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A prayer for Madiba


Almighty God,
We thank you for Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela,
our beloved Madiba.
We come to celebrate his life:
A hard life, but a life well lived;
A life committed to the freedom of others;
Unselfishly seeking freedom and justice for all.

Thank you for keeping and moulding his spirit
Through those 27 years of imprisonment.
Thank you for keeping his spirit
from the seduction of power.
We know how easily we become grumpy
When we do not get our own way,
Angry in the face of perceived injustice,
Ready to use power for revenge.
Yet you moulded Madiba’s soul in the furnace
of intolerance, violence, injustice and imprisonment
And helped him find true freedom.

Lord God, we celebrate Madiba’s life.
Not a perfect life, but a life well lived.
Thank you that, whatever he may have gotten wrong,
He got the big things right:
He learned how to forgive, and showed us how;
He learned reconciliation,
And ‘he made reconciliation happen in South Africa.’¹

Lord God, we celebrate a life well lived.
A life that allows us to live in freedom and peace,
That demands that we, too, strive for the freedom of others.
‘For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.’²
We pray for this freedom for ourselves, our children and our communities.

We ask it in the name of the one whose birth we celebrate
And whose coming as a baby sets the tone
of vulnerability and peace our world so desperately needs.
Amen

A prayer shared at a brief interfaith memorial service for Madiba held at Shuter & Shooter Publishers (where I am privileged to be a consultant) on Friday 13 December 2013

1  FW de Klerk
2  Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 1995

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Nelson Mandela: friend of the world


We have lost an icon, a friend of the world, a statesman; Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela has died.

We knew this day would come but it is hard to express our feelings. I am relieved that his suffering is over and he can rest in peace. No one would want him to linger on. But he was, as President Jacob Zuma said, ‘Africa’s greatest son.’ And President Barak Obama said, ‘He was one of the most courageous, influential and profoundly good individuals.’ It has been a huge privilege to live under his shadow and under his influence.

Read more of this post on my website, Simply Communicate

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Adapt or Fly: people matter


Pieter-Dirk Uys brought his show, Adapt or Fly, to Pietermaritzburg last week.  We joined a group of friends and saw it on Friday evening. Uys took us on a roller-coaster ride through South Africa’s recent history, parading Prime Ministers and State Presidents, from Malan to Zuma, before us on stage.  Each one came alive in front of us through Uys’s extraordinary ability to adapt his voice and facial expressions while using a minimum of props.

But it wasn’t all laugh-a-minute.  Ordinary people joined us to tell their stories, along with the extraordinary ones like Nowell Fine and Evita Bezuidenhout, of course.  One of the more poignant was that of a Coloured family on the Cape Flats.  We joined the brother during the violence of the 80’s; his younger sister told her story many years later.  The brother told us about their black granny who lived in a beautiful house in Newlands with high ceilings and a veranda that went round three sides of the house.  She had a piano and a beautiful stinkwood dining-room table with six chairs.  She was moved under the Group Areas Act to a miserable little house on the Cape Flats.  It had an outside toilet with no door.  There was no room for the piano or the grand stinkwood table.  Granny died of a broken heart.  The grandson wondered where the table was, and who was living in the house with high ceilings and a sweeping veranda.  We joined the daughter years later.  She was eking out a living from the same little Cape Flats house.  It was the day when, miraculously, the stinkwood table was delivered to her back door.  But what did she want with such possessions that couldn’t fit into her tiny home or her impoverished world.

Such reminders of the face of pain and poverty are critical for our own humanity.  In South Africa we have become immune to stories and images of violence and suffering.  Communities erupt in violent clashes with authorities, strikes degenerate into excesses of violence, businesses and homes are trashed and ordinary people suffer. We read the headlines, and we say, “Not again,” as we move on to more comforting news about defaced paintings, corruption and the failure of our municipalities to fix streetlamps.

We need to be reminded that violence affects individuals; whether it’s one person against another, a mob taking the law into its own hands, or a nation at war, violence affects individuals.  Individual people perpetrate it; individuals suffer it. We must beware lest, when we turn away from stories about violence and suffering, we turn our backs on real people in pain who need our compassion and intervention.

Last Friday marked the 40th anniversary of an iconic photograph of the Vietnam War,  Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a nine-year-old Kim Phuc running away from a napalm-bomb attack on her village.  Her clothes had melted off her body, her left arm was burning, and she ran down the road, naked, crying, “Too hot; too hot.”  Richard Nixon’s cynical comment on the photo at the time was, “I’m wondering if that was fixed.” At another point, Nixon chided Henry Kissinger for being too concerned about civilian casualties.

If we fail to take account of civilian casualties, if we fail to notice the individuals affected by war, then war and violence have no real consequences; it’s all just unavoidable collateral damage.

In the controversy about The Spear there were those who said, “But it’s not just Jacob Zuma who is being humiliated; what about his wife (sorry, wives) and his children.” Exactly! Individuals matter.  But the individuals that matter in this case are not just the family of a State President who seems to act as if there should be no restraints on personal ambition, lust or self-gratification.  What of those who have died because we have not taken HIV/AIDS seriously, or because we have not taken violence and rape seriously; or because we continue to parade male dominance as a right, and marvel at men of power?

Thank you Pieter-Dirk Uys for reminding us of the plight of ordinary people who matter, who have little room to adapt, and no money to fly.

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Sour Dough: Hot Cross Christians


Hot Cross Buns!

Hot Cross Buns! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had no idea that hot cross buns were such a sacred part of our Christian Easter heritage with such significant theological symbolism.  Christians in South Africa have complained that Woolworths has placed a Halaal certification sticker on their hot cross buns.One satirical headline put it, “Woolworths shoppers foil Islamist hot cross bun terror plot.”

The food chain apologised for the upset and said it would release separate buns in future: non-Halaal certified hot cross buns and Halaal certified spiced buns.  It sounds incredible, but comments posted onto online news articles reflect the anger and the arrogance of the Christians(?) who started the furore in the first place.

I remember a Hindu friend who said, “But Christmas is for everyone.”  I say, “Amen” to that.  And so is Easter and everything else that is of Christ.  And if putting a Halaal sticker on hot cross buns ensures that a Muslim (or anyone else) might eat one and (who knows) maybe think about the One who died for us all, how cool is that?

Our reaction to the sticker however has just ensured that, if the bun doesn’t stick in his throat, he (or she) will only be interested in the taste.  There will be no interest in anyone or anything associated with such arrogant exclusivism.  How sad is that?  Have we become the very people who put Jesus on the cross?

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Law & Order: A Prayer of Confession


Most of us have much to say about the corruption and crime that are rampant in our society.  We are quick to point fingers at those in high places who are shown to be guilty; perhaps we point fingers too quickly.  We have allowed criminality to become subjective.  We think that those whose crimes are greater or worse than ours on some subjective scale of criminality are the real criminals.  Just the same, we think that the real threat to life and limb on our nation’s roads does not come from those who drive fast, but those who drive faster than we do or jump the traffic lights that much later.

Some Msunduzi residents were up in arms recently about a squad of traffic police that had started following up on unpaid traffic fines.  Those who were caught parroted the ancient cry: “Why me?  The cops should be targeting the real criminals.”  Unfortunately the subjective scale that is so clear to us, is not quite as obvious to law-enforcement agencies.

How can we hope to root out corruption in high places when each of us sees corruption and crime as something other people do? 

A Prayer

Lord, we are horrified by the corruption all around us;
The sins of the fathers are visited on the poor and vulnerable
in this generation and the next.
But such large crimes allow us to trivialise our own seeming small ones.
We are indignant when traffic police fine us for speeding
while real criminals run free.

Lord, we have allowed innocence and criminality to become relative;
It depends on the circumstances, we like to believe.
But for you, Lord, there is no innocence.
“There is no one who is righteous. No, not one.”

We are self centred and greedy; our love is timid and selective.
We are critical of others and forgiving of ourselves.
We fight for our rights, and ignore the rights of the most vulnerable.

You call us into sacrificial relationships; you ask, “How can I help?”
We build relationships to benefit us and our schemes;
We network for profit, and ask, “What’s in it for me?”

We don’t cause mayhem on our roads,
but we ignore the rules of the road when it suits us,
and we open the door for others to go that much faster,
to jump traffic lights that much later,
until no one knows what is too fast, or too late, until it is just that.

Lord, indeed, with you there is no innocence; we are truly all guilty.
Forgive us for the corruption and crime and poverty
in which we all share, and to which we all contribute.

In you alone are innocence, righteousness
and unconditional love to be found;
You alone have the right to point fingers and become indignant.
But instead, you took up a cross and absorbed the sin and sickness,
the pain and corruption;  you died to put an end to it all.

Only you didn’t, did you? You didn’t put an end to it
because you left us with freedom to choose.
We can journey with you through Lent to the cross;
We can watch you die there with the burden of our sin on your back,
And we can walk away and leave you there,
and try to believe that’s where the story ends.

But just because we don’t believe,
doesn’t mean that Easter never happened.
We can refuse to let the risen Christ touch our lives,
but he is still the Risen Christ, reaching out to us in love.

Lord give us the courage to face the truth of the resurrection;
to allow you to penetrate the cold and the dark within;
to bring warmth and light and freedom; to heal the brokenness,
and challenge us to a new way of living in the world, for the sake of all.

Amen

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Human Rights Day: Celebrating with Caution


Wednesday 21 March was Human Rights Day here in South Africa.  The date is significant because it commemorates the Sharpeville massacre on this day in 1960.   Sixty nine South Africans were killed in the struggle for human rights that finally culminated in democratic elections in 1994.

Are human rights more respected and more widely enjoyed than eighteen years ago, or 52 years ago?  No doubt one would receive different answers depending on those being asked.  There are some whose only concern is that their rights have diminished; others are concerned that human rights have not extended far enough or quickly enough; some are optimistic about the journey this young democracy is on; others are profoundly pessimistic about the downward spiral of corruption, poverty and crime that strangles our economic, political and social development.

Sharpeville itself erupted into violence and riot on the eve of Human Rights Day, or Sharpeville Day as they prefer to remember it.  Why?  Because the government chose to host the official Human Rights Day celebrations in Soweto, not Sharpeville.  For Sharpeville residents this day is a memorial service for their struggle heroes.  Of course this day and the heroism of the 69 belong to all South Africans (and the world) but our government does tend to display a profound insensitivity to the cries of the people they claim to represent.  The fact that the Sharpeville march was a PAC rather than an ANC-organised protest also muddies the waters, even now, 52 years later.

But there are things to celebrate, and things that should deeply disturb us as we look into our future.

Corruption is rife—no one denies it.  The debate as to whether it was worse under apartheid is irrelevant; it is rife and is fast becoming endemic.  Corruption, crime and poverty are intertwined in a spiralling dance of shame and fear.  Government ministers and officials speak passionately about rooting out corruption, but the only action we see is the hunting down of whistle blowers.

Having said that, I was encouraged by the lead story in our local newspaper on Human Rights Day.  The Supreme Court of Appeal has cleared the way for a legal challenge against the decision to drop corruption charges against President Zuma.  The High Court had originally said that the decision of the National Prosecuting Authority to drop charges could not be challenged.  Whatever the merits of the charges or the challenge, the fact that the decision could be made, and that it could be reported freely in the newspapers, gives hope for our fledgling democracy.

Lurking just beneath the surface however is the so-called Secrecy Bill (the Protection of State Information Bill) that threatens to become a shield behind which the government of the day might hide anything it finds inconvenient or embarrassing.  Not far behind is the threat to our courts in the form of a Cabinet decision to review the decisions and the powers of the Constitutional Court.  This because the courts have had the temerity to challenge government and organs of state when they act outside of the laws they themselves have helped write. Some in government believe they should be able to act with impunity outside the law simply because they are elected officials. 

There is less damage to the country and to a democracy when newspapers write with impunity and get things wrong than when Government acts with impunity and gets it wrong.  My prayer is that we may discover ways of working and living together so that next Human Rights Day we find more to celebrate and enjoy together than to fear.

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