A personal introduction is in order for this blogpost: I think that the past two years has been a very long conversion experience, and an ongoing one. It was characterized by a journey into a space where I am no longer the answer for the world, but where I begin to notice how I am embedded in the sins of the world. I you scan through the posts from the past two years, Amahoro possibly being the single most important event in this journey, much of this will be found. It is an ongoing journey, one which I find to be struggling with, but one which are pushing me into a world from which I can never return, and I believe pushing be towards the Jesus whom I have learned to call Messiah.

The phrase “blessed are the poor” (Luke 6) has always been one of those strange moments in the journey with the Bible of the congregations and groups where I’ve spent my life. Luckily Matthew (Matthew 5) gave us an easy cop-out when talking about “blessed are the poor in spirit”, that phrase we knew how to interpret. But it is Luke which continue to push our imaginations. What do we do with the blessed poor?

I can quickly think of two common ways we solve this statement. The first is by projecting onto the poor those things we experience as lacing in our own lives: rest, not worrying, community with others. The second is my spiritualizing poverty so that everyone become poor. Some are poor because they lack meaningful family relations, others because they lack money.

But for Jesus some people were categorized as poor, and some as non-poor, as rich. The poor had little room to manege their own lives, they were oppressed by a system of taxes and the rich taking over their land. But I also don’t get the idea that Jesus is romanticizing poverty. He is not the kind of ascetic who call people into poverty, because of some deeper spiritual meaning. Jesus is a prophet challenging the system of injustice which create the poor. Yet Jesus is the one saying that “blessed are the poor”.

However, when we move away from this passage, then the poor are no longer romanticized nor spiritualized. We are aware of the fact that poverty is a very real problem in our country, and I would say that the dominant approach within the church is that the poor are pitied, and that we want to help the poor. We want to bless the poor. Sometimes we would even talk about blessing the poor with our gifts and help. If we were to stand up and do our own sermon on the plain (what we generally call the part in Luke where this phrase is found), we would probably start with: “Let us participate in the coming of the kingdom of God by blessing those who are poor. Let us bless the poor” (even using nice missional language like participation in the kingdom of God). But would we start our sermon with the words: “Blessed are you, the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”.

What does this imply? If I understand Belhar correctly, then God is in a unique way present with those who are suffering. Belhar states “… that in a world full of injustice and enmity He is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor, and the wronged and that He calls his Church to follw Him in this”. In his commentary on this text, Piet Naudé writes: “God does not stand by the poor because they are poor or because – as in a class struggle – he is in a particular way the God of the working class. In God, there is no injustice. God stands with the people who suffer in situations of injustice, because of this in justice. God can do no other. This is how God is.”

What does the the poor being blessed imply in Luke? Not that they have access to the lost ideals of the middle class, but that the kingdom of God is their’s. Maybe we could say that the kingdom of God can be found among those who suffer. I usually explain the “kingdom of God” to youth groups with two statements: First, the kingdom of God is how this world would look if God was king and not the rulers of this world. Second, the kingdom of God is God’s dream for the world, how God dream the world to be. Is it to much to say that among those who suffer in situations of injustice, those who we can call the poor (being more than an economic category, but being those who are placed at the bottom of the system), there we will find God’s dream for how the world should look. There we find the dream of what the world might be if God were to be king and not the rulers of this world.

What would happen if those of us in the rich church exorsise our drive to be the ones who are blessing the poor, and start recognizing the poor as those blessed by God. Those who find themselves in the place where God is to be found, and start listening for the dreams of what the kingdom of God might look like. Obviously we do not enter this space in a naive manner, where the voices of the poor suddenly become some kind of direct link towards the voice of God. The poor have no more direct line to the thoughts of God than the spiritual does, and listening to one lone voice is not hearing the voice of God, just as listening to one lone super-spiritual congregant is hearing the voice of God. But if we dare enter into conversation with those who are poor, with the entirety of this category whom of people we call poor, dare listening to what the poor are dreaming the world to be like, might it not be that we will find among those to whom the kingdom of God belong dreams of what this kingdom might look like? And if we then want to participate in the coming of the kingdom of God, then it might not be through our blessing of the poor, but through the discovery of the blessedness of the poor, and the participation in the coming of the world which the poor are dreaming into being.

A personal conclusion is in order as well: I’m not at this place. I struggle with this. I like to find solutions for poverty rather than listen to the world the poor are dreaming into being. I like to be the hero. But most of all, I’m not sure if I’m ready for the radical dreams the poor are dreaming, I fear that I might not like what I’m hearing. But might it be that these dreams are the coming into being of the kingdom of God? I think I need help struggling through this, so your thoughts will be appreciated.

Are you a teacher, parent, youth mentore? Watch this TED talk. Yes go on, watch it now:

You can download it from here.

We struggle with youth ministry. And I say this not because of all the youth who are leaving the church. I say this because when I look at young adults, I see people who have been drenched with theology which are really harmful, in my humble opinion. We’ve sent our kids to 11 years of Sunday school, and if you’re in a super congregation, 11 years of whichever other youth activities, sometimes amounting to 3 events a week, and after 11 years they are stuck with theology which are really harmful. And here we are, me and you, and probably we’ve been through this process as well.

I get my confirmation class last year, and they are somewhat terrified of challenging God. But then they dig into Genesis since they have to make a sermon from it, they struggle with the narrative of Jacob fighting the man and then being told that he has fought with God (Gen 32). The theme of there sermon by the end of the year was that people may challenge God and ask God questions. And this isn’t some wild and wonderful insight. This is the tradition we’ve been in, but which we seem to be suppressing through the models we present to kids in youth ministry.

This year they get into the confirmation class, absolutely sure that God is on our side and not to be found with anyone whom ain’t a Christian. So we were reading 1 John 4. And we read it again. And we are still reading it, and then sharing what we see. And it’s challenging the popular theology that we were fed for so long in school openings, classrooms, CSA meetings, Sunday schools, and also church.

The task of youth ministry should then be to get youth to play, to fiddle, with God, or at least ideas about God, in such a way that they can grow up to have useful skills in doing theology in their daily lives – this meaning that they can bring the resources concerning God into conversation with that which face them in their lives.

The South African Partnership for Missional Churches, working closely with the Church Innovation Insitute from Saint Paul, like to read Luke 10:1-12 with a process called Dwelling in the Word. I can still vividly remember the first time I was in a meeting reading this text three years ago, and my first response was that I find verse 10-12 extremely arrogant. My partner, who was supposed to share with the group what I heard in the text wasn’t quite happy with what I said, and neither was the facilitator.

Since that day I’ve been sharing my discomfort with the text every time we had to read it, and usually found myself to be a lone voice. However, Wednesday morning at the Missionary by its very Nature conference with Roger Schroeder, I found myself in a group of 5 people who shared my discomfort, hearing possible colonial interpretations when they read the text, being uncomfortable with fear motives etc.

I’ve been meditating on Walter Brueggemann’s 19 Thesis the past 10 days or so again. So I guess this got me to consider whether it’s possible to re-read this text as a counterscript. In a way that does not get stuck in old theological controversies or metaphysical speculations. So, this is my re-reading of Luke 10:

Luke 10:1-12 – After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to the town of politics, where dishonesty and misuse of power reigned, the town of economics, where discrepancies between rich and poor reigned, and the town of ecology, where grave dangers existed. This was some of the places he intended to go to bring peace. 2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4You have only 1 goal: To go to the towns and houses where I have sent you. 5Proclaim to these houses: ‘Peace to this house!’ 6If in this house there is someone who is already sharing in this peace, or open to take part in this peace, you will find a connection, if not, you will remain a lone voice of peace. 7Partner with those who you find a connection with, stay with them, dream with them, and let them provide for you. Do not run away at the first hint of struggle, but stay with this one house that is open to peace. 8Whenever you enter a town and it’s people welcome you, become part of that town; 9care, cure the sickness of this town, and say to them: ‘God’s dream, the possibility of the impossible, has now come near you’ 10But should they refure the peace, should they wich to continue down paths of destruction for themselves and others, proclaim publicly: 11’This is wrong! We will have nothing to do with this! Yet the reality remain that God’s dream, the possibility of the impossible, is near. 12Know this: on the day when the dream which seem impossible come into existence, it will be more tolerable for the evils of ancient times that for those who refused to accept the peace, and chose to continue down destructive paths.”

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

The Madman, Friedrich Nietzsche

The words of a group of Muslim students on campus might be ascribed to pure chance, the evolution of language, and mistranslations. But “Have you read the last testament of God” immediately opened with two possible interpretations when I saw the poster. On a mainly Christianised university campus, it’s a nice slogan to start a conversation. After the first and second testament, or the old and new testament, their was a last testament, the Koran. Or else, it could be interpreted as the testament of God, God’s will. Those are the last wishes of a dead God.
And Christians can also do this. They talk about the Bible as the final word of God. An unchanging document that needs to be followed to the letter. It’s like following the testament of a dead man, to the letter, since he is no longer available to talk about possible interpretations, or to continue to develop these words.
Maybe it’s not funny then how the exact same people who read the Bible as if it was a testament, as the last words that God ever spoke, as the testament of a dead God, tend to resurrect this God by forcing it into the realm of the supernatural experience. This way we tend to end up with a God who spoke his last will, his last testament, 1400, or 1900, or 2300 years ago, but at times gets resurrected to speak a new final word to the receiver, words that may not be questioned, interpreted, or worked out in relationship with the other.
It would seem like any talk of a “final word” of God causes from its inception that this God is fated to die. To become silent. Subsequently, attempts at resurrecting God in the supernatural experience, when absolutised as the new final word of God, has, apart from the same problems, the added problem that new gods have the tendency to appear using the names of an existing god.
How else should we read the words of a creator God than by engaging, interpreting, criticising, reinterpreting, and listening to the noise, attempting to hear the continuing voice of God?

The words of a group of Muslim students on campus might be ascribed to pure chance, the evolution of language, and mistranslations. But “Have you read the last testament of God” immediately opened with two possible interpretations when I saw the poster. On a mainly Christianised university campus, it’s a nice slogan to start a conversation. After the first and second testament, or the old and new testament, their was a last testament, the Qur’an. Or else, it could be interpreted as the testament of God, God’s will. Those are the last wishes of a dead God.

And Christians can also do this. They talk about the Bible as the final word of God. An unchanging document that needs to be followed to the letter. It’s like following the testament of a dead man, to the letter, since he is no longer available to talk about possible interpretations, or to continue to develop these words.

Maybe it’s not funny then how the exact same people who read the Bible as if it was a testament, as the last words that God ever spoke, as the testament of a dead God, tend to resurrect this God by forcing it into the realm of the supernatural experience. This way we tend to end up with a God who spoke his last will, his last testament, 1400, or 1900, or 2300 years ago, but at times gets resurrected to speak a new final word to the receiver, words that may not be questioned, interpreted, or worked out in relationship with the other.

It would seem like any talk of a “final word” of God causes from its inception that this God is fated to die. To become silent. Subsequently, attempts at resurrecting God in the supernatural experience, when absolutised as the new final word of God, has, apart from the same problems, the added problem that new gods have the tendency to appear using the names of an existing god.

How else should we read the words of a creator God than by engaging, interpreting, criticizing, reinterpreting, and listening to the noise, attempting to hear the continuing voice of God?

the lion that ruled the world

September 2, 2009

“Alexander the Great was a lion”, my matric teacher told our class. For the average reader, with a general understanding of language and rhetoric, and who know enough about history that the name “Alexander the Great” is familiar, and who know what a lion is, this statement would be pretty easy to understand. But what if I were to meet someone who did not understand this type of saying?

“Alexander the Great was a lion, and he ruled the world”. The obvious question would then be: “How could a lion rule the world”? And lets say that over time the consensus in society would move to the point where no one would consider the fact that the saying “Alexander the Great was a lion” is a metaphor, some interesting ideas might ne the result. Maybe we would then start a myth to explain that there was a time when lions could talk, when they could mobilize armies, and where one of them, who happened to be born in Greece, became the ruler of the world.

If a historian might then discover a scroll saying that Alexander was a man, the child of a king, who fought many battles. This historian might over time realize that we have a metaphor that was literalized. In his reading of this man Alexander, he might after time decide that indeed, “Alexander was a lion”.

However, when he would try to explain to his friends what he discover, he would have to say that “Alexander the Great was not a lion”, since they have a literal understanding of the saying. Only in a community that understand metaphors, and the metaphorical language, and the history, that gave rize to the idea that “Alexander the Great was a lion” would the historian be able to proclaim tha amazing discovery he made when he read the stories of Alexander. In this community, while telling his friends about Alexander, he would be able to say: “Indeed, Alexander the Great was a lion”.

What’s the task of the preacher? Is she/he the comforter of the church? Is she/he to be the critical voice of social transformation? Is the preacher the person who is to answer the questions of day-to-day practical life from a religious perspective? Is the preacher the authoritative voice speaking the words of God?

Does my questions reflect the age-old question of a priestly and a prophetic role. Of a pastoral and a prophetic role. I recall that Moltmann said somewhere that the church have become so pastoral that it has lost it’s prophetic voice. But ain’t the church supposed to care for the flock? But which flock? Is the flock that’s paying your salary by default the flock that you should care for? When do we turn prophetic? Is there a danger in being a prophetic voice? Maybe we are too quick to think of ourselves as prophets, to quick to preach social transformation, I mean, do we really understand what social transformation should look like?

But saying that we should be slow on the prophetic voice closes a large portian of the text that we hold sacred for preaching. Can the preacher do anything but preach the text? Open the text? Well, we are sure busy doing more than this…

in the beginning…

May 16, 2009

hebrew-cosmosI’m reading Genesis 1:1-2:4a. The first creation narrative. Written later than much of the Old Testament, in Babilon (remember that most Jews in later times lived not in Israel, but in Babilon). And it’s the most brilliant story! Imagine with me, how a Jewish father would explain faith to his little son, who have to listen to his Babilonian friends speculate about the universe and about the different gods in existence. Keep the picture to the right in mind, this is how they pictured creation.

What was there in the beginning? Nothing? No, in the beginning there was darkness and water. Darkness and water: In the beginning there was only chaos! Nothing good can come from darkness and water my son. We know that the see is the host of choas, the way to the underworld. It would have been hopeless my son, but God was there. In the beginning, all that was, was chaos and God!

The heaven of heavens did not exist, the firament of the stars did not exist, the underworld, pillars of the earth, nothing existed. That was, except for the darkness, the water and God. God and the chaos.

But then, God said, this wouldn’t do. Let us create light to take away the darkness. Let us get rid of the chaos, so that we can create a space where life can exist. God spoke, and the chaos started receding, because now the possibility of hope was there, the possibility of light, op hope! Where was the light? Well, we don’t know yet, but light was now possible.

But the water was still everywhere, everything was still water. So God said: This wouldn’t do. Let us create space for life to exist. God moved the water around. Some he sent to the underworld, some he sent up to the heavens. Suddenly, a space started to appear where it was visible that God was at work, because the chaos was moved out of the way.

But there was still no place for life to exist. There was space, but the sea was still everywhere. So God said: Let us move this sea out of the way, so that we can have some ground for life to exist on.

Finally, to really nail the chaos, God created two lights. One for the day, and one for the night. Now the chaos was really moved to the underworld, between the pillars that God created for the earth to stand on.

Then God bursted out! “Let’s make life! Earth”, God commanded, “spawn living beings”. Plants, birds and animals, big and small, let us even make fish to swin in the sea, to populate the remaining chaos. And then, my son, God made people, and God made us to look after everything that he created.

So my son. It is true, in the beginning there was only chaos, water and darkness, but in the chaos, there was God. And God got rid of the chaos, to make some space for life. And we are too look after this life. And on the Sabbath, the seventh day, we stop to remember the God who created, we stop and lister to the Spirit of God, the same Spirit that was there when all that existed was chaos.

Oh, and by the way, my son. All those gods your Babilonian friends talk about, that’s just things that God created, not gods.