Tag Archives: peace

THE MOTHER CITY

Enkosi S-CAPE!

THE MOTHER CITY

THE MOTHER CITY

It has been about a week since returning home, and I am still at a loss of words for what this experience has done in me.  I have been putting off writing this because I don’t think I have the words yet to convey what I truly feel inside. People keep asking how the trip was, and I suppose I should have formulated a better answer, but all I can muster is “it was incredible!”  I have been thinking a lot about the limits of language and pondering how to express these inexplicable feelings of the purest love, joy, peace and hope I have experienced. My time at S-CAPE taught me, just as Thistle Farms proclaims, that love heals! There is truly no other force greater than the power of love.  I feel incredibly grateful to have witnessed the transformation of women by love. To see others glimpse their worth and begin to walk into their fullness, something I too struggle to do everyday. I am crying as I write this sipping my tea at Thistle Farms because it truly feels like a dream. But this is what heaven on earth looks like, and this is my heart for the whole world, to glimpse and walk into this life of love and service to each other.

My project itself looked a bit different than I anticipated, but I am very thankful for that because it was the things I had not planned on that changed me the most.  The goals I had for my five months at S-CAPE included grant writing, working on sustainable business/entrepreneurship projects with the women, assisting with fundraising, and running workshops.  I did indeed work in all of those areas along with many others.

I submitted a grant we are still waiting to hear back on, and compiled a detailed grant application and all supporting documents that S-CAPE can use in the future.  

My sustainable business project manifested more as an entrepreneurship skills training for the residents.  We received a large donation of old costume jewelry, so we used that along with other avenues to develop our entrepreneurship skills.  We began by talking about budgeting, marketing, how to set up an email and how to keep track of revenue and expenses, which we worked on during my workshop time.  Each of the residents designed their own brand for the jewelry and I printed labels for them to retag the jewelry with. We discussed revenue and expenses, along with loans and how to grow a business. The residents each received 20 sets of earrings, bracelets and necklaces as “seed funding” per say.  They reworked the items, retagging them and fixing any broken pieces. We then went to local markets to sell the jewelry at and to learn about our target market. That was probably the most challenging aspect of the project for several reasons. First of all, culturally it was very different. I did not know that the best time to sell at markets is on the second and last weekend of the month because that is when payday is.  Secondly, finding markets that actually fit our target population was difficult. We tended to sell at flea markets, or cheaper, family oriented markets (because we had a lot of kids jewelry) due to the nature of our product. In my head, I wanted Thistle Farm’s quality products, I wanted to be in all the local stores, at the bougie markets where people with lots of disposable income shop, etc, but at this time that is not feasible.  There are two values I held very closely, the first being that I wanted to women to feel empowered selling their product, thus when we went to market, these women were not victims of human trafficking but business women. Secondly, I wanted this project to be culturally relevant and be in line with the goals of the residents. And because of this, entrepreneurship skills training seemed to be a better fit than trying to create a business in my short time there without someone to hand it over too when I left.  We were also very short staffed so inevitably the neverending list of day to day activities of running the organization and keeping up with the Department of Social Development’s standards so we can retain our recently increased funding would take precedence over this baby social enterprise. All this being said, the final phase of the project is that the women have the option to buy a box of jewelry (and there is A LOT of jewelry in each box) for a low price so that they can continue selling jewelry when they leave the safe house if they enjoyed it.  The women also learned to make lip balm which we sold and used in the goodie bags at our fundraiser. Finally, the women learned to knit and made a plethora of beanies and scarves that they also sold. There certainly is an entrepreneurial spirit in the ladies I worked with. Everytime someone new came to the safe house for a workshop, or they went to church, they would take some of their product to sell. It was really powerful and encouraging to see how empowered and at ease they were when selling.

Lip balm we made for the fundraiser!

Lip balm we made for the fundraiser!

Fundraising wise, I did help the part time fundraising coordinator in the acquisition of vouchers for our big fundraiser.  I helped create a sponsorship inquiry letter in an effort to get corporate sponsors that will donate a certain amount of say, food, each month to help keep our cost low at the safe house.  That is something really amazing about Cape Town, people are so willing to help, all you have to do is ask!

What I treasured the most though in my work is the amount of time I got to spend with the residents.  From long days at the clinic and home affairs, to workshops and outings, to covering house mother shifts and long car rides, some of my sweetest memories have been in the conversations I had with the women who taught me how to hold great love and great suffering, to embody joy, love, hope and peace while simultaneously holding the tensions and pain of the world and my life.  I miss each of them dearly, and I can hear their laughs in my head right now and them imitating my most used line, “what is happening here folks?”

In the sweetest birthday card and words I have ever received (I am not exaggerating), one of the residents wrote that I was like Esther, and God sent me to bring joy into their lives during a very tough and sorrowful season.  I immediately started to weep and told them that I felt the same way about them. Again, there are no words to convey the feeling I have when I think about the past five months. The only way I can describe it is feeling fully alive.  I experienced and felt love in a way that made me simultaneously want to laugh and cry. Like my insides were the sun and my body a stain glass window. My deepest desire is to reflect the love and joy and hope and peace of Christ through this stain glass window of this wonderful human abode.  I break so more light can be let out and heal so that the colors turn into even more magnificent and mystical hues.

And on that note, I feel it appropriate to share that this is not the end of my journey with S-CAPE!!!  It has been made abundantly clear (which I would love to elaborate on in person) that it is where I am supposed to be at this point in my life.  So, Lord willing, I will be returning to the Mother City in January 2019 for a more long term commitment to the work of S-CAPE! And the will of God is a tricky phrase, but I do believe it is the Lord’s will, if by the will of God we mean as, Thomas Merton says “the will of God is not a ‘fate’ to which we submit but a creative act in our life producing something absolutely new . . . something hitherto unforeseen by the laws and established patterns. Our cooperation (seeking first the Kingdom of God) consists not solely in conforming to laws but in opening our wills out to this creative act which must be retrieved in and by us.”  I am VERY excited for what is to come, and the real challenge is trying to be present in this season and figure out what the next few months mean, as my “five year plan” has drastically changed. But I have a great deal of peace, because I trust the direction I am journeying in now is exactly where I am supposed to be.

On one of my last weeks in Cape Town, I got up to walk on the beach for sunrise as had become my morning ritual.  I was feeling a lot of dissonance, doubt, sorrow about leaving and confusion for what the next six months will hold.  I was walking towards where the sun was supposed to be rising, but there was a thick layer of dark clouds so I turned around to walk back down the beach because it appeared I wouldn’t see the sun glide over the mountaintops this dreary morning.  I was walking and looked up at the mountains in front of me, the greatest contemplatives of all creation as O’Donahue says, and I felt this still, small voice say “Behold, I am doing a new thing” and something in me decided to turn around to look back at the sun and it was the most magnificent sight.  Rays of bright light were breaking through the dark clouds and I just had to laugh at the awe and wonder of the inexplicable mystery of God. I don’t know what this new thing is, but I know I walked home that morning with an insurmountable peace about the uncertain future.

Pictures cannot do it justice!! Behold, I am doing a new thing.

Pictures cannot do it justice!! Behold, I am doing a new thing.

I am not sure how to neatly tie together the wild, life altering, better than I ever imagined adventure that the past five months has been.  I am forever indebted to the Lumos committee for receiving this opportunity, indebted to S-CAPE for inviting me back and indebted to the women who loved me so well and taught me so much.  This experience has cultivated a deeper compassion, love and authentic joy in my soul and I am very excited to share more about my time at S-CAPE with everyone here in Nashville. Stay tuned for how you can maybe partner with me and the work with S-CAPE in the future too 😉

Enkosi (thank you in Xhosa) for reading and trekking along with me on this journey.  May we live with a deeper understanding of ubuntu, that I cannot be fully me without you, and wake up to the beauty and gift that is the inescapable network of mutuality connecting all beings everywhere.

Friends from around the world

Friends from around the world

Last sunset :(

Last sunset :(

My flatmate, hero, German teacher, co worker and dear friend, Lina.

My flatmate, hero, German teacher, co worker and dear friend, Lina.

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Reflections on Nonviolence

Almost a week ago I was schooled by my African brothers and sisters on the topic of nonviolence and social justice.  I attended a conference put on by a local non profit that works with churches in Cape Town, serving and assisting them in their response to poverty, injustice and division.  There has been a two week contemplative activism workshop running at the larger umbrella organization I am volunteering in, but I could not take two weeks off of work, so I decided I would just come to the public event.  There were people from YWAM (the organization my project is associated with), from local churches, from the community, etc. It was diverse, and subversive, challenging and gut wrenching, enlightening and humbling. We discussed power, and what nonviolent resistance looks like in the face of the powers that be.  This post is a way for me to process all the rich and thought provoking stories I encountered.

Jesus is introduced to us as the stranger, the other, the xenos in Greek, which is where we get the word xenophobia, or fear of the stranger.  Jesus was also crucified, a horrible, gruesome, embarrassing death, that left his followers, or students if you will, despondent.  They thought the Messiah would bring about a political revolution, overthrowing the oppressive Roman empire and restoring Israel. But instead, their “revolutionary” leader was murdered, a victim of capital punishment and left no visible political revolution in his wake.  Instead, that revolution, that freedom from exile and oppression came about in the form of Jesus embodying and teaching the world what it means to be fully human, to be an Image Bearer, to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. The life of Jesus revealed that God is not some far off deity to be appeased, on the contrary, God, the Divine, the animating force of love in the world is present in us and in all creation.  The ordinary, which perhaps is indeed the extraordinary, all bears witness to the oceanic oneness and interconnectedness of all things.   

The night the workshop ended was the first time I have picked up my Bible in probably a year and half.  For my whole life, the Bible had been taught to me literally. I was told in essence that God told people the exact words to write, thus why we can call it a “God breathed text”.  In fact, the certainty in which I was taught to read the text made it seem as if God had a hand, and “he” (I won’t get started on how the use of “he” when talking about God bothers me) dropped these texts into the laps of prophets and there we have it, the Bible! I have witnessed the Bible be used to justify and inform the most un-Christ like ideas and actions.  I have heard a lifetime of sermons that told me this was the only way to interpret what this verse was saying. I was angry that the Bible is in fact this beautiful story of redemption, reconciliation and love, but I, and I would venture to say many Christians, were so tainted with the legalistic and moral codes of individualistic, “soul winning” Christianity, that we never interacted with the narrative in such a way.  

It has been eighteen months of deconstructing all things I believed was an incredibly painful and simultaneously life giving process.  And while I have started to reconstruct a few things, this workshop was the challenge and hope I needed to salvage my faith, especially in the Bible.  Introduced to me was a new way of reading Scripture, one in which we read the text with the lens of Jesus’s proximity to pain. He was right in there, living amongst the suffering of the world.  Power and money tell us that the more we have, the farther away we can be from that suffering, as we move into areas and houses with high walls and gated neighborhoods far away from the reminders of physical and systemic violence, often perpetuated by “Christians” we see on the streets of our own nation.  If our gospel doesn’t call us into the pain, the suffering, the solidarity, the fight for justice, then perhaps it is no gospel at all, and certainly not the gospel of Jesus. I have been so disheartened by Christians who think their “job” is to “convert” people so they can have a “ticket to heaven.” NO! What a limited and frankly violent view of the gospel!  If the good news of Jesus, that he came to proclaim to the poor, the prisoners, the prostitutes, etc is reduced to a “soul winning” scheme, then we have missed the point. Jesus showed us that we can have Heaven, now! We are co creators, co laborers, co conspirators in work of justice and equality. We are like mirrors reflecting the glory of God (which as St. Irenaeus would say, is (wo)man fully alive).  We are a part of the grand restoration project. Now that is good news! But this good news requires much of us. It requires that we die daily to the False Self, the to comforts that keep us from engaging with injustice, and to the powers and principalities that exist. I think this is why Jesus said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God, because rarely do the rich want to admit how much they benefit from a system that affords them the privilege of so much at the expense of many.  Rarely do the rich want to challenge the systems that allow them to stay rich. Rarely do the rich want to move closer, more intimately into the face of suffering.  In fact, one of my African sisters proclaimed at the workshop that “attacking white people’s pockets is the way to bring about change.” YOH! That about knocked me off my chair.

In my attempt at reconstructing my faith, I realized I was asking the wrong kinds of questions, those that were dualistic and individualistic in nature.  But when we see Jesus for who Jesus really is and what he revealed to humanity, a whole new set of questions emerge  To quote Rainer Maria Rilke, questions that we must “not seek the answers [to now], which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”  Those questions we are invited to live, for instance, what does it look like to be a disciple of Jesus, are illuminated in what Jesus preached in the context of his society and what he imagined for the world, which I believe are precisely the questions that mainstream, evangelical, Western Christianity has lost (speaking from my own experience).

In John 14:9, Jesus that “whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”  And when we see Jesus in the Bible, he is among the poor, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the refugees (in fact he was one), the sick, the marginalized, etc.  Jesus was and is where we would least expect God to be and in many ways that is the same today. Friends with theology degrees or those who know more than me, please enlighten me if this understanding is wrong (this is what the journey is all about!) but I would venture to say that when we see the marginalized, we see Jesus, and thus we see God and the heart of God, and if that doesn’t flip our theology on its head then I don’t know what will!  The table is extended, there is room for all, especially those we do expect to be there.

When I say I ascribe to a philosophy and life of nonviolent resistance to the powers and principalities that be, it is not just a nice statement about my being in the world.  No, on the contrary that is a very weighty statement that requires much responsibility.  It means that, as my friends of color have pointed out, I have to resist the violent SYSTEMS too.  Those being, especially economic, social and political. Thus, nonviolence doesn’t just require me to show up in protest of unjust action, it requires daily denial of the privilege that my white, American, middle class, straight, Christian, able bodied status has afforded me.  This plays out in many ways, namely in the way I am perceived, monetarily and in the power I hold in most circumstances.

It is funny that those we Christians label (perhaps one of the most dangerous acts we can participate in) as Atheist, Muslim, evil, sinful, Buddhist, other,  etc, are the ones who seem to be seeking the Kingdom more than those who call themselves disciples of Jesus. Namely, this was revealed in the 2016 presidential election, and in subsequent events.  It is fascinating how in my experience, the most vocal advocates of justice and equality are those are not “Christian.” Again, those at the table are the ones we least expect. The state of the Church in American, and the Western world deeply saddens me and simultaneously invigorates me.  Hearing the stories and perspectives from Christians in very marginalized communities reminded me of why I want to be a student of Jesus. Not the student of white washed, colonizer Jesus, but a student of the subversive, contemplative, fully human and fully divine Jesus.  

In an attempt to bring this very long and scattered reflection to a close, I want to add that these are just a weeks ponderings on a lifelong journey of nonviolent activism and resistance.  If there is one thing I have learned recently, it is that certainty is death. I must learn to hold all things with an open hand. Like all things, I am constantly evolving, so perhaps in another week, month or year, I will look back at these ideas and laugh, like I do with most things I write.  But these are my honest words that I believe with my whole heart in this moment. I would like to end this in the way we ended our time together at the workshop, in lament. We sang a song, “Senzeni Na,” which is Xhosa and Zulu song we could equate to the American protest song “We Shall Overcome.”  Senzeni Na means, “what have we done” and as it was described to me, this song was sang as the Xhosa and Zulu people buried their dead during apartheid, knowing full and well that as the song ended, they would again be attacked, oppressed and killed by the violent apartheid regime operating in their communities.  And what had they done? Their only crime was being black, as one version of the song puts it. And as I sang along, I was overcome by grief, and the words “what have we done” became my words. I lamented for what has and has not been done in the name of God, the climate of my nation and at the current state of our world.  Where is the ubuntu? Where is the love? Where is the peace? But gathered in this community of lament, none of whom I knew, but was intrinsically connected too, there was tangible hope. In the face of sorrow and injustice, we too had faith that we shall overcome.