Monthly Archives: June 2013

Reflections on Madiba’s legacy

When Francesco came home on Thursday, he shared this piece of writing with me. While on the plane home from Johannesburg, when rumours that Nelson Mandela had died were flying around in the media, he felt this urgency to reflect on his sense of Madiba’s legacy and what that would mean for him. He drew from a sermon I preached this past Sunday, entitled “Where do you go when you die” and on Chimamanda Adichie’s “The danger of a single story” .

I am so proud to share these beautiful words with you. I pray that it stirs you into joining God’s work of bringing about justice, peace and joy wherever you are.

“In living he gave us hope and in dying he will leave us with the challenge of building on that hope together. When looking at this man – Nelson Mandela – I am not sure whether he was really worried about where he would go when he died. It was rather about what he could do while alive to transform society and create Ubuntu.

In life when things don’t go your way it is easy to look for blame, to spend time trying to understand why these things are happening. These thought are not necessarily a bad thing, but we can end up getting caught in that space, not moving beyond the pain and hurt. Madiba gave us a real life example of what it means to forgive, to embrace diversity and create something new together.

He showed us how to let go of one’s self-perceived right to have been treated better, to let go of the principle of judgement and instead to embrace grace. He had every right to feel aggrieved, to feel like people had to pay for what they had done to him, to feel like he deserved something better. He chose to look forward, to look to what he could do to help transform society and build a new country and world together.

I think Madiba embraced what it meant to look outside of the single story If he had only focused on his own story and what had been done to him and his people then I think things would have been very different. He chose to open himself up to understand other stories and committed himself to creating a new story for this country and the world.

The challenge for us is to move outside of the “single story” mindset for ourselves and others and open ourselves up to hearing and understanding the multiple stories out there and embrace that diversity in the process of creating something new together.

I used to have a story that said I need to do what’s necessary to ensure I get to heaven. I now believe that I need to do what’s necessary to create heaven here on earth. Madiba stepped into places of discomfort and chose others above himself. He showed that there can be extreme power in humility. We can easily feel overwhelmed by the challenge of bringing God’s Kingdom on earth. The world can seem too corrupt or too destructive or too self-centered. The weight of poverty and unemployment and war and environmental decay can seem like too much to overcome. Madiba showed us how the power of one is multiplied through many who embrace that power.

I believe we can make a change in this world and I believe that I can be part of it. This will require opening myself up to other stories and breaking the barriers of comfort that sometimes make it easier to just focus on self.

I don’t know what the future holds but I do know that things need to change. There is a saying that we don’t have to worry about what the future holds as God holds the future. The thing is that God is holding us and we are the future and we need to act in a way to bring about the right kind of future, i.e. God’ s people in God’s place under God’s rule.”

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Through pain to praise

Today I had the privilege of sharing God’s Word at the church my friend attends, and I realized afresh the enormous responsibility that comes from doing so. Below is an edited version of what I shared this morning:

I would like to offer you my understanding of one of the ways we can genuinely connect with God. And when I say “genuinely”, I mean not only with your thoughts, with what you think about God, but also with all of you – your body, your emotions and your thoughts. I have learned through my own journey that the only way I can genuinely praise God, is when I push through my pain towards Him.

Two significant events brought much pain, but also unexpectedly, brought much healing in my life and in my tumultuous relationship with God. The first event was my infertility diagnosis in September 2005. I was devastated. How could this happen? What did I do wrong? What did I not do? I entered a period of desperate prayer, clinging on to the promises received in church and in Scripture, that God was a healer, that nothing was impossible for God, that He opened and closed wombs. And seven years later, my arms are still empty.

The second event occurred in June 2012. On the 18th of June, Francesco, myself and two of our closest friends embarked on our dream holiday – a 12 night Mediterranean cruise. We boarded the ship on the 22 June 2012, and on the night of the 24 June 2012, I received a call that my cousin, who I loved deeply and was always seen by me as my big sister, died instantly from an aneurism – she was 39 years old. Again, I was devastated, but in order for me to salvage my holiday, I chose to bury the grief deep down inside me.

When I arrived home, the grief seemed to be almost absent. There were times when it would surface, but I never fully felt it. The next six months were all a blur – I took on additional responsibility with my cousin’s eldest son. I also completed my first year of postgraduate studies. And all this time, I felt numb, until by the end of November, I felt completely disconnected from God, and began questioning whether He even existed.

I stopped praying. I mean, why should I pray? If God does not exist, then who am I praying to? News of tragedy – shooting at a primary school where young lives were ended so senselessly – trauma, and the M23 rebels invading Goma, a city in the DRC – where people whom I knew lived – pushed me over the edge.

Inside I felt myself screaming out at all the pain in the world, wondering how we can claim that God is in control and that He is all-powerful and loving and yet there is so much pain in the world and He is doing nothing about it! And so I took the step I had always dreaded. I thought, “Either God is a cruel God, who can do something but chooses to do nothing.” Or I thought, “But I can’t imagine such a cruel God, so therefore he must then not exist.” And I sat with these thoughts churning in my insides all through Christmas, which was really hard last year.

And in the last six months, I have been journeying with my pain in a way that has brought much healing in my life and breathed new life into my relationship with God. This journey was a journey of truth-telling, of lament.

Ellen Davis tells us that the “incomparable surprise gift” in the book of Psalms are the psalms of lament. These kinds of psalms dominate the first half of the book, and their language is not really polite. In fact, it is language that we almost never hear in church and in conversations with Christians. For example, in Psalms 22 and 88, these psalmists accuse God of abandoning them.  And in Psalm 44:24, the psalmist accuses God of falling asleep on the job. The sheer number of these psalms challenges us to take them seriously as a biblical model of prayer.

And this is not the only place in the Bible that expresses such language, such audacity. Another place in the bible is the book of Lamentations. But before turning to Lamentations, a quick overview of the context within which this book was written:

  • The destruction of the Jerusalem temple and the deportation into exile of the top structures of the Judean leadership by the Babylonians.
  • The loss of their temple – the place that symbolised God’s eternal presence among them – the loss of their land and the loss of their status as an independent nation, a nation who are God’s people.
  • It plunged them into despair and caused them to question their identity as God’s people and to question God’s character. Where was his fidelity, his promised faithfulness, His assurance that He was their God and they were his people?

It was in this context that the book of Lamentations was written. So now let’s read passages from this book to get a feel for the language.

When you look at the language in Lamentations 2:1-5, you hear the speakers accusing God of humiliating Zion, of God destroying without mercy, of levelling fierce anger against Israel, of God becoming “like the enemy” of Israel. In Lamentations 3:1-12, we hear the speaker saying that God drove him/her “into darkness without any light”, how God “besieged and enveloped” him/her “with bitterness and tribulation”, of God shutting out his/her prayers. And in Lamentations 4:4-11, we read how The Lord gave full vent to his wrath; he poured out his hot anger, and kindled a fire in Zion that consumed its foundations.”

These passages voice speech that many of would never dare level at God – it feels almost blasphemous. And yet, the writer(s) of Lamentations do just that… they dare to accuse God of murder, of abandonment of pouring out his anger upon them. And it is precisely in this language that God’s people are led to healing and freedom.

Kathleen O’ Connor, as cited by Brueggemann in his introduction to the Old Testament, offers us a perspective that holds the promise of healing and restoration, for us and for our ability to genuinely connect with God. She says that these poems give us 5 gifts:

  1.  Lamenting is an act of truthfulness. The writers speak out their truth before God, and this speaking is in itself an act of faithfulness. It says that they are not willing to let go of their relationship with God; that, in spite of their circumstances, they will still engage with God in the most honest, authentic way possible. Their faith was strong enough; their relationship with God was strong enough that they felt they could use such language when engaging with God. Their lament was “prayer abandoned to truth”.
  2. Lamenting is an act of impassioned hope. This passionate expression of grief and sorrow is passionately hopeful precisely because the Israelites believed that their cry to God would mobilize Him to act. And if one knows their story, then one would not be surprised by this belief. It was their cry as a result of their oppression under the Egyptian Pharaoh at the end of Exodus 2 that mobilized God to act, to raise up Moses to lead them out of slavery into their freedom in God. And so, again, in a place of utter despair, the writers cry out on behalf of their people, desperately clinging to the hope that God’s mercies are new every morning.
  3. Lamenting is a wish for justice. By crying out against the pain, they name the injustice of their current situation and the injustice that led to their current situation. They dare to ask God why he did not, or does not act. They are crying out against everything that destroys their ability to survive dream and flourish. Kathleen O’ Connor writes, ““When people live in conditions that deprive them of dignity, of control of their bodies, of what they need to eat and clothe themselves, or of what they need to flourish in mind and spirit, they need to lament.” And somehow, mysteriously, the releasing of the cry ushers in catharsis and healing.
  4. Lamenting is a political act. It is a political act because it dares to confront the powers that be with the injustice, with their grief, abandonment and loss. It has the power to bring tears to the surface and accepts the tears. And in its acceptance of tears, it validates them, giving birth to hope.
  5. Lamenting teaches resistance. It does so by providing a language of defiance. It encourages the person lamenting to resist the injustice and to promote human agency rather than passivity in the face of that which robs one of life and dreams. We will only be able to gain our full humanity, unleash our blocked passions and live in genuine community with others when we come to grips with our own despair, loss and anger and allow the grief to run its course. Lamenting melts frozen and numbed spirits.

Lamentations gives us the language to express our inner world and our feelings/thoughts towards God. But it does more than this. It authorizes us to use that language, to bring to expression those places and spaces within us that before we have not been given permission to do so. Lamentations authorizes truth-telling.

It is through lamenting, journeying through the pain that one finds one’s way to praise. Ellen Davis writes,

“When you lament in good faith, opening yourself to God honestly and fully – no matter what you have to say – then you are beginning to clear the way to praise. You are straining toward the time when God will turn your tears into laughter. When you lament, you are asking God to create the conditions in which it will become possible for you to offer praise – conditions…that are mainly within your own heart…sometimes the only act of faith that is possible – for those who suffer and those who minister to them – is to name our desolation before God, and to implicate God in our suffering.”

My story echoed this journey. February till May were months of lamenting, of truth-telling, of owning my grief at the loss of my sister and the pain of empty arms that I found myself again, that I was able to access my emotions again, that I was led into a place where the healing process can continue. And the biggest gift of all… the most authentic connection with God in all my years as a Christian. As soon as I cried out, as I entered into my own space of truth-telling, it brought a release inside me, and now it feels that just when I thought I had lost God, I had in fact found Him. No, actually it feels as if He now has been gently pursuing me. And I love it. It’s not always easy, but as I cultivate the spaces of truth-telling in my own life, my connection with God is deepening, but also becoming more child-like.

May you find the courage to enter into your process of lament, and may you experience healing and restoration through your truth-telling.

The empowering gift of vulnerability

As I sat tonight, doing sermon preparation for Sunday, I realized that the power and the beauty of the Writer’s Track at the International Amahoro Gathering was that it created, unexpectedly, a safe space for so many of the participants to lament.

Many of the exercises led many of us into spaces

  • where memories were triggered,
  • where truth was revealed,
  • and where courage caused us to share deep wounds, impossible hopes and dreams and forgotten,joy-filled childhood memories with people we barely knew.

And yet we felt so safe, gently held by the facilitators (Idelette and Claire) and by those around our tables.

Our first exercise in “free writing”, was to answer the question, “Why am I here?” I tried not to over-think any of the exercises, and I must admit that as I put pen to paper to answer this question, I tried to think faster than my hand could write so that I at least had an idea of what I would write. But Someone had other ideas… this God who has gently been pursuing me decided that this week would be a place where He would bring healing in a completely unexpected way.

As I began to write, I realized that I was articulating, possibly for the first time, the source of my fear of writing. Here is what I wrote,

I am here because, like Bishop Zac said, you need to go to the place that fear, because that is how you learn courage. I have never believed that I could write – maybe because I hated creative writing in English and Afrikaans. I absolutely hated those assessments because I did not know what I was doing, and because, by putting it on paper, other people would know that I did not know what I was doing. So I hid from others. i would not commit to paper any of my own thoughts or opinions because others would be able to see that which I have tried to desperately to hide. But now I’m hear to face my fear, to face myself, to come out of hiding.

This lament, this exercise in truth-telling, led me, not only to a place of surprise, but also to a place of amazement. Because now, as I face my truth, I am finding the courage to own my voice and write.

In my next two posts, I will share my responses to the other free writing exercises that continued to bring about new revelations, old memories, deepening friendship and healing.

Pregnant with anticipation and expectations

The International Amahoro Gathering in Entebbe, Uganda, was overwhelming, but in a good way. It was profound, life-changing, leaving me feeling breathless with anticipation as what God has in store for Francesco and I.

We have been home for almost a week, since this past Monday, but I still feel a bit disconnected, as if I am not yet fully home. Actually, it feels as if my body is present, but the rest of “me” is not. I guess my heart is still with all the people I connected with at the International Gathering, and with those whom I spent time with in Bujumbura, Burundi.

As I was driving home from work today (a place that I am struggling to be in at this moment because all I want to do is write, to process the experiences in Uganda and Burundi, and to work on my Masters), I thought that it might be helpful to categorize some of the experiences instead of trying to work systematically through the time away in chronological order.

So, what I’d like to attempt is to reflect on the following aspects of my time away, and the impact it had on me personally (I might do more than one of the listed aspects in one post):

  • The travelling adventures from Cape Town to Entebbe
  • Our arrival in Entebbe and our time in the zoo;
  • Various aspects about the International Gathering, including:
    • Orientation, especially the Ten Commandments of Communication
    • The opening session led by Kelley and Claude
    • Highlights from the presentations by Uganda (Bishop Zac), Kenya, Rwanda and the DR Congo
    • My deepening friendship with Marlyn and Rob, Idelette and the SheLovesMagazine crew, and Kelley and Claude
    • Experiencing Amahoro with Francesco
    • The Writer’s Track and the unexpected gifts received in this track
    • The preparation for, and the execution of, the South African presentation and the requested South African track that afternoon
    • Feeling the pain of the non-identity of the Coloured community in South Africa
    • New friends, including Prabu and Arsene, whose stories inspired me.
  • The many conversations around Claude and Kelley’s home in Burundi;
  • The celebration of the well in Bubanza;
  • The garden party and the conversations at that party, especially with Carolyn and Sean Callaghan;
  • The pain of saying goodbye

So, hold on to your seats. This is going to be an interesting ride for me and for you who will be journeying with me over the next couple of posts.