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Going West through Bushmanland

24 August 2015

19 August 2015

We left Augrabies at 7:20, and drove down the road towards Pofadder. In some places along the way there were fields of tiny mauve flowers. At 9:15 we reached
Pofadder, 138 km from Aughrabies, and stopped to take photos of it, as it was the provebial back of beyond. Val said that when they were young Pofadder’s  CEK car registration was the only one they had not seen from the old Cape Province, and then one day in a camp at the Kruger Park there was one right in front of them. We had thought of coming here on our 1991 trip to Namibia, but it was too far out of the way. It actually seemed to be quite a pleasant little town, and more hilly than I expected.

Pofadder in  the Northern Cape Province

Pofadder in the Northern Cape Province

We turned off to Pella, 170 km from Augrabies, which we reached at 9:36. It was another historic mission station, and we drove down into the valley where it was. The road was tarred, which I hadn’t expected, and the countryside was also hillier than I expected. the town itself was bright and clean, with well-kept houses. At one point we stopped to see where the church was, and were approached by a bloke who wanted to sell us a lump of rose quartz and said he was our information source, and pointed the way to the church, which we could have found without his help. The church was smaller than I expected — in reading about it I imagined some huge cathedral, and the descriptions said it was built by two priests, working on their own. Unlike the Moffat Mission, it was approachable.

The mission church at Pella, near the Orange River

The mission church at Pella, near the Orange River

An hour later, 219 km from Augrabies, we stoped to take photos of a social weavers’ nest on top of a telephone pole. We had taken some photos of them on our 1991 trip to Namibia, on the road to Onseepkans, but with digital cameras one could take more pictures, and I hopoed to catch the birds flying in and out.

A social weavers' nest attached to a telephone pole. What will they do when cell phones take over completely?

A social weavers’ nest attached to a telephone pole. What will they do when cell phones take over completely?

We did not stop again until we reached Springbok, as we were worried that we might run out of petrol, and for the last 70 km the last block of the Yaris’s petrol gauge was flashing. We stopped at the first garage we came to, an Engen one, and they had no unleaded petrol. The next one, a Shell garage, was just replenishing its supplies, and and they said it would be some time before they could give us any. We finally found a Caltex garage and filled up there, 332 km after leaving Aughrabies.

Springbok, Northern Cape, with fields of orange Namaqualand daisies between the houses and the hills.

Springbok, Northern Cape, with fields of orange Namaqualand daisies between the houses and the hills.

Then we went to the local Wimpy and had veggie burgers for lunch. The place was quite full, and there were two blokes sitting near us who looked like Mormon
missionaries. There were three others who looked like businessmen, and one of them looked as if he was trying to sell the others something. Springbok  was a very pleasant little town, reminding me in a way of Mbabane, which we had last visited 30 years ago. Val had never been here before, and though I have been here twice, when travelling between Cape Town and Windhoek, it had been dark on both occasions, so I hadn’t had a chance to see the town.

Okiep, Namaqualand, a coppermining town. The chimney is left as a monument to Cornish miners who built Cornish=style beam pumps for the mines.

Okiep, Namaqualand, a coppermining town. The chimney is left as a monument to Cornish miners who built Cornish=style beam pumps for the mines.

After lunch we drove up a hill and saw the view over the town, and then drove to Okiep, which I had also seen only at night. We took some photos of a chimney, a memorial of a Cornish beam pump, and St Augustine’s Anglican Church there, which was surprisingly big, and in front of it were a lot of orange
Namaqualand daisies. It was another place I recalled stopping at in the middle of the night — travelling from Cape Town to Windhoek, we stopped to borrow R10.00 from the Anglican rector, Llewellyn Jones, otherwise we would have not have been able to buy enough petrol to reach Windhoek.

St Augustine's Anglican Churcdh, Okiep, Namaqualand

St Augustine’s Anglican Churcdh, Okiep, Namaqualand

We went on to Nababeep, another copper-mining town, which had a mininbg museum. We saw an engine, a coach and a couple of wagons from the old narrow-gauge railway that had run from the copper mines to Port Nolloth on the coast. They were rather badly weathered from standing for 60 years in the open, and looked as though they would deteriorate more.

Mining museum at Nababeep, Namaqualand, with train that took copper ore to Port Nolloth on  the coast. The line closed in 1952.

Mining museum at Nababeep, Namaqualand, with train that took copper ore to Port Nolloth on the coast. The line closed in 1952.

The gauge wasn’t as narrow as I had expected, perhaps 2′ 6″ or even a metre, certainly larger than the standard 2′ gauge one found in other parts of South Africa. Inside the museum were some photos of it in the days when the ore trucks were hauled by mules, and  there were also samples of the ore-bearing rocks.

Narrow-gauge train at Nababeep

Narrow-gauge train at Nababeep


We left Nababeep at 15:30, having travelled 367 km from Augrabies, and drove straight to Kamieskroon, stopping on the way at Arkoep Spruit to take photos of some fields of flowers. It was 16:30, and the flowers were beginning to close. We reached Kamieskroon at about 5:00 pm, and found Cosy Cottage,
where we were to stay, without any difficulty, and waited until a bloke came with a key to let us in. It had a TV, and we watched the end of a cricket match between South Africa and New Zealand, which we eventually won by 20 runs, though it should have been by more, only there were a lot of dropped catches. It was a cilly evening, reminding us that winter was not quite over yet, in spite of all the spring flowers we had seen,  and we lit a fire in the cottage


Leaders training and Women’s Day gathering

11 August 2015

At the weekend we had a church leaders’ training course, followed by a Women’s Day gathering and picnic.

In South Africa August 9 is Women’s Day, in memory of the thousands of women who marched to the main government office in Pretoria to protest against passes (internal passports) for women, which the government at that time wanted to introduce. It also falls in the Dormition Fast, so it seemed a good day to celebrate the most notable Christian woman of all, Mary, the Mother of God.

The leaders training was for those who are, or might be called to be, church readers, and was for males only, as it was held on the premises of the Monastery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Gerhardsville, south wast of Pretoria.

Students on the leaders training course: Bheki Buthelezi of Olievenhoutbos; Artemius Mangena of Atteridgeville; Nicholas Chauke of Soshanguve; Fr Frumentius Taubata; Christo Kokkinos of Vanderbijlpark; and Ernest Shilubane of Soshanguve.

Students on the leaders training course: Bheki Buthelezi of Olievenhoutbos; Artemius Mangena of Atteridgeville; Nicholas Chauke of Soshanguve; Fr Frumentius Taubata; Christo Kokkinos of Vanderbijlpark; and Ernest Shilubane of Soshanguve.

Fr Elias Palmos bought beds to provide sleeping accommodation in the monastery library. We thought we might be roughing it a bit, but the beds were actually very comfortable.

Where we slept-- in the monastery library

Where we slept– in the monastery library

When I arrived on Friday afternoon only Christo Kokkinos was there, and Fr Frumentius Taubata and his assistant Victor Rhema, who live on the premises, and prepared meals for us. As it was the Dormition Fast, the meals were very simple. We went to St Demetrius Church for the 9th Hour, and then had supper, and were joined by Bheki Buthelezi, who lives nearby at Olievenhoutbos.We waited for people from Soshanguve to join us, but they got lost in the dark, because of the road works on the R511, and eventually Fr Frumentius went out to meet them.

We had introductions and learnt a bit about each other. Christo Kokkinos runs a bicycle shop in Vanderbijlpark, and had helped out as a reader in his parish. Bheki Buthelezi hails from KwaZulu-Natal, but is working in Gauteng for SANRAL, the national roads agency, and is staying at Olievenhoutbos. He is preparing for baptism.  Ernest Shilubane and Nicholas Chauke are from Soshanguve, and are leaders in St Seraphim  parish there. We finished off with Compline in the church quite late at night.

Students reading in the moastery library: Nicholas Chauke and Christo Kokkinos

Students reading in the moastery library: Nicholas Chauke and Christo Kokkinos

On Saturday morning we started at 6:00 am with the First Hour; it was dark when we went into the church, and as we came out it was just beginning to get light in the east. There is no electricity in the church, so we used candles, which are made on the premises by Victor Rhema. If any parishes are interested in buying church candles, you can get them from the monastery — each bundle Victor is holding in the picture costs R50.00.

Victor Rhema with some of the candles he makes at the monastery

Victor Rhema with some of the candles he makes at the monastery

After the First Hour there was time for washing, tidying rooms, and reading until breakfast at 8:00 am. I went Atteridgeville to fetch Artemius Mangena, who was not able to join us on Friday evening because he still had to go for medical treatment from the time he was staying at the monastery and was shot by armed robbers some months ago.

This was followed by the Third Hour at 9:00 am. To begin with I read the Hours, but gradually some of the others joined in, and we used English, North Sotho and Zulu. After the Third Hour I said something about the daily cycle of prayer in the church.

Vespers – at sunset
Compline (Apodipno) after supper
Nocturns (Mesonichto) – midnight
Matins (Orthros) – 3 am
First Hour — 6 am
Third Hour — 9 am
Sixth Hour — Midday
Ninth Hour — 3 pm

In parish practice the services are usually “aggregated”, that is, jolined together into one longer unit. So the Vigil usually consists of the Ninth Hour, followed by Vespers, Matins and the First Hour, and in some parishes Matins immediately precedes the Divine Liturgy. During the course, however, we had them separately, partly to show their connection with the time of day, and partly to interperse the teaching sessions with prayer. We did not have Matins and Vespers, as they are much more complicated, and need a choir that can look up and sing all the variable bits. stichera etc, which we did not have. We were beginning with the relatively simple stuff, like the Hours and Small Compline.

We had tea and some more teaching, and then the Sixth Hour at noon, followed by lunch.

On Saturday afternoon Fr Elias Palmos arrived, bringing some course handbooks, and taught on the Ecumenical Councils especially the first one, and the doctrinal issues they dealt with, and in another session he taught on the Holy Trinity. Ernest Shilubane had to leave in the afternoon for a funeral, and in the evening I had to take Artemius Mangena back to Atteridgeville, as he had not brought any blankets with him.


Fr Elias teaching during the readers' course

Fr Elias teaching during the readers’ course

On Sunday morning we had the First Hour at 6:00 am again, and Val came to join us for the Divine Liturgy, which we sang following the Third Hour. In many parishes the Liturgy of Preparation is done concurrently with another service, like Matins or the Hours, so that there is one service going on at the altar and another in the nave of the church, but we did the preparation separately, so that the students could see how the bread and wine are prepared for the Divine Liturgy.  At the Divine Liturgy itself, Fr Frumentius served as priest and I served as deacon, while Val was the choir. Victor Rhema and Bheki Buthelezi, who are not yet baptised, stayed in the nave of the church. Some people from Atteridgeville, 21 km away, were supposed to join us, but could not do so as the taxis that were meant to bring them were engaged in ferrying people to Limpopo for Women’s Day.

Before, during and after lunch we had an informal class on church history, sitting round the table in the trapeza, where the students asked questions. We covered early church history of the Patriarchate of Alexandruia, to explain the origins of the Coptic and Ethiopian Churches, and how we differed from them. This was also a follow-up and expansion of what Fr Elias had taught the previous day about the Ecumenical Councils and the nature and person of Christ.

In the afternoon, after the 9th Hour  we went through the Liturgy of Preparation (Proskomedia) that we had done that morning, line by line, action by action, explaining the theological meaning of each part of the service.

Sunset in the monastery garden

Sunset in the monastery garden

We ended that day, as usual, with Compline, though somewhat earlier than on previous days, as we were all tired, and went to bed early.

On Monday we started with the First Hour before dawn again, only this time there were only two of us, as Nicholas Chauke had gone back to Soshanguve to fetch the women for the Women’s Day gathering. Fr Kobus arrived to give some teaching on preparation for Holy Communion, but we suggested he should wait until more people had arrived, and instead we did the Readers Service (Obednitsa), mainly to show Christos how it could be done.

When Nicholas Chauke returned with the Soshanguve people, Fr Kobus gave his teaching to a larger audience, and by then others were arriving for the Womens Day gathering as well. There were people from several different parishes, and His Eminence Metropolitan Damaskinos. Archbishop of Johannesburg and Pretoria. There was also the local city councillor.

Fr Elias leading the Akathis hymn. In the foreground, in isishweshwe skirts, are Angela and Martha Krunic.

Fr Elias leading the Akathist hymn. In the foreground, in isishweshwe skirts, are Angela and Martha Krunic.

Fr Kobus served a Paraklesis to the Theotokos, and then Archbishop Damaskinos spoke briefly, and Thomae Cavaleros spoke about the life of the Theotokos and its significance for Christians today. Fr Elias Palmos also spoke on the life of the Theotokos, and this was followed by an Akathist Hymn, and then a picnic.

Fr Frumentius, city councillor and compainions, and Archbishop Damaskinos

Fr Frumentius, city councillor and companions, and Archbishop Damaskinos

Owing to a misunderstanding some people had not brought any food, but others had brought more than enough, and so there was enough to go round, with some left over. Owing to another misunderstanding, Simon Shabangu, who was one of those involved in the planning of the course, missed the first couple of days, but managed to make it on the last day, and his comment was, “what a beautiful day it was indeed. We should continue organising such progressive events every now and then, since they unite the people in terms of getting to know each other n share ideas.

Women's Day gatheruing at the Monastery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit in Gerhardsville

Women’s Day gathering at the Monastery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit in Gerhardsville

We hope to be able to hold more leaders training courses in the coming months, at least 3-4 times a year, and hope we don’t have to wait 12 years for the next one!

Simon Shabangu, Thomae Cavaleros and Archbishop Damaskinos

Simon Shabangu, Thomae Cavaleros and Archbishop Damaskinos




The rainbow sign

23 July 2015

Recently the profile pictures of a lot of people on Facebook appeared overlaid with rainbow-type stripes.

This was made possible by the people at Facebook, who offered it on a page called Let’s celebrate pride. “From all of us at Facebook, Happy Pride!”.

There didn’t seem to be a corresponding one for celebrating humility.

SteveRainbowAnyway, it made me think of how Bishop Desmond Tutu’s description of South Africa as “the Rainbow Nation” went viral in the days when we were celebrating “many cultures, one nation”. So I added it to my profile picture on Facebook too.

It soon became apparent that South Africa, as always, was out of step with the rest of the world. When the rest of the world was denouncing apartheid as an unmitigated evil, the South African government stuck rigidly to it.

But when we finally abandoned apartheid and too up the “many cultures, one nation” idea, people in the rest of the world started denouncing multiculturalism as the worst thing since sliced bread (oh, wait, wrong metaphor, but still you see what I mean).

South Africa was uniting all the bogus “homelands” into one nation, while other countries, like Yugoslavia, were determinedly trying to drive people into their own “homelands”, and in the process gave us the term that so perfectly described effects of the former South African policy of apartheid, namely, “ethnic cleansing”.

But I digress.

proudly-south-africanThe other thought sparked off by the Facebook “Let’s celebrate pride” thing was the Proudly South African campaign. So if Facebook isn’t going to offer humility, let’s make the most of pride.

That probably isn’t the kind of “pride” that Facebook had in mind, but since they didn’t specify it, I suppose everyone is free to interpret it in their own way, though it does raise the question of who owns signs and symbols, and who gets to interpret what they mean.

So what does the rainbow symbolise?

The rainbow nation? Pride?

Back in 1971  a friend and I ran a kind of alternative news agency in Namibia, which we called Rainbow Press Services. We sent stories to South African newspapers, which didn’t have offices in Namibia, but as South Africa ruled Namibia at the time, they occasionally wanted to report things. We worked intitially for the Argus Africa News Service, and later for the South African Morning Group of Newspapaers. When I was sacked by the Windhoek Advertiser it became my sole source of income. When, a few months later, we were deported from Namibia, Rainbow Press Services came to an end.

But the name Rainbow Press Services arose by accident.

In 1969, at the instigation of Beyers Naude, I started some youth groups for the Christian Institute in Durban. I sent out a newsletter informing the members of the various groups of activities. The newsletters were produced by a stencil duplicator (remember those?), and I printed them on yellow paper because I had read somewhere that black printing on yellow paper was easiest to read. A journalist friend, Dick Usher, nicknamed it the Yellow Press, and took over producing it when I went to Namibia. There we produced a similar newsletter, the Pink Press, printed on pink paper to distingish it from the Yellow Press in Durban.

Of course we were aware of the symbolism of rainbows. In the words of one song,

God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water, but the fire next time.

FireNestAnd The fire next time was also the title of a book on race relations in the USA, presumably derived from the same song.

Paul and Silas bound in jail
Had no money for to go their bail.

The very moment I thought I was lost
The duncgeon shook and the chains fell off.

The only thing that we did wrong
was staying in the wilderness too long

The only thing that we did right
Was the day we began to fight.

God gave Noah the rainbow sign
No more water but the fire next time.

But there were other books that promulgated the idea that the rainbow sign was extremely dangerous. One such was The hidden dangers of the rainbow, by Constance Cumbey. Real conspiracy theory stuff, that.

CumbeyAccording to Cumbey, the rainbow was a secret symbol of the New Age Movement, which encapsulated everything evil in the world today.

So as a symbol, the rainbow seems to mean anything that anyone wants it to mean, good or bad.

My own take on it is somewhat different.

God gave Noah the rainbow sign, but didn’t say anything about “the fire next time”.

For a brief period of 20 years, from 1969 to 1989, the Anglican Church in Southern Africa had an experimental lectionary in which each Sunday had a particular theme, and the Bible readings were chosen to reflect that theme. The cycle began on the 9th Sunday before Christmas, and from then until Christmas the Old Testament reading was the “contolling lesson”, on which the theme was based.

The first three themes were Creation, Fall and, on the 7th Sunday before Christmas, The Covenant of Preservation: Noah.

This scheme brought out the Christian significance of the rainbow sign.

Perhaps I was influenced in thinking this because, as a child of the 1960s, I was familiar with the Beatles’ song We all live in a yellow submarine.

It was also fashionable in the 1960s to speak of “Spaceship Earth” — here we are hurtling through a hostile environment, space, on a planet with limited resources, and we’d better look after it, or we’re doomed.

The Bible, at least in the story of Noah, prefers the image of the submarine.

There are waters above the firmament, and waters below the firmament (the firmament, of course, being the hull of the submarine). It is still a hostile environment, though it is pictured as water rather than empty space.

And the people in the submarine are fighting, so that the whole earth was filled with violence (Genesis 6:13). And when you fight in a submarine, you are likely to make holes in the hull, and let the water in, which is what happened. And God told Noah (the only one who would listen) how to build an escape capsule, which, according to the story, he did.

Those three Sundays emphasised s sequence: creation, fall, preservation. God made the world and saw that it was good. Evil enters the world through human beings, and it is human addiction to violence that threatens to destroy it and all life in it. But the Covenant of Preservation is just that: evil may seem overwhelming, but it will never completely overwhelm the goodness of God’s creation. Evil may be powerful, but there are limits to its power, and God’s promise, God’s covenant of preservation, is that evil will never completely overcome the good. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not, and will not, overcome it.

And that’s why, also back in the 1960s, we used to sing We shall overcome.


Christina Mothapo’s funeral

11 July 2015

Today we buried Christina Mothapo, at 89 the oldest member of our Mamelodi mission congregation. She had been, like most of the other members, a member of the African Orthodox Episcopal Church, whose leader, then Archbishop Simon Thamaga asked in 1997 to join the Patriarchate of Alexandria. Christina was not only the oldest, but also one of the most faithful members.

Christina Mothapo with members of her family on her 87th birthday, 1 Jan 2013

Christina Mothapo (in blue dress) with members of her family on her 87th birthday, 1 Jan 2013

We first used to meet in a school classroom, and Christina walked up there for services on Sunday mornings. When the school raised the rent for the classroom beyond what the congregation could affor (from R30.00 a month to R200.00) we met in Christina’s house. That made it easier for her, because she was beginning to find the walk difficult. But it had some drawbacks — in a church building, the church is visible when it meets. In a classroom, it is less visible, and in a house, it’s almost invisible.

Val remarked that it was rather sad that an old lady should have so many beautiful flowers when she was no longer around to enjoy them.

Val remarked that it was rather sad that an old lady should have so many beautiful flowers when she was no longer around to enjoy them.

For the last couple of months, Christina had been ill in bed, and we had the service in the next room, where she could hear it, but not see it.

She also got a new blanket as a pall to cover the coffin, and another old ladyt in the congregation said, "Rather give me a blanket when I'm alive and feel the cold."

She also got a new blanket as a pall to cover the coffin, and another old ladyt in the congregation said, “Rather give me a blanket when I’m alive and feel the cold.”

One of the things Christina was very insistent on was that she wanted an Orthodox funeral, and was worried that after her death people would do strange things. One problem is that many people belong to burial societies, and one of the things they do is print funeral programmes, but those who draw up the programmes have no idea what Orthodox funerals are like. But we somehow managed to marry the two.

Deacon Stephen Hayes and Reader Peter Chauke at the funeral

Deacon Stephen Hayes and Reader Peter Chauke at the funeral

There are three cemeteries in Mamelodi, and while I had been to two of them before, it was the first time I had been to this one, rather unfortunately placed next to a municipal rubbish dump. I was struck by the number of recent graves. A few, like Christiana, had lived long lives, but so many have died relatively young, in  their 30s and 40s.

Christina Mothapo's grave, after the burial

Christina Mothapo’s grave, after the burial

With the saints give rest, O Christ
To the soul of Thy servant
Where sickness and sorrow are no more
Neither sighing, but life everlasting.

Thou only art immortal
Who hast created and fashioned man
For out of the earth were we mortals made
And unto the same earth shall we return again
As Thou didst command when Thou madest me, saying unto me:
For dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return
Whither we mortals all shall go
Making our funeral dirge the song:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Memory eternal! Memory eternal!
May her memory be eternal!

Segopotšo ka go sa felego!
A gopolwe ka go sa felego!




Greece and the European banking crisis

9 July 2015

In the last week or so the news media have been dominated by the story of the Greek anti-austerity referendum.

At first it seemed that the “mainstream” media were saying one thing, and “social” media another.

Before the referendum I would see things liike “Don’t blink, Greece” on Facebook, while the “mainstream” media (including the Greek media) were presenting it as Greeks voting for or against the Euro, or the Eurozone, or the EU.

Celebrating the "No" vote in the anti-austerity referendum, Syntagma Square, Athens (photo: Julia Bridget Hayes)

Celebrating the “No” vote in the anti-austerity referendum, Syntagma Square, Athens (photo: Julia Bridget Hayes)

But that doesn’t seem to be the way most Greeks saw it. It seems that most of those who voted “No” were voting against austerity without end, and ever-increasing debt. They were being asked to vote on whether they should jump into a bottomless pit. Should anyone be surprised that a majority voted “No” to that?

Well, according to this article, no one was more surprised than the present Greek government, which called the referendum in the first place. Europe is blowing itself apart over Greece – and nobody seems able to stop it – Telegraph:

Greek premier Alexis Tsipras never expected to win Sunday’s referendum on EMU bail-out terms, let alone to preside over a blazing national revolt against foreign control.

He called the snap vote with the expectation – and intention – of losing it. The plan was to put up a good fight, accept honourable defeat, and hand over the keys of the Maximos Mansion, leaving it to others to implement the June 25 “ultimatum” and suffer the opprobrium.

That one reads a bit like a conspiracy theory.

But since the referendum the media consensus seems to have fallen apart, and we have seen a lot of wildly contradictory stories about what happened, what is happening, and what will happen in future.

It didn’t take long for the “Putin is the bad guy” meme to surface in the Western media: Is Putin Playing Puppetmaster in Greece? – The Daily Beast:

The weekend’s stunning repudiation of further European bailouts by a strong majority of Greeks shocked Brussels and beyond. That 61 percent of Greek voters want nothing to do with European Union “fixes” to their country’s grave fiscal crisis, which has preoccupied the EU for five years, represents a shocking development to Eurocrats.

What happens next is on everyone’s mind. Unless Athens comes up with a revised—and more plausible—finance plan very soon, expulsion from the Eurozone appears imminent. While that could cause financial instability for Europe, and may bring bad tidings far beyond, there’s one country that seems to be savoring this crisis.

That’s Russia. To the surprise of no one who pays attention to Vladimir Putin’s persistent efforts to undermine the EU and NATO, Moscow is poised to reap political benefits from Greece’s financial collapse.

Celebrating the "No" vote in the anti-austerity referendum in Athens (photo: Julia Bridget Hayes)

Celebrating the “No” vote in the anti-austerity referendum in Athens (photo: Julia Bridget Hayes)

Both that and the Daily Telegraph‘s story seem to be in the classic conspiracy theorist mode. They are different conspiracies, that’s all. The first suggests a conspiracy between the Greek government and the Eurocrats, the second a conspiracy between the Greek government and Putin.

I think this one comes closer to the truth in economic terms, though it could also be seen as a conspiracy theory, positing a conspiracy between the the governments of countries like Germany and France and the banks: Mark Blyth | Why Greece Isn’t to Blame for the Crisis:

the Greek deficit was a rounding error, not a reason to panic. Unless, of course, the folks holding Greek debts, those big banks in the eurozone core, had, over the prior decade, grown to twice the size (in terms of assets) of—and with operational leverage ratios (assets divided by liabilities) twice as high as—their “too big to fail” American counterparts, which they had done. In such an over-levered world, if Greece defaulted, those banks would need to sell other similar sovereign assets to cover the losses. But all those sell contracts hitting the market at once would trigger a bank run throughout the bond markets of the eurozone that could wipe out core European banks.

I’m no economist, but that article seems to jibe with what professional economists I know have been saying, and I see no reason to disbelieve them. And it seems that other economists have been saying similar things:

… the financial demands made by Europe have crushed the Greek economy, led to mass unemployment, a collapse of the banking system, made the external debt crisis far worse, with the debt problem escalating to an unpayable 175 percent of GDP. The economy now lies broken with tax receipts nose-diving, output and employment depressed, and businesses starved of capital.

But they persist, like medieval quack physicians, in believing that if bleeding the patient does not result in improvement, bleed them some more.

And then there is this article, which points to an important and often-overlooked truth behind all this: Greece just taught cap[italists a lesson about what capitalism really means – Business Insider:

Debt is not a guarantee of future payments in full. Rather, it is a risk that creditors take, in hopes of maybe being paid tomorrow.

The key word there is “risk.”

If you’re willing to take the risk, you’ll get a premium — in the form of interest.

But the downside of that risk is that you lose your money. And Greece just called Germany’s bluff.

The IMF loaned Greece 1.5 billion euros, due back in June, and Greece isn’t paying it back. Greece has another 3.5 billion due to the ECB in July, and that looks really doubtful right now.

This is how capitalism works. The fact that it took a democratically elected government whose own offices are adorned with posters of Lenin, Engels, and Guevara to teach this lesson to Germany is astonishing.

Over the last few decades we have seen a growth in the popularity of the ideology of neoliberalism, with its proponents saying that socialism is outdated and discredited. They stress the importance of “free markets”, and proclaim the merits of privatisation.

But here, as elsewhere, we see the essential flaw in this. What the exponents of privatisation want is privatisatiion of the rewards, but not privatisation of the risks. Thus they can be reckless with other people’s money and pay themselves enormou7s bonuses, but when things go belly-up, they can always apply to the public purse for bail outs.


The Daily Beast describes Greece’s “No” to endless austerity is “stunning” and “shocking”. and many of the other Western news media said similar things. Some speculated about whether the Greeks were too stupid to know the consequences of what they were voting for, and some implied that they were stupid because they voted “no”.

But if the Greeks were stupid, they nevertheless remembered more of Grade 3 arithmetic than the Western media who criticised them.

If you have a tank that is being filled at ten litres a minute, and at the bottom the tap is open and draining 17,5 litres a minute, the tank is soon going to be empty.

That is what the Eurozone troika wanted the Greeks to vote “Yes” to, while themselves standing on the hose filling the tank to reduce the inflow still further.

The Greeks aren’t that stupid, but the Western media who expected and urged them to vote “Yes” apparently are.

Back at the end of the last century the United Nations set several “Millennium Goals” to be achived by 2015, among which was the go0al of reducing povery. But in 2015 the Eurozone troike was not satisfied that, as a consequence of their austerity policies, 60% of Greek pensioners were living in poverty. They wanted it to be increased to 70%, or even 80%.

Would anyone in their right mind actually vote for that?

Yet the Western media and a lot of Western politicians seemed to expect them to.

The consequences of this imbroglio will not be confined to Greece, or even to Europe. They are likely to affect all of us. And nether the politicians nor the media pandits seem to be able to see any way out of it, and all offer widely differeing solutions.

Here are a few more interesting articles on the topic:

Celebratiing the "No" vote in the anti-austerity referendum, Syntagma Square, Athens (photo by Julia Bridget Hayes)

Celebratiing the “No” vote in the anti-austerity referendum, Syntagma Square, Athens (photo by Julia Bridget Hayes)

And, concerning the last, it might be well to remember this:

Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.
And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.
But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.
And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.
And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.
Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:
Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?
And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him (Matt 18:23-34).



Societal norms and Christian values

3 July 2015

A recent decision of the US Supreme Court that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right has caused a flurry of activity in social media, with many jubilantly proclaiming it as a notable victory for human rights, and others denouncing it as the greaterst evil of our time. The extremists in both camps seem to manifest the kind of bigotry I have previously discussed here: Are you homophobic? | Notes from underground.

I don’t want to discuss the merits of same-sex marriage here. Suffice it to say that I find myself in disagreement with the extremists on both sides of the issue, and that I am both for it and against it. I’ve already said most of what I want to say about that here The State should get out of the marriage business | Notes from underground and here The theology of Christian marriage | Khanya. If you want to comment on whether you think same-sex marriage is a good thing or an evil thing, please read one or both posts and post your comments there. The issue here is not whether same-sex marriage is a good thing or an evil thing, but rather what the debate on it (and on other issues) reveals about the relationship between societal norms and Christian values.

There is an interesting blog post here Why the gay marriage debate was over in 1950 | Joel J. Miller that suggested that, in the USA at least, the values changed after the Second World War with the advent of the Permissive Society, and that it has just taken until now for the norms to catch up. I don’t agree with everything in that article, but it is an interesting thesis, and it is worth reading.

reichOne of the contributions to the debate on Facebook was a graphic.

I don’t know who Robert Reich is or why his opinion should matter more than anyone else’s, but at least some people on Facebook seem to think it does, so it can be taken as a partial representation of at least one segment of society.

There are three issues there that are covered by three of the ten commandments:

  • Thou shalt not commit adultery
  • Thou shalt not kill
  • Thou shalt not steal

And, according to Robert Reich, at least, sex and human life are trivial. The big issues are economic.

And there I would have to agree. There is still some debate about economic issues, and the Greek debt crisis was making far bigger headlines this week than the same-sex marriage issue, or any of the killing that is going on around the world. So that is a big deal, for the media at least. But on Facebook, many people seemed to be covering their profile pictures with rainbow stripes, none with blue and white stripes. On the other hand, in the media our president is associated far more with “Pay back the money”, with his sexual behaviour being relegated to a single cartoonist depicting him with a shower on his head, the significance of which is probably lost on many (for those who don’t know, he was charged with rape, and said in court that the precatution he took against Aids infection was to have a shower afterwards).

Actually I would also disagree with Joel Miller, when he said that the sexual question started in 1950s. In many countries (though not all) heterosexual adultery was decriminalised long before homosexual adultery and fornication were, though this did not happen everywhere — see here, for example: Decriminalisation of adultery sends condom stocks soaring | Irish Examiner.

But, whichever way you look at it, the idea that the state should enforce Christian sexual morality is long past its sell-by date, and it was never a particularly Christian idea to start with. Even Christians can ‘t seem to agree about it — see here Attitudes on Same-sex Marriage by Religious Affiliation and Denominational Family. As one Orthodox bishop put it 1990-00-00-1-E-R-I-EM05-133ChurchMustBeAsPowerlessAsGod:

It seems to me — and I am firmly convinced of this — that the Church must never speak from a position of strength. It should not be one of the powers that be acting for the State. It should be, let us say, as helpless as God, as helpless as Him who does not force His will on us, who only calls us and reveals the beauty and truth of things, but who does not force them upon us and, like our conscience, prompts us with the truth but leaves us free either to listen to the truth and the beauty or to deny them. It seems to me that the Church must be just like that. If the Church represents some organisation which has power, which can coerce and control events, there always remains the risk that it will want to exert power, and as soon as a Church begins to exert power it loses its deepest essence — God’s love, and the ability to understand those whom it must save, rather than break or reconstruct them.

And, concerning the specific issue of same-sex marriage, I think one of the best comments on the US Supreme Court decision came from the bishops of the Orthodox Church of America.

Concerning killing and economics, Christians are just as inconsistent.

US President Obama publicly deplores killing with guns, but goes on killing with drones. Some Christians who oppose one are in favour of the other. Some of those who oppose aborti0n are in favour of capital punishm,ent and vice versa. All this seems to suggest that that here too, the battle has been lost. For most Christians, values are determi9ned by society’s norms. And some of those who have despaired of making society’s norms conform to Christian values have suggested the Benedict option, a semi-withdrawal from the world into a kind of Christian ghetto, though they seem to be pretty selective about which Christian values they are despairing of imposing.

Empty symbolism -- dark suits and bow ties

Empty symbolism — dark suits and bow ties

Some Christians seem to think that homosexual marriage will destroy the institution of marriage, and the more conspiratorially minded among them have even suggested that it is a deliberate plot to destroy marriage. I think it is rather the other way round: homosexual marriage has become possible because heterosexual marriage has already been thoroughly devalued, so that fewer and fewer heterosexual couples bother to get formally married at all, and even those that do get married often regard it as a meaningless ceremony. In South Africa, marriage was largely destroyed by apartheid, and in many other societies it was also destroyed by easy divorce, or rather, easy divorce was an even earlier sympton of the devaluation of marriage in society.

So I find it hard to share either the heights of jublilation or the depths of despair and dismay that have been manifested by some over same-sex marriage. It looks like regarding the ability to pick up discarded rubbish as a great victory or a great setback for human rights.

Beside the huge injustice of not being able to dress up in dark suits and bow ties and have some legal formulas pronounced things like the murderous wars promoted and financed by powerful elites in some countries which have created millions more refugees, pale into insignificace.

A few days ago I posted a link to this article on Facebook. It got 2 likes and 1 share. Blame the Rich World for the Global Refugee Crisis – Bloomberg Business:

The United Nations reported last week that the number of refugees worldwide is at its highest level in more than a decade. From around 10 million in 2004, the number climbed to move than 14 million last year. That’s putting a considerable burden on a few—overwhelmingly poor—host countries, one that may last decades. The report suggests more than half of the world’s refugees are under the age of 18, which means many will be well into middle age before they exit refugee status. War and political upheaval may create refugees, but it’s time to acknowledge that the global system for dealing with the problem is broken—and that’s in no small part because the industrialized world does so little to help fix it.

Never mind the minor invonveniences suffered by people whose homes have been bombed to rubble and kids who must grow up and spend the rest of their lives in concentration camps, spurned by the rich nations as “suspected asylum seekers”. It is overshadowed by the great victory for human rights when bourgeois westerners can dress in fancy suits and bow ties and have some kind of ceremony.

Refugees -- many created  by the same country congratulating itself on its commitment to human rights by legalising same-sex marriage

Refugees — many created by the same country congratulating itself on its commitment to human rights by legalising same-sex marriage

I may be weird about this, but to me it seems to lack a sense of proportion. The extremists on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue seem far more concerned about that than they do about the plight of the refugees. Of course I’m not in a position to do much about either. Sharing and “liking” things on Facebook is not going to be of much help to refugees. But it does serve as an indication of societal norms and values.

Maybe I’m just prejudiced about this. The only time I ever wore a bow tie was when I was forced to do so as part of a fresher initiation programme at university. It was intended as a symbol of humiliation, to remind one, as the seniors kept saying, that freshers were “lower than shark shit”. So I find it difficult to empathise enough with people whose greatest desire is to dress up in bow ties.

But I find it even more difficult to empathise with people who are desperately seeking pretexts to bomb people’s homes into rubble and force them to live in refugee camps, compared to which legalising same sex marriage seems quite irrelevant.

And then there are the bankers. As The Byrds used to sing in my youth:

As through this life you travel
You meet some funny men
Some rob you with a six gun
And some with a fountain pen.

And so we come back to the economics.

And that is where society’s norms and Christian values both seem to be all over the place. And very few people seem to be talking about the theology of that. They’re too busy trying to work out where to invest their money, if they have any.

People talk about “culture wars”, and I predict that the most significant culture war of the next couple of decades will not be about sexual ethics, but about economics. The UN set Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty by 2015, but it is now 2015 and the Eurozone Troika are not satisfied that 60% of Greek pensioners live in poverty. They want it to be increased to 70% or even 80%. Austerity for all, except the bankers, of course.



This is a blog post.

It is almost the paradigm case of a blog — a web log — with links to some of the web sites I have visited in the last week, and notes of some of my reactions to some of them.

That is something a blog does particularly well. It can’t be done on sites like Facebook or Twitter, which allow you to link to, and possibly comment on one web site at a time.

Blogs also allow you to comment on some of the sites, or all of them, but they are really limited to discussing the particular view expressed in the blog post.

I think this theme of Christian values and society’s norms needs more discussion, and I think a good place to do that is in an exising forum for discussion of Christianity and society.

If you would like to know more about joining that forum (if you are not already a member), or if you would like to say something about this post to me privately and not in a public comment, please use the form below. Anything you type in it will be seen by me only, and not by the public, like things you type in the comment form.

Henry Miller, “Tropic of Cancer”

29 June 2015

Tropic Of CancerTropic Of Cancer by Henry Miller

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A couple of months ago I read Youth by J.M. Coetzee about an aspiring South African writer who goes to London. I felt that there was something missing in the book (my review here). I couldn’t quite put a finger on the missing bit, so I thought I would read Tropic of Cancer, which is the story of an aspiring American writer living in Paris.

Since both are semi-autobiographical novels they invite comparison, though perhaps it isn’t doing justice to Miller to compare him with another writer, but it’s the theme that interests me, rather than the individual novels. They were written 30 years apart — Paris in the 1930s, London in the 1960s, and that in itself makes quite a big difference. It is hard to think that the 1960s are further away from us now than the 1930s were then. Perhaps it is because I was alive in the 1960s and thought that the 1930s were impossibly remote. Perhaps it is because WWII intervened, and we are living in a different world.

But with Henry Miller it doesn’t matter much that we are living in a different world, because his books in a sense are timeless. In reading Tropic of Cancer the main thing that seemed different and out of place was that males wore hats, and felt uncomfortable if they went out hatless.

The first book of Miller’s that I read was The Colossus of Maroussi, and it is still the one I like the best. One of the things I liked most about it was his descriptions of places, and there are some good descriptive passages in Tropic of Cancer too.

When it was first published Tropic of Cancer and its companion volume Tropic of Capricorn were banned in most English-speaking countries. Even when they were unbanned in the 1960s they were regarded by many as “dirty” books, because of the explicit sexual descriptions. In the 1980s, of course, no novel was complete without such things — what was forbidden in the 1930s became compulsory 50 years later, so Miller’s book no longer shocks.

People might find it distasteful for other reasons, though; it is sexist, and there is an undertone of racism as well. Some have said that the book is misogynist, but it is not so much mysoginist as sexist. Miller doesn’t hate women, he just doesn’t have much use for them, or rather he just has one use for them — as sexual objects, and that is how he describes them all the way through the book. They are not people, they are genitals with mouths and legs attached.

But most of his descriptions of males were also pretty dehumanising. Perhaps that’s why I like Miller best for his descriptions of places, rather than of people.

View all my reviews


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