Tag Archives: South Africa

The Geography of Power and Privilege

First pile of books plundered from library

First pile of books plundered from library

This is the year I have finally started my Masters in Missiology (the study of missions or the study of “what the heck are we meant to be doing and how should we do it” as I prefer) through the University of Stellenbosch. I have harboured a deep desire to study further for many years but due to time, finances and circumstances this has never been an option. Until now… so due to a happy confluence of circumstances (Sovereignty if you will) I am able to dedicate a significant portion of my time to academic study of the next two years.

Although these things are notoriously fickle at the hands of supervisors and further reading here is my first attempt at articulating the area I hope to look at in my research.

“The effects of the apartheid system continue to affect the mission and the life of the church in Cape Town. In particular the long-term structures around which our city was re-engineered through the group areas act continues to entrench the division of races and economics in our city. The flow of power and of privilege very much follows the geographical contours of inequality in our city. The church has had a chequered history with these divisions at times supporting it, at times opposing it but mostly a quiet acquiescence through the development of a parallel structure of power and geography that mirrored, upheld or even enhanced the division of race and power. The post 1994 changes have mostly not brought about any significant changes in the geography of privilege and power. The evangelical church, by nature conservative lags behind entrenching often unwittingly the now traditional structures of power that so divide our city. What can the church do? Or perhaps more significantly what will the church do? Will we meekly wait for the city and the world to slowly and grudgingly change (if indeed we can even truly see our city redeemed) or will we act in spite of what we see, will we become a people of hope, willing ourselves to run counter cultural to the well established lines of privilege and prestige in our city. How can the church be a movement of hope in overcoming the geography of power that shapes and moulds our city still today?”

When Justice is Silent

South Africa, it feel like, is often on the brink of another violent protest.  The poor and the marginalized are frustrated. Their voice is not being heard. They are being ignored. As a result they resort to violence or vandalism in order to get a hearing.  Most often it works. Even if it is only to get the politicians to argue about whose fault it is.   This same philosophical dilemma was debated in the 1960’s between the older ANC members and the young firebrands like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu.  In South Africa, we celebrate the results of their decision to engage in the armed struggle.  The ends it seems have justified the means.  I suspect among Christians this may be something of another elephant in the room.

When you are not being heard through the normal channels, do you do whatever it takes to get those with the power to listen?  And if these actions gain you a hearing or a victory are these actions then made righteous because of the favourable outcome?

I get it! On purely rational or even emotional grounds these arguments resonate with me. But the biblical reaction, I suspect, is something altogether different.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), for instance, Jesus clearly says, that our righteous acts alone are not enough to make us just in the eyes of the law. It is not enough that we do good deeds we must also desire to do that good.   It is not enough to not murder someone rather we must love them, even our enemies. It is not enough not to commit adultery rather we must be pure in heart. True righteousness, are righteous acts fuelled by righteous desires. Neither grudging righteous acts nor unrighteous acts in order to achieve righteous goals fit the criteria for true biblical righteousness.

Jesus’ words in Mark 7:14-23 make it clear that anger, pride and violence come from the unrighteous desires of our heart. Our actions are the overflow of our heart. If our actions are evil that is because our motives and desires are evil. Unrighteous actions cannot come from a heart that is righteous or which desires righteous outcomes. If the means to bring about the result are unrighteous then the result cannot be righteous. Even if the outcome is the desired outcome or the outcome benefits people – it cannot be regarded by God as righteousness.

A robust belief in the sovereignty of God confronts us with the reality that it is not all up to us. In other words Christians cannot partake in this type of thinking that believes that if we do not stand up for ourselves and make ourselves heard then no one will do it on our behalf. Or which says we must force them to listen to us, because if we do not do it then no one will.

So what do we do, when we are not being heard? When everything within us cries out for us to force ourselves to be heard? Do we “sell our soul” to commit injustice in order to fight injustice?

No, we go to the one who sees the injustice. To the one who always hears, always sees and always listens. We fall on our knees before our Heavenly Father, crying out for mercy, for justice and in repentance for our own hearts filled with violence and evil desires.

We petition the one who has all the power to soften the hearts of those in power, to calm the restless spirits of those who would resort to violence. We pray that we may persevere to do what is right even when it feels foolish and powerless. We trust that God sees, God hears, God acts and He will do what is right.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  Will we trust God’s unseen hand at work today in the midst of chaos and uncertainty?

Too often, when the pressure is on, our theology is revealed, and it is revealed to be man-centred and not God centred. We are found to be those who trust in the immediacy of the hand of man rather than the seemingly hidden hand of God.

All true theology is cross-shaped. The cross demonstrates once and for all that God takes injustice seriously.  At the cross God has dealt decisively with injustice.  Wicked and unjust acts do not escape punishment. And not only the institutional or systemic injustice against which we protest but also the self-centred injustice that lurks within our own hearts.

The paradox of the cross is that whilst God takes injustice seriously, he is also the one who, in mercy, lays down his own life, in order to redeem us from the consequences of our sin. At the cross we see justice and mercy hand in hand.

It is the cross which must drive all our thoughts and actions against injustice. Work hard against injustice, cry out for change, lay down your finances, your time, your comforts and your preferences in order to bring about change. Get involved in change in your community. But fight to remember that a fight for justice must always come from a heart that knows and extends mercy. Mercy not only to those who are victims but also to those who are the perpetrators. That is the scandal of grace.  Grace offers humanity, forgiveness and love to those who would dehumanise, humiliate and oppress.

When we remember the cross we are compelled to cry out, not only for the victims but the oppressors also. We must ask ourselves what does it mean to bless, to serve and to love, not only the victims but the oppressors too. We cannot dehumanise, demonise or hate those who are as much the recipients of Jesus grace and mercy as those whose needs we feel. The way of the cross is a mystery, a paradox, an unnatural, uncomfortable, irrational way of following Jesus who holds grace and mercy together as he builds his Kingdom of peace, healing, justice, mercy and forgiveness.

 

There is no elephant in the room

My friend Brett has been running a series of Taboo Topics on his blog entitled “What I Would Like My White Friends To Hear.”  You can read my contribution to that discussion here if you like.  And make sure you don’t miss Brett’s new panel discussion series on race of which I have been asked to take part.

Anyway Brett sent me this blog post, on racial reconciliation in South Africa today for my thoughts.  I really liked the post but also I decided to scribble down a few thoughts in response.

The writer acknowledges early on in the post that she is white and middle-class and cannot therefore speak from any other perspective and so this obviously colours some of the questions that are asked or assumed throughout the post. I am not convinced that race is the proverbial elephant in the room for anyone except white people. Only white people are pretending that it is not an issue and trying to press ahead in a mass disacknowledgement of our history and our past. Only white people are trying to pretend race is not an issue anymore because the whole long time of twenty years have passed. Only white people are now welcoming black people into “their spaces” and expecting black people to “be cool about.”

This is actually a well-written, honest and helpful article. But the underlying assumptions and expectations, which in fairness the author is kicking against, are not those of the majority of South Africans. There is no elephant in the room. There is no silent disacknowledgement. There is no pretence that twenty years is a long time. This is an article framed by the questions and assumptions of white South Africans and we can no longer expect to own the right to frame the conversation. We need to do precisely what the author is seeking to do, to listen, to learn, to practice humility, to be patient and to take a million ordinary, everyday steps towards understanding. We must throw out this obsession with it “already being twenty years” and instead acknowledge that there are no easy fixes and no immediate results. We must dig deep and look our past square in the eyes. And together we must travel through the pain to a new future that neither of us has yet seen.

You may also like: Good News to Our City: Racial Reconciliation 1, 2, 3

I’ll fight to the very end

With the South African elections coming up tomorrow we are inundated with talk of this party fighting for this right or that right or this cause or another. Even Christians seem to be primarily concerned with standing up for and defending our rights or protecting our religious freedoms.  At best case Christians will stand up for one or two personal morality issues. As commendable as this is and as necessary as it is for Christian men and women, in all the various parties, to go to parliament and to conduct themselves with honour and integrity; what I really want to know is what we middle-class Christians will be doing to change the context in which many of our great injustices are given born. Or put another way, what will we do in order to fight for the rights of those who are not like us

Let me use the contentious issue of abortion as an example.  It is easy for me as a white middle class male to be anti-abortion (and in principle I am) but far harder for me to be about changing the context in which most abortions in this country occur.  It is easy to point fingers at the people getting abortions as lacking morality, and whilst not discounting the reality of our own sinful hearts, I think the truth is more nuanced than that.

There is a reality that in many communities life is cheap, sex is disposable and your worth is measured by your sexuality.  Rape is an ever-present shadow of possibility.  Sex can be used as a powerful tool to get out of poverty or abusive situations.  Young girls barely able to care for themselves get pregnant.  Get abandoned.  Possibly even ostracised by their family. Alone and desperate they face what seems to them to be the only option open to them.

But what if we as Christians spent less time protesting at abortion clinics or picketing parliament to change the laws but instead went to the source and got our hands dirty changing the context in which the need for most abortions in this country take place.   Abortion is not a problem, it is an inadequate solution to a far bigger problem.  What if we as Christians were more concerned with creating the kinds of communities where abortions were not necessary rather than kicking against what is, in some cases, the inevitable outcome of a broken society.

What if some of us moved into these communities bereft of role models and lived our lives there as signs of hope?  What if we intentionally chose to open our lives to young people, modelling family, worth, integrity and love?  What if we were more concerned with showing young women they had value and honour and did not have to use their sexuality to prove their worth? What if we taught the young men on our street to be men who stand up to their responsibilities?  What if we stood with them, when it was easier to run away?  What if we showed them that real men use their power not to dominate or possess but to love and serve the weak and the vulnerable?

What if we opened our homes to rape victims?  What if we took in young moms or soon to be moms who had nowhere to go except the abortion clinic?  What if we were prepared to adopt these “unwanted children”, to include them in our family, our homes?  To spend our finances and give up our plans so we could love the most vulnerable of society?  What if their problems became our problems?  What if their community became our community?  What if their brokenness became our brokenness?  What do you think Jesus said when he meant we are the light of the world?

Some Christians have a problem with me voting for a party that is pro-abortion and say that I am complicit in that act.  I say no, I would rather vote for a party that promotes dealing with the issues that underline the context out of which most abortions in this country occur.  I choose to fight not for my rights but for the rights and value of those who are forgotten or marginalized.

In the words of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army:  “While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in an out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight – I’ll fight to the very end.”

Will you take a risk?

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We are in somewhat tricky stage of ministry.  While we find that God increasingly is giving us more to do, in terms of people and discipleship and ways to better connect with our community.  In a strange twist of God’s sovereign sense of irony we are have the most forward movement in ministry than at any time over the last few years… and yet we have the most backward movement financially.

Over the last year we have steadily lost a number of our supporters, through changing life circumstances as well as the rising cost of living.  Currently we are at about 65% support from donations.  Our baking business The Cake Faerie takes us up to about 77% of what we need.  However, it does take a lot of time and energy.  Next year we are aware that we will lose another major financial supporter, which will take our base support to around 52% support

While we continue to explore different ways to finance our work.  Including getting a “regular” job of some sort we are also somewhat hesitant to do that.  Because as with all choices there is always a trade-off, and in this case it limits the time that we have to invest in people and discipleship, just at a time when we feel like God is opening doors… All a bit confusing really.  First prize for us is still that we can get a substantial or all of our support from those who resonate with it is that we are trying to do.

But we are not naive enough to think that this does not involve a risk on your behalf?

The gospel calls us to adventure, risk and innovation in taking the unchanging, beautiful and true gospel to the whole world. What would it look like to take the gospel to those not being reached? To the dark, broken and forgotten places of our cities? There are no simple strategies or answers to those questions, but there is a call to risk, to pioneer, to venture beyond where we are comfortable and what we currently know.

In many ways this is something that we figure out and learn on the road. We adjust, change course and risk failure, but in the midst of all that we can take heart that God is at work. And we pray that his glorious gospel will shine in all its beauty and splendour in the dark and forgotten places of our cities.

We invite you to join with us in this gospel risk, by considering financially partnering with us. We realise that we are asking you to take a risk on us, on something that is hard to define, messy, not clearly mapped out and open to failure. But is this not the life of risk that God calls us to? We do not fear failure, only the failure that comes from the unwillingness to risk and try new things for the sake of the gospel.

Would you or your church community consider committing to taking a one, two or three-year “risk” on this gospel endeavour? Or perhaps you might consider a once off gift if you feel you cannot commit to monthly giving. We would love to meet with you, speak to your community, pray together, dream together and talk over how we may partner together for the fame and glory of the Lord Jesus.

If this is you… contact details here

Photo Credit: Derek Gavey via Photo Pin

What if more of us were downwardly mobile?

I loved reading this story recently. And apparently according to my Facebook timeline so did a whole lot of other Christians. It really is a good showing for the team. Particularly our team that seems to take more than it’s fair share of hits. Some of them unfair but honestly many of them thoroughly deserving. So then, here it is, a Christian feel-good story. Here is the evidence that we are making a difference. We do care about the poor, social justice and racial reconciliation. A mortal wound to the myth that we are represent essential middle-class, politically conservative values.  We can call this one a victory and sleep sweetly tonight.

But like most fans of major sports teams who love to use the rather generous pronoun “we” when referring to the achievements of our sporting teams, many of us are off the mark in our celebrations.  I well remember the sharp quip I witnessed last year when Steve Timmis was having a friendly go at Gavin Peacock concerning Steve’s beloved Manchester United’s drubbing of a Chelsea team containing Gavin Peacock in the 1994 FA Cup Final, Just as Steve was at his most smug, someone piped up from the floor, “Yes but which one of you was actually on the field that day?”  Point – Gavin.  Silenced – Steve.

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On the right of the picture you can see me helping out Gavin with his understanding of the 3-5-3 system!

Thanks for cheering on the team today.  But are you actually on the field?  Or do you prefer to cheer on your heroes from the stands with your warm jacket, dry seat and a flask of coffee.”  You might be allowed to get away with that rhetoric at the pub with your favourite players name emblazoned on your replica shirt but in the kingdom there are no supporters clubs, no comfy seats and no replica shirts.  You are either on the field or out the game altogether.

Not everyone is a superstar but everyone is called to get their boots muddy.  I played football.  I still have my team socks, team jacket and the dodgy knee to prove it.  I did the hard yards in the mud, in the rain and even in the blazing sun.  I chased back in plenty of lost causes.  I even stuck in a few goals for the cause.  I was not a great player, I was not even a very good player but I was on the field.  I played for some terrible teams with some terrible score-lines.  Once we even had the distinction of finishing bottom of the very bottom league in the whole division. They could not even relegate us because there was simply nowhere else to go.  But every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday we showed up to play football.  We laughed, we fought, we blamed the ref, we blamed each other, we backed each other, we cheered and jeered our own players and somehow in the midst of all that we got to play some football, respect each other and create some good memories as the goals flew past us.

You don’t have to be a superstar but you do have to lace up your boots.  You have to get on the field.

Do you have space in your life for messy, broken lives?  For people who are not like you?  People who do not hold the same values or convictions as you?  Do you know, by name that is, people who are struggling with addictions, mental illnesses or eating disorders?  Have you ever stopped to actually talk to the guy who scratches in your bins or knocks on your door asking for money?  Or are you too busy getting ready to go to the next church event?

Perhaps this story has to force us to consider even where we live.  What are the values that drive where you choose to live?  Many of us live in nice, neat, sanitized suburbs with the beautiful veneer of comfort, respectability and safety (the holy trinity of evangelical property purchases?), far away from the messiness and discomfort of poverty.  And just in case we put up nice big walls, and gates with an intercom system to make sure that we don’t even have to look at the “bergie” asking for money in the eye?  Most middle-class South African would not even have flinched at the derogatory term in the previous sentence!

More of us need to consider ways in which we might be downwardly mobile.  I strongly believe this is a key issue to a rightly lived out gospel story here in South Africa.   To remain in our comfortable, secure, middle-class church culture is antithetical to the gospel of the one who gave up all the glory, security, comfort and riches of heaven to come eat with outcasts, misfits, sinners, prostitutes, traitors, thieves, political revolutionaries and the unclean. More than that to die for them.  To die for us.  To lay down his life for our sins.  To follow Jesus is follow him who laid down his life for the undeserving, the unlovely and the ungrateful.  To follow Jesus is to live among the broken, the sick and the lost.  To eat with the outcasts, the sinners and the cynics.  To give up your small ambitions and believe the gospel words that he who wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Jesus and for the gospel will save it.

Disclaimer: I am middle-class.  I have nothing against being middle-class and I am certainly not suggesting that middle-class is evil, wrong or less Christian.  Nor am I suggesting that we all need to give up all our possessions and become poor.  That is surely just bizarre.  But we do need to move towards life together with the poor, the outcast, the sick, the broken and the sinners.  How that looks?  There are no magic answers but the questions remain, and demand our attention.

It seems like a lifetime ago… part five

I don’t believe in lone ranger Christianity or disconnected Christians but here I was, I was one.  How did this happen?  Perhaps these last few posts have been my attempt to make sense of it all in my head.  Perhaps I just talk too much?  But while I prayed and wrestled with God about leaving us all on our own, no community, no wider network, no older, wiser leaders… God whispered to me (not really sure what that means but I am pretty sure it was God).  “You are homeless because you need to build your own home.”

God has laid on our hearts the misfits, the discontents, the broken, the hurting, the forgotten, the addicts, the homeless, the lonely, the churchless ones, the misunderstood, the fringe-artists, the wacky, the lost ones… and he knew that just as we have struggled to find a home within the established church, so would they.  “Start building a home for them. I have chosen you because you know them and you love them.  Because you are them!”  (Ok, God never said all that to me, but it just writes better like that!)

And so Four Three One was born, a simple church network whose desire is to see authentic, missional communities of light scattered throughout the dark and forgotten places of our cities.  We are committed to church as primarily small, easily reproducible Gospel Communities, networked together in Gatherings and a wider network.

Our heart is to reach those who are not being reached by contemporary church structures.  Those who perhaps would never darken the door of a church building or even think to attend a church service.  We are not trying to compete but to complement the existing church.  For all its problems, failures and weaknesses it is still the bride of Christ, and in Him she is beautiful.

You may also want to read part one, part two, part three and part four of these ramblings