Seriously – Do we need another grooming tool for children?

Yesterday a licence was given to a TV station which would usher in a new era of access to pornography in South Africa.  This is been communicated as the rights of adults to engage/ indulge and explore their sexuality.  Apparently this is one of the new freedoms in our young democracy.

Less than 10 weeks ago the country was appalled at the rape stats, child abuse stats and seeming breakdown in understanding of sexual ethics, morals, values – pick one and I am sure you will find opinion pieces on it somewhere. Over the last 3 years in private practice, some of the children I worked with who had been sexualised had all inadvertently been exposed to pornography.  The children I am talking about are all below the age of 8 and seemingly from what we would all call ‘normal’ homes – their issues emerged when playground games and night time dreams lost their innocence and pants which had been dry for a very long time suddenly were being wet again.

Recently I have been made aware – it was discussed this week again at a professional talk I went to – about the increase in sex addiction.  Like, AA and NA groups, we are seeing growing numbers of SAA groups (not the airline –Sex Addicts Anonymous).  Pornography and its impact on the men and women in these groups as well as the other issues that result are part of what the 12 step programmes seek to address.  And these are not church run groups by ‘conservatives’ who think that sex belongs in a dark room for procreation only.  These groups are open to all creeds, all ages and are about finding healing in the space of sexuality.

There is lots of good, bad and indifferent research out there to defend what you want to defend.

In practice we know that children act out what they see.  Play Therapy as a discipline developed after the 2nd World War when it was observed that children were acting out the blitz over London – with emotional processing happening; after the soccer world cup, everyone was Messi, or Ronaldo and the theme for children’s parties was pretty much about soccer, boots and balls (across genders).  These were innocent processes.  My young clients whose acting out of sexual stuff impacted other children, meant we had social challenges, shame, discipline, social isolation and psychosomatic things to manage as a result of seeing something and then voicing, acting or exploiting other children in an effort to act out what they had seen.

Children, according to our constitution have a right to be protected. Freedom comes with responsibilities and privileges.  It makes no sense that the privileges (of adults and those who stand to profit) over rides the right to be protected from abuse and exposure to things that impede optimal growth and development.  A 12 year old in a workshop I ran last year said the following to me:

“Why do adults allow porn to be out there if they know it’s not good for our brains and our development?  It teaches me to think in certain ways and makes me think I want to practice what I have seen with the girls around me.”

An 11yr old girl voiced that she had bought a DVD from an informal shop – and when she got home to play it was hard core porn.  Are we keeping her safe?

These kids come from a community where child prostitution, sugar daddies and rape is a part of life.

Do we really need another channel that is going to mess with their minds, bodies and the development of healthy sexuality?

Feeling somewhat more than disturbed today.

risks, relationships and my dark side revealing itself….

The past 5 months have seen BIG changes.

Moving from a long distance to an “in-the-same-city” relationship; moving from a thriving practice and consultancy to having to start again; Lots of kilometers spent relocating people, boxes and even move my parents!

We survived the initial moving well.

We love spending time with the other’s family.

We have both moved homes in the time since I have been in Cape Town – me from a friend’s guest room/ study to my own space and he from his corporate rental to a cottage.

Apparently we do the big changes and list of big stressors well.  Very well.  No fighting, no lamenting – simply being able to communicate through whatever was happening, Secure in the knowledge that we are on the same team. Team “US” working towards something permanent and long term.

Now we have to learn to do the life stuff.  You know the day to day stuff that involves coordinating schedules, commitments, friends, my high need for activity vs his high need for rest.  His work stressors vs my anxiety about what is my work life going to look like and will I be able to pay my bills?  Apparently this is harder than the big stuff.  I don’t understand what makes it hard to think and plan the way I do….i don’t – and it’s hard to recognise that I have to work at being kind in that space rather than judgmental and scathing.  That’s about me, not him.

So, actually this is good.  Part of my moving back to a city I love was to take a break. It was to be able to build “team us” and figure out what we do well and where we need to learn to grow together.  It was also because we believed, and still believe that it was right for me to move.

It means that we get to see each other’s shadow sides.  And have to work out our relationship hiccups without betraying the relationship and still looking out for the other in the process.  My commitment has been to be kind in my honesty, seek to be gracious, to look for what will honour God, him, us and me but also to know that there is grace and to look for the best possible reason for something having happened.  The best possible reason doesn’t change the consequences of what we need to address but it does change the outcome of “team us”.  It means rather than walking away I have to be willing to risk again; so does he.  Sometimes the risk is in speaking up, sometimes it’s about staying present and sometimes it’s about knowing that we deepening a bond that can only get deeper through pressing through the hard stuff.

Grace.  Grateful for Grace. Again. 

celebrating Autumn… the mountain is peeking through the leaves more and more

Image

When I arrived in Summer, this tree was bright green and I knew the mountain was behind it… Every day I get to see more of the mountain. My house mate talks about how in the good times God is there and in the winter seasons we have a greater awareness of him. Just like the mountain being revealed through the tree in it’s different seasons.

The Better Way: A response to an intruder, ARV’s, violence and cycles (March 2013)

(a response to my brother and his wife’s amazing way of dealing with an intruder in their home)

Today has been a wild day. 

I had tea this morning with a friend who has spent years working with high risk youth and gangs on the Cape Flats.  He has a wealth of experience and understands things that I don’t think he even knows he knows.  I am trying to get him to document his story, and the stories that make up his story into a book.  He knows more than “the numbers” and gang names.  He knows the faces, feelings and people behind the 26’s and 28’s; he knows what made a gang become a family as opposed to the biological family that a child, with the same potential as you or I if circumstances were different, was born into.

That isn’t what made the day wild though – as inspired as I always am after meeting with this friend. 

 What made it wild was that this friend and I met to talk about what it means practically to meet the world with hope through the work he is seeking to do; less than 24 hours earlier I had started formulating what I dream about seeing happen on the Cape Flats (an area known for its gangs and poverty).   Dreams that I believe can change the way children learn and grow and hopefully offer them a different way of life and being as they grow and develop.  Dreams that if we can get this right – the things he dreams of as well as mine – perhaps communities and children can consider a better way – a better way that does not involve “the numbers” : A better way that involves new concepts of family, community and justice rather than what is currently seen but not inspiring hope or a future.

What made it really wild was that in the early  hours of  this morning, a member of the “26’s” on the South Coast of KZN took off his jeans and jacket and climbed through a window in order to break into my brother, Mark’s  home.  Olivia heard a noise, and realised that someone had switched a light on.  Mark went to investigate and ended up rugby tackling and wrestling the wannabe thief.  Despite ending up covered in bite marks, numerous bruises and a wife who got punched, as well as bitten when attempting to stop the chap from attacking Mark (brandishing a wooden bowl as a weapon), Mark and Liv managed to restrain him until the police arrived.  He begged Mark not to let the police come. The police knew this guy.  His tattoos told some of his story without him needing to talk at all. 

It was wet, it was cold and as Liv said, something on the bucket list of things you never want to repeat, but in the midst of this Liv also had a clear sense that there was a bigger purpose and picture in all this that was going to unfold. 

Mark and Liv are involved in Southcity Cares  – the social justice outreach at their church.  They have been involved in advocating, in accompanying people to court for court hearings, in relief work and in wanting to see systems change and poverty challenged.  The guy that broke into their home comes from one of these communities.  It’s appears easy to be involved in a hard, challenging space when you can go home and debrief from the day.  It’s not easy at all when the space comes into your home with all the “what if’s” and craziness that we watch documentaries about.

 Love your enemy.  Act Justly, Seek Mercy and Walk Humbly. In this world you will have troubles.  For all have sinned and fallen short.  Bless those who persecute you.  Cry aloud, do not hold back – lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgressions, to the house of Jacob their sins.   God’s goodness brings us to repentance. 

Break my heart for what breaks yours.  Everything I am for your Kingdom’s Cause.

 Scriptures we quote and songs we sing.

Then something like today happens and we have to choose whether we going to do what seems radical and actually practice them, or retreat to what seems normal and manage life the way the text books say we should, our context says we should, our fear and anxiety want us to.

Today I got to witness what it means when the writers spoke of “love your enemy” and “cry aloud”.  I got to witness what it meant for someone to seek a story of redemption knowing that there wasn’t much likelihood of a “Hollywood happy ending outcome”).  Today I got to witness my brother and his wife, battered and bruised and sore, and very aware that grace covered this story, take goodness into a place where the police and prisoners were perplexed by their action.

Goodness was packing up the clothes that the guy left outside in the rain in order to get into the house in a bag and returning it to him.  Grace was sending dry clothes with so that he could get out of the shorts and t-shirt which were soaking wet by the time the police took him off to the police station.   Mercy was Liv proudly telling me how she saw something snap in Mark – and yet he controlled it- and didn’t use any force other than what was necessary to restrain this guy. 

Mark and Liv didn’t just pray and say “thank you for your protection Lord”.  They didn’t say that’s the end of that – let justice, whatever that looks like, take its course.  Today people who in our current context had every right to be angry and fearful both reflected how sad they were for the guy who broke into their home.  What person, who has any dreams or aspirations, within a healthy, secure childhood context chooses to live a life that is characterised by high levels of violence, very little hope and no easy way out?  Grace today was Mark and Liv seeing the man behind the number and the bruises and the bites.

Today wasn’t about the bite marks and bruising as awful as that is.

Today become about this one man’s life actually matters.  Today became an opportunity as Mark prepares his preach and thoughts around Easter to reflect on what it meant for us as individuals, as well as for the murderer next to Jesus on the cross. 

What started off as a day talking about macro issues needing hope and healing, and telling stories about this all became personal when the macro issue invaded my world. 

It became personal when my nephew’s parents are now on ARV’s and anti-biotics and are trusting that their home will once more be their safe place, where they can dream and rest and seek justice for the communities that they are involved in.  

Justice, mercy and humility.

With God.

This is what He asks of us.

 

The Better Way. 

Being Vulnerable and a Mess (early 2012)

Beautiful the mess we are….the honest cry of breaking hearts are better than a hallelujah sometimes .… we pour out our miseries, God just hears a melody….

Someone whose heart yearns for heaven introduced me to a song which included these lyrics at the beginning of the year….the first time I heard this song, and the second it made me want to weep simply as how often do we think that we need to sing “the together, structured praises” to God?  How often do we actually consider our honest cries to Him to be what He seeks from us?

Tonight I am sitting on the floor of my new bedroom, my first Saturday night here.  And whilst I know how loved I am, and I know that the friends I live with love me enough to affirm the nice and call me on the not so nice parts of who I am, and I know that I know that I am loved by friends and family, right now, tonight where I am sitting I am feeling lonely.

God, do you hear a melody when I say this?

I get told to press into you….that by pressing into you I will suddenly feel less of a mess, less miserable, less sad, less lonely, less full of questions. Does pressing into you mean I ignore this part of me?  Or does it actually mean, tell me so that I can press into you – why else would an immortal God become human if not to make sure I know, that I get that you get when I feel this way?

How often did you not feel lonely Jesus?  You left perfection, you knew what it was to be whole, to be accepted, to be complete and yet you chose to walk next to us…the “us” that didn’t get what or who you were often.  The“us” that so often still forgets and loses sight of what makes us worthy.  Of a God whose Grace was so complete that actually I can say LORD, my heart is breaking.

Today I spent time with a friend who has what so often my heart longs for and yet I know through her tears there is loneliness and frustration in that too. And then I sat with an awesome couple who KNOW each other, but don’t share you in that knowing.  And I loved them more and committed to making sure that they know this too.  Tonight over dinner I sat with two couples – one at least 10 years younger than me, and the other my friends I live and get to share life with.  And it was good. It was beautiful.  It was lonely.

This is my honest cry Lord. This is my broken mess –  a mess that has started revealing itself in a way that seeks to know you more.  That yearns to love and be loved – the way you created us to be. I want to stand next to someone who is waging war for you.  I want to be the princess standing next to, behind of , interceding for and knowing that out of that space…we get to heal the beautiful mess of each other because of you.  I want you to hear my melody Lord, not as a whine, or a complaint.  Just as an honest heart’s cry.  I want you to see the breaking, but healing heart – that I know you see fully –more fully than I or any other and I want you to teach me what it means to share that part of me with someone else.

Lord, hear my melody. Please.

(Lyrics from a song sung by Amy Grant, written by Sarah Hart)

 

Race, Reconciliation and Red Herrings…a response to The Spear (2012)

Red Herrings, Race, Penises and Reconciliation

How to start a piece of writing about a topic that has enraged and resulted in vehement debate in a country such as ours?  I know that there will be people who accuse me of being idealistic.  There will be people who think that I am failing to recognise the past.  There will be people who think that I am failing to recognise the present objectively.  In discussions with a friend (she is black)whose heart seeks reconciliation, healing and forward growth for South Africa, I admitted that I am tired of feeling like just because my skin is paler than the majority of my fellow South African’s, I am not allowed an opinion on South Africa, or on the Spear and the dialogue it produced.  It is hard when I listen to people argue so objectively that they can’t or won’t acknowledge people’s subjective experiences which result in seemingly irrational behaviour.  It is painful that when I dare voice anything I know that half the people who may read it through other friends’ debating and sharing will make assumptions about me based on the fact that I am white and should therefore be quiet, or that I am not allowed to be heard.  My words to her were in fact:

Siki, it is hard to be heard when I know that many of my white peers will think that I am not being objective enough in seeking understanding whilst there are people of colour(s) will dismiss what I have to say without hearing or knowing me simply because I have green eyes, dark hair and a paler complexion with freckles!”.

Siki responded to this with “Lex, you need to say that, you need to say these things out loud and we need more people willing to listen and talk and being willing to defy the perceived stereotypes from all sides”

So, I now I am saying what I think – not because I think I know better than anyone else, but simply because I have been listening to a lot of what is being said and spoken and actioned in an attempt to understand what has been unfolding 5km from my home.  I currently live close to the Goodman Gallery where the infamous “Spear” painting is being shown; where the word race and racism has been touted about – a lot.

RACE – what a loaded word in South Africa.  Theories abound – I have heard people say that black people can’t be racist – which makes little sense to me in the context of Xenophobia and Black on Black violence.  I have seen people walk out of lectures when I was at university in response to a lecturer trying to prove this – black and white people who got more and more irritated with her.  I have also been told that black people can’t be racist towards white people.  Again, something that makes no sense to me and never has.  Surely racism is what happens when we are prejudiced or assume something about another person based on what we understand their race or ethnicity to be about? I have engaged in cross-cultural spaces personally and professionally from the age of 15.  One of my earliest childhood memories was leaning to give our helper a hug and a kiss when she returned home from being on holidays and being told by her not to do that; if the wrong people see there will be trouble –she literally recoiled into the corner and pushed me away.  This was how I learnt about apartheid.  I wasn’t allowed to hug someone who looked after me when my mom couldn’t  and made sure I had fun, who disciplined me when I needed it, with my parents’ approval, someone who I loved because “some people don’t understand that it’s okay for people of different colours to love each other” (my wise mom).

In response to a lot of the “racist” cries, many paler Africans are crying, people need to get over apartheid and stop yelling!  No, not everything is racist, but as Max du Preez pointed out, how much animosity still exists in certain communities over the Anglo-Boer war?  I can take you to places where people refuse to speak English, and other places where people refuse to acknowledge that Afrikaners aren’t all thugs – I can speak about this- I am a product of both.  When my mom chose to marry my father, she was asked:  “Ai, JB, kan jy nie met n ordentelike boer trou nie?” (Ai, JB, can’t you marry a nice Afrikaans boy?).  My Ouma and Oupa were accepting and welcoming to my English “rooinek” father –the rest of the family – well, and I can brag that I was once a peace child…  My Oupa (grandpa) took my English father and his first granddaughter (me) for a walk once –without telling my dad where we were going.  It only emerged when they reached someone’s home that it was to a family member who was disgusted that my mom had married ‘the enemy’ so to speak but due there being a baby present, the door was opened and some sense of peace brokered.  Well, for a moment anyway 😉

So, next time, as a white person you are tempted to yell, let’s get over this already, try speaking English in metaphorical “Blikkiesfontein” and note the response?  Or listen to your own gut instinct when a man dressed in veldskoen (vellies), two tone shirts and a fiat bakkie pulls up – what is your immediate thought?

What does this have to do with The Spear?  Well, firstly, I think that we need to take a long hard look at ourselves before shouting out in indignation (some righteous, some self-righteous) about the “ANC and its’ race card”.  What I learnt over the past few days about what some other middle class, educated black South Africans’ are saying with the word race is the following – and before you read this list, agree to just hear what they are saying, rather than getting defensive immediately or blaming the current government for not addressing these issues –listen to what I learnt:

Race…is about the social inequality

Race …is about the lack of trust

Race….is about the fact that so many black people still live in incredibly poor conditions with minimal access to electricity and water

Race …is about the housing crisis

Race…is about white people not knowing much about the past and the injustices and way in which many people of colour in this country struggled.

When I read the above list, I can understand why so many people are quick to shout RACE –it’s loaded with a whole lot of meaning that I don’t automatically give it. I can understand why someone told me to be quiet when I started talking about the need for us to know what the injustices were, and how to respond to these that could bring healing –except that once we did start speaking, there was a sense of peace – for both of us, not necessarily resolution but a better understanding.   The more I engaged with one person’s thinking about this, as she wrote in response to an article written by a mutual friend, the more it made sense to me why people were so upset.

I get that technically and legally the above aren’t definitions of race – but it helped me understand.

I so appreciated this woman telling me that when she drove along the highway, she realised that she did begrudge white people – yes she had white friends, but she got mad all over again at white people when she has a colleague at work who has to wake up at 4:30 to boil water to get to work by 7:30 – this woman takes 20 minutes to get to work, so she isn’t speaking as someone who uses public transport, but rather who sees inside the shacks she drives past.  I appreciated this simply because it irks me too – but I don’t label it race.  I label it social injustice and the way that wealth is distributed and the fact some of this wealth is mismanaged – which as a black friend of mine pointed out is a favourite expression of “white folk”.  I heard him.  I did.  BUT I also know that the fact that poverty exists now isn’t just the fact that wealth is mismanaged now – it was also mismanaged under apartheid with funds being allocated to state security, rather than addressing the needs of all people who live in South Africa and if we want to be honest, funds were badly allocated to a select few.  When I look at communities now, when I look at the new elite class that has emerged, and the level of poverty that remains, wealth is still not allocated equally.  Not here in South Africa, not in Africa, not in the world.  If it was, poverty wouldn’t exist at all.

The Spear, along with the rest of Brett Murray’s exhibition, was social commentary on what many people (both black and white if you read popular media and blogs) had been struggling with in South Africa and see as a lack of delivery, as well as concerns with regards to the gender issues in this country, so objectively if I listen to these concerns I see direct correlations with the list above – and when I am willing to listen to other people’s hearts in this I can find things that we can agree on- as well as ask questions about should this be called race then?  And how does this fit with freedom of expression in our young democracy?

Subjectively though, when my father, either personally or as the man who is viewed as a father to our country is publicly displayed in the way in which President Zuma was, it is very hard to stay objective in responses – especially when it stirs up so much controversy which pushes all the buttons in many and serves as a reminder of much of the indignity of apartheid.   See, I heard that and was confused by this statement, until 2 black peers independently told me that under apartheid, black men would be stripped naked and exposed to white female policewoman for review –for whatever purpose.  Now, I am not sure if loads of my peers knew this, I didn’t consider this at all.  And I already hear some of you saying “Lex, what has that got to do with anything?”  Well, if we are all already struggling with working out how to manage life in South Africa with its history- and some of it feeling more personal than other stuff, and this button gets pushed – and ironically in some ways repeatedly pushed by the people who were offended by it – as some of you are thinking, it has a lot to do with everything.

People don’t live ALL subjectively or ALL objectively – even those of us touting seemingly objective arguments in either direction about The Spear have emotional reactions to what is said to us and about us and apparently on behalf of us in this dialogue.

As a South African, who lives on this continent and is passionate about people and purpose and seeing hearts healed and understood, it’s intensely frustrating to feel that I am not allowed to have an opinion or share what I have learnt from people who are willing to share their sensitive areas with me.  It’s hard to not want to yell back when I get told I don’t understand racism and I know that there are people who won’t give me the time of day as a person because they have already made assumptions about me.  See, I shouldn’t have to tell you the following every time I want to express an opinion as a white South African that this is on my CV:

–          That I grew up in a family where we were part of racial reconciliation meetings and listening to stories from when I was 16 years old. This was pre 1994…. It was whilst I was still in school.  We camped in communities that legally we shouldn’t have been in, but it was “ignored” (probably silently watched) as it was on church property.

–          That I spent a week in a shack in Khayalitsha, in winter, in the early 90’s, with spotlights and police sirens in the background and wondered what would happen if we weren’t invited to stay in a community wanting to see healing too. That I know what it’s like to have township dogs bark at me.  That I know what its’ like to be stared at with suspicion and not spoken to, whilst my black friends who were there too were embraced.  That I know what it’s like not to be able to fluently follow a conversation for lack of slang-vocabulary.

–          That I used to catch mini-bus taxis into Bishop Lavis (poor socio-economic, known for its gangs – well then anyway- violent community) in the mid-90’s as I didn’t have a car and needed to walk through Cape gangsters to get to my social work agency.  That I had taxi drivers who refused to stop where I needed to be dropped off and left me in the middle of Elsies’s River, which at that point in time had the highest incidence of rape (geographically) in the world. This made me just another woman at risk – but I kind of stuck out like a sore thumb.  A sore white thumb. That I had a female Xhosa taxi driver tell me I was a crazy white girl to even be going to work there and driving off her route to get me closer to where I needed to be to make sure I was safe (this still makes me smile).  That my university supervisor at the time used to check the day after practical’s that I made it to class as she would be concerned about me until she knew, from a safety point of view, that I was okay – I found this out after the year was done!

–          That my first second major high school crush was on a coloured boy (I was just a girl –this is not derogatory) but I had almost no one I knew it was safe to tell this too.  I met him on a scripture union camp and he was awesome – and probably didn’t know what to make of this silly-eyed girl that just smiled at him a lot.

–          That I have lived in communities where I was not altogether welcomed by the doctors and managers at work and the “white” people in town simply as I chose and preferred to have multi-cultural friendships and didn’t support their racism or ‘colonialist’ ways of working with nationals in a country where we were guests of their government effectively.

–          That I have had men who refused to speak to me once they knew that I had dated across the ‘colour line’ or girlfriends who wouldn’t discuss this with me.

I shouldn’t have to tell you that I cry and cringe when I watch at the way we as human beings – all of us – yell at each other and keep yelling to be heard- whether out of pain or out of fear – but aren’t willing to stand and listen to someone else’s pain and fear so that we can heal or allow the painful, uncomfortable things to be bought out of the shadows.  There are so many people wanting to see changes in this country, who are seeking the same direction, but we can’t find each other if we can’t listen to each other.  And listening to each other is not about a white agenda, or a black agenda, or a coloured agenda.  It’s not about one upping the other and punishing.  It’s about being able to really see and hear each other together – I am in awe of the shifts in the press the last few days of more and more people taking a stand that is about the bigger picture, but acknowledging the smaller critical details too.

The Spear has highlighted that we default into fighting mode – and we cry without listening – and today reading the newspaper, all the editorials I have read by black editors – have stated this needs to stop;  that we need to look at the bigger picture.  The Spear neatly allowed a side step of the broader issues because it triggered the race card for many people.  And in triggering it stopped, but only for a while, dialogue and discussion from happening that could be helpful in healing and exploring our constitution, and our democracy.

I am committing to stand and letting people yell at me – out of pain and fear and not yelling back – but rather being willing to reflect and hear and cry with, so that if we shift as individuals and groups little by little, maybe the macro shifts we are seeking will come.

I am committing to wanting to understand more – and choosing to respect that people’s pace and process isn’t always where I think it should be – not as a white person, but as Alexa.

I am choosing to ask why the rhetoric resonates with many often, rather than just getting infuriated by it – and responding rather than reacting.

I am choosing to honour my friend, a woman whose heart is also to understand but will often challenge the status quo and speak up to say why the so-called masses may be responding as they are – and part of that was writing this.

I am choosing to allow myself to be corrected and learn – about the objective and subjective dialogues that still need to happen, but can’t be stuck on repeat.  Not because I think I know more or don’t know enough.  Simply because I don’t think any of us do.

 

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.

Poverty Pornography (2012)

Poverty pornography….is a term I was introduced to during a community visit at OWCS. My role there is to support the director of OWCS, Ricky da Silva with regards to strategy, planning and staff support.  The more I thought about it, the more I liked this term.

Poverty Porn (PP) has a kind of a ring to it.  It’s also aggressive and in your face and has the dirty feel to it that shops with blue movies and brown bags hold.  It also speaks volumes about what we do in communities and with people when rather than engage with them out of a sense of dignity, we do for, do to, and don’t meet them heart to heart.  Compassion and Justice, Micah 6:8 doesn’t allow for poverty pornography.  PP for me speaks about when we use communities to ease our consciousness’; it’s when we go to make ourselves feel better about something, like poverty by painting a wall, but not bothering to see that actually the light fittings in a school are all broken.    It’s when in lieu of asking someone how their day has been, we rather pretend not to see them.

Poverty is ugly.  It’s not something we can pretty up –however much we want to.  It is a place where in the midst of the suffering joy and peace can be seen, but not when we refuse the intimacy of an experience.  Like a person who chases the celluloid or print porn images, poverty pornography will never allow our hearts to be truly moved, or the people we attempting to reach out to, to be truly seen or heard.

Poverty pornography in some ways allows for injustice and inequality to remain pervasive as it allows the illusion of making a difference without any sacrifice or discomfort to ourselves.  It doesn’t force us to recognise where we can speak up for justice, or practically do something to address injustice from a relational stance, rather than from a distance.  The only way we can truly address the issues of injustice and poverty in our communities is when we willing to have an intimate experience with a story that becomes shared story – so rather than us and them it becomes a “WE” story.  It is not up to policy, economics or social theorists to address this actually.  Jesus stated that the poor will always be with us.  This doesn’t absolve us of caring and challenging the structures that create the poor.

Over the past while I have been considering what Poverty Pornography looks like in my community and have recently been challenged, again, by what I can do in my world that will make a difference in this space.  It means that I need to consider what dignity, respect and humility looks like when strategizing around projects and needs.  It means that personally I can’t stand up and say “it’s Mugabe’s fault” or a the capitalist system or the old refrain of the colonialists left Africa poor without looking around me and seeing where I can stand up and make a difference.

Practically, it means that I need to consider what it means for me when:

  • I know a friend who is being paid a ridiculous wage and can’t afford her children’s school fees, and food and clothing when the cost of this would match what I pay to fly to CT for a weekend.
  • It means I need to consider when I buy my 4th bible because I want to read certain passages in a different translation and the person up the street is questioning a God who seemingly shows favouritism to a few and he isn’t one of them – what is my responsibility to him.
  • It means that I need to look at what it means to live simpler so that others can simply live – AM I willing to empty out space in my wardrobe when I get new stuff, so that someone else can benefit, or am I hoarding clothes for just in case?
  • I am challenged to ask how you are, look you in the eye and say have a great day, not because I want to rescue you, simply so that I see your personhood, and am willing to hear your story, rather than make you a non-person by not acknowledging you. You at the traffic light, walking past me in the street on my run, smelling or looking different to me.

Poverty pornography means I know things intellectually, but as long as it makes me look kind and caring and good – I can post on facebook how much money I gave away or how many needy children I “blessed”, but I don’t need to be challenged or uncomfortable with the injustice of life.  It doesn’t mean I need to give everything away and live in the street, it means I need to be conscious of what I have and the responsibility that comes with that.

I dare say that that more intimate our understanding of Micah 6:8 which reads as follows in the Message, the stronger our communities will be come.  When our understanding of our neighbour shifts from someone who is just like me, to someone who is near me, around me, in my face then maybe we can’t so easily engage in a distant theoretical understanding of poverty.

But He has already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women.  It is quiet simple:  DO what is fair and just to your neighbour, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously.

(Musings over months – 20th September – Alexa Russell)

Getting lost on a train and finding more voice (2011)

There is a writer within all of us.  For some of us, there is a Writer, with a capital W who helps guide and determine our story. Some of us live and dream good stories, some of us even tell good stories. But as Donald Miller wrote, what is it that we want our stories to be about? And are we aware that we get to find critical opportunities for conflict, change and opportunity or are we simply daydreaming about one that can fill pages in a book?

I got muddled up by train stations and caught a train to the south of Israel. I got to see Orange fruit orchards that were flooded. Silos.  Industrial areas.  Fields & vineyards. Flocks of birds.  All because I got a station name wrong. Rather than ending up in Tel Aviv, I got off a train in Ashqelon. A hour away from Hashalom station where I should be. A kind conductor stuck me back on the train and told me not to worry, it’s not my fault. It actually was. Ironically I read about Ashqelon that morning in a prophecy by Zechariah. Now I know what the place looks like.  I am also very grateful for peanuts, a donut and BIG cappuccino which constituted all my nutritional input for the day. Did I mention it was Christmas day? Love it.  I think that despite checking I still have visible cheek bones – I have told all my Israeli friends that they are feeders – they still there (both my cheek bones and my friends)– this is the first Christmas ever which has not been about food n feasts and frantic last minute shopping or organising social outreach projects.  It’s been all about life and love and heart attitudes for me.

Henri Nouwen wrote “You don’t think your way into a new kind of living.  You live your way into a new kind of thinking”.  I love Henri Nouwen’s way of wording things – so often he takes something so deep and yet so simple and manages to say it in one sentence.

Last Tuesday we walked around Jerusalem at night – and all I kept thinking was that there were so many possible stories waiting to happen around me.  Then I read some more of Donald Miller’s “A million miles in a thousand years” and realised that it was possible that I was looking into other people’s stories and wanting to write them, or make them up or create an amazing dream world, but that I needed to be mindful of what WASN’T written in my story yet. My kind of living has been so neatly put in chapters when it comes to aspects of my world, that there was something missing.  It wasn’t the content itself, it was allowing for the romance of a story to develop.  See, I love that life holds passion, depth, that I like dancing under stars and swimming naked under the moon – even if it involves switching lights off in a suburban garden to make sure that our ‘curious’ Greenside neighbours are oblivious to my relationship with the moon and water…..in fact the last night of 2011 I spent in Africa the pool, the moon and the night skies were all engaged!    Having said this, I realise though that it is too easy to let moments get lost….and for someone who lives and experiences the world through sight, sound, movement, touch and taste that’s not great – it means that life gets missed out on.  I know that this happens when I am too busy, too tired or too stressed.  I know that when this happens it means I lose sight of people and get too caught up in purpose – which rather than coming across as a person living from a place of freedom, it means that I am inflexible, and stuck – often stuck in a cage I made. It also means that often when I think I am making a decision for the next chapter so to speak based on my gut, or intuition – maybe it’s not an informed gut decision – and life has been filled with amazingly colourful stories – but I wonder how much romance of life I have missed out on due to my purpose rather than living with simple passion?

I am not talking about passion associated with sex…I am talking about living fully alive, that wild abandonment we have as kids – when we used to ride our bikes down hills with our eyes closed –despite a mate getting concussed in the process, when chasing tadpoles and running through forests barefoot was a part of being alive.  It’s the passion that comes before we make life complicated.  It’s the passion I find in my work, but get stuck when it comes to translating into my personal world always.  It’s the sense of my brain, heart and body lining up together and life being filled with joy even in despair. It’s being fully alive.

For the longest time, and on reflection on trains, specifically the trip that wasn’t meant to be, I realised that for the last while I have been shifting from survival mode back into life mode.  It’s been good.  It’s been a transition from an identity based in needing to be safe in relationships to actually I am safe in my own skin and can make choices from there – it’s been a shift that was initiated when through some personal processing in prayer, with a professional mentor and friends, something suddenly clicked.   The fact that I am typing this from a couch in a friend’s apartment in Tel Aviv is evidence of this.  I am not a New Year person – unless I am out in the bush, on a river or up a mountain somewhere…. I don’t get the hype or the resolutions thing…. My reflection process starts in September/ October and by the time December rolls around my head has realised that shifts need to happen. I don’t do resolutions.  I want it to be life. I don’t find resolutions fun – I can’t engage with things unless I can live them.  When I have in the past, it’s meant reflecting on a year of not achieving or my life not looking the way I wanted it to – and a large part of this has been due to observing, dreaming and sort of, rather than fully engaging with life.

What does this mean for my story?  It’s meant being willing to spend my entire time off work in a place where I know little, can’t read or speak Hebrew, have had to practice putting my own thoughts and ideas aside at times and listen – the on-going activity in my brain has had to stop.  It’s meant being a part of families whose structure and sense may be a lot like mine and yet I can’t verbally communicate hopes, dreams and heartaches with them without simplifying these, or asking for a friend to translate.  It’s also meant at times having NO idea what the next day holds – I know I can’t live like this when I work with clients on a schedule – but it is teaching me to slow down my sense of urgency about life.  This morning I woke up feeling panicked at the thought of a) needing to extrovert and b) wanting to work?!  I am on holiday and I was missing brain time – until I realised actually, it was creative time….time to try find words to engage my senses and being about where life is at…

Prior to coming to Israel, a friend and I were chatting and she said to me that she believed that Israel held something for me that I needed to be prepared for else it would catch me unawares –I think that she was right.  But I also think that what it is, is a process unfolding and that my biggest gift has been just being…has been letting go of needing to be in charge, in control and know everything tomorrow holds, and rather be open to experience.  This has meant NOT sitting on the couch daily and waiting for life to happen, but rather being open to engaging with friends, some old, some new and some who feel like they have been in my world forever, but actually haven’t really at all….and letting the whole experience happen – of moving, tasting, touching, listening and seeing…..it’s reminded me of how exhausting and yet how fulfilling life is when we live in this space.

Henri Nouwen’s comment on living your way into a new way of thinking sums up the shift that has happened simply as this year I chose to be in a place with no big New Year hype.  Israel celebrates New Year in keeping with Jewish tradition in September.  My new way of living into a new way of thinking meant giving me permission to not be around NY parties on the 31st December. It meant booking an unplanned holiday. It meant trusting my bookkeeper to chase up all the outstanding accounts rather than stressing about them. It’s meant being okay with much actually.

I can honestly say that for the first time in 15 years, I am not dreading the emotional rollercoaster I usually experience from the 26th December about what New Year means.  For the first time ever I know that I have no idea what the weekend holds and that no one actually minds that I am not fussed.  It’s insanely liberating 🙂

 

 

 

 

Impressions of Israel (2011)

My Israel story so far….

So I keep being asked for updates from friends in other countries and my impressions of Israel so far by people here.  All along I have said that I do not want a ‘Christian tour experience of the Holy Land” – it’s been about having an Israeli experience of Israel –and I am blessed, spoilt, indulged in that I have Israeli friends or friends married to Israelis which means I get to do this! I don’t mean this to be disrespectful or dishonouring of people who do come here seeking an experience of God – at all.  A secular Israeli (wish people at home would so readily and willingly identify their spirituality without fear of offence) who has been taking photos of the Western Wall since 1997 as a part of the project said to me, whilst he is not spiritual, he has been amazed at the impact of stones on people’s lives and the responses that stones elicit.

For me, this sums up brilliantly in so many ways the “holy or sacred cows” we ascribe to a place. Yes, Israel has history and significance internationally on multiple levels.  It also holds meaning in the biblical sense in terms of suddenly seeing places and architecture in the physical which up until now only had a shape in my imagination.  In further discussion with this photographer, I said to him something must move him to keep him coming back – and the response was there is something.  For me, it’s a spiritual response to something that physically holds meaning to us.  I am not a good rule keeper with things like this –being in awe of places and ‘things’, so my experience of Israel has definitely been interwoven all along with there here and now, the past and the place where my understanding of God intersects with the physical experience of day to day life as I have experienced it here, in Israel – Modern day Israel.

Israel is almost the same size as the Kruger National Park – yet when you walk around here, it feels so much bigger.  There is energy in this country that is different –yet similar to Africa – and I like it.   Today for the first time I feel the need for an introvert day – and I know in part this is due to the constant movement of people, sharing of lives – everyone seems to speak at once and to more than one person at time – and the awareness of people everywhere all the time and the other part due to not having really rested at all this holiday!  You can hear noise, sit in traffic forever – it’s faster to walk than it is to drive.  The freedom from travelling into Jaffa from where I am staying on a motorbike made me realise that if I were to ever live here, I would want a bicycle and a motorbike…in SA I love my bike, but wouldn’t consider using it as a form of transport – our taxi’s would make every day the ultimate rush 😉  A motorbike means that you see, feel, smell and have to be wide awake all the time…..but you are very much alive in that space (until you trust your friend who is driving you so much, that the contentment of a full tummy means you ready to fall asleep whilst in transit – true story!)

If you had to ask me for words to describe my time here so far, the list would have to read as follows:

Food, passion, family, purpose, chemistry ,energy, love, determined, direct, aware, vigilant, defined, searching, alive, empty, connected, paradoxes, life.

I spent Christmas Eve in Jerusalem – a VERY cold n wet Jerusalem with a South African friend who has relocated to Jerusalem from Johannesburg.  Christmas Eve service was held in English, Arabic and Hebrew – I loved this – as much as it was good to be able to understand everything (translations also happened), it also made sense for me of what Jerusalem is.  It’s a city inhabited by Arabs, Jews and Christians.  It’s a city which has so much history in it, yet is still very much alive.  It’s also a city which makes me understand why people think religion is to blame for much of the unhappiness in the world. Yes, it was amazing being at the Western Wall, seeing the lights being lit for Hannukah –it was also so reminiscent for me of being in junior school where we constantly had army presence around, an awareness of threats and a sense of not always knowing who to trust.  It’s ironic that when you stand on the roof of a former hospice, now a hotel, you can see the green lights indicating mosques, church spires and Hanukkah lights in all directions.  All that echoed through my mind was God we need peace.  Not just in Africa – but as beautiful as this city is, how much blood has already been shed for this?

Before I left for Israel I had a few different conversations with different people who all had clear stances on the State of Israel and Palestine.  It amazed me how many South Africans were ready to paint Israel as being the same as South Africa under apartheid – without having been here, or actually speaking to people who live here.  Everything we read or receive at home will be either pro-Israel or pro-Palestine.  The reality is that walking around Jaffa and Tel Aviv, Israel is nothing like SA was under apartheid – communities here are mixed.  People engage with each other – and not under armed guard.  No, I haven’t been into Gaza – and yes I know that there is a lot in the news and separation that happens here too.  I also do know that when reports about SA are made in the international news, little is well contextualised.  I am not always sure why we don’t offer the Israel the same opportunity to contextualise some of what we understand or lack understanding in – and yes human rights violations aren’t okay – but not in any context.  Gender issues in Israel are influenced by religious stances – and even flying into Israel, I was initially seated next to an Orthodox male –and very aware that he may not like sitting next to me so much.  Walking around the streets of Jerusalem and different parts of the country, there is an awareness does exist of the different groupings of people, secular, religious, Arab, Christian, men and women YET, even in this space, in Tel Aviv, it’s not an issue – I feel safe on the streets at night.  The biggest hazard thus far has not been stepping into dog poop in the dark!  (People keep hounds in apartments and walk them – big n small ones – and don’t always scoop up poop – eeuw).  It’s amazing not feeling concerned about being in the dark or worried about getting lost.

On a much LIGHTER note, or not – depending on how much I walk before flying home….Israel is a land filled with FOOD – even while El Al security in Johannesburg was working out why on earth my laptop was triggering their alarm systems – ask Dell, I still have no clue – I was being told by one of the security chaps that I would love Israel – and the food is amazing.  This is before I even left South Africa – in fact as they phrased it ‘was being a guest of El Al’ – I did inform them that I may have considered it more hospitable if they helped me pack the first time around  – so not my favourite thing to do!  Foodies amongst my friends…you would relish Israel – from Hummus (in back streets, not the main shopping areas) to falafels in Jerusalem at what appeared to be a locals use more than tourists shop to pastries, to spices, to more food…Israelis love to eat – and love to feed people too.  The breakfasts for one at times look like the equivalent of 2 and a half or a full day’s meal for me some days (would only need to eat once a day if I ate like this every day!).  Walking through the market in Jerusalem meant drooling at fruit (strawberries which look like apples, giant mangoes, huge bananas – enough said!), being told to watch donuts being made for Hannukah (only eat them fresh), coffee shops EVERYWHERE with good coffee, and salad with every meal.  I keep waiting to only be able to wear my stretchy leggings, but fortunately, my jeans and I are still friends…and my cheekbones haven’t disappeared into apples!  The reason for this is that we WALK here – a lot.

Leanne, who I am staying with loves walking – and before coming here we agreed that walking would be a definite daily event.  Leanne and I walked for 5 hours yesterday, into different parts of Tel Aviv, markets, and looking for the sea J I love the walking everywhere –regardless of the hour of day or night.  Christmas eve, or rather night at 10pm was spent traipsing to church through Jerusalem in rain: cold, wet  and dressed in multiple layers – think Cape Town winter, without gale force winds and you will have the sense of “wet”.  Arriving into a church hall in time for mulled wine, cookies and the late night service was not only warm, it was like stepping into another world for a moment – English with various accents was being spoken – it was a little surreal actually.

Travelling around Israel is easier than people in SA would expect – the busses and trains go almost everywhere and transport here, despite the rand: shekels exchange rate is relatively cheap.  This is a good thing especially when you catch a train a good 50 min train trip away from where you should have reached!

The one place I REALLY want to see is the Negev – and we planning to do that this weekend – I miss the Richtersveld often – and miss the sense of space and awe that comes from being so small in such a big space…… the Negev holds much history.  I wish that instead of listening to people tell stories there were ways that we could get places to tell us stories –  and not just what we think we need to hear, but the unspoken stuff too – so much earth child I know 😉

Coming to Israel was a spontaneous decision for the most part- but also a needed to do thing.  I have in some ways avoided coming here – I was afraid – not of the conflict that surrounds the middle east, but that I might find love with a place outside of Africa – that somehow the chemistry and connection I have at home, may happen elsewhere…..my first week here I realised that what I feared came true.  I love the chemistry of this country – but think that in part that has to do with the fact that we are all the same and all so different in so many ways.  Over the past 3 years I have chosen words that I want to see characterise the next year.  These have included the following:

Being Brave

Wild Abandon life

Hope

I won’t bore you with the rationale behind each of them….but my word for 2012 is love.

I finally feel brave enough to put it out there.  To simply say I want 2012 to be characterised by love.  That all the encounters I have, the adventures that are lived and the dreams dreamt are characterised by real, tangible love.  A love for life, for people, for hope, for boldness, for living life with wild abandon and to allow that love to be reciprocated into my world too.  This makes sense in the midst of Israel.  It made sense when in the middle of north Tel Aviv I came across a baobab in flower – something I have never seen in Africa –despite having seen loads of baobab trees.   It makes sense when I realise that I love the exotic and the different and I often feel transplanted regardless of where I am in geographically, but can still grow and flourish and flower. It just makes sense.

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