For many of us the weekend was spent struggling with the question: how do we worship after Lonmin? I remembered preaching the Sunday after Eugene Terre’blanche was murdered, that Sunday was a difficult sermon, but at least many of us felt like we had some consensus on what had to be said. My sermon focused on reconciliation, and in the sermon I could point to many people from diverse backgrounds who all called for the same thing: reconciliation.

This Sunday was more complex. Do we pray for the police, striking workers, government leaders? Should we pray for an end to violence or for a more just economy? I insisted on Saturday that the ethical challenge facing us is to insist that this event be interpreted in the broader context of a South Africa culture of violence (and other aspects which we might discover allowed this to happen). In the liturgy I believed it was not the time to identity either the police or the striking workers as the root of the problem. Tom Smith suggested that the only thing appropriate for this Sunday’s liturgy was lament. To my mind this was correct, and following some guidelines on using the Psalms in liturgical lament, our small church service in the inner-city cried out to God that things are not going well, and we focused on the fact that at times the church pray “Our God, our God, why have you forsaken us”.

I reflect on this in order to say that the presidential call for a week of mourning has some overlap with an appropriate Christian response to Marikana. The overlap should be recognized, but the limitations for the church following government into this week’s mourning should also be noted. I don’t want to downplay the public rituals of mourning that will be visible throughout the country this week. I think those are important, and I support president Zuma’s call. But as Christians I believe there should be more to our week (week? and then?) of mourning.

Typically mourning involves an expression of deep sorrow for the death of another, often accompanied with public symbols such as the wearing of black clothes, and in this case flags hanging half mast. According to some reports, Zuma added, and again I want to agree entirely with the importance of this, that part of our mourning should include reflecting “on the sanctity of human life and the right to life as enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic”. But I do want to add two things for the church.

First, when entering a time of lament, the church cannot only give expression to deep sorrow. Our sorrow cannot be disconnected from the plea that God will change our society. Our sorrow cannot be disconnected from a process of committing to justice. I don’t yet know what justice will imply at Marikana. I don’t yet know what exactly justice will mean in the relationship between rich and poor in the coming months and years. But I know that as a Christian I cannot enter into a time of lament following Marikana without simultaneously being formed towards a commitment to participating in the reign of God at Marikana and beyond.

From this I want to add a second aspect which I believe is crucial at the moment. In some way we are all connected to Marikana. Marikana was not merely a once-off event, but it was a mirror of our society. Our time of lament should call us into a time of self-reflection, not merely feeling sorrow for those who suffer, but also asking how we are embedded in what happened. I say this not as a way of pre-empting our analysis, but rather as a call that social analysis involve self-reflection. I don’t doubt that we will have to talk about police reform (again!) in the coming months. We will rethink our labour union systems and in particular how they are related to big businesses and political parties. We will have to (again!) fix our eyes on the growing economic inequality. We will ask questions from multi-national companies and wonder how exactly their future in South Africa should look. The list goes on.

But if we are serious about saying that “never, never again”, and about going beyond finding a guilty party so that we can go on with our lives, happy that someone will pay the price, then it will require that we also see how we participate in keeping aspects of society which lead to further violence in place. This is not merely the work of social analysis, it is an act of spiritual discernment. This week, I believe the text which should lead us might be “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). From such a spirituality we might be able to engage in a process of public social analysis and critique, something which is too important to merely leave in the hands of official committees, but which is too sensitive to allow the continuing throwing around of wild theories which merely implicate our favourite guilty party. We cannot speak of lament if we continue to act as if this tragedy might merely give us the final evidence for what we have been saying all along.

So we mourn this week. But our mourning involve more than sorrow, it involved the prayers “let your kingdom come, let your will be done” and “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Only in this way can be prepare ourselves to insist on and contribute to an uncovering of the injustice of Marikana and a more peaceful future.

I’ve been intrigued with space in its various forms for all my life. My first memory of intentionally contemplating space was by studying the planets and the stars at the age of 8. This was followed by reading every science fiction book I could lay hands on, ultimately culminating in the Mars Trilogy, which I’m still re-reading, and consider to be one of the most important influences on my thoughts on space over the years. When one of the characters, Arkady, the token anarchist of the book, described his vision for a new world, it is to a large extend a description of how space should be structured: do we separate living and working quarters? Do we build in squares of circles? How does the space we create contribute to an egalitarian society? This was at the age of 16. In recent years my reflections and experimentation concerning space has found a number of spaces into which it grew:

  • I ran a few experiments with kind of “open space” camps with people in their early 20’s from 2008. The experiment lead us to a place where camp programs was not the issue, but the way we constructed space became more and more important.
  • Starting 2009 I experimented with liturgy and space, in a service where the way in which the space was constructed was more important than the order of the liturgy. Steve wrote some thoughts on the very early experiment (only a few weeks after we started) and I posted some photos.
  • Also, in 2009 I moved into a community with friends right after getting married. Ours was not a very religious intentional community with Bible studies and programs, but simply sharing the space, working against our own individualism and using less space in the long run (primarily for ecological reasons). This year the space in which I had my office, as part of the community in which I live, also had important symbolism.
  • Lastly I reflected on space in some of my academic work. Writing an assignment titled “Jesus’ disregard for rules of space” in 2008, and working on the role of religion in the public space since 2008 and still continuing.

So, I’m drenched in reflecting on space, and this continues.

Ons space which was important in my own life over the past 5 years was the inner city of Pretoria. Actually, I guess when we whities talk about “inner-city” we mean everything west of the “sunnyside” sign in Jorrison street which students are taught to interpret as “now you’re in the danger zone”. It’s the space which white people decided to leave of the past 15/20 years. Sunnyside, the Pretoria central, Salvokop. Over the years these places changed from being the spaces which must be feared, to some of my favourite places in the city. And for years me and Maryke have been dreaming of moving closer to the city.

In the last few weeks we started to look each other in the eye, and decided that the dreamlike talk should become reality. And a few minutes ago I sent the email confirming that we will be taking a flat in Arcadia.

Now, Arcadia is not the most dodgy place in the city you will find, actually quite middle-class. But it’s a conscience decision to move out of the suburbs, and out of predominantly white spaces, into the space where ambulances and police disturb you, where people are living in flats and close to each other, and where being white mean that you are a minority. We are not on a mission to the city. We don’t have a plan by which to save the city. We are moving to the city hoping that it will save us. Change us.

Together with us one of our house-mates from the past 2 years, Andre, will be joining. This is the space into which we will be moving. What will we do while there? We will be living there. Hopefully I’ll be blogging more on this in the year to come.

After a great conversation earlier today with one of the student pastors around the University of Pretoria (not Dutch Reformed), I starting thinking about the small practical sides of living eco-friendly again. How do we bring it down to earth, so to speak. Out of the big atmospheric questions (not that those are not important), into the daily actions of living. And doing it eco-friendly. And keeping it practical. And since we talk about theology mostly on this blog (although the non-religious should also be able to identify with much of these thoughts), making it a spiritual thing, a faith thing, a theology thing… eco-theology. And since we recognize that there is this huge crisis we need to respond to, and we have this tradition of liturgy in the church, of participating in actions which point to a greater reality, and form us with this greater reality in mind, let’s talk about liturgy. But hopefully most of us have realized by now that we are not primarily formed by what happens Sunday morning in church, but by what happens day-after-day in life. So I’ll talk about a liturgy of life. eco-theology and a liturgy of life.

Two short suggestions:

  1. I’ve mentioned a few short thoughts on food and theology in the past. Food is a great liturgical act. For better or for worse. I can go about weekly to pick up the trash in the different streams around Pretoria, and really, we should spend more time picking up trash, but it can easily remain external to my being, something I do from time to time to feel that I’ve done something eco-friendly. But change your diet, and you change a pattern, a rhythm, a way of life. This is true for changing your diet in many ways. I would suggest that the food we eat can become a primary part of an eco-theology liturgy of life. Food has been central to spirituality since like forever. Fasting. Feasting. Eucharist. Eat only what you need, not more. Eat only the amount of meat that you need, not more. Eat with others, don’t prepare for only one person.
  2. Travel the speed of God, the speed of the people. Many have written about slowing down as an act of spirituality, as finding God in a slower way of life. I’ve mentioned becoming part of my own context more through public transport. For many of us the reality is that we travel faster and more than the average person. We rush around in our own car to get from point A to point B as fast as possible, using way more energy than the average person, and missing the place where most people are. And if we take the incarnation seriously, we’d have to say that this is where we’d find God as well. Part of our eco-friendly liturgy of life I’d suggest could be, travel more with others. And the reality is that if I change the way I do my daily travels, I change my whole way of life! No longer in charge of everything, not longer always able to be where I want to be when I want to be, but part of a greater system. Interconnected with the whole society through my travels. Liturgically reminding my day by day of the realities of average life.

Thanx to the community in which I live, there commitment to the environment, and willingness to think through actions, in the first I’ve had the privilege of dwelling into. And 18 months down the line, I find myself constantly reminded of the reality of economic and ecological injustice every time I find myself in a place where people just never think about food. The second still lies there waiting for me every time I drive past the taxi rank close to my house.

review: Sout Project

May 6, 2010

It has often been said that the last thing to change in church is the liturgy. And it’s more often true than not. Theology develop, or maybe more correct would be to say that theology is contextualized, continually, but changing liturgy is often the most dangerous thing to do in church. In the church tradition that I am part of that has certainly been true on many occasions.

The current paradigm shifts happening in the world and the church, and also in South Africa, has been well thought through in many blogposts, academic articles, conversations, books and more. But on Sunday morning when I go to church our music still seem to reflect either the Renaissance era from which our tradition was born, of the height of the revivalist, late-modern fundamental, era which has strongly influenced the mega-church movements. Here and there you’ll find some of the old mystical hymns which is refreshing, but much of the words we sing would sound totally strange is we were to ever say them to each other in a conversation.

Along come my friend Nic Paton and the Sout Project. You can read the story behind the South Project, and it’s debut album Story here, so I’m not going to repeat too much of that. What first struck me about Story was the diversity of voices on the album. Children’s voices, men and woman, black voices, different languages. Suddenly I felt like being in South Africa, and no longer in Australia or America, where the gospel of my youth was born. But not entirely South Africa either, Nic lived in England for a long time, and I believe I hear some of Europe inbetween as well. It has somewhat of a global feel.

Brian Mclaren’s voice come through early on, I still remember the day when Nic recorded Mclaren for the album. But Mclaren’s voice not only come through when he himself sings, but throughout the album Mclaren’s influence on Nic can be heard in the theology. And this, for me, was the most refreshing part of Story. Nic put emerging theology into lyrics. I can now sing along to words which I am so comfortable with! Words to which I can say Aumen, So be it. And I can sing Aumen in various languages on one of the tracks as well.

Vine (Ubuntu), the second track on the CD, bring Nic’s brilliance to the fore in a special way for me personally. The words of John 15, about the vine and the branches are pulled into the lyrics, together with the Spirit from John 16, and merged with metaphors from our own world. “The Web of Life (remember that important book by Fritjof Capra a few decades ago?) is spun by your Spirit“, we hear a few times, “everything contained and sustained in you“, early on in the song, God’s spirit is what holds the universe together, is the energy within, and this flows from the vine of John 15. Maybe this is the song that I’d like to give to my confirmation class when we talk about the Holy Spirit.

One other song that I’d just must mention is Meditation with Mechtild, which is basically my very very good friend Annemie Bosch telling something of her story, which Nic then mixed in with some music to provide, for me, the deepest moment of spiritual reflection on the CD.

Nic will be in Jo’burg this weekend, and you can find him on Sunday morning at 9:30 at Ridgeway ministries in Wessels road in Woodmead, for what promised to be a truly postmodern and post-Apartheid event, with Nic’s music and our mutual friend Jackson Khosa bringing a message. You can find the event on facebook here. Story can be bought @ R110 here.

It would be really interesting to see how Nic’s creation will be used in local congregations that engage creatively with their liturgies.

This was the transformative experience that gave rise to the writing of this story. It’s controversial I know. And I somewhat fear for writing this.

I have never approved of the segregated church I am part of. I cannot remember a day in my life that I both knew about Belhar and rejected Belhar. Everywhere I went I always made the more pro-unification choice that was on the table. Sometimes I even attempted to stretch the table a bit, to put options on the table that weren’t considered. I remember attending an URCSA meeting in 2007 that NG students were invited to, but being the only one who went. I remember the setting up of the meeting of URCSA theological students leadership and NG theological students leadership in the same year, and we actually organized a visit of both groups to a worship session of the other. Few students attended, but the experience was positive. I guess I didn’t change the face of the faculty at UP in the process, but at least I made some friends.

At times I have been extremely critical of my own church, and the process of unity. I guess taking things a few notches further than most of the “open” voices in the church. I’ve been uncomfortable with the idea that we become one church structurally, without local congregations actually reflecting this. What I dream of and hope for has been for true unity in worship and action for many years now.

Deconstruction makes you mad, I sometimes think. Once you start down that rabbit hole, realize why you are doing what you are doing, what you are actually saying, how this is being heard by other voices, and how far away from “justice”, “mercy” and “truth” your one life really is, it becomes almost unbearable. But Africa has taught me that I can never fully deconstruct myself. I need the other to deconstruct me. I need to be open to the voice of an other, a different perspective, to help me interpret my own life and actions, to understand what it is that I am actually doing.

I don’t want to make a hero out of someone, and most of my transformative experiences was with voices that you have never heard of. And this one was only possible because of these voices, and others, who have helped me to make me open to hear the different perspective this post is about.

It was at the opening of the South African Missiological Society of 2010 when Jonathan Jansen spoke, and he dared to say that the Dutch Reformed Church is irrelevant (and this in front of a mainly white crowd). The way I heard him was that the Dutch Reformed Church was teaching their members week by week that it is OK not to ask : “Who is my neighbour”, by allowing them to sit in all white churches in South Africa. This might not have been what he said, but this is what I heard.

Deconstruction makes me mad. My thoughts went on to think in the line of liturgy. What was this liturgy of white worship communicating week by week, whatever we might be preaching? I saw it as communicating that the white ghetto was OK, that the lack of friendships with people of all races and colours was OK. That the distance we kept between ourselves and black people was OK. My thoughts went on to the idea that we might be doing a hell of a lot of development work in South Africa, but we will never be able to contribute to the transformation and reconciliation of a country if we keep this liturgy of whiteness.

praise & worship & porn

September 21, 2009

I owe this idea to a very good friend who isn’t blogging at this stage. But as soon as she does, I’ll be sure to link to her thoughts on this.

I’ve been getting more and more disgusted with the Praise & Worship industry for years now. The dishonesty just got to me. The fact that I’m forced to sing about faith and God in a way that simply doesn’t match up with my own journey. The honesty of doubt and questions simply don’t exist in Praise & worship. In Praise & worship the faithful is faithful and life is good for the faithful. God is only good. Heaven is near. Real life looks somewhat different.
The first time I started thinking about porn was when one of my pastors made the comment that porn and nudity isn’t the same thing. Basic insight for anyone who’s been looking into this phenomenon, but new thought for me at that stage.
Porn seeks to simulate sex. Sex without the complexity of relationship. Porn seek to stimulate you sexually. Porn portrays an image the sexuality of another, it provides an image of how someone else is doing it. Porn portrays the image of supernatural sex, the image of bodies and sexuality that is unreachable by the mortal person in a healthy relationship. Porn makes the deepest most intimate aspects of human existance a public spectical. Porn lacks the depth that is reached when the complexity of relationship is added, when the whole person becomes part of the sexual experience, mistakes, moods, emotions and everything that comes with it.
Praise & worship seeks to simulate spiritual experience. Spirituality without the complexities inherent to a deep connection and journey with the spiritual being whom we call God. Praise & worship seek to stimulate you spiritually. Praise & worship portrays the image of the spirituality of another, it provides an image of how others are doing it. Praise & worship portrays the image of a supernatural faith, the idea of an undoubting and non-struggling faith unreachable by the mortal person in an honest relationship with a trancendent being. Praise & worship makes the deepest most intimate aspects of spirituality, whether communal or individual, a public spectical. Praise & worship lacks the depth that is reached when the complexity of faith is added, when my mind, my rational thought, my struggling ethics, my emotions, my honest questions, my doubts, fears and everything that comes with it is added.
Let me clarify. I know that their is exceptions. I know that others might also use the term Praise & worship and do something totally different from what I’m describing. Not all nudity is porn. Not all sex is porn. Not all music should be described with the porn metaphor. Not all Christian music, not even everything that use the label Praise & worship should be described with this metaphor. But when I look through this metaphor at a lot of what’s happening in the gospel and the Praise & worship scenes, then I’m deeply troubled.

I’ve been getting more and more disgusted with the Praise & Worship industry for years now. The dishonesty just got to me. The fact that I’m forced to sing about faith and God in a way that simply doesn’t match up with my own journey. The honesty of doubt and questions simply don’t exist in Praise & worship. In Praise & worship the faithful is faithful and life is good for the faithful. God is only good. Heaven is near. Real life looks somewhat different.

The first time I started thinking about porn was when one of my pastors made the comment that porn and nudity isn’t the same thing. Basic insight for anyone who’s been looking into this phenomenon, but new thought for me at that stage.

Porn seeks to simulate sex. Sex without the complexity of relationship. Porn seek to stimulate you sexually. Porn portrays an image the sexuality of another, it provides an image of how someone else is doing it. Porn portrays the image of supernatural sex, the image of bodies and sexuality that is unreachable by the mortal person in a healthy relationship. Porn makes the deepest most intimate aspects of human existance a public spectical. Porn lacks the depth that is reached when the complexity of relationship is added, when the whole person becomes part of the sexual experience, mistakes, moods, emotions and everything that comes with it.

Praise & worship seeks to simulate spiritual experience. Spirituality without the complexities inherent to a deep connection and journey with the spiritual being whom we call God. Praise & worship seek to stimulate you spiritually. Praise & worship portrays the image of the spirituality of another, it provides an image of how others are doing it. Praise & worship portrays the image of a supernatural faith, the idea of an undoubting and non-struggling faith unreachable by the mortal person in an honest relationship with a trancendent being. Praise & worship makes the deepest most intimate aspects of spirituality, whether communal or individual, a public spectical. Praise & worship lacks the depth that is reached when the complexity of faith is added, when my mind, my rational thought, my struggling ethics, my emotions, my honest questions, my doubts, fears and everything that comes with it is added.

Let me clarify. I know that their is exceptions. I know that others might also use the term Praise & worship and do something totally different from what I’m describing. Not all nudity is porn. Not all sex is porn. Not all music should be described with the porn metaphor. Not all Christian music, not even everything that use the label Praise & worship should be described with this metaphor. But when I look through this metaphor at a lot of what’s happening in the gospel and the Praise & worship scenes, then I’m deeply troubled.

Maybe Brian Mclaren says it better than I do in this videoclip:

Sometime last year a couple of us started with this experiment of camping without a program. I told some of the story of last years camp here. Maybe the camp was best summarized by one of the people there when she talked about the two circles of rocks that created this camp.

vuur sirkelOn arriving a number of the guys collected some wood and a few rocks to create a fireplace. The fireplace was nothing more than 8 rocks in a circle, and chairs that got carried to this circle of rocks. At night this was a place of warmth, since we had a fire going. But at day it remained a place of comfort, a place of connection, even though there was no fire. The circle of rocks created a safe space for conversations.

labyrinth kleinThe second was the labyrinth at the camp site. While at a similar camp last year a number of us built this labyrinth. The story of how a dumping site was made a holy place is told here. Although labyrinths has no meaning for some of us, for others this is a place of finding God and self. And the experiences shared made for lasting memories.

So, we camped without a program, but with two circles of rocks and a few other open spaces. It’s amazing what a circle of rocks can create…