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ubuntu

Self Portrait : David Whyte

It doesn’t interest me if there is one God
Or many gods.

I want to know if you belong — or feel abandoned;
If you know despair
Or can see it in others.

I want to know
If you are prepared to live in the world
With its harsh need to change you;
If you can look back with firm eyes
Saying “this is where I stand.”

I want to know if you know how to melt
Into that fierce heat of living
Falling toward the center of your longing.

I want to know if you are willing
To live day by day
With the consequence of love

And the bitter unwanted passion
Of your sure defeat.

I have been told
In that fierce embrace
Even the gods
Speak of God.

Reposted from the Emergent Village Facebook Page

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Keiskamma – a story of love

In my experience not many films manage to reach us without some level of coercion or manipulation, especially where subjects such as the Aids pandemic take centre stage. As we become immune to messages, filmmakers have to resort to more and more extreme tactics to grab our attention.

“Keiskamma – a story of love” is a film made by South African director Miki Redlinghuys in 2007. It artfully manages to avoid the need for spectacle and its interest lies in its close attention to the particularities of an Eastern Cape community. To quote the producers at Plexus Films:

In the tiny Eastern Cape hamlet of Hamburg a fully fledged war is being fought. Grandmothers, the hospice and the good doctor Carol are fighting for hope, human dignity and the will to live. The women’s faithful fight to give to keep their community fit and on ARVs has been manifest in an incredible altarpiece, painstakingly sewn by 130 members.

Redlinghuys and her team have managed to present life as it is and in so doing have allowing us to respond authentically, creating room for real transformation. I loved the respect shown to the viewer – affording space both in the atmosphere created via sublime camerawork, subtle editing and music, and the wholly uncluttered narrative, sympathetic to in the rhythms of the meandering river from which the film gets its name.

We are allowed in, never voyeuristically – to a world of dignity, joy and sadness, a rare grace-embued privilege. “Keiskamma” is an antidote to writer J.M. Coetzee’s bleak vision of the Eastern Cape in “Disgrace”. Dr. Carol Baker, whose work is at the heart of the story, acknowledges this, saying that she

“deliberately chose to take the role of his daughter who chose to stay and accept the sins of the fathers and make a life … accepting all the corruption and crime and anger as part of the long end of apartheid and the dues white south Africans must pay to stay.”

The people of Hamburg really show us how to live; perhaps it is the closeness of death that makes that possible; and Carol is a shining example of one who has “lost her life so that she may find it”. (Interestingly at the time of writing a controversial statement has been issued by a Christian preacher to the effect that  “The Church has AIDS”, based on 1 Corinthians 12:26: “When one part of the body is affected the whole body suffers”.)

Films such as Keiskamma make conventional scripting, as well as conventional preaching, even conventional religion itself, almost irrelevant. What matters is compassion, ubuntu, connectedness, generosity, authenticity, wisdom, and as a hymn in the movie stated (something like) “Let me know my place”: humility.

I was left wondering about the men – where were they? The ones which make an appearance were largely eccentrics, cross dressers, lone fishermen, or aloof artists. For sure, many will have become victims of AIDS, but those who remain also seem to display a certain apathy or inability to take up their place. Of course teachers such as Richard Rohr are seeing the crisis in Mens Spirituality and addressing it, for which I am grateful.

Keiskamma is a fabulous achievement in all departments, and one which makes me feel proud to be South African. You can follow the ongoing work of the The Keiskamma Trust online.

avatar cloud

luminescence

AllMother

universe organism

deep ecumenism

mandala congregation

post-gravitational

sky roots

Sawubona

Wise Wilderness Wild Wisdom

cosmic tribe

Toxic Apocalyptic

“ngumuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”

Grace

scintillation

Tree City

pansacred

terrestrial reef

magnificent diversity

myopia 

betrayal

trojan horse

Sky Tree

light of the world

Aho Mitakye Oyisin

“I see you”

At One

suicide machine

OneField

A South African Emergent Conversation

A group of friends met on the 4th and 5th December 2009 in Cape Town, around growing these friendships and working towards a common vision for emergence Christianity in South Africa. These included Jackson Khosa, Muzi Cindi, Marius Brand, Cobus van Wyngaard, Theresa and Andrew Hendrikse, Ann and Nic Paton, and Amahoro Africa’s Claude Nikondeha. In addition to socialising and relaxing, we shared meals, drummed, and talked.

One focus was the book by Muzi Cindi, whose unorthodox journey has sparked both indignation and amazement especially in his own African community, dividing established patterns of church authority with a host of radical questions about God and Atheism. Continue reading “A South African Emergent Conversation”

Muzi Cindi – A postmodern nigger in the woodpile

Talking About God Thinking About GodAs epiphanies go, Muzi Cindi’s stands way out. As a preacher and churchman of some 25 years standing, God appeared to him in 2007 during a Radox moment in the shower. So far, only slightly unusual. Then, God actually spoke to him. That deserves, I suppose, a hearing, even in this day of revelation overload. But the clincher is the message, and it was this: “God does not exist”.

But instead of creating a debilitating crisis of faith for Cindi, this subversive “a-theist” anticreed has become his catharsis, motivation, and passion. The evangelical zeal which was his all along merely adjusted to a new message and is as far as one can tell, as strong as it ever has been, and certainly no less radical. The outcome of his visitation is now available as a book, “Thinking about God, Talking about God”.

Well, maybe I should say that it’s not so much a conventional book, as a documented process, largely unedited, full of spelling errors and dubious assertions, brimming with contradiction, but ultimately held together in a burning vision. Lordy Lordy Hallelujah! this is surely a testimony for the postmodern age.

As a text, and because this is a review, let it be noted that the index of howlers is unusually high, the problems ranging from simple spelling, incorrect word usage, to un-researched shortcuts, and the appropriation of whole chapters from other sources. This I am sure is due to the fact that this is an entirely self funded enterprise, and therefore wholly sidesteps normal publishing channels; but this is part of the “Thinking about God” charm. To stop at such nitpicking would be to miss the point.  

Cindi’s essential point is this: the Christianity he was brought up in, is not only unsustainable and discredited, but already defunct. “The Christian world is disintegrating, because the story on which it is based is losing its power.” He supplies abundant (though somewhat chaotic) data to support his claims. But his offering is essentially a visionary one, involving wide theological, philosophical, and scientific thought. He seeks to address the seeming incompatibility of a deep love for his evangelical tradition – and his faith in Jesus – with his philosophical embrace of the new atheists such as Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris.

And this embrace extends to just about everything that contributed to the end of the modern era, from Copernicus and Galileo’s pioneering cosmologies, Darwin’s evolutional insights, Einstein’s discovery of relativity, Paul Tillich’s theological atheism and Karen Armstrong’s religious demythologising.

DoNotBelieve“Don’t believe what I believe” is one of Muzi’s rallying cries, and I look forward to the T-Shirt. In case this gets interpreted as mere reactionary anarchy, he explains to us the apophatic (negative theology) traditions from where he draws his succour: Meister Eckhart, the 13th century mystic, Paul Tillich, and Don Cuppit. And he gives credit too to all reformers – Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, the evangelical fathers Wesley, Edwards, Moody, and the South Africans such as John G Lake and Nicholas Bhengu. And references are not just to Christianity: universal, ecumenical appeals to the wisdom of all the worlds’ faith traditions pepper the book.

One of the most curious questions I have about Cindi’s explosive energy its relatively sparse dealings with the question of African roots, and bringing in more post colonial thought to buttressing his extensive postmodernism. Where, for example, are the fathers of the African revolutions, where is his own South African literary tradition amongst the plethora of first world sources? I do not want to prescribe who he should be, but it is a little vexing that the vast majority of his thesis of a post-God God is found in European and American thinking. I’d be delighted to see him take on African traditions with the same zeal he has taken on his own Evangelical roots, and even further to see him unpack an authentic Ubuntu as part of the rebuilding of Christianity.

I find myself identifying with Cindi’s vision, including his passion for knowledge, his hermeneutic of suspicion, his honest confusion, and his pariah status. At the same time I share his love for the evangelical tradition, and the ancient way of Jesus. He affirms, “A redefined Jesus still stands at the centre of my God experience”. Furthermore, I broadly concur with his inclusivity and embrace of all wisdom traditions as a way forward in a post Christian age. “Thinking about God” is flawed and fabulous, a headily chaotic brew, diverse, divisive, and delicious.

Muzi Cindi is a self confessed heretic, and draws strength from making peace with heterodoxy. The book is prefaced with an unattributed quote, “For every orthodoxy was once a heresy, and every heresy is fated to be orthodoxy. All countries were founded by traitors. All our churches were founded by heretics. The patriotism of today glories in the treasons of yesterday.” But to accuse him of lack of accountability would be short-sighted indeed; in addition to his relational ties to his mentors, the book is remarkable for its sheer range of references.

MusiHis vision is no idiosyncratic delusion, but rather an extension of a variety of well acknowledged intellectual and spiritual traditions. And we need his energy and his attempt to reconcile the old and new views of God and the cosmos. Despite his rambling style, I do not believe that this is a “mish-mash” of thought, so much as an emerging, integral vision.

Overcoming the taboo associated with thinking outside of our boxes, especially our religious ones, is a foundational shift which requires great courage; as Seal sings, “We’re never gonna survive, unless we get a little crazy”. Cindi is not shy of being regarded as a holy fool, and having recovered from the fear of asking questions, the potential for “error” appears to have no limit. And yet, all progress, and all evolutionary shifts, require these chaotic conditions. With startling audacity, Cindi has created them.

His life’s work, I intuit, will be to ensure that this chaos does indeed lead to a sustainable spirituality. Perhaps chief amongst the questions will be the one “Where, now, is our authority?” which emergent thinkers like Phyllis Tickle have been addressing.

If the world is to remember Muzi Cindi the author, he will have to employ a good editor. And if it is to celebrate his personal legacy, he will have to help those still ensnared in modernistic thinking, to emerge. He will need to fully develop his empathy, creating sound bridges for others to cross. And he will have to gain the trust of those who not so long ago, would have gloried in his immolation at the heretic’s stake.

Muzi’s Website.

An Economy of Grace

I have been reflecting on Afrika Burn 2008, with 2 articles, a general synopsis called “AB08 scorecard” and a cheeky cultural crit called “Soop – Sound (Waves) Out Of Place“. But now I want to get to the heart of the experience, from the point of view of the theme camp that our community set up, Sanctuary. Continue reading “An Economy of Grace”

Afrika Burn 2008 syncroblog

Calling all … all blogging burners, survivalist aesthetes, desert rats, sacred activists, uberjollers, gonzo journalists, hippies reincarnate, diehard libertarians, cultural creatives, nieue afrikaanians, glocal emergents, even just voyers, lurkers and wannabes.

Going out on Monday 26 October 2008, participate in a post-AB08 synbcroblog. Reflect collectively on our experience in words and images.

For those who haven’t done so, a syncroblog is a peer-to-peer similtaneous blog posting, in which you contribute your offering together with links from all other participants to theirs. This way we can host in our usual online space but still be linked to each other. Once your post URL is ready, submit it to me here via a comment and I will compile the list of participants. You can then copy and paste it into your own blog post.

So on Monday 26th (1 week after the event), first thing am, I will create the list and post it here. Copy it and edit your offering, and the syncroblog is away. It’s a great way to get an overview, and for lazy press hacks to purloin plenty of excellant material concerning local Burner Culture. But, in a gifting economy, plagiarism is impossible, right?

a baptism of joyful fire : Afrika Burns synchroblog

Part of the Afrika Burns synchroblog, (for all participants see below).

Triple BypassA friend of mine who lives between San Francisco and Durban first told me about Burning Man in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert about 10 years ago. It sounded fascinating, but a little beyond my mien. Too dirty, too hedonistic, too hot, too freaky, too fiery; maybe these were my thoughts. But Steve’s recommendations have on a number of occasions proved to be significant dwell points on my journey (big up for Matthew Fox, Jay Bakker and Easy Star All Stars for starters).

When I first heard that BM was incarnating as Afrika Burns, I sensed an opportunity. Together with a few others, I started to investigate the culture. We went to a planning session for one of the “themed camps” and met several decidedly alternative people who were ecologically aware, spiritually seeking, largely vegetarian, and holistically creative.

All this has gone hand in hand with my own exploration of various aspects of spiritual life, largely reflected on this blog, see for example Ecclesia as Sacred Tribe, in which I have come to my own thoughts about what constitutes being a Jesus-follower and a human in this time of change. Read it if you want, for background.

So when I studied the Core principles(communal effort, participation, civic responsibility, immediacy, decommodification, gifting, leave no trace, radical inclusion, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression), I thought, Hmm – I can embrace that. The Liturgist in me went into overdrive; I saw all sorts of possibilities. Long story short; I dumped the plans and went with the flow. A wise move.

Because the flow was dusty, hot, festive and loud. Anything too contemplative was bound to be drowned. Besides, my greatest desire was to connect and build trust. Opportunities for expressed worship would come in their time. This was a time to celebrate.

Friday
5 dusty hours out of Cape Town, we rolled off the R355 into Stonehenge “Farm”, a lunar landscape of rock and sand, pans and bults(rocky hills) and a huge sky. We were greeted by a hostess with a clipboard and a pamphleteer festooned with nowt but a scarf. We headed into the “temporary autonomous zone” Tankwa Town and found a spot near “4ish street” at the edge of the scrub. A howling gale and 6 inches of sand before bedrock made tent erection a major challenge. In the end we tied the guy ropes to the wheels of our vehicle.

Tribute to John GongAt sunset we attended a Mayan Sundown Ritual. Besides the incessant wind, a wine bottle clutching, howling/growling participant all but drowned out the subtleties of the offerings. Inclusion was being put to the test. But we did manage to dance to djembe rhythms for about 10 minutes.

That evening we mosied on down to “partycipation”, hosted by the friends we had met 3 weeks earlier. A Bedouin-style community tent gave some shelter against the elements, and the resident DJ battled with dust but managed to put out some fine trance tracks. I did an AVJ Twinstar VJ set against a VW combi, and the sheer volume of dust was apparent for all to see in the projectors glare. We filmed and projected the full moon and energetic dancing; people loved it. But after an hour I was beat back by the elements, gills stuffed full with sand, (not to mention my new Sony Vaio).

Afterwards we went across the plain to “Camp Vuvuzela” (Vuvuzela– soccer trumpet) who were doing a balkan-mediteranean set. There were hundreds stomping up dust to the beats and the most incredible atmosphere. Burners spewed flame into the night sky; a 3M high “white man” danced with lasers in front and moon behind. Bedtime: between 2 and 4.

Saturday am
Maybe it’s in the genes: my brother, my brother-in-law and I decided to do a skyclad saunter around the binnekring (inside circle). That’s a slo-mo “streak” of about 20-25 minutes, with hats and shoes on of course. It was unashamed promenading, pre-fall Adam style; and we were met with nothing but admiration and support, and many a comment about having used enough sunblock. Half way along we heard a yell behind saying “Wait, wait, wait for moi” and were joined by a REAL (and female) nudist, our Eve, for the rest of the walk. She seemed to think we were the real thing, little did she suspect how much the imposter we were playing.

Flock of BalloonsSo having reclothed we took in the sites : a flock of balloons tethered to the ground, major construction on 4 story high burn works, a scorpion sculpture made of old car tyres, a blender powered by a bicycle for make-your-own smoothies, a fully functional snailmail post office. A series of dust devils started passing through, some sucking the contents of entire villages high into the sky. I just had to; and successfully got into the path of 2 and lived to tell the dusty tale.

At the hot point of the day, 3 pm, we had a sweat lodge in our tent, a blank canvas for meditation and cleansing. We received a word, too: “Freely give and you will be clean on the inside and the outside.” This was followed by the luxury of a shower gifted us by our highly evolved neighbours (4 families with about 12 kids). Later afternoon was spent chilling at partycipation and playing djembes and once more being gifted with icepacks to the face and neck.

Sunset was one of the most amazing co-incidences I have witnessed, and for which I praise the Creator. A group of dancers and drummers gathered around the fine “Sand pendulum” installation to watch the sundown. Not 5 minutes later, directly behind and due east, a huge full moon rose. People turned and fell to their knees. We all had a good howl, and saw one of the most beautiful moons I have even witnessed. We blessed babes in arms and a profound sense of Awe prevailed.

Saturday ce soir
Hoola hooping at Camp VuvuzelasFinally, it was time to give my new portable VJ screen a run. We headed for Camp Vuvuzela, and got set up. The vibe was quite electro/psytrance this time, but still the feeling of goodwill and celebration predominated. But as we got the projections going, the highpoint of festivity was upon us: partytime with luminous hoola hoops and sumptuous dancers. The whirling, the riot of colour, the primal energy, was palpable.

The only announcement of the entire weekend, (such was the sheer positive anarchy of the event), was that the main burn was postponed due to high winds, but a less dangerous immolation was going to happen at 12 midnight. So we packed up a mess of metal, plastic and dust and headed out west across the vlaktes (flat ground) to “Temple”. About 200 people stood expectantly around while “officials” kept order.

In a somewhat South African way, there were chants of “burn! burn! burn!” which I found distasteful – it seemed like sheer reactionary pyromania rather than reflective spirituality. The organisers had asked us to be reverent, but some people didn’t seem to take this admonition seriously. You can take the rugby nation into the wilderness but you can’t take the rugby spirit of bliksem-ming (vigorously deconstructing whatever comes to hand) out of the nation, it seems.

Fire PitThe temple burn was far slower than I had imagined it – it was not an instant fireworks-like thrill, but an opportunity to collectively gaze at the flames over about an hour. We missed the other burns, and the one I would have loved to see in addition to the man, was the “Turbine” by the Upsetters, possibly the most impressive work on display.

I reflected upon Christendom’s use of fire in times past, and felt a deep revulsion at its cruelty, its fear of the primal, its repression of festivity and creativity, and its arrogance. A time of repentance, for me, as a part of the ecclesia.

Sunday

The desert bloomsSunday morning we packed up but not before doing a lot of gifting. I placed my “Middle of it All” CD on sleeper’s pillows, and handed it out to those I had connected with over the previous days while my brother handed out postcards of his art … commerce-free, unmediated transactions of giving.

As we drove back towards civilisation, we listened to the Shamen’s “Axis Mutatis” and Stephen Micus’ “Desert Poems”, and began to reflect on how we had been transformed in our various ways, by the inaugural Afrika Burns.

Afrika Burns Synchroblog participants:

Other writings of note:

Get Down Tankwa Town

AfterBurn – a Karoo flowering, upcoming synchroblog.

triple bypass photo by Rob MillsA group of 5 intrepid journeymen headed for the desert heartland and the Afrika Burns festival at Stonehenge farm, near the Tankwa Karoo National Park this last weekend. About 6-800 others from well organised families to student slackers to trance party vets to die hard hippies to spiritual seekers to hedonists to Gaian survivalists, all thrown together for a few days of celebration of life, diversity, and giving.

It was dustily comforting, scintillatingly bleak, hilariously shocking, gloriously inventive, primally experimental, unconditionally festive, profoundly challenging. More than that, much more. In short, we felt like we have been through a transformation, an affirmation, a validation, a rite of passage. This is what some of us have been seeking in 25 years of (largely church based) conferences/camps/festivals.

upsetters turbine photo by Rob MillsThat’s enough for now; we are going to synchroblog the experience and/or for those who didn’t make it, just the ideas, on Thursday 29th. So if you didn’t make it but would like to contribute to the debate, or even just ask questions about what it might be, you are invited.

Each synchroblog will contain your main thoughts followed by the list of synchrobloggers. The cut-off is Wednesday 28th; send your article URL in a comment here. I will publish Wednesday evening and you can cut and paste the list bit for your articles from me.

camp vuvuzela photo by Rob Mills

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