Rene August: ‘Tell the truth and shame the devil’

“Two-thirds of the world live on less than two dollars a day. Two-thirds of the world! That makes you [in the U.S.] a minority. Who in the U.S. lives on less than two dollars a day? … From where we sit [in South Africa] … did you know that the scale of the world map was reconfigured to make the USA look bigger than it actually is? And to make Africa smaller than it actually is? That’s just telling lies. So we must tell the truth and shame the devil. Because when you participate in lies you participate with that same enemy. So I’m not going to be collaborating with lies — as far as I know. I realize that I participate in many lies that I am blind to …

On FB someone said something about ‘America’ and I said, ‘Don’t you mean the US?’ So this country that is the United States, calls itself America, which is  two continents. And then you call where I come from, you call Africa a ‘country.’ A whole continent is treated like a country. And a country treats itself like two continents. That’s lies right there! So when you talk about making America great again, you are talking about making Mexico great again. You are talking about making Nicaragua great again! You are talking about making Canada great again.” –Rene August, South African Anglican priest @SojoSummit2017

South Africa’s Thabo Makgoba: ‘The Price of Corruption is the Inequality of Equality’

706x410q70Poplak-on-Corruption-SUBBEDThousands of South Africans have taken to the streets in the last week to reclaim the dream of a free South Africa from the clutches of corruption. In the United States we don’t call it corruption, we call it “money in politics” or the influence of “Citizens United.” But the gangrenous effect on the body politic is the same.

South African churches are once again rising to meet this injustice and providing the organizing and leadership underneath this movement.

A shout out to Siki Dlanga for her work on this effort. Below is an excerpt from the whole statement given by Cape Town’s Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba:

…Today we shouldn’t be here rallying against corruption. Today we should be asking… Aren’t we ready to fulfill our country’s destiny, by showing the same level of courage that won our liberation from apartheid? Nothing less will work. Are we really so afraid of what our morally corrupt political and business leaders will do to us that we will be intimidated into silence? How many times have you read Madiba’s words, words that defined the Old Struggle, and felt your heart soar when he said: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

My friends, we need to face up to the reality of what corruption does to our society. We need what I call a cold shower of reality to shock our leaders to their senses. It is this: The price of corruption is the inequality of equality. Let me repeat these words, for they need to frame our new struggle: the price of corruption is the inequality of equality.

What do I mean by that? It is simple: while we and our leaders live under the delusion that we are promoting equality in our society, the corruption that is spreading its tentacles across our society actually entrenches inequality, step up step.

A little over a year ago, almost in this same location, I asked South Africans to turn themselves inside out and expose their sense of moral consciousness to the sun. Why? Because, the sun is God’s disinfectant. Our country, because of the ethical state of the nation, needs to be morally disinfected…Morally disinfected so that we can recapture THE dream of the South Africa we want.

What’s missing? It’s not the ideas. It’s not the realization that enough is enough. It’s the determination that we need to begin a new era of courageous action. We will clean up and disinfect South Africa only when the courage and the will of all our people puts local action behind our words. Over the last six months you have no idea how many South Africans have said to me, “Archbishop, I’m so tired of seeing the moral pollution. “I am so tired of seeing the pervasive unethical contamination.”

As painful as it is to see the corruption, it’s 100 times more painful to see the price of corruption… the inequality that is becoming embedded into the structures of our society. I want to address President Zuma and our national leaders, our provincial leaders, our local leaders and the business people who corrupt them… You are responsible for creating an historic era of sadness in South Africa … Worse, we have allowed you to do it. … —Thabo Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town‚ South Africa

Read Archbishop Makgoba’s whole statement.

Video: Mandela’s ‘Praise Poet’ Zolani Mkiva

mkiva_post_detail_webAs I listened to the BBC coverage of Mandela’s funeral service in Qunu, I was thrilled and amazed to hear Mandela’s Xhosa “praise poet,” Zolani Mkiva (left), perform during the ceremony.

These traditional poets are called imbongi and they travel with tribal royalty and introduce them at special events.

I haven’t found video of him performing during the ceremony, but I did find this video of him “saying what he was going to say” to a reporter.

Watch the video here: Madiba’s Praise Poet

Video: Archbishop Tutu On the Early Days After Mandela’s Release from Robben Island


The Archbishop Desmond Tutu discusses with Sir David Frost what it was like in the early days after Nelson Mandela was released and lived at Bishop’s Court. The Archbishop further describes Nelson Mandela’s character as a leader and as a man. Video footage from the Sir David Frost interview in January 2013. At the end of the clip, Tutu mentions a name, Dr. Verwoerd. Hendrik Verwoerd was the former Prime Minister of South Africa who died in 1966. He is considered the “primary architect of apartheid.”

Watch more videos on Nelson Mandela and the South African Freedom Movement here.

Joseph Ross: Nelson Mandela’s Legacy of Forgiveness & Reconciliation

Photo taken by Joseph Ross
Photo taken by Joseph Ross
“Nelson Mandela is a hero to me. Back in 1985, in graduate school at the University of Notre Dame, I was part of the Anti-Apartheid Network, a student group opposed to South Africa’s policy of racial separation. We were part of the international movement, largely of college students, urging divestment from firms doing business in South Africa. Mandela himself, after becoming president, said the divestment movement played a key role in bringing down the apartheid government. At Notre Dame, we used to gather every Friday at noon on the Main Building’s steps. We learned about the week’s events in South Africa from Professor Peter Walshe, a South African teaching at Notre Dame. I also became friends with Rev. Malusi Mpumlwana, a South African Anglican priest studying at Notre Dame. Malusi developed my understanding of systemic violence in ways no book could have taught me. I learned a great deal from him over endless cups of coffee and loud laughter. We students were somewhat naive, but we brought a passion to the divestment cause. It was my first experience in such a political movement and I learned a great deal about my own responsibility for those who suffer around the world. The lessons I learned from Malusi and others in the Anti-Apartheid movement guide me still. …”–Joseph Ross

Read Joe’s whole blog post.

South African Ambassador: Where’s the Climate Change Debate at Party Conventions?

This morning Amy Goodman conducted an excellent and informative interview with South African ambassador Ebrahim Rasool at the Democratic National Convention.

I traveled with Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool in 2011 on a civil rights tour of Alabama. He is a delightful and thoughtful man who spent time in a South African prison with Nelson Mandela. Rasool is a committed disciple of nonviolence, a member of the ANC, a Muslim, and currently South Africa’s ambassador to the United States.

Here’s an excerpt from Goodman’s interview regarding Obama and climate change:

AMY GOODMAN: We were just in Durban, South Africa, for the climate change conference. There is a group of donors to the Democratic Party that are now raising deep concerns that President Obama has not raised the issue of climate change in this convention through the various speakers. What about that? You’ve been observing this election, and you’ve been—you’ve been observing this convention, and you’ve been—of course, South Africa, just as the United States, is deeply affected by climate change.

AMBASSADOR EBRAHIM RASOOL: I think that that’s precisely the reason why someone like myself, representing a country like South Africa, can’t give any party a blank check. I think that there are global issues which are being subsumed by certain narrow discussions within the U.S., namely the desire to elect a president, that there is not the requisite leadership to say we need to make sure that the world is a better place, that it is a world that is freer of carbons than before. And what is amazing is that Tampa was threatened by a hurricane, that there are floods, there are fires, there are droughts, there are enorm—heat waves through the United States, and yet the elephant in the room is not being addressed. And that’s the shortcoming of conventions. If this had been an ANC convention in South Africa, it would have been rough. It would have been a rough policy debate. It would have been a rough electoral contest. But we expect that the U.S. is different, but it can be substantially out of step with the world. And so, part of what my job is, while South Africa is the president of COP17, it is to bring greater awareness to the challenges of climate, to the global warming situation, and to be able to assist in ways in which the United States can begin to face up to that debate.

Read or watch the whole interview.

Richard Rohr: To the Center by Circuitous Route

Labyrinth at Ave Maria Retreat Center in Limpopo, South Africa.

“How do we find what is supposedly already there? How do we awaken our deepest and most profound selves? By praying and meditating? By more silence, solitude, and sacraments? Yes to all of the above, but the most important way is to live and fully accept our reality. This solution sounds so simple and innocuous that most of us fabricate all kinds of religious trappings to avoid taking up our own inglorious, mundane, and ever-present cross.

Living and accepting our own reality will not feel very spiritual. It will feel like we are on the edges rather than dealing with the essence. Thus most run toward more esoteric and dramatic postures instead of bearing the mystery of God’s suffering and joy inside themselves. But the edges of our lives—fully experienced, suffered, and enjoyed—lead us back to the center and the essence.

We do not find our own center; it finds us. Our own mind will not be able to figure it out. Our journeys around and through our realities, or “circumferences,” lead us to the core reality, where we meet both our truest self and our truest God. We do not really know what it means to be human unless we know God. And, in turn, we do not really know God except through our broken and rejoicing humanity.–Richard Rohr, ofm

Adapted from Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer by Richard Rohr (pp. 17-19)

Why Does a Yemeni Woman Have Pictures of Gandhi, King, and Mandela?

Tawakkol Karman in Saana, Yemen.

“Tawakkol Karman sat in front of her laptop, her Facebook page open, planning the next youth demonstration. Nearby were framed photos of her idols: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. These days, though, Karman is most inspired by her peers. ‘Look at Egypt,’ she said with pride. ‘We will win.'”

When I read this in Sudarsan Raghavan‘s Washington Post article yesterday on Yemen’s women activists, I was reminded that America’s very best export is the civil rights movement.

There is an intellectual and spiritual lineage from the 20th century that is being played out on the streets of Cairo, Sanaa, Riyad, and elsewhere today.

In the 1850s, Russian aristocrat Leo Tolstoy became disgusted with violence after doing tours of duty in Chechnya and after seeing a public execution in Paris. His conversion toward nonviolence and Christianity led him to write The Kingdom of God Is Within You (published in 1894).

In 1908, Tolstoy wrote A Letter to the Hindoo laying out a plan for a massive nonviolent civil resistance campaign to free India from British imperialism. The letter fell into the hands of Mohandas Gandhi who was working as a lawyer in South Africa at the time and in the beginnings of becoming an activist. This prompted an exchange of letter between the two that was foundational for Gandhi’s nonviolent strategy. Gandhi listed Tolstoy’s seminal work The Kingdom of God is Within You as one of the top three influences on his life. He called Tolstoy “the greatest apostle of non-violence that the present age has produced.”

Less than 10 years after Gandhi was assassinated, a young American conscientious objector named James Lawson went as a Methodist missionary to Nagpur, India, where he studied satyagraha, the principles of nonviolence resistance that Mohandas Gandhi and his followers had developed.

In 1955, Lawson returned to the United States and was introduced to Martin Luther King Jr., who had also studied Gandhi’s principles of nonviolent resistance. King told Lawson to come South, telling him “Come now. We don’t have anyone like you down there.” Lawson began implementing large-scale strategic nonviolent civil resistance training that was deeply rooted in Christian faith and spiritual principles. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States became one the most massive civil resistance movements in U.S. history.

When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, South African freedom leader Nelson Mandela was entering his fourth year of his life-sentence for “sabotage.” It took awhile for the news of King’s murder to reach Mandela in prison. Over the course of his 27 years in prison, Mandela studied deeply the work of Gandhi and King. Mandela was uncertain that the tactics of either would work in the South African context.

But the church leaders leading South African freedom movement outside of prison – particularly Archbishop Desmond Tutu – were highly motivated by both Gandhi and King. South Africa’s freedom struggle became known for taking the power of song to the streets. It became an image iconic of the freedom movement to hear South African children singing “We Shall Overcome” – an anthem of the American civil rights movement – and dancing the Toyi-toyi.

Thirty-one years after being imprisoned, Mandela was elected president of a free South Africa. Coretta Scott King was in the audience for Mandela’s acceptance speech as the new president.  He looked at her and said: “This is one of the most important moments in the history of our country. I stand here before you filled with deep pride and joy–pride in the ordinary humble people of this country. You have shown such a calm patient determination to reclaim this country as your own, and now with joy we can loudly proclaim from the rooftops–Free at last! Free at last!” Mandela quoted the famous lines from Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech.

Somewhere in Yemen today, Tawakkol Karman is sitting in front of her laptop. She’s received death threats. She fears for the life of her three children. And she is determined to shatter perceptions of women in Yemen’s conservative society (and around the world), while emboldening a new generation of Yemenis to demand an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 30-year grip on his country.

Inspired by civil resistance in Tunisia and Egypt, Karman said upon her release from detention, “We will continue this struggle and the Jasmine Revolution until the removal of this corrupt system that looted the wealth of the Yemenis” Karman spoke these words to hundreds of protesters who were demanding the release of other detainees.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with her are Martin Luther King Jr, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. They’ve all been where she is now. They are cheering her on. And so are we.

For more information:
Tolstoy and Gandhi: Light as Darkness Approached by Rene Wadlow

An excerpt of the exchange of letters between Tolstoy and Gandhi

A Nation That Prays Together

I was delighted that Rev. Joseph Lowery, Methodist pastor and co-founder with Rev. Martin Luther King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was asked by Prez Obama to lead the benediction at the Inauguration. I was SO delighted in fact that I wrote to Rev. Lowery and asked him to tell Sojourners how he felt about the honor. He responded:

Like most Americans of a particular age, I never thought I’d live to see the day…. At an entirely different level, I’m engaged in a spiritual experience like nothing I have ever been exposed to—at any point in my life. And this comes from one who shared in the revjosephloweryDream my friend and colleague Martin Luther King Jr. taught the nation about one hot August afternoon 45 years ago. It comes from one who fought for the Voting Rights Act, for a Civil Rights Bill, and to free South Africa and liberate Nelson Mandela from 27 years of confinement as a political prisoner. But, there’s something much greater at work here. I first sensed it in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire where I saw the ruddy, frozen cheeks of white college students standing in snowdrifts up to their knees in support of the candidacy of Barack Obama. I saw it as I watched a new generation text-messaging and using their iPods to spread the word about this extraordinary man. … Read the full response here.

I was less than delighted with Obama tapping Rev. Rick Warren to offer the opening prayer at the Inauguration. Warren is trying to represents the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing new face of conservative American evangelical Christianity. I’m disturbed (to say the least) by his public support of Prop. 8 in California. (Bad move, bro.) But I can verify that he has a very kick-butt wife and that always gives me a glimmer of hope.

Despite the Warren controversy, I’m glad to see that Prez Obama has liturgically fenced-out Warren by surrounding him with worship leaders with a more biblically-grounded understanding of God’s love, generosity, and liberation. Rev. Lowery for one.

Additionally, Rev. Sharon Watkins, head of the Disciples of Christ, is the first woman to take the prominent position of preacher at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Also, Episcopal bishop Gene V. Robinson will lead the prayer at the “National Inaugural Concert” on Sunday. When Robinson was confirmed as a bishop he had to wear body-armor under his pastoral robes at the liturgy because there’d been so many death threats against him, his children, and his partner Mark Andrew.

I was also very glad to see that Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America, is taking a prominent role at the National Prayer Breakfast. She’s director of the Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations and a professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary.

Despite our differences, I’ll fall back on the old adage–when it looks as diverse as this crowd, I think it’s true: A nation that prays together, stays together.

People-less Houses Movement

According to a recent Associated Press story, the Take Back the Land folks in Florida are making the sub-prime debacle work for those living on the streets. “We’re matching homeless people with peopleless homes,” said TBL activist Max Rameau. Yep! They are moving homeless folks into beautiful, spacious, foreclosed upon houses.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Max Rameau delivers his sales pitch like a pro. “All tile floor!” he says during a recent showing. “And the living room, wow! It has great blinds.”

But in nearly every other respect, he is unlike any real estate agent you’ve ever met. He is unshaven, drives a beat-up car and wears grungy cut-off sweat pants. He also breaks into the homes he shows. And his clients don’t have a dime for a down payment.

Rameau is an activist who has been executing a bailout plan of his own around Miami’s empty streets: He is helping homeless people illegally move into foreclosed homes.

Rameau and a group of like-minded advocates formed Take Back the Land, which also helps the new “tenants” with secondhand furniture, cleaning supplies and yard upkeep. So far, he has moved six families into foreclosed homes and has nine on a waiting list.

“I think everyone deserves a home,” said Rameau, who said he takes no money from his work with the homeless. “Homeless people across the country are squatting in empty homes. The question is: Is this going to be done out of desperation or with direction?”

“There’s a real need here, and there’s a disconnect between the need and the law,” he said. “Being arrested is just one of the potential factors in doing this.”

I think the TBL movement is a great riff on the Landless People’s Movement in South Africa and the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil and elsewhere. TBL is just doing it “American-style.”

With the suicide of capitalism comes the blurring of what has been narrowly understood as “private property.” At the top, the Bush administration has been forced to “nationalize” the banking industry and, apparently, at the bottom, in Miami, TBL is reclaiming as public property those abandoned houses now owned by the banks due to foreclosures. Interesting.