Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Against All the Odds.

Aunty Betty Visser turned 100 today. I salute Aunty Betty, who, in the dark days of Apartheid, stood firm and defeated those who wanted to take away her land.

South Africa has a history of white people taking prime land away from people of colour. Early history is about this being done at the barrel-end of a gun. Later this was enacted by law before being enforced by the gun. The Apartheid Authorities designed a system to gain control of prime land by declaring land "white". This would mean that the land owners of colour could only sell their land to white people.

Aunty Betty had legal papers served on her, informing her that she, as a person of colour, now lived in land that was designated "white". She was therefore obliged to sell her land to a white person. There and then she resolved never to submit to this law. And she never did. She outlived this evil law - and saw it scrapped from the statute book.

She owns her home - and is free to sell/donate/bequeath it to whoever she pleases.
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Thursday, April 04, 2013

Shops and Women

I am in a Japanese clothing shop with my daughter, her mother, and her grandmother. But I could be in a clothing shop back in South Africa - or anywhere else in the world for that matter. The fact is that these three women love clothing shops! They browse the isles fingering the fabric and making comments to each other. Then they take various articles and try them on. And then they put them back on the rack. "Just looking" they answer. 

I have now walked three times around this shop. I have spotted all the exits. I have found the toilet - but it is a traditional Japanese model so I have decided not to sample it. I am on nodding acquaintance with every staff member. I have even tried asking if they are through with this shop: to be told "Nearly done".

Then the words of blessed release: "We are ready!" I naturally assume this to mean that I should head for the checkout till. (Oh yes - guess who's credit card will get used!) So I waited at the till, until I saw that they had got distracted by a rack of 'sale' items strategically placed on the way to the till.

So I am sitting on a bench at the door. Waiting. Sigh. 
The only thing I am sure about right now - is that there are other shops still to come!

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Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Being a Couple

31 years ago Jenny and I promised to be a couple "till death us do part". These words sound so strange to the times we live in. Nobody commits him/herself to a project 'for life'. We commit while we have the strength, the interest, the finances, or until the context changes and other challenges replace the current one. So why are we still committed to being married to each other?

Certainly not because it is a habit. Neither is it because I have no other option. I wake up each morning and choose to be married. I am free to leave this relationship, and I am free to enter into a relationship with someone else. Jenny is not my jailor. Each day we offer each other a partnership all over again. This is freely given, without obligation. I have never felt trapped by my marriage to Jenny - because this is my reality: I choose to stay married.   

This does not imply that being married has been easy. That would be a lie. We have had moments when our weaknesses, and our deepest insecurities have been a source of great irritation to both of us. This has asked patience and kindness for one another - something we have had to learn, and will continue to learn over the years. As we have got older we are finding that we need to adjust to new frailties in each other. This is tough, because I am irritated enough at my failing body, without having to deal with a partner's newly discovered weaknesses - and her irritation at how her body fails her! Again: we are learning how to stay married under changed circumstances.

Let me answer before you ask: marriage has not make me immune to attractive women. I have very attractive women friends, and am grateful that Jenny is not jealous of these friendships. I am grateful for these women who have offered their friendship and support over the years, particularly when you have helped me continue to be married.

I love Jenny. This does not mean that we are always 'in love'. I know that there are times that I irritate her intensely - probably enough to commit murder (mine). I know too that there are times when I have failed her because my own interests and passions distract me from her needs. I am bewildered that she continues to get up each morning and stay married to me. But I am grateful that she does. I look forward to another year of choosing to be married to Jenny.
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Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Tower Bombing

Hiroshima Peace Memorial
Two different countries - each has a building that is bombed with thousands of innocent civilians that are killed.

In both instances the bombers justified this by answering that there are no 'innocents' because all are responsible for the decisions of the national leadership.

Two different countries - the same national grieving. One country loses three thousand lives. The other loses 140 000 lives.

Two countries - two very different responses: one stockpiles nuclear warheads in the belief that this will keep them safe. The other establishes a peace park and calls for the end to nuclear armaments.

Standing here in Hiroshima, nuclear warheads do not feel like the safer option.

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Monday, April 01, 2013


Hiroshima Peace Memorial
Today I stood at the epicentre of the first atom bomb’s target. On 6 August 1945 this bomb was dropped from an American B-29, the Enola Gay, at 0815 local time. Nearly 70,000 people are believed to have been killed immediately, with possibly another 70,000 survivors dying of injuries and radiation exposure by 1950. And I mourned the loss of 140 000 lives.

I grew up with the names Hiroshima and Nagasaki in my subconscious. Both my grandfather and my father spoke of the end of the war in the Pacific Ocean with sadness. Both spoke of the necessity of dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to end the war. The story of my youth goes like this: The Allied leaders were concerned about attacking Japan. Personnel at the American Navy Department estimated the invading Allies would suffer between 1.7 and 4 million casualties in such a scenario, of whom between 400,000 and 800,000 would be dead, while Japanese casualties would have been around 5 to 10 million.[1] It was therefore argued that dropping the atom bomb actually saved lives.

I have since discovered that this is simply untrue. In the words of Dwight D Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe: "Japan was already defeated and dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary."[2]
Other military leaders concurred:

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, reflected this reality when he wrote, "The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace.the atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military point of view, in the defeat of Japan." Admiral William D. Leahy, Chief of Staff to President Truman, said the same thing: "The use of [the atomic bombs] at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender."[3]
Oh Crap! So someone told a lie. But why was it told? Well it seems that everything was about influence in the Pacific. The Americans were worried about the communists gaining influence in China if communist Russia moved into the Pacific. The United States needed to end the war immediately, before Russia declared war on Japan. So dropping the bomb was about US self-interest in the Pacific.

And I am more convinced than ever that Jesus is right when he challenges his followers to “Love your enemies” (Luke 6:27). I have never understood this commandment as a submissive acquiescence to injustice. It demands rigorous resistance of all that is evil – including war. War does not make us better human beings. It brings us all down to the same level of evil. I continue to commit my life to teaching and practising peace.

We're sick and tired of hearing,
That the world is gonna blow,
So there's something we'll do to the leaders,
Before we go;

Let's stick 'em in a room together - Yeah!!
And make them fight it out,
Until they see nothing from nothing,
Will leave nothing at all

The Getaway - Chris De Burgh

[1] http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/operation_downfall.htm
[2] http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0806-25.htm
[3] Ibid.