This reflection flows from the debate on Antjie Krog’s Begging to be Black, organized by the Centre for Public Theology at the University of Pretoria, in which Jurie le Roux, Klippies Kritzenger and Rodney Chaka participated. Tom Smith wrote a brilliant critical overview of the debate, which I’m not even going to try and repeat. However, I’ve been journeying with my own being Afrikaner since July last year, and would like to continue this journey with reference to the current conversation.

The responses at the above mentioned debate again made me realize how much more thorough I still need to think about my own being, my own Afrikanernes. The detailed and critical analyses of Krog’s book, pointing out some of her own indebtedness to being an Afrikaner, as well as some naiveties in her approach forced me to think about by own almost naively positive reaction to Krog’s work.

One thing I think we have almost consensus about. Krog’s use of Black wasn’t the best choice of words. We might differ on our reason for saying this, but maybe Begging to be African would have been a better choice. For me, however, this quest has found words over the past year in becoming an Afrikaner. I, the naive reader of Krog and Jansen, want’s nothing more than to reclaim being Afrikaner. I want to claim being Afrikaner, being born from Afrika, wanting to be from Afrika, while being white and Afrikaans speaking, but I want to be that other white African, not the Afrikaner from the Voortrekker monument pictures, not the Afrikaner from the April 2010 letters to daily papers in South Africa,but the new kind of Afrikaner, the one who has no identity other from being part of a democratic South Africa.

And yes, Krog help me with this. I have called Jurie le Roux “one of the unsung heroes of my life” in the past, and I’ll stick to this, althouh I have realized years ago that we differ when it comes to how we understand our own being part of Africa. As a brilliant philosopher and exegete, he was able to point our some of the problems in Krog’s approach. Using French philosophers one could say he, and others, is able to “break” Krog’s work. But just because it’s broken, doesn’t mean it’s broken. Somehow Krog seem to fail the deconstructionists, whom I love – the little I understand about them, and then in my eyes get up and become helpful in spite of messy formulations, lack of philosophical depth, and lack of theological understanding.

And I think it’s something on a more emotional level that really get’s me into Krog’s work. The way in which she attempts to deny her own European heritage at some stages, but then have to admit her comfort in Germany, they way in which she are uncomfortable with her white Afrikaner tradition, but at times are forced by others to admit her own being advantaged by exactly this which she fights against, and the way in which she simply goes out there, and attempt to live relationally with a broader South Africa.

Through messy formulations and all, I find in Krog’s work something which missiologists called interculturation, an exchange of concepts, ideas. Krog might make it sound as if her attempt is simply to become more African, but in her person she really learn from different cultures, and in her story also give of what she is back to those black’s whom she so easily identify with Africa. Maybe I’ll not beg to be black, not even beg to be African, as if there are some ideal form of African out there which I should strive to become. But please let me be that different Afrikaner.

I want to be the interculturated Afrikaner, the Afrikaner that are actually able to listen to my fellow Africans, to allow them to deconstruct who I am, to deconstruct my own whiteness, to help me become more Afrikaner. No, I cannot deny that I also feel this connection with European and white thoughts, that is part of me. But I want to see that part of me through the eyes of my fellow South Africans. I don’t simply want to continue existence as an Afrikaner, but I want to understand my own being white and being Afrikaner, and understand it in relation to other around me, and through this become more of a white African.

Krog would call this something different. She’ll call this becoming black, maybe. She will sound different when she speak about this than I do. But I see in her work how she finds a reinterpretation of her own identity in relationships with black, colored, indian South Africans, South Africans of different languages and backgrounds. She struggles, she’s critical, and yes, in the end we’ll agree that she remain a white Afrikaner, but she’s more and more of a white Afrikaner that finds identity in relationship to others, and in spite of brilliant critique against her work, in spite of the fact that her work could be broken, it’s not broken for me, because on an emotional level, and in spite of critique also on an intellectual level, she helps me along this journey of becoming that white African, that Afrikaner that’s not the Afrikaner that we know.

18 December was the day Avatar was released in South Africa. 18 December was also the day of the Copenhagen accord.

Today I finally came around to reading the reports of Copenhagen. And I finally came around to watching Avatar. A sad concurrency of events.

Yes, Avatar is good. It might be one of those movies which will take me quite some time to work through. It presents a weird and magically wonderful world with effects which few, if anyone, have ever been able do. In combining this with the total over-romanticization of primal cultures, it reminds me of the 1999 Hallmark mini-series of Journey to the Center of the Earth (which I haven’t seen in 8 years or so, but I remember finding really brilliant at the time).

Avatar portrays this beautifully wonderful world of perfect pantheism (although they mess up this theological concept a bit with typical popular western theological ideas, but that will have to be left for another post), where everything is connected, and everything is in balance. It’s an Eden environment, where humanoids feel nature, care for nature, name the animals.

The movie is a blatant critique of colonialism, of the disconnect with nature brought about by our technocratic society, of the destruction of the earth by humans, of the disregard of everything sacred. And dare I say that the general reaction to this critique is positive. For many, the fantastic fantasy world of Pandora point to what we know, on a deep level, to be right, and true. Peace. Harmony. With all of creation. Living a simple lifestyle. Caring for the environment. Yes, all this and more, the beautiful world of Pandora is what we want. But we want to keep it fantasy.

Almost as if we need the fantasy of the possible life in harmony with nature, to keep our technocratic militaristic consumerist world alive. As if we know that as soon as the hope of peace and harmony disappear, we’ll die. So we keep the fantasy alive, so that we can continue our destruction. Because as soon as we walk out of Avatar, we continue our Christmas shopping, buying more than we need, and more than the earth can sustain. We go back to our lives in security villages and kept safe by large armies that keep the possibility of a society where the masses are living in absolute poverty alive. And not only do we shrug at a climate deal which screams against everything that Avatar has been fighting for, we kind of know that we are not willing to change our own lifestyles to be in harmony with our mother earth.

As the days after Copenhagen pass, the reaction of sadness, and sometimes madness, is heard over and over again. Yes, the thoughtful recognize the difficulties that the conversations faces, the thoughtful know that a first step in the right direction has been made. But the reality is that we are making decisions to safe our own asses. We have heard that gaia (to use Lovelock’s language) is going to make it difficult for humans, and we are willing to keep to the limits which was set so that our own comforts aren’t threatened. But harmony with the earth isn’t even on the table. Actually going above and beyond what the economy and human survival require isn’t even considered. A world where the human species is connected with everything around it is kept for the fantasy world of Pandora.

Let me begin with a brief introduction to the notion of the so-called “big other” as the symbolic substance of being, as it were the symbolic space within which we human beings dwell. People usually think about symbolic rules regulating social interaction, but I think it is much more productive to focus on another aspect of what Lacan calls the “big other”. The intricate cobweb of unwritten implicit rules. Their never explicitly stated, if you state them explicitly you even usually commit some kind of crime or violation. This is what always interest me, how what holds communities together are not explicit rules but the unwritten rules which are even prohibited to announce publicly.

Now you will say that I’m exaggerating here. No I’m not. Imagine even the most totalitarian communities imaginable. The Stalinist regime. The real old one from the 30’s. You would say but there everything was clear, no unwritten rules. Oh, their were.

Imagine a session of the central committee where someone stands up and starts to criticize Stalin. Now, everyone knows this was prohibited. But that’s the catch. Imagine someone else standing up and saying: “But listen, are you crazy? Don’t you know that it’s prohibited to criticize comrade Stalin?” I claim the second one would be arrested earlier than the first one. Because although everybody knew that it’s prohibited to criticize Stalin, this prohibition itself was prohibited. The appearance had to be unconditionally maintained that it is allowed to criticize Stalin, but simply why criticize him since he’s so good.

My point it that the appearance of a free choice had to be sustained.

This is the introduction of a talk by Slavjok Zizek that can be downloaded from the Slought foundation website.

Imagine someone standing up and saying: “Black people will not be allowed in our churches. And definitely not on our church boards“. This person would be immediately shunned. But it would seem that it’s prohibited to actively create inter-racial churches in most places. It may never be said. It is even more wrong to state this prohibition than the prohibition itself. And when the observations which support the theory that there is an unwritten rule against inter-racial churches is pointed to, the appearance must be unconditionally maintained that this congregation is open to begin an inter-racial church, but simply why force this when no one wants this/it’s not really central to the gospel/it’s not about race but about culture or language/whatever reasons are given to why “the most segregated hour of Christian America [or South Africa] is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning” to quote Martin Luther King Jr.

I belief a similar argument can be made for poor people in rich Christian communities. Therefore we will never say that they are not allowed, since stating this rule is against the rules, but everyone would work together to keep the community basically rich, and no one would dare to openly attempt to change this.

Is it possible that what determines how the Christian community work is not the written rules of shared confession, faith, mission or community, but some form of unwritten rules which underlies the ideology? If this is true, then these unwritten rules need to be understood, deconstructed, and challenged for change to happen within these communities. Someone would need to publicly state the rule which is not allowed to be stated.

Anyhow, your thoughts would be appreciated…

I pointed to some of the things I believe to be key in understanding Transforming Mission by David Bosch in a previous post a few days ago. Flowing from my conversation with Tom Smith last week, I want to point to my new favorite Bosch quotes, and how they help us in understanding Transforming Mission.

Although it is Hans Küng whose theory Bosch use in pointing to paradigm changes in the church, on the phenomenon of paradigm changes, Bosch uses especially the work of Thomas Kuhn. In describing the current paradigm change, which Bosch calls postmodernism. In describing postmodernism Bosch recognizes it as appearing first in the natural sciences:

The first fundamental assault on it (it refers to rationalism from the previous paragraph on this page) did not (as one might have expected) come from the side of the human sciences. It came, quite surprisingly, from the very disciplines where the Cartesian and Newtonian canons appeared totally inviolable: the field of physics. (:350)

Using especially the work of Fritjof Capra and Micheal Polanyi, both who were initially specializing in the natural sciences before writing works of importance to philosophy, he then describes the emerging “model or theoretical structure, or a new “paradigm”” (:184). Although this is a topic for another day, I believe his strong reliance on those in the natural sciences provided for a more robust understanding of postmodernism.

It is the following quotes that I’d like to point to:

Rationality has to be expanded. One way of expanding it is to recognize that language cannot be absolutely accurate, that it is impossible finally to “define” either scientific laws or theological truths. To speak with Gregory Bateson, neither science nor theology “proves”; rather, they “probe”. This recognition has led to a reevaluation of the role of metaphor, myth, analogy, and the like, and to the rediscovery of the sese of mystery and enchantment. (:353)

… the authentic Christian position in this respect is one of humility and self-criticism. After the Enlightenment it would be irresponsible not to subject our “fudiciary framework” to severe criticism, or not to continue pondering the possibility that Truth may indeed differ from what we have thought it to be” (:360)

And yet, even as we are “humbly acknowledging the uncertainty of our own conclusions”, for a “fudiciary philosophy does not eliminate doubt”, the Christian continues to hold on to unproven beliefs. It is precisely such a self-critical posture of faith which may protect us against the “blind and deceptive” nature of a “creed inverted into a science”. A post-Enlightenment self-critical Christian stance may, in the modern world, be the only means of neutralizing the ideologies; it is the only vehicle that can save us from self-deception and free us from dependence on utopian dreams. (:361)

Within Bosch’s argument, it would seem to me that the pages from which the above quotes come is key to understanding his hermeneutical presuppositions. Missing these thoughts might lead us into literilizing a theological concept such as the “Missio Dei”, which within the postmodern approach of Bosch must be understood as metaphor. Missing these thoughts can also cause us to misuse Bosch to create another triumphant Missiology that make claims of providing the final and only possible solution for humankind, whether in this world or outside of it.

From Bosch we must construct a Missiology which self-critically holds to unproven beliefs, and recognize them as such, always holding to the possibility that Truth may indeed differ from what we have thought it to be…

where may we find God?

September 15, 2009

3 story universe

Different answers could be given to this. And different answers have been given to this. We seem to have been moving God around a lot over the past few hundred years. We had God up in heaven for a long time. But when Galileo checked he didn’t find God there, at least not in a literal throneroom up above the sun and moon. Rather, he found stars and the sun and planetary orbits. For some this was the end of God, but for most, this was a time for reimagining God.

What resulted was a God much bigger than the medievel church could have imagined. And the more we discovered about the vastness of space, the bigger God became… since we moved God to the outside of his creation. It was to be expected I guess, I mean, by this time humans knew something about creating, and the creator had to be apart from the creation. I learned songs about this God. We sang about EarthInHandhow he held the whole world in his hand, about how he created even he dinosours. We would talk about how he has all of creation, the universe, in his hand.

I don’t know whether it was the fact that we were able to look out far enough, looked out further and further, but somehow I’m getting the feeling that the God that’s on the outside of creation carrying the earth of universe in his hand is not always working that well. So we moved God again. And this time, seems like we are moving him to the inside. Perhaps it’s our fascination with that which is small, quarks, and stuff happening on a subatomical level. Perhaps it’s the fact that we are forced to talk in metaphors again when exploring the sub-atomic world. Perhaps the mystics is teaching us something. I really don’t know, but we seem Universe_In_Hand_by_haveaniceday91to be moving God into a place so close to creation it cannot be imagined.

Which one was right? Is this the last time that we will be moving God? Maybe we shouldn’t be talking about the location of God at all. The poet of Psalm 139 said that God was everywhere:

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
      to be out of your sight?
   If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
      If I go underground, you’re there!
   If I flew on morning’s wings
      to the far western horizon,
   You’d find me in a minute—
      you’re already there waiting!
   Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
      At night I’m immersed in the light!”
   It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
      night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

Wherever the reality of his world led him, there he found God. Maybe that could guide us. Wherever reality might lead us, may we find God there…

The more I think about it, the closer extreme relativism and extreme fundamentalism seem to be together:

  • Both is entirely subjective, and do not even seek to be objective, in it’s extreme forms neither to recognize their own subjectivity.
  • The individual caught up in both will hold to their already-found believes come hell or high water, and wouldn’t even consider the possibility that it might be they who are wrong, since it isn’t needed to even consider that they might be wrong.
  • Both approaches give it’s proponents the amazing ability to percieve their worldview as absolutely consistent even when it clashes with all of reality.

In the end both approaches adhear to the same basic idea: their is no truth except for the truth which I hold.

alice-in-front-of-rabbit-hole9Theology never should be a simple set of answers to lifes complex questions. It’s a system that creates a whole understanding of reality, God, life, and if it’s Christian theology, the place that the story of Israel and the life of Jesus of Nazareth takes in understanding this reality. This said, reality is that you cannot simply change one of the answers on your list, and expect everything to remain the same. Rather, when you start pulling on one of the threads on your web of ideas, and observe closely, you’ll soon notice that the whole web is changing, the whole system is changing.

It’s like falling down Alice’s rabbit-hole, the further you fall down, the more you realize that the world in which you lived will never again be the same. Everything has changed. And you cannot go back. This is obviously not only true of theology. This trip down the rabbit hole we call a paradigm change.

  • If you fall down the rabbit-hole and realize that the three-storied-universe need be dropped, much need to be changed. Where is hell if not down under? When is heaven if not up there? Where is the spirit world if not inbetween?
  • If you fall down the rabbit-hole and Plato’s dualism starts crumbling, it raises a number of questions (most of which I don’t even understand yet) on body and spirit, spirit-world and flesh-world, God-world and human-world. Can these actaully be taken apart like we do?
  • If you fall down the rabbit-hole and western rationalism with it’s veto-right in every conversation starts to become a little blurry, then much of you’re critique on mystical experiences feel a little shaky. Then much of you apologetics, from whichever side of the argument, just becomes relativized.

Thomas Kuhn called the rabbit-hole paradigm changes, “the entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on shared by the members of a given community”. Hans Küng used his theory and applied it to theology. David Bosch has made one of his biggest contributions to the world of theology by applying Kuhn and Küng to missiology. This was the task of Transforming Mission. The church still seem to be struggling with the implications of the rabbit-hole that we are falling down into when it comes to missiology.

  • The imperialistic approach of medieval and colonialist times still pops up every now and again, where mission and the expansion of the empire (or the expansion of American culture) goes hand in hand.
  • The apologetics of conservative high-modernists still remain popular in places.
  • The conversion of souls to become part of heaven and the church from early Roman-Catholic times has not left us yet.

If you want to understand Transforming Mission, if you want to understand David Bosch. One of the key chapters would be Chapter 5. You need to understand how Bosch used Kuhn, Küng and Capra. Not doing this will make Transforming Mission another book of quotes which you use when it fits your own approach to missiology.

This post is part of the posts growing out of our discussion of Transforming Mission. I’ve blogged on previous chapters here:

Chapter 2

Chapter 1

And others who have blogged on our last discussion (chapter 5 and 6 of Transforming mission) can be found here:

Arthur Stewert