I wont tell you the exact details like who organized it, etc – that’s not the point – but I was encouraged to read that the organization was not a West-funded initiative and has offices in various different communities across Cape Town. In other words, this event wasn’t just going to be a bunch of aloof academics spouting intellectual concepts devoid of any local experience, carried along by the paternalism of the northern hemisphere. So far, so good. I arrived excited to consume the wisdom of local experts, and maybe even contribute to a discussion that is exactly the sort of thing I feel needs to be spoken about more in Cape Town, a city sometimes described as “the most racially segregated and racist city in the country…[where] more than any other city in South Africa, well-to-do residents can live a life that is largely separated from their socioeconomic ‘other’.” (David McDonald, ‘World City Syndrome: Neoliberalism and inequality in Cape Town)

It was an interesting evening, but not for any of the reasons I was expecting. The event was held in a large, tired community centre hall with an acoustic to rival a large cathedral. Already difficult to hear what was being presented, the faulty sound system didn’t help – and the continual stream of people arriving 30, 40, 50 minutes late and unstacking chairs to make more seating, ensured the speakers had to really work to convey even the most basic point effectively. It was only when, between speakers, the organizers explained that people were arriving late because taxi-drivers in Khayelitsha refused to drive to Manenberg (what’s with the perpetual disruption and bad feeling amongst Cape Town taxi drivers?), that I began to realize the struggle involved for many in even just getting to the event – let alone getting there on time. I silently repented for my angry frowns directed towards those making noise. And slowly a rather obvious realization dawned on me – that whatever was said from the stage, whilst certainly not irrelevant, was secondary to the triumph of organising a well-attended event with blacks, coloureds and whites all united around a common theme. It may sound rather mid-1990’s to say such a thing in South Africa, but it really isn’t. Few churches I’ve been to in 5 years of living in Cape Town achieve such an eclectic mix. The only other time I can remember being around such a large, diverse mix of South Africans was whilst enjoying the street meat vibes at Mzolis’ Place in Gugulethu.

The thing is, the speakers’ content was hardly electrifying. Each of the speeches was a traumatic mix of depressing statistics and horror stories. No creative solutions were offered, no vision cast, no hope mentioned. This really irked me, as I felt it was selling short those who had made such an effort to be there. The only hint of a ‘practical answer’ offered midst the drudgery was, “you know, communities must stand together!” This was met by enthusiastic whoops and cheers, which precipitated my second entry-level realization of the evening – that the majority of those attending seemed less interested in political or economic solutions to systemic issues of injustice and division, and were more concerned with sharing personal stories. The fact is, top-down government initiatives aimed at addressing distressing statistics are pretty boring compared to bottom-up movements, such as this, that offer the opportunity to be heard, if only by other fellow citizens. It was telling that when the opportunity arose to pose questions to the speakers no one chose to do so (myself included) – instead, a steady stream of people walked up to the microphone and told of a traumatic experience they had recently had. Each individual was met with warm applause and cheers.

I don’t completely know what my point is. But maybe it’s this: the speakers that evening knew a lot of technical information about their area of study – but no one seemed to care.

Why not? Well I think it has to do with the fact that there are no political, academic or economic answers to hopelessness. And that is the pandemic that seems to unite much of those who live in this city but are being ignored by the aspirations of a neoliberal political system oriented around cold hard cash. Let me explain. The effects of globalization can be seen all over Cape Town in the building of homogenized structures which reproduce separation – “the new airport terminals, casinos, shopping malls…the ever expanding waterfront (with its seemingly endless capacity for new shops, restaurants, entertainment facilities and up-market residences) are…devoid of any organic sense of place or personality.” It may be true that this homogenization, a familiar hallmark of globalization, does have clear financial benefits in that it attracts tourism – an industry which now earns “50% more foreign exchange for the country than gold.” Yet, “from an economic point of view, world city [ideology] has seen heightened levels of income inequalities and job insecurity”, and spatially it has created segregation, through up-market commercial centres and gated residential complexes “serving to further alienate and polarize the non-elite of the city.” Simultaneously, “a new form of geographically peripherized ghettoization” occurs amongst the ‘non-elite’ (a horrid term), apeing the negative effects of institutionalised segregation.

Put slightly differently, neoliberal, world-city policies are just another form of apartheid, still centred on power, but now nuanced by financial rather than racial factors.

So – back to the beginning – fear, division and equality. Are small-scale community-based meetings, attended largely by the economically disempowered, going to effect citywide change in Cape Town? Probably not. But some things are worth doing not because they are effective but because they are true.

A year of diary entries: London 2012-2013

Some highs and lows copied and pasted from my diary this last year living in London.

 

19.9.12

On re-learning London prices whilst flat-hunting.

There is the six week deposit, plus one month’s rent up front – which comes to like GBP3,000. That’s all our money right now. Everything. And then we have to furnish the place with more stuff (from desks, tables, sofa-beds, to cutlery, duvet and lamps – essentially the whole lot). It’s looking more than tight – it’s looking impossible. But I suppose that’s the best thing to be able to say! ‘With man it’s impossible, but with God nothing is impossible.’ ‘If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you.’ Basically, I can’t think of a time when I’ve been out on a limb, financially or otherwise, and God has NOT turned up with love and provision. Hallelujah, what faithfulness! I’m reminding myself of that line – that we share God’s bank account. The provision is there already, but we have to make the withdrawal. What does that look like in this specific situation?

 

 

22.10.12

On life being hard.

Thinking of friends who have been through it, and a guy I met who God chose to lead a world-wide movement, and who has cried out for healing for family. LIFE IS HARD. It’s turned into a bit of a cliché, but once you admit life is hard then you can begin to live it properly. As in, if you feel an entitlement to an easy ride, then you’re only going to be bitterly disappointed, and grow cynical, angry and sick. Jesus, give me a lightness of joy midst the realities of how life is difficult. Help me see the ‘joy set before me’ – the same joy that helped you endure the cross.

 

 

5.11.12

Found a quote I love:

‘At times the journey feels awkward or perilous; you’re asking questions that everyone wishes would go away; you don’t know how to put into words that you’re searching for; you’re wondering just how big an idiot you really are for leaving what felt sure and safe and comfortable – though all this is tempered by the freshness and exhilaration of setting out for new territory.”

(Paul H Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson ‘The Cultural Creatives’)

 

30.12.12

Feeling down. I feel like my dreams are dying, like I’m becoming more and more grey and dulled, like I’m misunderstood and yet paranoid about how people see me, fearful of my and Sarah’s financial situation, judged and angry. That’s not the full reality – I know that! But that’s what I’m feeling right now.

 

28.1.13

On my theology.

I’ve noticed the nuances of my faith have begun to change a lot – in reading theologians like Hauerwas and Vanier, both of whom I really rate, I’m starting to see through so much of the trappings and peripheries of evangelical culture. The language we use, the way we judge people but say things as if it’s a prayer point, the naïve and frankly unbiblical view so many Christians seem to have in relation to immigration, to capitalism, to consumerism and Christendom. I’ve begun to realize more fully that we are not called to be at home on this earth, but resident aliens on the margins of society, empathizing with those who have not been afforded a voice. And yet, I don’t fully live that, and I judge others when they don’t either. Lord, have mercy! Give me an integrity I’ve not known.

 

 

21.2.13

On praying for jobs to stay financially afloat, and God answering very differently.

Living in a very expensive shoebox flat was taking its toll financially and therefore emotionally. So Sarah and I began to pray for jobs – we figured if we both got a part time job that would be fine – tight on time, uni work wise, but fine. How generous, and how kind of God to use [friends’] generosity to bless Sarah and me in a way we hadn’t really considered. I then got cold feet, thinking that maybe this was a distraction from us being where we felt God had already provided. So I asked God to confirm it was right, by Tuesday (I prayed on Sunday). On Tuesday, a guy came and looked round our flat (we had no release clause, so could only leave once someone had moved in), and that day said he wanted to move in, and put down a holding deposit the next day. Sorted! So here I am in our new house, writing in the huge kitchen, with an aga, dishwasher, 3 reception rooms, five bedrooms, and lovely garden. FOR FREE! God is so kind.

 

3.6.13

On healing.

One of the things I’d been praying for this year in London is that I would see God heal people of cancer. At Christchurch Fulham, just before we arrived, a lady was declared cancer-free. And then a month or so ago, a man came to receive prayer for a malignant cancer on his face. I prayed with an old guy from church whom I didn’t know and who was convinced he was utterly unprophetic(!) The man who had cancer emailed the next week to say he went back to the consultant and they couldn’t find any trace of the cancer they had planned to cut out. They then declared him cancer-free, and wrote a letter (proving as much) to his GP. What a story!

 

 

8.7.13

On sickness.

For whatever reason, I’ve been finding myself struggling with anger and control more and more in the last couple of weeks. I’ve become pretty irritable at times. Whilst excuses for such things just keep you bound in negative patterns of behaviour, I do feel my stomach issues have had something to do with my mood swings. Most days at the moment I have bouts of having to run to the loo, and nausea. Going out for the day can make me quite fearful, as on bad days you’re never sure when/if you’re going to need to run to a loo.

God hasn’t given me this sickness. Far from it. But midst feeling pretty ropey a lot of the time, I have an opportunity to smash self-pity, to be braver and more patient and more loving than ever before. And that in itself is walking in the opposite spirit to depression, anger, anxiety, fear. Lord, empower me in this!

 

I think there might be emotional/spiritual issues beyond the merely biological – I think shame and anger might be manifesting spiritually. Someone who has been through a similar sickness suggested this could be the kindest thing God could do for me – bringing up these issues through this physical condition, so that I don’t simply ignore them but hit them on the head before a more chronic illness comes up later on in life. That’s a wonderful way of looking at it, and a perspective that seems in congruence with my view of who God is and how good he is.

 

5.9.13

Man, so this is it – time’s almost up here at The Orchard. A busy time this coming week for sure, but maybe more valuable to write about is what God has been doing in this last year, and things we feel welling up in us as we move forward in returning to Cape Town.

– God has continued his kind provision through the generosity of others. Things have been tight, but we have lacked nothing. This HAS to become our default setting – that we just KNOW he provides for his children.

– We have seen the joy that comes from being part of a church that is united and is preaching the absolute truths of the gospel. The result? Healings, community, being loved well, and a desire to be as involved as possible. Like playing in a football team where everyone is slightly better than you – you lift your own game.

– Studying has inspired and frustrated in equal measure. Asking hard questions so often ignored by Christians, yet also seeing how academia can represent a dead-end existence just as much as any other field.

– The importance of family. The beauty of hanging out together rather than scheduling appointments. Doing the best man speech at Dad’s wedding. Sharing life.

– Realising afresh the uniqueness of what we’re involved with in Cape Town, and seeing Sarah come alive last night as she explained all things Fusion to some new London friends.

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