Tag Archives: Cape Town

The Geography of Power and Privilege

First pile of books plundered from library

First pile of books plundered from library

This is the year I have finally started my Masters in Missiology (the study of missions or the study of “what the heck are we meant to be doing and how should we do it” as I prefer) through the University of Stellenbosch. I have harboured a deep desire to study further for many years but due to time, finances and circumstances this has never been an option. Until now… so due to a happy confluence of circumstances (Sovereignty if you will) I am able to dedicate a significant portion of my time to academic study of the next two years.

Although these things are notoriously fickle at the hands of supervisors and further reading here is my first attempt at articulating the area I hope to look at in my research.

“The effects of the apartheid system continue to affect the mission and the life of the church in Cape Town. In particular the long-term structures around which our city was re-engineered through the group areas act continues to entrench the division of races and economics in our city. The flow of power and of privilege very much follows the geographical contours of inequality in our city. The church has had a chequered history with these divisions at times supporting it, at times opposing it but mostly a quiet acquiescence through the development of a parallel structure of power and geography that mirrored, upheld or even enhanced the division of race and power. The post 1994 changes have mostly not brought about any significant changes in the geography of privilege and power. The evangelical church, by nature conservative lags behind entrenching often unwittingly the now traditional structures of power that so divide our city. What can the church do? Or perhaps more significantly what will the church do? Will we meekly wait for the city and the world to slowly and grudgingly change (if indeed we can even truly see our city redeemed) or will we act in spite of what we see, will we become a people of hope, willing ourselves to run counter cultural to the well established lines of privilege and prestige in our city. How can the church be a movement of hope in overcoming the geography of power that shapes and moulds our city still today?”

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Why I don’t get a free pass on white priviledge

origin_14918918396Ok, so no one really, actually gets a free pass on white privilege but many of us lighter skinned individuals have the privilege of having a tremendous social media fueled debate on the reality and validity of white privilege or the lack thereof. Pick a side. Get all heated up over which ever side you pick and then go back to engaging in our actual life either more or less socially aware than before.

But Ferguson changed all that for me. I don’t know why that event in particular was different from all the other similar events in the US. Or why it was different to every other racist event or attitude so prevalent in my home city of Cape Town.  But something about a young black man gunned down while walking home with his friends hit home for me.

That could be my son…

I would never want to have a free pass on fighting white privilege but until recently it has always been a choice for me. Yes one fuelled by core beliefs, by my faith and my friendships. A choice that I have willingly and intentionally made, but one, I could recant  and stick my head in the sand of denialism again if I chose to do so.

But I no longer have a choice. Mike Brown could be my son.

I have two sons… and as most of us know two black men are just one short of a gang.

Two black men are going to mug you

Two black men are likely thugs or rapists

Two black men are casing the joint

No one cares what colour your parents are

No one cares if you are adopted or not

No one cares what your home language is

No one cares if you are educated or not

No one cares what your father does

Two black men plus one are a gang

White privilege means ladies will hold their handbags tighter when my sons walk down the street. They will probably smile and greet me.

White privilege means law enforcement vehicles will do the slow drive past them on their way to visit their grandparents. They may quite possibly be questioned as what they are doing in the area.

White privilege means my sons could be imprisoned because like every other 18-year-old they have a smart mouth and a big attitude.

My son could be shot because he is eighteen and arrogant

No matter how smart, talented or hard-working he is, he will always be thought to be a token or a quota just because he has more melanin than me.

For those who would wrongly claim the cultural high ground with ill-informed statements like “but black men are more likely to commit crimes” or “black men are more likely to carry guns.”

Lets be straight, no one will ask my sons about their upbringing or their cultural environment. No one will look the other way because my sons have white parents or speak good English. They will judged and convicted by the colour of their skin!

I don’t get a free pass on white privilege. I no longer get a choice whether to engage or not with the intellectual discussions of power and privilege.

My son could be Mike Brown!

Disclaimer: This is not all that can or should be said on white privilege, Ferguson or racial reconciliation, it is just one personal reflection among many. You may also want to read “What I would love my white friends to hear”

Photo Credit: Mike Licht via Photo Pin

Telling the story of the King with the local voices of the street

I am increasingly aware that many people in our area are non-literate people.  Not illiterate, but non-literate.  They can read, but they do not read.  They primarily get their information and ideas from non-literate sources.  Music is one of these key non-literate sources.  Music and literature are two totally different types of source materials.  As a result the way they are taken up and inform the cultural stories told in our neighbourhoods are vastly different.

While never replacing the Bible as a source document I think we need to recover some of these other forms of communication so that people might hear the gospel in their own language and cultural form.  Just as Bible translation (hearing the Bible in their own language) is a key component of mission work everywhere, so perhaps we need to reconsider supplementary modes of communicating that truth.   Hearing the gospel in their own cultural forms of communication.  Cultures throughout history have shaped their culture and understanding of the world through story-telling, music, artwork and drama.  As evangelicals we have often been too shy to seriously and robustly engage in other, non-literate, modes of communication lest we downplay the centrality and significance of the Scriptures. We must resist the temptation to reduce this to an either-or shoot out between faithfulness to Scripture and appropriating new cultural forms.  The reality I suspect is a far more dynamic and integrated process.

One surprising mode of alternative communication that is gaining ground in reformed circles is hip-hop and spoken word.  As a young man this was (and I still is in many ways) my meat and drink.  I resonated deeply with the rhythms, the lyrics, the substance and the edginess of hip-hop and more particularly of late spoken word.

“In the early 1970s a musical genre was born in the crime-ridden neighbourhoods of the South Bronx. Gifted teenagers with plenty of imagination but little cash began to forge a new style from spare parts. Hip-hop, as it was then known, was a product of pure streetwise ingenuity; extracting rhythms and melodies from existing records and mixing them up with searing poetry chronicling life in the ‘hood.” (Kurtis Blow: The History of Rap)

Hip-hop became the  voice of a generation that refused to be silenced by urban poverty, injustice or lack of access to the resources of the music industry.  Instead it became the voice of the streets.  Young black men and women who had no voice for their social and political concerns in a society still ravaged by racism and injustice, created their own voice.

Hip-hop became the voice of the disenfranchised streets.  Using complex wordplay and socio-political commentary it spoke to the fears, the anger and the world of the marginalised youth.  It gave young people a voice, a sound that belonged to them and began a movement that spoke to their harsh, edgy and yet hopeful, world.  While most of the history of rap and hip-hop will reference the DJ’s, the clubs and the records produced, perhaps the true impact was in the thousands of crews that grew up all over neighbourhoods of New York (and then spreading to other cities and countries), finding their voice and forging local communities gathered to celebrate the sharing of their stories through their unique mode of communication.  A mode of communication that  embodied their language, their joy, their pain… their story.

While the world has moved on… dramatically so.  The internet for one has dramatically changed how we receive, tell and hear the stories of our world.  But for all the good of globalisation I wonder if we have lost something significant when we lose our local stories and our local story-tellers.  Hip-hop as a vehicle for our stories and our hopes and our frustrations has not died in my neighbourhood, despite what the superstars have done to it. But too often we no longer tell our local stories, we no longer have our local MC’s, our local crews or B-boys that tell our stories.  Its far too easy to plug in your iPod and download other stories, slick, well-produced and mostly insipid stories.  But what if we dreamed of our local stories again?  What if we dreamed of finding ways to tell our local stories  again?  What if we rediscovered these modes of telling our stories and infused them not only with our small stories but the greater bigger and altogether more glorious gospel story?

What if among other cultural forms hip-hop and spoken word could become a powerful tool to reclaim place as a powerful component of our stories?  And what if we recovered place as a powerful component of telling the gospel story?  Not merely the gospel as some esoteric disembodied set of principles but as the true gospel, the good news for these people in this place.  The God of all the earth wishes to bring good news to this people in this place through his “new-life people” as they tell his story through all available means, making sense of the one true and great story, by translating it into the language and communication modes of this people in this place.

I know it is not local but I love the work these guys are doing in using appropriate cultural modes in order to retell God’s story.  Perhaps this can inspire some of us to dream about what it could look like to tell our story of His Story here in the East City…

Will you take a risk?

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We are in somewhat tricky stage of ministry.  While we find that God increasingly is giving us more to do, in terms of people and discipleship and ways to better connect with our community.  In a strange twist of God’s sovereign sense of irony we are have the most forward movement in ministry than at any time over the last few years… and yet we have the most backward movement financially.

Over the last year we have steadily lost a number of our supporters, through changing life circumstances as well as the rising cost of living.  Currently we are at about 65% support from donations.  Our baking business The Cake Faerie takes us up to about 77% of what we need.  However, it does take a lot of time and energy.  Next year we are aware that we will lose another major financial supporter, which will take our base support to around 52% support

While we continue to explore different ways to finance our work.  Including getting a “regular” job of some sort we are also somewhat hesitant to do that.  Because as with all choices there is always a trade-off, and in this case it limits the time that we have to invest in people and discipleship, just at a time when we feel like God is opening doors… All a bit confusing really.  First prize for us is still that we can get a substantial or all of our support from those who resonate with it is that we are trying to do.

But we are not naive enough to think that this does not involve a risk on your behalf?

The gospel calls us to adventure, risk and innovation in taking the unchanging, beautiful and true gospel to the whole world. What would it look like to take the gospel to those not being reached? To the dark, broken and forgotten places of our cities? There are no simple strategies or answers to those questions, but there is a call to risk, to pioneer, to venture beyond where we are comfortable and what we currently know.

In many ways this is something that we figure out and learn on the road. We adjust, change course and risk failure, but in the midst of all that we can take heart that God is at work. And we pray that his glorious gospel will shine in all its beauty and splendour in the dark and forgotten places of our cities.

We invite you to join with us in this gospel risk, by considering financially partnering with us. We realise that we are asking you to take a risk on us, on something that is hard to define, messy, not clearly mapped out and open to failure. But is this not the life of risk that God calls us to? We do not fear failure, only the failure that comes from the unwillingness to risk and try new things for the sake of the gospel.

Would you or your church community consider committing to taking a one, two or three-year “risk” on this gospel endeavour? Or perhaps you might consider a once off gift if you feel you cannot commit to monthly giving. We would love to meet with you, speak to your community, pray together, dream together and talk over how we may partner together for the fame and glory of the Lord Jesus.

If this is you… contact details here

Photo Credit: Derek Gavey via Photo Pin

A Picture of Good News

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Last week we threw a birthday party for our friend J, who has never had a birthday party or even a birthday cake. Friends who are a part of our wider Four Three One community drove through from the other side of Cape Town. We ate together, gave presents, prayed for her, took a bunch of photos, ate cake, laughed and, of course, sang happy birthday. J and her family are a real part of our community even though she is not sure she want to “be converted” as she says. We talk about Jesus a lot with her but on that night we just wanted her to see that the gospel is good news. We wanted to show her that our God is a good king and to follow him is taste life, hope and joy now in part and one day in full.

It seems like a lifetime ago… part five

I don’t believe in lone ranger Christianity or disconnected Christians but here I was, I was one.  How did this happen?  Perhaps these last few posts have been my attempt to make sense of it all in my head.  Perhaps I just talk too much?  But while I prayed and wrestled with God about leaving us all on our own, no community, no wider network, no older, wiser leaders… God whispered to me (not really sure what that means but I am pretty sure it was God).  “You are homeless because you need to build your own home.”

God has laid on our hearts the misfits, the discontents, the broken, the hurting, the forgotten, the addicts, the homeless, the lonely, the churchless ones, the misunderstood, the fringe-artists, the wacky, the lost ones… and he knew that just as we have struggled to find a home within the established church, so would they.  “Start building a home for them. I have chosen you because you know them and you love them.  Because you are them!”  (Ok, God never said all that to me, but it just writes better like that!)

And so Four Three One was born, a simple church network whose desire is to see authentic, missional communities of light scattered throughout the dark and forgotten places of our cities.  We are committed to church as primarily small, easily reproducible Gospel Communities, networked together in Gatherings and a wider network.

Our heart is to reach those who are not being reached by contemporary church structures.  Those who perhaps would never darken the door of a church building or even think to attend a church service.  We are not trying to compete but to complement the existing church.  For all its problems, failures and weaknesses it is still the bride of Christ, and in Him she is beautiful.

You may also want to read part one, part two, part three and part four of these ramblings

It seems like a lifetime ago… part three

We soon realised that as God began bringing people to us, (Honestly I am not even sure where they all came from?) The Story was not going to be enough for us as a community here in the East City, if we were going to grow in the gospel and be a community on mission together.

Discipleship is always in the simple, ordinary bits of life together – a once a week story was never going to cut it. We needed to consciously reshape ourselves from a group of people who gathered for a once off event on a Sunday to becoming a gospel community. A group of people who have committed to sharing their lives together, and being on mission together in this place.

Discipleship is also always contextual, so we needed something that our friends who drive through from the Northern Suburbs were not a part of. We love them and they have been an incredible blessing to us. But they are not here- their struggles may not be our struggles… their questions may not be our questions… their community is not our community. To follow Jesus is not to impose a cookie-cutter church model wherever we go. Rather it is to wrestle together, as together we ask “what would it look like to follow Jesus here, in this place and among this people?”

To help us start thinking through how we do that we started to meet together on a Thursday evening. Studying Scripture, sharing our stories, dreaming and planning for mission, eating together, praying together and sharing communion. My favourite parts are always when those who by their own self-designation are not Christ-follower yet ask us to pray for their friends who they have invited. It has not been mainstream, it has not been ordinary but someone said to me last night while we watched the dishes… “I cannot shake the feeling that God is doing some amazing here!” And I thought it was only the idealistic dreamer that thought that!

You may also want to read part one and part two of these ramblings.