On Quests and States

Last week, an old friend posted an ostensibly open question: “What is an instance of systemic injustice in South Africa?” Others quickly jumped on giving a few high level as well as every-day examples of areas they see systemic injustice and institutionalized racism at play. Friend A’s response was to carefully and rationally explain why each subsequent example was not, indeed, systemic injustice. I sat back watching, fighting the urge to jump in with several more examples. The conversation felt like a non-starter. Friend A entered the conversation with the intention of proving himself right rather than opening up his views and opinions to being proved wrong (or at least challenged). Instead of asking to expand his worldview, he asked to fortify his status quo.

If your first question is not followed by a second question, you are not listening to understand; you are listening to defend.

Soong-Chan Rah made this comment which has rocked my world over the last two years, “If you’re justice-minded and have never had a person of colour as a mentor, you’re not a missionary; you’re a colonialist.” His follow up was jarring: who has permission to speak into your life? If you are pursuing a genuine quest for understanding, you have to begin asking new questions in new spaces in order for there to be any fair chance of you coming up with any new answers. So ask yourself now, whose perspectives and experiences are you giving preference to? Who is mentoring you? Who have you given explicit authority and invitation to, to challenge you, point out your blind spots and tell you to shut up when necessary? What are the last 5 books you read?

Who are the authors you are regularly reading, the news broadcasts you are following, the editorials you are engaging with, the podcasts you are listening to, the people you are spending time with? Who are the last 5 people you invited across the threshold, into the intimacy of your home, to sit at your table and truly commune with you?

If you are genuinely seeking understanding then you need to demonstrate that commitment by expanding your frame of reference. If you continue to build your carefully articulated rationalizations for the way you experience and understand the world based on the opinions and thought pieces and experiences of the individuals who look and think and live like you, then all you’ll do is continually reinforce your own position. To truly disrupt the way we see the world, we have to start asking different questions in different spaces.


Not sure where to start? Here’s a challenge. For the next 6 months fundamentally shift your frame of reference to ONLY listen to voices that don’t support your current perceptions and opinions. Seriously. You don’t need any more pats on the back, affirmations of what you think, or evidence that continues to support and reinforce your particular view of the world. That stuff is entrenched enough to handle whatever comes at it over the next 6 months (or maybe it isn’t and wouldn’t that be scandalous?!)

  1. For News
    • Al Jazeera
    • Huffington Post (but only POC authors)
    • Financial Mail
  2. For Opinion and Analysis
    • Eusebius Mckaiser
    • Khaya Dlanga
    • Verashni Pillay
    • Wanelisa Xaba
  3. For Every-Day Thought Leaders
    • Sindile Vabaza
    • Ashley Visagie
    • Linde Ndaba
    • Sam Mahlawe
  4. For Facebook Groups (Secondary challenge: don’t engage for 3 months! Shut up and listen and observe.)
    • Know the past to walk justly into the future
    • Rainbow Racist Rehab
  5. For Blogs
    • groundup.org.za
    • izwelethublog.wordpress.com
    • engagesomemore.co.za

If you have a recommendation for the list and who people might listen to during their 6-month detox experiment add them in the comments.

P.S. To be fair, the invitation goes both ways. For those who regularly engage in conversations driven by or reflected in the above list, how might you diversify the voices and perspectives you are giving credence to and the experiences and stories you are listening to?


on 29

This is the year of my Shalom.

In just a few months husband-man and I will launch into yet another major life transition – but this time one that we hope and trust leads us to a season of restful waters. I hope to find in it Shalom – the incredible earth-shattering presence of wholeness, health, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, and harmony.  A dazzling display of life to the full, complete and perfect.

So as I leave 28 and head steadily to 30 this year. Here are some of the things I want to fill my days with. I want to..

1. Learn to Surf

2. Learn to cook Indian food from scratch

3. Perform an original spoken word piece

4. Learn to code in HTML (I’m open to being persuaded there is a better first language to learn)

5. Learn to do my own makeup

6. Ride a motorcycle

7. Redo my FirstAid training

8. Learn to dance

9. Learn how to service a car and change a tire

10. Grow a salad

11. Read through the whole bible

12. Learn to play hockey

Some of these play to my core passions and some drive me far outside of my comfortability. Some are practical skills and some are  extravagant. Some use my mind, some my body, and some my spirit. Some will be learned in solitude, and will take me inside myself; some will be learned at the feet of friends and family, and will draw me out of myself.

They demonstrate in small and perhaps insignificant ways my desire for shalom in how I am with those around me, with my physical self, with the Creator, with nature, with culture, with technology, and with my own creativity.

Here’s to looking forward to 30 with anticipation not apprehension. Here’s to revelling not regretting.

Here’s to Shalom – life to the full.


on cherry blossoms

Why do cherry blossoms in this neighborhood surprise me?

As if grace is insufficient

As if hope is impotent

As if love is insipient

As if mercy cannot triumph over judgment

As if dancers cannot dance upon injustice

As if redemption is a lie; restoration a myth

As if the dividing wall of hostility were never torn down

As if sorrow will last beyond the night

and joy is stifled by the morning

As if we are not truly being changed from glory to Glory

As if only some things are brought together under Him

As if the rocks do not shout out

and the trees no longer clap their hands

As if death never lost its sting

As if the grave was victorious

As if darkness dispels light

As if the oil of gladness slips over and past these rivers of mourning

As if the fullness of Him who fills all things, leaves these streets dry and empty

As if there is no freedom for these oppressions

and the cords of these yokes cannot be loosened

As if these chains cannot be broken

As if there is no reconciliation for these divides

As if there is no provision for these griefs

As if there is no garment to cloak these despairs

As if beauty cannot replace even these ashes


As if roots cannot push their way up through this concrete

As if life cannot break forth unexpectedly

And be magnificantly, phenomenally, shockingly unsurprising

on bound wrists

My wrist is bound by lines and strokes of an ancient language. The form of these letters call what is not into being. The words speak to the Word. In the beginning was the word; In the beginning….God. The earth, formless and empty, darkness over the surface of the deep. The Word with God. The Word: God.

God said.

God-Word. Words-Formed. Form-Created. Spoken forth; spoken form.

These words, wrapped ever-round my wrist, are my hoped for spoken-form spoken forth. My mantra. The sounds, the words capable of “creating transformation”. Not because of any power they possess in themselves but because the Word in me can breathe them into life. In my life. They are the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart.

שלום. This  shalom around my wrist, this peace, is not merely the absence of war or discord. It is not marked by what it is not. It is defined by what is present.  This shalom is wholeness, health, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony.  It is rich and deep. This shalom is life complete and perfect. Paid in full, life to the full. Creation as it was created to be when the Word spoke and there was light. Created restored to Creation. Creation restored to the Creator. The word speaks to the Word. He himself is our Shalom, who has made the two one, destroying the dividing wall of hostility. God reconciles us to himself through this Shalom. We are given the same vocation of reconciliation. This God-Word is given as our mantle, our mantra. It becomes the meditation of our heart, the words of our mouth, capable of creating transformation as the Word, Shalom, breathes us into life to the full, into shalom. These words, this shalom around my wrist, reminds me to seek life-to-the-full – the redemption and reconciliation – of, for and in the places I find myself, because in its shalom I find Shalom.

צדק. This tzedek around my wrist, this justice, is not merely the absence of corruption or oppression. It is not marked by what is not. It is defined by what is present. This tzedek is right standing,  righteousness, generosity, equity, concern, mercy,  reparation, restoration and redemption. It is rich and deep. This tzedek is a life of right relationships. Righteous, relationship to the full. Creation as it was created to be when the Word spoke. Created restored to Creation. Creation restored to the Creator. The word speaks to the Word. He himself is our Tzedek, our justice, our Righteousness rolling down like rivers, like an ever-flowing stream. God maintains our cause, acting justly and mercifully toward us. We are are given the same vocation of justice. This God-Word is given as our mantle, our mantra. It becomes the meditation of our heart, the words of our mouth, capable of creating transformation as the Word, Tzedek, breathes us into right relationships, into tzedek. These words, this tzedek around my wrist, reminds me to seek relationships enacted in fairness, generosity and equity. To pursue justice and love mercy. To pursue reparation and restoration of, for and in the relationships I find myself a part of.

My wrist is bound by lines and strokes of an ancient language. The form of these letters call what is not into being. The words speak to the Word. These words, wrapped ever-round my wrist, are my hoped for spoken-form spoken forth. My mantra. The sounds, the words capable of creating transformation. Not because of any power they possess in themselves but because the Word in me can breathe them into life. In my life. They are the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart.These words bound as symbols on my hand remind me not just to be peaceful and to be just but to do shalom and do tzedek. To seek to enact the wholeness, harmony, and fullness of life given through Christ and to pursue right standing, fairness, generosity and equity in all my relationships and spheres of life. 

on this present discontent

These are the years of my discontent

This is my consolation that leaves me disconsolate

This is my satisfaction that leaves unsatisfied

This is my rest that leaves me restless

This is the love that leaves me lustful

This is my struggle between running and staying

This is my sitting in cars in empty lots, all the words of your compulsion hanging (forbidden) between us.

This is my calculated risk; these are the consequences that catch me by surprise.

These are my rushing waters; this, the shore of my regret.

This present is the heart of all my misgivings

This, the tension between my anchor and my escape

This. Me unfinish’d, gasping in this breathing world; breathing in this gasping world.

This, my wandering tread, my sojourner spirit, my never-ending journey. My lost and never-foundness. My with but never of. My here but never now.

This is the whisper of my displacement

These are the years of my discontent.

[This wrote itself, months back, as I sat on the edge of this river at the Wild Goose Festival 2013.]

on passivism, pacifism and peace

I buckle my helmet, check both ways, and pull out slowly into the intersection. As I do a car comes out of nowhere, breaks hard and I swerve. We miss each other and I pull around so I’m on the right side of the road. And then I am assailed by the swearing, the shouting, the angry words pouring out of the car towards me. I am called names and the driver threatens to kill me, moving to force me off the road as she does so. I pull onto the sidewalk and she gets out of her car. I keep cycling. She catches up with me at the next intersection where I wait for a red light. As I make to cross she whips her car in front of me, cutting me off. I avoid eye contact but the barrage of hate directed toward the “f-ing white bitch on the bike” crashes into me. I wait silently and as she pulls off she swerves in again to hit my front wheel. She speeds off and I cautiously cross. I’m shaking and a tear runs down my cheek. Once again I am caught up in the dramatic and chaotic fallout of an emotionally volatile and unstable community. Still, nothing prepares me for it. Nothing prepares me for the fight that breaks out in the street, or the sounds of domestic violence coming through the walls, or the mother telling her child she wished he was dead, the erratic discipline, the man who corners me and threatens me on the street, the gunshots, the threats, the hate, the degrading names and the aggression that permeates the fabric of these relationships.

Several weeks back I wrote on things I have confused over the last few years. Hidden in the middle of that list was this one: “I have confused Not hitting people with Non-violence”, a confusion which came to a head one day as I sat in my room listening to a neighbor’s misogynistic rap. At that time, my interaction with violence – or the ever-threat of it – changed. Non-violence, pacifism, and peacemaking become less theoretical and more personal; no longer abstract, because my relation to them had become embodied. So I asked, how do i do non-violence, how do i practice pacifism, how do i be a peace-maker when violence – the threat, the call, the power of it – is tied inextricably to my being woman. Or my being white. Or my being young. Or my being out of place, a stranger, a foreigner. Or my living, walking and breathing in a violent neighborhood. Or my being hypocritical, abounding in wrath and lacking in mercy.

Here is the complexity of my interaction with violence and non-violence. I trick myself into believing that not raising my voice or my fists is a non-violent response to frustration and anger. I ignore the rage, wrath and fury that simmer within me. I don’t scream at my neighbor but I hate her nevertheless for the torrent of aggression she directs towards her kids from sun up to sun down. I think of the things I would do if I had the “courage” – I secretly hope she leaves so I don’t have to deal with the contradictions her violent stagnation causes in me. I come to believe that passivism (not doing anything in a violent situation directed toward me and not doing anything with the violence within me) is an adequate replacement for pacifism (that fundamental opposition to violence that reveals itself in demonstrative non-participation in violence and counter-commitments to establishing and maintaining peace.) I am caught in this hard space, somehow believing that not seeking retribution is the same as seeking mercy. Saying you are non-violent and lowering your weapons is dramatically and fundamentally different from disarming yourself, your attitudes, your heart, and your spirit. Not participating in violence is radically distinct from participating in peace.

How then do I practice peace and engage in pacifism? How do I make non-violence less a way of thinking and more a way of being? How do I ensure these things begin in me, but don’t end there?

How do I seek the peace (the shalom, the wholeness,the reconciliation) of the city (the place, the neighborhood, the community, the relationships) I am placed in, recognizing that my shalom is inextricably tied to its shalom, my peace found in its peace (Jeremiah 29:7 paraphrased).

on getting it wrong

Ask me in ten years time what I was doing in 2011 and I’ll stream-of-consciousness you out of your socks! You’ll hear of the things I loved about that year: morning prayer and rhythms of life, poker at O’Neals Pub, sitting on the steps in summer, chick-fil-a, house meals and cooking together, riding the El train into Philly city center, games nights with housemates, walking to and from work, late summer nights on the block, playing dominoes in the street, a barbecue on the roof of our house, kids playing in the fire hydrant into the early evening, pretzels and ping-pong at Frankford hall, and potluck meals…You’ll hear stories: a homeless woman bathing in our kitchen sink, hiding a turkey in the oven while someone went through my trash, a 26 hour roadtrip to Minneapolis, sheltering under a kiddie pool in the pouring rain during school supplies, a Minnie and Mickey Mouse dance-off in the street, Christmas dinners, sitting in the emergency room at 2am with a neighbor, knife fights and water fights, celebrations and candlelit vigils for the unknown woman and the young father who were shot…You’ll hear the things that were sparked in husband-man and I during that year and hopefully you’ll see how some of those have come to fruition in our lives. You’ll hear the things we learnt. And hopefully, you’ll also hear the ways we got it horribly wrong and the things we regretted and the things we would have, could have and should have done better. But in case you don’t ask, here they are…

* Talking less and listening more – Looking back, we went in guns blazing, quickly identifying and speaking into the areas we felt could use improvement, the values we thought should be prioritized, and the mistakes we felt had been made. Some of those things may have needed speaking into, and certainly we were honored by the trust (and the grace) that was extended to us to change and adapt and put new systems in place and impact the direction life and work took. But in all honesty, we could have done a lot better if we had taken the time to live in and into the community before speaking into it.

* Avoiding spirals of negativity and gossip – That stuff is like yeast; it insidiously creeps in and grows and expands and thrusts itself into relationships and friendships and spaces of your life its not even related to. And all it takes is three simple conditions to thrive: 1. not addressing things quickly and conclusively with the person you have issue with, 2. spreading the issue to other folks by venting, telling stories, or “asking for advice” and 3. the receiving person saying “Yes….and….” Ah, if we could just stop things at that “YES…” cos it is Toxic. What it does is affirms the person’s experience and associated anger/frustration/disappointment/hurt and says “You are entitled” to feel like that. And then it adds fuel by sharing its own experience, fanning the flame of broken relationship. That “Yes” does not seek to reconcile – it seeks to justify, affirm negativity, identify with it, and widen the rift that exists. Looking back, I would have sought to address things quickly and directly, not shared it with other folks (outside of my safe person – husband-man), and when I heard negativity and gossip I would seek to say “Yes…and….” less.

* Connecting more diversely – Ah, this is the big one! Only toward the end of our time did we start to make connection with some of the absolutely incredible, inspiring, insightful, wise and honest leaders that had lived in the neighborhood and invested themselves fully into it for years! I believe that in any neighborhood there are phenomenal leaders already embedded whom we should seek out and learn from. For us, in a diverse neighborhood like Kensington, we should have been seeking out and sitting at the feet of, listening and drawing alongside the strong Hispanic and African-American voices and leadership all around us. This would have saved us MANY mistakes, misunderstandings, miscommunications, hurt, pain, frustration and puffed-up mentalities we, and others, experience when we don’t intentionally Stop, Collaborate and Listen.

We do not hang our heads in shame over these things, but we do recognize where we fell short. We do not get tripped up by regret, but we do repent. And we put in place strategies that help us do better next time.

on learnings

Sometimes you learn things and know them only as long as you need to – until the exam. Sometimes you learn things and you get lazy about remembering them because we all know Uncle Google can help with a casserole recipe, or working out what percentage 20 is of 85 or how to spell wierd/weird. Sometimes we learn things and only remember them when we suddenly really need to know that thing – our learnings lie dormant beneath the surface, but not forgotten. Sometimes we learn things in such quick succession that we never really integrate those learnings into informing our actions, beliefs, or attitudes. And sometimes we have to keep reminding ourselves of the things we have learnt, and to re-learn them in each evolving season and context, for them to really stick. For them to move from things we’ve learnt to things we KNOW.

The last two years have been the steepest learning curve of my life. Recently, Husband-man and I carved out some time to reflect on the myriad things we learnt during our time with The Simple Way. Here are just a few:

1. We learnt how to Live Present. By the time my parents had been married for 21 years they had already moved 27 times! I am a child of the diaspora – used to uprooting and moving and forming quick (if often shallow) relationships.I am prone to boredom which rears it’s ugly head every 6 months or so – sometimes the fix is easy: move all the furniture around. But I often find myself caught in a chaotic struggle, wrestling within myself to stay put, sitting on my hands even as my legs twitch to be up and out, to be PRESENT even if only for today. For me, Learning to Live Present had to express itself in tangible and intentional acts – painting our bedroom even if we were only going to be in it for 11 more months; gathering beautiful things even if I had to get rid of them again; and investing in friendships even if only for a season. My greatest learning in this regard came from our boss-man, Darin: “Always unpack your suitcase at a hotel, fold your clothes, and hang up your jacket, even if you’re only there for one night. Be fully present where you are”.

2. We learnt how to Make Space for Interruptions and Disruptions. Husband-man wrote a bit on this one here and here. Our days seemed to be full of Interruption – folk knocking on our door needing everything from lifts to a blanket to food. Children stopping by to borrow the bike pump or sidewalk chalk or just to chat. A friend needing help getting a family member into rehab. Interruptions were those things that gave us temporary pause – required us to lay down our forks or our books, to get up from our sleep, to close our computer for a moment. Once dealt with though we could generally pick up where we left off and continue on our previous path.

Disruptions were a whole different game. These were the things that threw us into confusion or disorder, impeded what we were doing and threw us off course – redirecting our energy time and resources into fundamentally different directions. Disruptions took us to places and situations we often didn’t know how to deal with. Fights broke out and we stopped what we were doing to call the police or pray or intervene or stand helplessly by. Emergencies reared their head periodically. I found myself on the way to eat lunch one minute and chasing a friend down the main road after she jumped out of an ambulance the next. Disruption was the drugged, beaten and abused woman sitting on our front step – interruption would have been cleaning her up and sending her on her way; disruption meant figuring out how to care well for her today and tomorrow and next week because now she was a part of our lives. I like to think of disruption as the face I haven’t prepared my face to meet.

We learnt the value of making room for both of these – and we recognized a key dimension of Christ’s interaction with those around him. He was constantly being interrupted and disrupted – the running refrain seems to be “He was on his way from a to b, when…” We learnt to leave home earlier and walk slower – taking 20 minutes to walk the 2 blocks to the office – to create space for the interruption. We learnt to only answer the door when we felt able to respond with love and grace to whatever was on the other side – and if we couldn’t, to rather not open it at all. We learnt to invite someone to walk alongside us as we navigated the disruptions. To invite an extra set of eyes and wisdom. I am still learning how to let go of the disruptions at the end of the day because they can be heavy and burdensome even in their richness and opportunity.

3. We learnt the value of Rhythms. We learnt that rhythms are a great way to establish habits of presence – ways of being rooted even during chaos and transition and in spaces that are temporary; and that rhythms are a great way to sustain healthy interactions with interruption and disruption. Our weeks followed a similar pattern of morning prayer; work; connection with neighbors; spiritual formation; connection with housemates through shared meals, games, and house meetings; date nights; play and rest. No, we didn’t stick ritually to these; but we did find that carving out specific times for these things meant that they happened and didn’t get consumed by the ever present interruptions or derailed by the periodic disruptions or overlooked by a sense of finite presence. These things helped us to Live Fully Present and to Make Space for Interruptions and Disruptions. They kept us grounded, kept our focus and priorities straight, and allowed us to invest deeply in relationships and experiences and life in Kensington.

I know there’s no exam on these, and Uncle Google wouldn’t be able to help us if we forgot them. So all that is left is to keep reminding ourselves that we learnt these things until eventually we KNOW them.

on remembrance

I do not end seasons of my life well. I either miss them, like I did for both my graduations. Or I pass so quickly onto the next that I fail to close and integrate the last well. I don’t take the time to sit and breathe, to remember, to gather stones and build an altar, to write obituaries or sing songs of celebration. And so I hold in my hands a life of disconnected memories, of events that exist in isolation to each other, of learnings and pain and growth that has never been well-integrated and assimilated into my very sense of self. My life lacks closure. My life story doesn’t follow a logical timeline – in the telling of it I draw together strands and feelings and impressions that never quite coalesce. There are years of missing data. Gaps in my memory and consciousness. I found myself with losses that I’ve never mourned, pain that I’ve never integrated, questions that were never resolved that I don’t have the ability to accommodate well. My history is adrift.

These past two years I have been learning how to pause and MARVEL and how to stop and MOURN. I have learnt the value of a drinking a glass of red with friends and remembering what our lives held in the vintage year. I have learnt the value of gift-giving to mark an end and how words of affirmation and appreciation can release someone to the next journey. I have learnt the value of showing photographs and telling stories to mark births and deaths and weddings and graduations and celebrations. I have learnt the value of return and how powerful the little act of remembering can be in releasing us to live fully present. I have learnt the value of attaching physicality – a picture, a gift, a retelling, a token, words written, a stone picked up from the road – to remembrance. I always thought of memories as anchors – “don’t dwell on the past”, I remind myself. But indeed there is great value in returning to the past periodically; not to be consumed by it, but so that it doesn’t drown us. I am learning how to end seasons well and how to return to them rhythmically.

Husband-man and I were privileged to have time while back home to sit and pause and remember and reflect and debrief our time at The Simple Way. As we cast our eyes back over our time, we hold in tension how incredibly rich and beneficial it was with how hard and challenging it was. It was one of the steepest learning curves of our lives and there is much we have grown from and in, learnt, and new things that have been sparked in us (or old things that have been fanned into flame). We carved out space and sat in beautiful places and drank coffee and jotted thoughts and names and stories down. We asked what did we learn, what could we have done better, what do we miss, what’s sparked in us, who are the people that shaped us.


The next few blogs will be on some of our reflections. As we have launched into this new season, these are the things that we hold to, some of the many things that have been (re)sparked in us:

We long to continue to do life through regular community connection with like-hearted people – Christ-followers and disciple-makers.

We long to be in a place where we can continue to engage well with our surrounding neighbourhood.

We long to have a space where we can practice hospitality.

We long for opportunities for Brett to operate in his primary gifting – speaking, writing, and online ministry.

We long for stability and healthy balance in our life-rhythms.

We long to say “Yes, lets!” more to opportunities and experiences.

We long to have married couples and culturally diverse individuals speaking into our lives and journeying close to us.

We long to learn how to be more open-handed with our time, our energy and our resources – and to encourage others to be likewise.

on bus rides

One. Is the number on the dollar bill you use to snort lines.

Two. Is the number of bags of crystal meth you stuff down your socks.

One in Three. Is the number I can’t wrap my mind around as I subconsciously count off, converting faces to percentages; those in front of me to those behind bars.

Four. Is the number of Taco trucks, music playing and friends mingling beneath dim streetlights.

Eight. Is the number of men hiding in dark shadows keeping watch over flocks by night.

Nine. Is the number of stops requested.

Eleven. Is the number on the clock.

Twenty-six. Is the number of restless girls on lonely corners, between 2nd and 61st.

Fifty. Is the number of shots fired when a drive-by and an ambush collided yesterday. I hear my friend tell me.

Sixty-five. Is the number of years lived. She mumbles chaotically, her body closed in on itself.

Full. Is where I start.

Scattered. Is where I end.

Voices and non-voices and music and resignation. Is what I hear.

Sorrow. And discomfort. And heaviness. Is what I feel, as I gaze out the window at the light and the un-light passing by in the cool outside.

One. Is the number of the bus I ride.