Grounded, Growing, Good.

I’ve decided to make public (*) that I am part of a Secret Order.

The point is not to make the Order known, nor to gather support.

Rather, I want to ask:
Do you have a commitment and space
that is unspectacular and regular
where you repeatedly make a statement to yourself
that you care?

We have to manage and train ourselves.

Auto-pilot inevitably leads to self-destruction.

I have to save myself from myself.

Grounded, Growing, Good…

* make public to the three readers who already know!  :-)

Regrettably Ironic Support

Round One; and a spectacular fail
A marriage of silence and doubt:
Delivered a tragedy of violence and regret.
A lack of discernment and wisdom
complacent and complicit
In a choice that should never have been chosen.

Round Two; on the brink of beauty
A unity of love and life:
Poised and pregnant with love and joy.
The very same lack of discernment and wisdom
resurfaces, in vain attempts to right the past
this time a noise that kills a choice
made in heaven and on earth.

You were silent when you should have spoken
Now you speak when you should be silent.
In a fleshly attempt to vindicate your care
you repeat, you perpetuate your failure.
In attempts to prevent self-projected disaster
you introduce it, through fear and guilt.

If there’s any love
if there’s any humility

Rest in God
and pray for grace
to see.

Too often
good intentions
lead to regrettable
ironic
disaster

Hit Me Baby One More Time

I’m at a loss for words. The normally self-entitled, ever-judging, critical me had to stand in awe as the ‘new’ South Africa slapped me in the face with something that felt like a hug. Life will surprise you if you put yourself in the right places. Sometimes, the right place is through sheer luck (providence) and sometimes it is through the dullness of duty.

I found my self in Umlazi for three days and my expectations were low. The third largest township in Mzansi, know for violent crime and extreme poverty. They say you enter Umlazi with a Citi Golf, you leave in a taxi. The rolling hills of RDP houses and informal footpaths characterise these KZN favelas. At least I was traveling with Doc the Pedi boy, so the Boertjie and the Pedi was in the Kingdom of Shaka…

Day One:

We went to visit Ayanda, a long time friend who touched my heart the night he slept in my flat. It was about four years ago and I remember he posted on Facebook that the highlight of his time was that he used the same towel as me. It was one of those moments, and epiphany where I remembered that nation building was easy and beautiful. Fixing all the problems is not easy, but taking a step in the right direction of reconciliation is. We parked our car and took the little path to Ayanda’s home. Ayanda used to be a large and imposing Zulu man. Today he is literally skinny and fading. It seems that talking drains his energy. Yet his small business of selling airtime, DSTV and RICA for sim cards is doing well and giving him purpose. His business did so well that he is also selling clothes; all from his tiny shack in the bottom of one of the valleys in Umlazi. While hanging out at the shack, I heard Ayanda and Doc talk about a murderer who is coaching kids. Ayanda was upset, but Doc seemed to want to chat with the person first. My take was that no murderer should be allowed near kids, this type of person gives SA a crime stat of 50 murders per day. He should be ostracised.

From Ayanda’s shack we went up to Inselele school where youngsters were about to start football practice. It started to rain, but the kids kept training, on a field with no grass. They had a flat football and an old fake basketball. My warm-up kicking was with the old basketball. Doc threw out two new Nike balls. The speed of the session picked up, the energy levels jumped two levels. We were playing in the rain. Was the rain washing us? After the session we huddled together in the usual small circle. The conversation was in isiZulu, so I understood only a few parts. After about 20 minutes I realised the guy to my left, standing in my arms, hugging me, was the murderer. By this time I had a bond with him, through jokes and small connections we were chommies. I looked at his young body, just a kid: a kid with nothing. My rage was gone, my hatred and contempt had disapeared. I looked around the circle at the other boys. Two had shoes one that didn’t match. Three had sneakers that were cheap from the start, but now gaping open, almost impossible to run with. One guy had decent shoes, but three sizes to small so he cut holes in the front and his big toes stuck out about two centimetres. Here we were, a circle of men and boys, talking in the rain. The chat, led by Doc, was about honouring the guy who was trying to fix his life, coaching kids, trying to ensure they don’t repeat his mistakes. All the boys chose yes, that this guy, should not be kicked out, but that his efforts should be honoured. I stood there bare. So much noise was stripped away and in a moment of clarity, all I saw was young human beings who needed shoes, a ball and friendship. I couldn’t resist the jump to think of all the wealthy people complaining from their lives of luxury, and how easy it would have been to get each kid a pair of boots, to visit and to connect. We are failing the Rainbow dream, missing simple steps, because we are trapped in fear, resentment and philosophical debate.

Day 2

I visited Thulani. He and his wife picked up a mentally handicapped baby. They are poor themselves, but they took in a throw away baby and started caring for it in one of the most courageous human acts I have seen in my life. The power and faith proclaimed by this act of unselfish humanity reminds us that ubuntu is not a debate, but a choice. They chose. I learnt that a lady from Unisa started to assist Thulani to buy food and care for the baby. A small modest amount, not even covering all the expenses. She was with me on the visit and when Thulani thanked her, she said: “no, my small donation is nothing, we thank you.” She then asked if the money she was sending is enough, and that she could increase. Thulani said no, that the money was enough, that they didn’t need more. I was slapped in the face again, at a loss for words. Is there anything as inspirational and beautiful as integrity and character?

From Thulani’s house we went to a run-down school where we were to meet two more friends: Sigwasa and Mfanafuthi who we spent a few days with in Shongweni last month. These two kids intrigued me in Shongweni, and blew me away in their home town of Umlazi. If someone deserves support in this country it is them. We arrived at the old run-down school, it was a Friday afternoon around 17:00 and the small hall was half full of local youths. They looked a bit different, each person showed something arty or unique, their was an air of art and culture in the room. As the youths arrived, some wrote their names on a piece of paper entitled ‘performance list’. The room became full and the youths started to recite poems, sing songs and perform whatever they wanted to share. The way the crowd listened was as inspiring as the items. I was touched by talent, sincerity, determination, hope and spirit; against all odds, these youths were killing it. We have to do something. I was left inspired. We are failing the Rainbow dream, missing simple steps, because we are trapped in fear, resentment and philosophical debate.

Day 3

The Unisa visitors arrived. We had a programme where successes were celebrated. Izak, an Afrikaner from RSG Radio was there and when he heard a young girl, Sipelele recite a poem about the struggles of womanhood, he phoned the SABC and we went live with the poem being recited to Afrikaners all across South Africa. As she finished here poem she was in tears. Another moment of vulnerability and bravery; unseen in the day to day comfort of middle-class suburbs. What can the ‘rich’ learn or receive from the ‘poor’? My three days in Umlazi unlocked new dimensions of answers to that question! These girls, expressing themselves through song and poetry reminded me to be brave, they reminded me that I am okay. Before colour and cash, we are human.

We are failing the Rainbow dream, missing simple steps, because we are trapped in fear, resentment and philosophical debate.

Here is a five minute sound clip by Izak from RSG, narration in Afrikaans but interviews in English:

20151020_MONITOR

This post reflects on the events in Umlazi where true depth confronted shallow superficiality. Cheap complaints were faced by courageous courage. The youngsters from Umlazi inspired me: they literally lifted me up and energised me. They renewed me more than any holiday ever could.

 

iKing

Humans are intrinsically made to rule. Dallas Willard reminds us that we all have our own kingdoms. The idea made me think more clearly about agency and development.

A kingdom is a place where you rule, where you decide and make things happen. We are all chiefs with chiefdoms, the only difference is that they differ in size and shape. This is not a debateable ideal, it is a plain and simple reality. Human beings rule and they have power, some more than others. This notion of exercising control and influence through power and agency links to Amartya Sen’s notion of development as the freedom to choose. When we do development, we use our kingdom, our resources, our power and our rule to enlarge the kingdom of someone else. Giving out soup or clothes assists and shows some compassion to subjects in the kingdoms of others, but it does not assist others to expand their kingdoms, their areas of rule and control. Development should be about increasing someone else’s power and that normally requires the diminution or at least the restraint of your own power, control and influence.

We confront the paradoxical illusion of cheap leadership. If leadership is defined as influence, there are a further two distinct levels of influence that has to be differentiated: First, the influence where you influence other to act and exert your power, your kingdom, your rule. Second, there is an influence of restraint, service and sacrifice that enhance and increase the leadership of others. Here lies the cruel joke: there is no leadership in itself, only the making of other leaders. Leadership is not influence, but the transfer of influence, power and control. The moment you start to ‘lead’, in the classical sense, you are not a leader! Influencing makes you a king or a manager. Leadership is the sacrificial process of giving up the spotlight, giving up control and using your power to extend someone else’s influence.

We are left with acts of leaderships rather than positions or persons called leaders. In acting out this transfer of influence, we need to discern and decide who we empower. Sometimes we settle for middle management: we give our power to a bigger king or chief so that under their rule we will be in charge of a section. We give more power to the already powerful, because we find safety in that system. Indeed it seems counter intuitive to give power and influence to someone who already has a big kingdom or area of control. If it comes to being super smart with massive fields of influence, there is no point in ‘leadership’ beyond self preservation. Building very large kingdoms or empires becomes a game of power and strategic control- leadership is lost. The domain of pure leadership will always intersect with the powerless and so called weak. Many people do not see themselves as influencers or leaders and it is there where we can show our leadership. It is not coincidental that the most famous historical figure with the best selling biography ever, always identifies with and hides amongst the ‘poor’. He started his kingdom by activating thousands of small kings and queens.

How? First by pouring love on them so they realize their inherent worth and capacity. What kind of love does that? Love that manifests through deep and constant respect. Respect is measured, not in what we do, but in how we make someone feel. Love respects and love gives access and attention. In this respect and attention, self-love and self-belief becomes activated, the king is born, the queen is awakened from her sleep. A leader is a king-maker. A leader is a queen-maker. One can be tempted to play along and make fat kings fatter, this is a short-cut to ensuring ‘results’ and outputs. Many go down that road. We can also choose a different level of engagement and enter the domain of unseen greatness where life’s harshness has kept magnificent rulers asleep for too long. Normal people are not normal at all. Once we fail to see the flame and potential in any human being we have lost some part of our own essence. Our leadership and influence, whether we like it or not, are linked to the influence of ‘the least of these’.

The start of your kingdom is your body. You are the governing force, the government of your body. You are the President of your body. Whatever you think or choose happens. You have full power over your body. That is why physical violence, punching, rape or even a hiding is so traumatic. Someone violates your primary kingdom, the small space where you are in charge. Hence, non-violence is not just about being nice, it is a strategy to ensure the integrity of the kingdom of self; protect your castle. This is why a poor teenage girl who gets pregnant is ‘fucked’ on so many levels. The body is the first ring of your kingdom, because it is easiest recognizable.

Inside your body lives your soul and mind. Your thoughts. Here it get’s tricky and sad. One is so tempted to say that your thoughts are actually the first domain of your rule, your thoughts are supposed to be the place where you are the governor. But powerful people and systems have unfortunately been robbing you of that reign for years. From the moment you wake up, you see and hear messages that are not accidental, they are voices and noises designed to penetrate your mind. Other kings and queens are sowing seeds in the fertile fields of your mind! I’m not just talking about advertising creating false needs in the sphere of brand association. Philosophical assumptions underlie the content of all the messaging that enters your ears and eyes. Worldviews are programmed into the DNA of your thoughts, even if you don’t know what a worldview is. Slavery is back baby. Slavery is back, invisible and cruel to the point where the majority of society sings up voluntarily. All for a dose of opium and the road of least resistance.

Will we ever learn to rule our own thoughts? Will we ever learn to decide what goes into our heads and how it comes out? Your kingdom will stay scattered and small if you cannot clarify and rule your own thoughts. Why have people been journaling through the ages? Because they like the sound of pen on paper? NO! People write their thoughts down as acts of dominion, as acts to understand and rule their own minds! The battle is for your thoughts. You need this shoe or that whiskey, this car or that house, you deserve this, you hate that… and so it continues. Many people will catch you by linking your apparent wants to their products- be it politics or products, but who cares for your long-term wellbeing?

We will get back to the war of thoughts and the struggle to be ruler, president of your own mind, who determines your own values, ideals and strategies. Let’s look briefly at the most common kingdom on earth. Billions have nailed it and the allure of a shortcut kingdom, the attraction of a ready made rule has been so pervasive that few have resisted. The thing that makes biological families so popular and successful is not the cuteness of the mini-me, the continuation of the species or the comfort of growing old together while grandkids bring presents. The biological family is so pervasive and universally endorsed because it offers ready made kingdoms. Here you can be king of your castle by right of what you did with your penis. Worldwide, no matter how useless, sick, uninformed, weak or evil, the little family or household has been offering undeserving men a release for their kingdom desire. Look at parenthood, the behavior of fathers and see how children are being harmed, how the beautiful flame of leadership and influence is killed early in the life o fa child by a fake governor who never learnt to rule himself, but now he has subjects: sometimes two, sometimes ten! The role of the wife as either fellow ruler or subject, I will leave for another day. Families are not bad in and of themselves. Indeed, the structure could be the most wonderful university for learning how to rule! The family could be the safe training ground where everyone experiments with their rule, their power and responsibility. In most cases it does not do the good and beautiful job. It provides an unhealthy escape for the dominion desire. The test is simple: look at your effective rule and influence outside of your family. Don’t look at your work where salaries set the agenda and relationships. Outside of work and home, explain the extent of your rule and influence. If you have a full picture of influence and assisting others to uncover their influence and rule, then your own family (where you were born and the one you made) probably did a good job through healthy dynamics.

At our core, each of us is either a protector or a leader. We design our lives to either manage and control or to explore and lead. Both spheres include influence, rule and power. The difference is that the one builds walls and fences and the other tears them down. Leaders are not bosses, but bridges. Reaching out or helping others should include traditional charity and sacrifice, but the sacrifice should be way more radical that we think. Instead of sharing an hour a week, sharing your food or even your clothes, you are called to share your power and influence. How? BY increasing the power and influence of someone who have become unaware that he or she were made to rule. People are made to rule, firstly their own lives and secondly to influence other people’s lives in a way that adds mutual value. A natural human tendency is to group in similar circles of likeness. The value of diversity is a key that unlocks a higher humanity where brotherhood transcends animal instinct. A brave leader reaches out to the ‘other’ and thereby grow and learn as he or she assists and shares. If you are smart you would have already realized that by expanding the freedoms of others, by making kings and queens you also expand your own rule and enlarge your own circle of influence. That is not the goal, but a Divine treat and irony- if done right side up.

As an after thought, which for some might be a pre-thought, it might be worth mentioning that the guy who made kingdom talk famous lived about 2015 years ago. That is a very long time ago and when you think for example what Europe went through in the last 300 years and what Africa went through the last 100 years, it is remarkable that a guy said such smart things so long ago. He articulated concepts hundreds of years before the frame of mind or philosophical and cultural contexts had words and references for such views. How weird, these days when something is 10 years old we throw it away. Reading books that are 100 -200 years old seems odd and they battle for relevance. Yet, some guy’s words slap us in the face, grab our hearts and lead us- 2000 years after they were spoken and written.

Can he set me free?

Can I be included in his rule and he in mine?

Yes. Obviously.

What We Tell Ourselves

I think I can… I think I can… I think I can… the little steam train and many other stories illustrate how we ‘talk’ to ourselves. ‘Come on, you can do this’ or even ‘nou’t ek kak aangejaag’ are examples of how we attempt to order our lives by employing artificial objectivism as we assume the role of teacher for ourselves! A good motivational pep talk surely has it’s place as we encourage ourselves to run up a hill we really want to walk, a pre-rugby game ‘op-psyche’ to eliminate fear and transform our adrenalin into aggression, a ‘just stay calm’ in traffic or a ‘count to ten’ before I tell a colleague what I think of her. But the person speaking and the person listening is still the same person, and although our self-talk can assist in some ways and make a difference, the very fact that you have to say them proves that something in your heart or mind is not there, where you want to be. Speaking to ourselves can easily become repetitive, cheap and ineffective. We need to hear things on a deeper level if we want it to penetrate our patterns of thought and habit.

A better way we can consciously speak to ourselves is through deeds. I say conscious, because we are doing this automatically every single day, without realising it. Our actions and behaviour reinforces unexpressed thought patters as it solidifies in our character through deeds. Our actions first reflect our insides, but then our actions create our insides! We believe what we do. As simple as that. Surely there is a place for spiritual or inner transformation, changing from the ‘inside’ out. I’m all into and for that. The best way to live is through a natural overflow of the soul. The problem is if we find our insides to be broken or weak. One could argue that this needs fixing not by trying harder or being legalistic, yet prayer or meditation like silence, journaling and reflection are still all efforts and deeds! The end-goal should not be mechanistic obedience or artificial compliance, the end goal is indeed a heart transformed. The question is: how to transform our inner beings?

My suggestion here, no, my realisation in my own life, is that I have to tell myself what the good life is by doing it. Planned practice and discipline are the keys to unlocking doors of greater maturity and depth. That is not a new thought. We are not the first humans to be faced with this reality and choice. Yet, in todays world, in todays churches and todays seminars we prefer language and knowledge over discipline and instruction.

I know that in my life I reinforce my beliefs and values every day. They run on momentum, so when I start to lose it, I can get more and more lost. When I make a brave decision it seems to introduce further smart choices. In this way, how early I get up on a Sunday morning and how I reflect, says something about my desire to be ‘grounded, growing, good’; and then when I had to buy a car I was aware of my temptations and desires. I could choose to act out my beliefs and not to embrace temptations through rationalisations. Having a ‘different’ friend over for dinner, knowing they can’t return the favour, might not feel rewarding in the present, but you announce to yourself what kind of a person you want to be.

The things we tell ourselves will bear fruit, they will germinate and manifest in other, unexpected areas of our lives. It’s a game of momentum and whether you play it subconsciously or consciously does not influence the fact that the game is being played; always. As in most games it helps to know the rules, have a strategy, learn the skill and execute the play.

Every deed affirms and engrains an underlying belief. So we literally choose what we believe, through speech and deeds.

What is important to me? What is my definition of the good life is? What am I committed to?
Comfort or Growth?

I make my own compass, daily, through my deeds.
We are all craftsmen.
If I make selfish or short-sighted decisions, I am making a compass that can only take me in a few directions. I am limiting my own life.

Much grace is needed.
When much grace is given,
much action is required.

Let us not kid ourselves.

It’s actually simple
and plain
for anyone to see.