I finally finished Melissa Steyn’s Whiteness Just Isn’t What It Used To Be, one of the attempts to understand a changing white identity after 1994. It’s actually not a very difficult read, and I’d say an easy introduction to the discussion concerning race and postcolonial thought in South Africa. Her approach was to identify changing white narratives, ways in which whites are adapting their own self-understanding to cope in a changing South Africa. After a theoretical introduction, the largest part of the book is used to tell the stories of those who responded to her research, and share how they seem to understand themselves. She does this with the minimum academic terminology, and using catchphrases which are quite memorable. I found the five narratives quite useful to understand where I myself currently am, and how I’ve attempted to find ways of reconstructing my racial identity over time, and I believe her narratives will be useful in facilitating conversations with white South Africans concerning race.

However, my book has a number of notes which contain the number “2010” and a “?”, wondering how things has changed since Steyn did her research in the middle to late 90’s and 2010. If Whiteness in the 90’s wasn’t what it used to be under Apartheid, then I want to add that it isn’t what it used to be in the 90’s anymore either. Her subtitle, “White Identity in a Changing South Africa” still apply. White identity has changed as thousands of white South Africans left the country, and those of us who remained had to reconstruct our own self-understanding in relation to them, but also as more and more distinctly different from them, as we recognized that we didn’t leave because we didn’t want to, even when many around us did leave.

From our side, truly becoming “white Africans” as Steyn called it, has proved to take much longer than many has hoped for. As we grapple with our past, the trauma of thousands of young white soldiers never debriefed after a was of which the motivation turned out to be highly questionable at least has been surfacing. The reality of a younger generation that many hoped would grow up “color blind”, but who have inherited the racism of their fathers, who somehow grew up with a Knowledge in the Blood many hoped we were rid of, are reminding us that this issue is going to be much more complex than simply waking up and being part of a new South Africa.

But I’d say Steyn remain an important read for white South Africans today.

I’m reading The Song of the Bird by Anthony de Mello which Cori and Kevin gave us for our wedding. The following story de Mello wrote explains a lot of my own struggle with religion, faith and church. But it’s a story, so you decide what it mean for you:

Nasruddin is Dead

Nasruddin was in a philosophical frame of mind: “Life and death-who can say what they are?” His wife, who was busy in the kitchen, overheard him and said, “You men are all alike-quite unpractical. Anyone can tell that when a man’s extremities are rigid and cold, he is dead.”

Nasruddin was impressed by his wife’s practical wisdom. Once when he was out in the winter snow, he felt his hands and feet go numb. “I must be dead,” he thought. Then came a further thought: “What am I doing walking around it I am dead? I should be lying down like a normal corpse.” Which is just what he did.

An hour later, a group of travelers, finding him by the roadside, begad to argue whether he was alive or dead. Nasruddin yearned to cry out, “You fools, can’t you see my extremities are cold and rigid?” But he knew better than to say that, for corpses do not talk.

The travelers finally concluded he was dead, and hoisted the corpse onto their shoulders with a view to carrying it to the cemetery for burial. They hadn’t gone far when they came to a forking of the ways. A fresh dispute arose among them as to which road led to the cemetery. Nasruddin put up with this for as long as he could. Then he sat up and said, “Excuse me, gentlemen, but the road that leads to the cemetery is the one to your left. I know that corpses do not speak, but I have broken the rule this once and I assure you it will not happen again.”

When reality clashes with a rigidly held belief, reality is generally the loser.

Well, you interpret the story. I’ll keep on telling it for some time I think, because it so beautifully sums up my feelings on so many things I find in the way people approach religion, faith and church.

I haven’t really blogged on Easter this year, as I usually do (2007, 2008), but I’ll be preaching on the Easter events again this Sunday, since I know that most of the kids sitting in that service wouldn’t have been to church over Easter weekend. But my preparation is a struggle! I know the kids in this service: They know nearly nothing of the Bible. Many haven’t been to church for a number of years now. And they are very prone to fundamentalism. Their fundamentalism worries me. But broader than the fact that I need to preach to these kids, I also need to find a way of talking about the cross; for myself. This has obviously not started today, but I’ve been theologizing about the cross probably for at least 9 years now, since the first time I led a small group of 13 year olds at a camp.

In the American conversation I notice a lot of talk about atonement. I found the fact that I don’t share this love of talk about atonement a bit strange, untill I realized that the Afrikaans translation of this word wasn’t one I ever heard much in church. Rather, we talked about salvation. But similar issues seem to be at stake.

If I’d ask the question “Why was Jesus crucified?” to a group of informed church members in our church, I’d probably get something in the line of the following: “God intended it” and “For our sins“. But my change in talking about the crucifixion isn’t that much a critique against these answers, but rather a reading of the Bible which calls for something else. I try and find the answer to the question “Why was Jesus crucified?” in the gospels, especially the synoptics, and I use historical and social scientific research as a lense in reading this.

Piet Meiring always talk about chapted 13 of Transforming Mission as vintage Bosch. If you want to know what Bosch thought, read chapter 13, he says. There Bosch the theologian moves to the background, and Bosch the preacher emerge, so to speak. I was just reading the part on salvation in Transforming Mission, and here Bosch does something similar than in chapter 13. His argument in both these parts is that we need to understand salvation and mission within the comprehensive christological framework – “his incarnation, earthly life, death, resurrection, and parousia” (p399). He explains the need for doing this with saying that

  • the Greek patristic tradition was orientated to the incarnation (I’ll have to read on the Orthodox church again to be able to point to the implication of this)
  • Western mission was oriented towards the end of Jesus’ life, his death on the cross. That tend to get us into a purely early Pauline understanding of salvation which focus on an apocalyptic event in the future
  • a Third model focused on the eartly life and ministry of Jesus, it was an ethical interpretation of salvation. According the Bosch this made Christ redundant in the end.

I think there is value in this comprehensive approach Bosch propose. However I’m thinking more and more that we should reorder this comprehensive narrative.

I love the historical Jesus writers. I really do. I’ve been reading parts of Nolan and Crossan again over the past two days. Bosch also liked the historical Jesus research, as can be seen in his approach to Transforming Mission. In writing Transforming Mission, he started out with the historical research on Jesus and the early church, and then moved onto three paradigms of mission found in the early church, this he found in Matthew, Luke and Paul. The historical Jesus research  help us in understanding Jesus, the person who lived and walked and talked in Galilea and Judea roundabout 27-33 AD. Who was crucified. Historical research has difficulty talking about the resurrection, not because of unbelieve, but the sources really makes it difficult (please make sure you really understand this point before critiquing). Historical research can however help us in understanding what the early church believed about this event.

The reordering I propose is to start where the early disciples started, and work in the same order that the story developed for the early church theologians.

  1. Jesus lives, walks and preaches in Galilea and Judea.
  2. He gets crucified
  3. The disciples experience him as alive and develops a theology of the resurrection
  4. Parousia (Christ’s second coming)
  5. A high Christology develops which lead to thoughts on the incarnation

So I simply moved the incarnation towards the end of the story. I think a fairly good case can be made that of these 5 elements, that was the one that became important to the early church last. My reason for doing this, is that when putting it first, we tend to answer the quesion “Why was Jesus crucified?” from the intentionality of God, while reality is that Jesus was crucified because the Jews [UPDATE: meaning, certain Jewish leaders, certain members of the Sanhedrin.  Thanx to Hugo’s comment] were really reallymad at him, and probably some Romans weren’t that fond of him either. This is reality: Some people really didn’t like Jesus, they didn’t like what he said or did, he was a threat, so they killed him. And at least some of what he said would have given enough reason to label him a terrorist, whether rightly so or not, so they could give him the death of a terrorist, and not of a religious heretic, which was being stoned, as with Stephen.

OK, but if this is why Jesus was crucified, where do we go from here? Well, we can say quite a lot about what Jesus said and did, the resurrection must have at least had a first meaning that what he said didn’t end with his death. That crucifying Jesus couldn’t kill what he started! But obviously his resurrection also gave rise to thoughts on his divinity, which I think there is also good evidence for that his disciples didn’t consider him divine before the resurrection, and it even took a while afterwards for the idea to sink in.

Only now could thoughts on the Parousia and incarnation develop. Now we could go full circle, or work backwords, and sya that if Jesus was God, and God was crucified, and a few obvious links with Jewish sacrificial rites can be made, and Jesus was God incarnate, then God’s intention with becoming incarnate in Jesus was to be crucified. That wouldn’t even be theologically incorrect! But that definitely is not the only interpretation! And I’m sure that wasn’t the first interpretation made in an upper room somewhere in Jerusalem; maybe it was in the house of Marcus’ mother, who later wrote a gospel with no incarnation as part of the narrative.

So, how do I preach it? I think historically a good case can be made that Jesus expected his own death. He knew about the rizing tensions, and that the leaders wanted to kill him. But did Jesus have to die? Yes, because the message he brought was so at odds with the rulers of the world, that they couldn’t exist side by side. Either he had to kill his message, or be killed because of the message. But the resurrection tell the story of hope, what Jesus brought cannot be killed! If I now turn the narrative into it’s usual order, I’d say that this is so at odds with what God is bringing to the world, that it would even go so far as to try and kill it, but it cannot be killed! The world cannot stop what God is bringing about in it.

Maybe I’ll have some more thoughts on how to preach this before Sunday. If you’ve actually read all the way down to this point, thank you! Let me know, and please critique and add on.

Last night I visited Arthur and some of the Pangani people. They have been starting to feel a call to get involved with the Zimbabwean situation. Since Friday I’ve bee feeling the same calling, although with no idea how to actually get involved, so I do what I do: I blog, I tell the stories as I hear them, and I hope to get as many people as possible to think and talk and hopefully get actively involved with Zimbabwe.

But we talked, Andrew was there, who wrote the article I referred to on Saturday, and Jody the Canadian, who is currently working with Zimbabwean refugees, and Arthur, and Mariah, who has spent some time in the past working with refugees (in Canada I think). We talked about the big picture, but also about the small. And this is where our attention got fixed. The small problem (or rather, one of the symptoms) is the millions of refugees currently in South Africa, and on this level it seems possible to get involved.

Obviously, no one will be housing millions of refugees, but it is possible to help a few. These people face enormous problems in Zimbabwe, except for the lack of food and basic medicine, many of them now fear for violence and their lives. In South Africa they now experience some of the worst forms of xenophobia in the squatter camps where they found safety up to now, and this also result in a fear of bodily harm or death.

South Africa don’t do refugee camps, but at places people are trying to help refugees. Central Methodist in Johannesburg is the one example we talked about. There is differing of opinion on what is happening there, but you can read some of it (Ekklesia Article, News report on refugee camp linked with crime), but in spite of the troubles, I hear very positive things about this move. A few other examples were also mentioned, people housing Zimbabweans in their homes, other smaller shelters. The conversation turned so that the other members, who are working together, are now talking about doing something similar, Arthur have a short post on this. My one recommendation is that when this is done, care should be taken that we are not taking away jobs from South Africans when trying to help Zimbabweans. However, if this article is right, there seem to be some space for skilled workers. 

Anyone out there also doing this? Anyone know of anyone that is involved in helping Zimbabwe? Helping refugees? Anyone that would want to get involved but don’t know what to do?

I found a copy of Where We Have Hope last night on my shelf. Bought it at a second hand book stall last years somewhere. It was written by a journalist who worked in Zimbabwe, Andre Meldrum (google this name and you’ll find a lot of info). The end of the first chapter really caught me. It gave words for what I’m more and more realizing my own feelings towards South Africa and Africa is…

“I am seated in the middle aisle and cannot see Harare’s twinkling lights dwindle as we fly up and away. But I do not need to. Zimbabwe is indelibly etched in my memory. I am steeped in this country, it is in my pores. More than just the physical look and feel and smell of the land, I have a deep sense of what the country stands for: liberation, majority rule, democracy and human rights. This is what Zimbabwe meant when it won independence in 1980 and it is what so many are valiantly fighting to regain. This conviction of what Zimbabwe stands for cannot be erased simply by forcing me out of the country.”

Update: I’ve been thinking since Saturday, but forgetting to say this: This might be a good time to again watch Schindler’s list, or using it in church.

I think it was after reading some of the work of John de Gruchy that my dad told me about the cross as symbol or metaphor for a horisontal and a vertical conversion. We need to have a vertical conversion, a conversion to God, and a horizontal conversion, a conversion to our fellow human being.

I found the metaphor strange, and I have to admit, I still do. Not because I think it is wrong, but I guess it’s because I was trained to be as historical as possible, thus, the first thing I think when I hear something like this is: “the way the cross was built has nothing to do with what it meant, that is simply a construction”. And actually, I forgot about the image, until the last 24 hours.

As part of my reading for my dissertation I’m currently busy with Mission in Bold Humility: David Bosch’s Work Considered, so far it’s an excelent book. I think I’ll blog about it some more later on. One of the authors wrote about Bosch using this image, and then, in a public debate on rasicm today, professor Piet Meiring (if I remember correctly) also mentioned this image. So I’m reconsidering the image.

In spite of my historical thinking, I realize more and more that this image do bring together a very deep meaning of the cross. But first this. Protestants had a way of holding very strongly onto the cross and forgetting the other aspects of the life of Jesus (incarnation, life, death, resurrection etc). The Gospel according to Mark also kind of did this, so I guess there is something to say for the primacy of the cross, but I’d rather say that the cross is symbol for Christ, in all aspects of his life, death, resurrection etc.

Historically the cross has had a lot of interpretations which dealt with how it restore a relationship between God and man. I’m not going into the atonement argument which is so popular today now. I don’t understand this quite well, but it’s so central to theology over 2000 years, I can’t possibly deny this. Jesus is the door to the Father (Gospel of John). This is the vertical side, we convert to God, we restore a relationship between God and man. And sometimes this is the easy part.

The hard part, more so than not it would seem to me, is converting to our fellow human beings. This meaning of the cross is being considered more and more, for example when we start noticing the political reasons behind the crusifixion. Jesus was crucified because he himself was “converted” to his fellow human beings. The cross remain a symbol calling us to a different way of life, where the “other” is more important.