I’ve been wondering about the emerging conversation over the past few weeks. What happened, should we still use the language? And then someone contacted me on an old blog, asking about the emerging conversation in South Africa. The emergingafrica site is currently dead, but Roger helped me to get into some of the archives, so I’m just reposting something I wrote about a year ago on the emergingafrica blog.

Maybe just a short note before I start. I don’t think the emerging conversation is dead, I think the name became problematic and people moved. I still connect with the same people who was part of the emerging conversation 3 or 4 years ago when I go the ANiSA events, Amahoro gatherings, some academic conferences. I still see them on facebook, we are still talking about many of the same issues: justice, reconciliation, the future of the church, postmodernism, postcolonialism. Yes, the emphasis has changed, but that was inevitable, some of us might still like to connect to what is called emerging, others may not want to. But this is where I think we went:

where did emerging go – a response to Steve

Our friend and fellow blogger Steve Hays has been pushing hard on the question: “Where has the emerging conversation gone?” or “Why is the emerging conversation so quite/dead?”. That was the theme of the past three posts on this blog, so I thought a response might be a good idea. Steve’s questions seem to refer both to the broad conversation on the blogosphere concerning Missional/Emerging, as well as this specific website, and the lack of conversation going on here. I’ll try and quickly make a few comments on both. Some of this will be quite personal, and others attempts at taking a few steps back and analyzing what’s happening.

I found Emerging Africa in 2006 (then still called Emergent Africa). It was a place to connect to a group of people asking certain questions, and more specifically, a group of diverse people blogging and asking certain questions that I could connect with. However, I was never a very active Emerging Africa user. I only posted 5 posts since 2006, only 2 of which was actual posts with content I myself generated and thoughts which I wanted to engage others in. Two others was just responses on emerging that was doing the round in South Africa that I posted here, and 1 was an add on a conference.

About 70-75% of the content on this site was created by 5 people over the past 5 years1. A lot of people came in, dropped a comment at some point, but we need to take note that this site was never a large community of bloggers, but rather a small group of people connecting, and a lot sometimes visiting and making a comment or two. Steve himself were one of the 5, and he doesn’t consider himself to be emerging. Of the most active 10 people on the site, all those I’ve ever met also keep there own blogs, and are more active on their own blogs than on this one.

Those I’ve met: Maybe that need to be mentioned as well. Back when I first joined Emerging Africa, I knew none of the people on this list, now I find much more joy in visiting them in person (when I have the chance – for those in Cape Town) than.

In short: We shouldn’t expect too much from this site. For most of the active contributors over the years, this wasn’t the blogging place they put most energy into, and thus can’t be a measure of the depth of a conversation. Maybe the resource point made earlier should be considered more strongly. EmergingAfrica is a place pointing people to others. And I guess it’s also an important archive of what happened in the SA blogosphere regarding emerging.

But, then I’ll have to respond to questions concerning the broader conversation, and why most of us isn’t running blogs connected to strict emerging inner-politics and dialogue. This has been discussed a lot, as the different death of emerging conversations ran over the years. I listed some posts on this earlier this year, and others from 2008.

Let me take this earlier writings further with a few comments:

The diversity within emerging was unbearable to say the least. Dan Kimball (author of [2003]) expressed this when he refused to use emerging anymore. His choice to rather use missional should make us wary of continuing the “missional/emerging” way of making the two the same as well. I sometimes wondered about the diverse theology within the emerging scene myself, and even today it remains a struggle, because we seem to dump a number of people together under a “missional/emerging” category whom who has distinctly different approaches to theology.

Maybe this is where the waters get fuzzy. Because where does emerging start and where does it end? When I engage liberation theology, I would describe it as a form of what should go under the broad term emerging2, but others who traditionally participated in the emerging conversation would be strongly apposed to this. Furthermore, when I engage liberation theology, I find better dialogue partners than my emerging friends, these are theologians who are working on issues of justice in different ways, but wouldn’t connect themselves to what I’d call emerging. So suddenly emerging takes me to places which are not predominantly emerging, and where the typical emerging bunch (white, male, western, rich) doesn’t have the dominant voice anymore.

So, we get this weird place where we are no longer busy with the emerging conversation proper. To link onto Brian Mclaren (The Justice Project, p268 endnote 10), maybe we’ve discovered that the emerging conversation led us to places where others have been for some time. Maybe it was only our best theologians, and not on a congregational level3, maybe it was in a somewhat different way, maybe we contribute something unique because we were influenced by the emerging conversation, but we nevertheless find ourselves on territory which is shared by others.

So, maybe Andrew Jones was right when he said the emerging conversation was mainstreamed, as much as we might hate to hear this, and maybe this is true in South Africa as well – missional/emerging was the theme of the South African Missiological Society, not the type of place you’d have expected to find us 5 years ago. But maybe those who talked the emerging lingo was forced into other conversations exactly by there being emerging (and now I’m following the “Brian Mclaren” thread of emerging talk). We started out rediscovering the “Kingdom of God”. This forced us both into conversation with high profile theologians who have been trying to point the way for generations, but have been ignored by the Christian populace, as well as into conversation with those who are busy actually engaging injustice in the world (feminists, liberation theologians, postcolonial thinkers, economists, politicians, philosophers, activists).

So where did the conversation go? My guess is it went a hundred places. Most of these places won’t go by the name “emerging”. The more important question which should be asked if we wonder whether the conversation is dead is whether those who connected to it when emerging lingo 3/4 years ago consider there time of participation in this lingo as worthwhile seen from where they are now (I for one definitely do).

More could be said, but hopefully this take us a step further into understanding what is happening, and thinking about the place of Emerging Africa.

1) A note, the statistics mentioned reflects the real statistics of EmergingAfrica at the time, it’s not guesswork

2) This point I will definitely change when writing today. I would rather define Emerging as an approach drawing from the well of liberation theology, working towards becoming a form of liberation theology.

3) Maybe it is those in oppressed communities and groups. Women, black people, the poor, who we’ve been led to.

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The next transformative experience is quite well documented. Don’t get me wrong, I have been transformed to see black people as equal. I have been transformed to form friendships, true, deep friendships. But I am learning more and more about how deep the transformation is that is needed in my life. So the story continued, and will continue.

The experience I am referring to was at Amahoro Africa close to Krugersdorp in 2009. It was the experience of telling my story, the Afrikaner story, to my new Kenyan friends, and how they made me free to become an African in a way that truly changed me. You can read about it at the following places:

can’t speak about Amahoro

How one Afrikaner became an African theologian

Recently a group of black theological students of the URCSA studying at UP visited the Hector Peterson memorial in Soweto together with some fellow theological students from the DRC and some visiting students from the USA. Some time after the visit, the students said (in a discussion) that the Hector Peterson memorial “is not a place to visit with white people” since “it only makes you angry”. What had made them angry was that the white students said at the memorial: “We were not even born when this happened”, without any acknowledgement of their connectedness with their parents and grandparents who had been  born at the time and without owning up to the fact that they had benefited from their “whiteness”, even though they were never in the position to support or perpetrate apartheid. The unwillingness or inability to acknowledge white privilege flowing from the apartheid system is a serious obstacle to reconciliation in South Africa, and it will have to be addressed in a reconciling mission praxis.

From a paper entitled “RECONCILING ENCOUNTERS IN LUKE-ACTS” delivered by Prof Klippies Kritzenger at a conference in Stellenbosch, May 2009.

More than once I talked about the Afrikaner tribe in a series of posts on Afrikaner identity written after Amahoro 2009. I’ve been thinking about a number of Afrikaans songs for years now, and the song which probably best formulate the thoughts of many young white South Africans is that of  “Nie langer” (“not any more”) by Klopjag, that shouts out that we won’t be saying sorry any more. It’s been bothering me ever since I first heard it.

The reason can partly be found in the paragraph above: it’s not acknowledging the fact that we benefited from being white, since we are connected to our parents and grandparents. But my discomfort has been growing ever deeper, and it’s more than simply the fact that we benefited from the past. What bothers me is the fact that we actually disconnect ourselves from our own history with this song, with these words. The URCSA students maybe have a much more natural understanding of belonging to a group, to a culture, to a tribe.

My thoughts on this found special meaning in an experience at Amahoro, really a conversion experience, where my Afrikaner identity suddenly found meaning for Africa, where I believe I became an African theologian in my own eyes. Not by forgetting the past. Not by disconnecting from it in the way that the story above tells. But exactly by connecting, by remembering, by saying sorry (not out of emotions of guilt, because I honestly can’t say I experience these emotions, but in a process of reconciliation), by admitting that my tribe was wrong.

My call to Christian Afrikaners is to join your tribe. Not in opposition to the South Africa of which you are part. Not on Loftus at a Curry Cup final. But by embracing your connectedness to the past. By visiting the Hector Peterson memorial and not distancing yourself from what it says, but by connecting, working through the pain and the hurt (and my non-Afrikaner and non-white readers must hear this, embracing the connectness is a really hurtful process!), so that we can find the reconciliation on the other side. Also, to find, as a white man, liberation within Africa:

After telling our story, the story of our people, proud at times, standing guilty at times, one of my new Kenyan friends said these words: “You need to come to Kenya and come tell your story! Our people need to hear that someone can admit that they were wrong.” Those must have been some of the most liberating words I’ve ever heard!

Quoted from How one Afrikaner became an African theologian

(and on a side-note, I was part of the group that visited the Hector Peterson museum from the story above)

After visiting the Apartheidmuseum while at Amahoro I made a kind of a personal vow that I will for the coming months take people their, and let them reflect on what they experience. Saturday was our first such a trip, with 11 people in their 20’s, 2 in their teens and one in his 50’s.

The museum has just too much to take in in one visit, so I picked about 5 stations which I didn’t spend time on last time, and really worked through them. The first was the Helen Suzman exhibition. What struck me was the part where she said that the stories of Jewish oppression (I think in the Holocaust, but it might also have been some other, or a few other, instances of anti-semitism) which she remembered was a strong influence in her fight against Apartheid.

For 13 years Suzman was the only member of parliament wholly against Apartheid, but she kept on fighting. Remembering Apartheid, not in order to experience guilt, but in order to change the future, has become very important to me, so Suzman’s remembrance of Jewish oppression and how this influenced her fight against Apartheid is a story which I also think should be remembered.

Well, will visit the museum with another group of interested people again in about a months time. Let me know if you are interested.

Steve Hays shared some remembrance from Apartheid, he still remembers.

Chris asked me today what Amahoro meant to me. My answer probably surprised the room: Amahoro called me back to the white Afrikaner people. Amahoro called me back to the Dutch Reformed Church, the white one. Linking with everyone from Africa was a great experience, and I look forward to joining the family next year in Nairobi, but for me the calling of Amahoro was not primarily to the worst suffering in Africa, but to a small tribe of people who are known for the efficiency with which we could oppress.

I probably need to explain.

This probably started when I seriously began digging into the missiology of David Bosch, and seeking for an approach to the emerging field of public theology which would take the work of Bosch into account. Up to now this haven’t really happened in the public theology conversation. Part of my discussion of Bosch was understanding his ecclesiology, specifically the way he used the alternative community concept of the Anabaptists, combined it with his own Reformed theology.

Bosch talked about the church as God’s experimental garden. The church is not only the community that is sent out to change the world, but also the place where we show the world what God’s dream would look like. For Bosch in the Apartheid years this would have meant showing an Apartheid government that black and white can live together, that the world isn’t going to come to an end when black and white share a meal.

What exactly all this mean to me I don’t know. But I do know that I pray for my people, and yes, I call the Afrikaners my people. I pray, and hear the voice of God calling this, that these people can in the years to come journey out of our heritage, and become part of Africa, of this continent with it’s struggles, with it’s African theologians and our beautiful way of talking about God amidst suffering. It’s like the way Bosch understood the reign of God, it’s here, but it’s still coming. The Afrikaner is part of Africa, but we are also still becoming part of Africa.

In different ways we responded to Amahoro. For me it wasn’t walking away from this church that still refuse to embrace Belhar, but embracing this church. Not embracing it as it is, but this deep feeling that I cannot go without them. I need to see these people transition. I cannot run and call them from afar, tell them how wonderful it is here on the other side, where we are wholly part of Africa. I need to walk with them. The world need us to make this journey, to show that yes, whatever you might remember about this group of people, through God even we can make this journey.

Nic said it at one stage at Amahoro. We pitch our tents out far, and then come back to the church and journey with them. Amahoro stretch the road to when my tent is pitched even further, but it also sent me back, I’ve seen something of the road, now I must go on the journey with others.

This is most probably not the last time I’ll blog on this. I just know that these words it not what’s going on in my head, but I need to start to try and formulate this truckload of thoughts that’s still racing.

The reflections of the past few days on my own being an Afrikaner draw to an end… for now. It’s been a week since that transforming moment, when a black Kenyan transformed this Afrikaner into an African theologian.

While some liberal Afrikaner’s would easily identify themselves as being African, I’ve always been a bit cautious. Maybe I’ve seen too much of Africa, to know that in many ways I don’t fit. Maybe it was my involvement with the many philosophical conversations within the Emerging Church conversation, and the realization that these words have little to do with Africa. This was my experience at Amahoro as well. While it is popular for young Afrikaners to reject their past by saying that they had nothing to do with Apartheid, if I want to be in Africa I cannot say this. In Africa I cannot reject my past, I cannot be totally individualistic, what my people did is part of me. This said before I even start looking at all the practical ways in which Apartheid is still part of my daily life, in where I live, how I live etc.

The question that I struggled with was: How can an Afrikaner whose people were responsible for Apartheid become an African theologian? The people with whom I struggles through this was some fellow Afrikaners, but especially some Kenyan friends I made. I felt like I needed to ask permission to take part in constructing an African theology. After telling our story, the story of our people, proud at times, standing guilty at times, one of my new Kenyan friends said these words: “You need to come to Kenya and come tell your story! Our people need to hear that someone can admit that they were wrong.” Those must have been some of the most liberating words I’ve ever heard!

Suddenly our place in this conversation seemed so clear. We do not take part in this African conversation by forgetting Apartheid, by forgetting our past. We do not take part in this conversation in spite of Apartheid. We take part in this African conversation by remembering our past. By telling our story, so that this may never happen again. All over Africa one group oppresses the other. It’s not about white against black, but about the have’s against the have-not’s (as we said at Amahoro). I become an African theologian not by leaving my Afrikaner identity behind, but by taking sides with the have-not’s, with the oppressed, and doing this as child of the iconic oppressor of the past.

I am an Afrikaner. My people started Apartheid. Yes, many others have segregated communities. Many others were racists. But my people started Apartheid. That which I now confess to be a herecy. Racism, the root of Apartheid, which I now confess to be a sin. I cannot escape the fact that I have taken advantage from this system. I was educated by schools that was set up by this system. My forefathers voted in elections, and they kept on voting the National Party, and with it Apartheid, into our laws. I also recognize that many of my people didn’t know what was going on. Many of my people fought against Apartheid with everything in them. I, I am an Afrikaner.

But, as an Afrikaner, I can also say the following words with Thabo Mbeki:

I am an Afrikaner.

I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land.

I owe my being to the Khoi and the San whose desolate souls haunt the great expanses of the beautiful Cape – they who fell victim to the most merciless genocide our native land has ever seen, they who were the first to lose their lives in the struggle to defend our freedom and dependence and they who, as a people, perished in the result.

I am formed of the migrants who left Europe to find a new home on our native land. Whatever their own actions, they remain still, part of me.

My mind and my knowledge of myself is formed by the victories that are the jewels in our African crown, the victories we earned from Isandhlwana to Khartoum, as Ethiopians and as the Ashanti of Ghana, as the Berbers of the desert.

I come of those who were transported from India and China, whose being resided in the fact, solely, that they were able to provide physical labour, who taught me that we could both be at home and be foreign, who taught me that human existence itself demanded that freedom was a necessary condition for that human existence.

Being part of all these people, and in the knowledge that none dare contest that assertion, I shall claim that – I am an Afrikaner.

My people are the people who gave away the power they had, and gave power to those who they oppressed. Maybe the only oppressor ever to give away the power they had without a full-scale war. My people cannot be Europeans, never again, although some are trying at the moment. We are Africans. Under the sun of Africa we find joy. Here we search for peace, Amahoro.

 

I will try to blog on my Afrikaner identity in the coming days. Please take part in my journey with questions, critique, thoughts, or whatever you’d like to share.