The 3rd Reverend Abraham Maja Ecumenical Lecture - 2012
Presented on 18/11/2012 by Rev. Mautji Pataki, General Secretary of South African Council of Churches (SACC) at Seshego Methodist Church of Southern Africa.
Chairman of South African Council of Churches, Limpopo Province, Rev. Awedzani Nemaukwe and all other Members of the Executive Committee;
Rev. Abraham Maja, Mrs Maja and all other members of the family and relatives,
Members of the Clergy, the entire Church Leadership and Congregants,
The Premier of Limpopo Province, Mr Cassel Mathale, Members of the Executive Council and all other officials representing Government at any other level,
Honourable Members of Parliament and Legislatures
Members of the Judiciary’
Community Leaders and the representatives of other community organisations and institutions including Traditional, Sports and Cultural’
Political Parties, their leadership and general membership,
Youth and Women Groups,
Ladies and Gentlemen!
On the occasion of the 3rd anniversary of the Ecumenical Lecture established in honour of Rev. Abraham Mitši Maja – an embracing icon and a rallying personality of our ecumenical struggle and participation in this country and the Province of Limpopo in particular – those of us both ready and willing to pursue his dream have the responsibility to remind ourselves of the inaugural values, principles and standards that undergird and guided the mind of those who were the first to consider and conceive the idea so noble behind the establishment of this Lecture.
It is a mere three days ago that Rev. Maja celebrated his 81st birthday and just two months away before the 48th anniversary since he was ordained to the service of the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ in the capacity that licensed and still allows him to minister His Word and Sacraments.
Today we meet as we do, here in Seshego – the town in which he lived, served and ministered to a community that became receptive to the human values he represented and espoused, receptive to who he was and still is in their ordinary lives. It is here, in this community, that Rev. Maja participated in initiatives that sought to bring the various denominations of Christian faith together to build and encourage ecumenism for common public witness and prophesy. Further to ensure that the various denominations understood the dictates and the injunction of the Gospel, he led from the front teaching and living the unity of the Church and the liberation of humanity from the shackles of evil systems.
Against this legacy and effort, last Sunday I had an unpleasant opportunity to listen to a minister in church who declared himself anti-ecumenism. And to have him express his sentiments from the pulpit was rather disappointing. So, it is clear that personalities such as this would not share the same values as Rev. Maja whose ecumenical commitment we here celebrate today.
Although a devout Presbyterian who received some of his training at the renowned and distinguished Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, US, Rev. Maja remains a very strong ecumenist who at all times refuses to allow denominationalism to obscure the unity and the oneness of the community of believers as expressed by the Lord Jesus Christ when he prayed for his disciples, “...that they all may be one as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they may also be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent me”. (John 17:21).
Those among us, particularly the younger ones, who had the opportunity to learn from him and to be guided by Rev. Maja’s philosophy of life, are both convinced and well satisfied that his was, and still is, a fully executed calling to ministry.
Having said all these things that I have said up to now, I already know it as a matter of fact that his high level of modesty and diffidence has made him feel very uncomfortable because this is an individual who does not enjoy elaborate praise, pomp and public admiration and yet he consistently does these things that deserve appreciation all the time.
He understood and has over years accepted the advice by an unknown author of Desiderata, an ancient document found dated 1692 at the Old Saint Paul’s Church in Baltimore, where the author writes, “...speak your truth quietly and clearly and listen to others...”. It is indeed these attributes of truth-telling, of listening to others, of creating a silent time and many others unmentioned that have shaped and structured the foundation of Rev. Maja’s character and his outlook of life in general.
Without concealing any one of my intentions about this Lecture, I need to declare my plan very early that, more than any other thing, I will use this occasion as a catalyst to speak to the worrying challenges confronting our country at this time.
And in returning to the specifications required of me regarding the presentation of this Lecture, which is about “economic justice as a Gospel imperative”, I will draw the instructive lesson from the Book of Luke written about the poor man Lazarus and his relations with the rich man whose name and identity are not recorded by Luke. All we know is that he was rich. And, this is how the text reads:
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31)
Instructive about this text is that those who live in luxury and affluence must never do so at the expense of the poor people because it is evil therefore there is indeed a price to pay at the end. It cannot be correct that virtually on a daily basis the sick and ailing Lazarus with sores licked even by dogs had to watch the rich man eat without paying attention to his permanent hunger. Wealth and affluence becomes an affront and an insult when displayed in the midst of poverty. It becomes an injustice and does attract legitimate criticism and rejection from God.
What scares even more is that the practitioners of an unjust wealth have got no time for God. They way in which he believe in themselves and their material possessions, “...they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” to try and save them from self-destruction.
Rev. Maja and the rest of us are all aware that our country is at the moment going through a very difficult and challenging time of public protests. Those who are denied access to the wealth of their country have risen up and are calling for change in the way the system of the rich man functions. Similar to the content of the Lukan text, those who work to produce wealth and have the view of it all the time, now want to share in the consumption of their product.
Unlike Lazarus, whose story we have just read, poor South Africans no longer are prepared and willing to remain the consumers of crumbs falling from the table of the rich. They have realised through their struggles that there is full bread on the table. In the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, poor South Africans in Marikana, at Impala Platinum Mines, AngloAmerican, Bokoni, AngloPlats and many other stations of similar operation are now singing the same, “Thy Kingdom come...give us this day our daily bread...” They sing this song because they have now realised that while they consume the falling crumbs from their masters’ table, which doesn’t liberate them from hunger and starvation, their masters are busy consuming the full bread. This becomes a justice question where the weak are denied access to the wealth of their own country while foreigners and their children live well on the same wealth.
The public protests that are now becoming a daily occurrence in our country must concern those who are in charge of the levers of power to act in a manner that seeks to address the imbalances caused no longer by apartheid system but perpetuated by the democratic order that we now have put firmly in place in our country. By their action, protestors are daily drawing the attention of the nation to participate in the economic struggle with a view to emancipate the poor by forcing those who are in power and authority to change their priorities.
South Africans can no longer just live on social grants. It is unsustainable and only encourages a life of perpetual dependency. A system that is sustainable is one that will create jobs that compensate the skills that the poor have.
Following some of the developments in our country today, I am almost certain that we have very wrong priorities as the focus of our economy is on consumption capitalism.
We are an economy that does not manufacture but consumes. Our raw materials are processed in other countries where jobs are created. By the time such products return to us as imports, we are made to buy at high prices what originally belonged to us. This cannot be called justice.
While the poor are asking for a share in the economy so that they could address the needs of health and education, two Cabinet colleagues, are embroiled in an argument to ascertain whether it is correct or not for a Minister in government to criss-cross the country in a very expensive private jet while in certain instances carrying out family responsibilities. This is clearly not where the priorities of the poor are.
Whether it is true or not, the poor are worried if indeed the private home of the President is renovated at an amount in excess of R200m. They are worried when their children in Limpopo Province are deprived of receiving their study material on time. They are genuinely concerned when they get to a public hospital only to find that there are no medicines to ease their physical pain. They get confused to be told to bring along their own linen and food to hospital because failure to do so is to invite starvation. They get disgruntled when public funds allocated to construct the road to my grandmother’s village cannot be accounted for by public officials and politicians in government.
They are worried because their lives depend wholly on the determination or otherwise of those who hold the levers of state power without whom their hope for better life is doomed.
The poor are not asking for fancy cars or for mansions or palaces. They neither are asking money to construct landscape gardens in their private homes. They are not interested in surrounding themselves with electric fences and the high security walls, boom gates that are remote controlled. They are not interested in the red wine and dinners at upmarket restaurants. They are not asking for money to take their children to private educational facilities. All they ask for is the retention of their human dignity – a lifestyle through which they too can appreciate themselves – something that could retain God’s image in them.
In magnifying the struggle of the poor, Elke Zuern, Professor of politics at Sara Lawrence College has this to say, “As they make their demands, the protesters, where effective, construct a popular understanding of material necessities, but while their immediate demands, such as those for land or housing, are unmistakeable, the deeper implications of their actions are often overlooked”. (Politics of Necessities: p3)
Providing an even more emphasis that indeed the struggles of the poor are a response to injustice, Zuern has this to say, “Protests organised around socioeconomic struggles are a product of shared perceptions of injustice. This injustice is not only economic but also political”.
Wikipedia reports that, “South Africa has been dubbed "the protest capital of the world" and has one of the highest rates of public protest in the world. The rate of protest has been escalating since 2004 and "rose dramatically in the first eights months of 2012. Since 2008 more than 2 million people have taken to the streets in protest every year”.
Njabulo Ndebele argues that "Widespread 'service delivery protests' may soon take on an organisational character that will start off as discrete formations and then coalesce into a full-blown movement". There has been considerable repression of popular protest. The most common reasons for protest are grievances around land and housing”.
For those who care about this country, who care about the future of South Africa and its people, those who are worried about what happened in Marikana where close to 50 people died in incidents all related to the mining economic activity, to those who are worried about what happened in Lenasia where homes belonging to South Africans were crushed to the ground, those who are worried about the violent developments on the farms in the Western Cape where wine fields were burnt down, it is time that our concerns are consolidated into positive engagements that could finally save our country from a potential abyss.
The Former President Thabo Mbeki, on the occasion of delivering the OR Tambo Lecture at Fort Hare University recently puts his concerns even more blatantly, “I must state that I have prepared this Lecture deeply troubled by a feeling of great unease that our beloved Motherland is losing its sense of direction, and that, we are allowing ourselves to progress towards a costly disaster of a protracted and endemic general crisis”.
Whether Mbeki is part of the problem or not, as perceived by others who made their public response to his statement, is immaterial. The stark point is that South Africa is heading in the new direction and we must all be convinced that it is a correct one where none of us would emerge losers, whether poor or rich, black or white, schooled or unschooled. The clarion call is that we have to learn to take care of one another. The country must develop in such a way that the weak, the vulnerable are accommodated.
When Rev. Maja alongside many others was detained in 1986 and put in solitary confinement for 84 days without receiving any family visits, staying for days declining to eat the food dished and served by his tormentors, and finally charged with made-up charges including Psalm 5:9-10, little did he expect that he was fighting for a country that would very early upon receiving freedom begin to “progress towards a costly disaster of a protracted and endemic general crisis” (Mbeki: 2012) before it can even provide the fruit of liberation to its people.
The question that is quite logical to ask and that needs to be asked laudably is this, “how did we end up here so early in our liberation history?” Is it because we are our own oppressors as Moeletsi Mbeki would suggest in his book, Architectures of Poverty? His thesis is that African leaders are corrupt because when they move to occupy public offices, they use the same methods that were used by their former oppressors to govern their people. Most of such methods and systems would be corrupt and oppressive. They are quick to line up their pockets with public money and other resources. His charge is that some African leaders simply walk into public office with the sole intention to loot the public coffers and enrich themselves, their girlfriends, wives and children.
Cautioning against those leaders who only look after themselves while ignoring the hungry and vulnerable, we turn to the Book of The Proverbs:
“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
When it is in the power of your hand to do so.
Do not say to your neighbour, go and come back
And tomorrow, I will give it,
When you have it with you.
Do not devise evil against your neighbour
For he dwells by you for safety’s sake.
Do not strive with a man without cause,
If he has done you no harm.
Do not envy the oppressor,
And choose none of his ways;
For the perverse person is an abomination to the Lord,
But His secret counsel is with the upright” . (Proverbs 3:27-31)
If humanity has not done you any harm, and you have been put in charge of resources that are aimed at alleviating the desperation of the poor, take care of them and provide for them. To do anything opposite is to deny the poor of justice without cause.
Indeed as one writer said, “the time during which we live is out of joint” and our response has to reflect business unusual.
There is need in this country to convene an “Economic CODESA” where South Africans, themselves, can design their own system of economy – one that will provide everyone with bread and not crumbs – one that will allow South Africans to own their land and make use of it to produce food and other trading commodities – an economy that is not based on hand-outs but sustainable jobs.
Only South Africans can liberate themselves!`
I thank you very much for coming and for listening.
Author: Rev. Lea Marumo
Ordained Minister of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.
Currently pursuing Masters Degree in Systematic Theology, University of Pretoria.
She is happily married to Festus and they are blessed with two boys; she also ministers a small community in the Fourways Circuit.
“These are the hands of mothers, women of South Africa…”
South Africa has officialised eleven languages from which we may draw a picture of a country, comprising assorted cultures, diversified and colourful. A country that has conceded a human right to all its citizens. A democratic country that permits certain human behaviours within its compass of propriety. Simply put, it is a beautiful country that precepts wholeness and tranquillity in all its Provinces. Hence, the process of rectification of the past damages takes place to correct and highlight its inner beauty.
It is a right of every country to dream the best for its people. Scripture teaches us that no one is perfect, therefore neither is a nation. Galatians 2:17 (MSG), “Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect?”
I, for one, have noticed that this country is far from perfect. Having said that, I would like to highlight some of the issues women in South Africa face, utilizing practical experiences women endure day in and day out. Issues of Culture; Home Support; Modelled Expectation; Societal Stigma and Abuse.
I believe that this is the time for women to hear and heed the voice from Isaiah 32:9-14 (MSG), “Take your stand, indolent women! Listen to me! Indulgent, indolent women, listen closely to what I have to say. In just a little over a year from now, you'll be shaken out of your lazy lives. The grape harvest will fail, and there'll be no fruit on the trees. Oh tremble, you indolent women. Get serious, you pampered dolls! Strip down and discard your silk fineries. Put on funeral clothes. Shed honest tears for the lost harvest, the failed vintage. Weep for my people's gardens and farms that grow nothing but thistles and thorn bushes. Cry tears, real tears, for the happy homes no longer happy, the merry city no longer merry. The royal palace is deserted, the bustling city quiet as a morgue, The emptied parks and playgrounds taken over by wild animals, delighted with their new home”.
Women are not indolent or totally dependent on their men anymore. That is all in the past. Women of South Africa are now Jill’s of all traits. You will find them in any business context of this land. The patriarchal mentality endorsed women who stayed at home while their husbands harvest for the family. That obviously has shifted tremendously. Women of South Africa today are an example of the ideals of women who dreamt during the patriarchal generation.
Yet unfortunately, discrimination, oppression and hardship still seem to be women’s best friend. South African women are indulgent by culture, home support, modelled expectation, societal stigma, abuse and many other more issues that continue to repress their wholeness in their life journey and permits struggles and worry that format happiness uncertainty, relational uneasiness and disturbance. Consequently, from the absence of real contentment within themselves and with the community at large, this remains a harp hazard to our society. We need to fight for stability, harmony and wholeness as we move away from indwelling us in an endangered way of life and care for each other as God cares for us all.
How do we stand within cultural pragmatisms without losing its interconnection and speciality it birthed within us, the sense of togetherness and equivalent style of living? The bringing together of different people forming a positive click that celebrates its uniqueness.
2 Samuel 7:22, "This is what makes you so great, Master God! There is none like you, no God but you, nothing to compare with what we've heard with our own ears. And who is like your people, like Israel, a nation unique in the earth, whom God set out to redeem for himself”.
Our uniqueness does not mean that we are perfect, only God, the Sovereign Lord, is perfect. The question is should we accept our imperfectness or strive to a better living that could be in between imperfect and perfect?
Acts 2: 40, “He went on in this vein for a long time, urging them over and over, "Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!”.
Believe your beliefs and doubt your doubts. My belief communicates to myself that culture is not dull and I would like to believe it. The context of the reasoning of this particular verse cannot be measured with other cultures. Cultures differ, accordingly, it would be wrong to assume the same for all of them.
I would like to put forward a scenario of a Mopedi girl who grew up in a village and went to the city for schooling and work. Her cultural background and up-bringing was magnificent, she enjoyed every part of it. Being exposed into the city, she learnt about the reality of life outside her cultural parameters. She enjoyed and loved it. Then, visiting her village required her to uphold the cultural practices she was brought up with. The coldness she experiences assumed rebellion against her changed life. Insubordination of a community that contributed to her formation could be problematic to her own self. She now resorts to living a fraudulent life. She goes to Church with a hat on her head meanwhile it means nothing to her. She refuses to wear a skirt and a normal uniform while attending Church but this astonishing behaviour is found unpleasant by her own kind. When she responds by staying in the city, she misses her originality of Church worship. The only best solution she could think of is the pretence to put on the hat and skirt for the sake of her enjoyment of worship, the best she is used to. She chose to sacrifice her sanity for the betterment of peace in her own society.
The second part of this scenario is that of a Home support. Working full time demands lot of energy. Is it part of culture that women are the only ones to care for a home? This has to do with the way our men have been brought up. In general, men are not taught to clean, wash, iron, cook and contribute to any kind of a domestic core at home. So now, the poor Mopedi girl, who has a full time job, does not have a support system at home to ease some pressure on herself. Women teach girls how to care for a home, maybe it is time for our boys to also learn the importance of caring for a home. ‘Charity begins at home’.Jeremiah 30:5-7 (MSG), "God's Message: "'Cries of panic are being heard. The peace has been shattered. Ask around! Look around! Can men bear babies? So why do I see all these he-men holding their bellies like women in labor, Faces contorted, pale as death? The blackest of days, no day like it ever! A time of deep trouble for Jacob— but he'll come out of it alive.
Nothing is impossible when determination is our friend. Let us not blame culture rather let us do the actual work of teaching and learning. These are the hands of mothers, women of South Africa. Let us bring change that we want to see in our communities.
The other part of the scenario is what I would call modelled expectation. In its simplicity, it is defined as women striving to prove a point which is, in fact, pointless. The expectation to keep your maiden name when you get married just to prove that you are aware of your own right as a woman. The expectation to out-do men in the business world just so people can get it that women also can do it. The expectation to be a mother even though you are not married, so as to prove that you are a woman enough. It is my humble prayer and wish that women of South Africa would not fall onto these traps of trying to prove a certain point. It is pointless. We are all unique and until the day we appreciate each other the way we are, we are lost as a society.
We stigmatise our society, our women, ourselves as a community with discriminating issues. When are we going to stop throwing the bombs that destroy our relationships and diminish our humanity? These mostly result in physical, emotional and mental abuse against each other. Oneness means concurrence with same tune of bringing unity and building wholeness and gratification in our South African society.
Revelation 21:3-5 (MSG), “I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: "Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They're his people, he's their God. He'll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone." The Enthroned continued, "Look! I'm making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate".
About the Author
Desmond Lesejane, Rev
Minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa
Deputy Director at Sonke Gender Justice Network
SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER
Mark 6: 14 – 29
I move from the premise that the setting of the narrative we have read is Herod’s encounter with Jesus, or at least with the news of Jesus Christ. It is more than just the death of John the Baptist or the bitchiness of Herodias. It is upon hearing the news about Jesus that Herod becomes haunted by the ghost of John the Baptist. Whatever he had heard about Jesus convinced him that this was the resurrected John. Could it be they spoke the same language?
Reading the passage in this way also helps us properly locate the message John proclaimed. His was a message of the immanence of the kingdom of heaven and the implied call for repentance. His was a call to his followers to own up to the truth of their own sin, repent and enter the waters of his baptism as a sign of commitment to newness of life. It was a compelling message that drew the faithful in large numbers. It was a message about and pointing to Jesus. Yes, Herod should have been shocked that the message he thought he had killed was still alive. Like many he had thought that killing the messenger would kill the message.
There a number of other relationships in the narrative
John and Herod
Herod has an on and off relationship with John. We are told he liked listening to him. He could however not stomach John’s truth-telling about his adulterous marriage to his brother's wife, Herodias and ends up putting him in prison. He could however not bring himself to kill him. There seems to have been something that Herod feared / revered about the Baptist that pushes him to protect him, even against his wife’s request. Somehow Herod acknowledged John to be righteous and a holy man.
But is this peculiar to Herod? How often do we admit the truth about our situation, acknowledge the messenger and end up trying to destroy the message? “Yes, she is telling the truth, but could have been more sensitive or strategic in her approach”, we desensitize ourselves.
It is easy to make Herodias the villain. Like Eve, she is the conniving woman who leads the ‘poor’ man into sin. What type of a woman would agree to marry her husband’s brother? Look how she uses the daughter to finally get rid of John!
I suggest there are other gendered questions to be asked about relationships in this family.
- What type of a father is this Herod? How does a father lose his mind over his daughter’s dancing? Actually what kind of father makes his own daughter an entertainment object for his guests and friends?
- I do think we should also probe the relationship Herodias has with her daughter. What type of a mother enters into a murderous pact with her child?
I wonder too about the light this narrative sets on the ongoing trafficking and abuse of children for transactional gain using some or other cultural guise. We know too well about families which allow their children to have ‘sugar daddies’ because they come with much needed money or some other favors.
The death of John plays it out in Herod’s birthday celebration. He invited his officials, army officers, and the leaders of Galilee. It is a celebrity party, ya di boso. These are the people Herod wanted to impress. It is for them that his daughter is exploited/paraded. It is for them that he puts on a macho front and makes a tragic decision. Let’s not forget that Herodias, his wife, has been asking for John’s head for some time and it is only when the peers enter that he acts against his own conscience.
Isn’t this too familiar a setting in South Africa today? Don’t we go to great lengths to invite the elite to ‘our’ events to enhance our status and reputation? And when we have pulled them off, we act in strange ways that we often regret afterwards?
We know that men are often driven to risky lifestyles in order to live up to the social norm of the time, so be it. It could be selling your daughter or sister as a sex object, or entering into corrupt business practices, or sacrificing a comrade who dared to speak out, or protecting a corrupt bishop or colleague. And all this we do to impress our peers.
This reading can be extended to a critique of leadership in society. Persons in positions of power are subjected to powerful pressures that pose a threat to their own security. Personal pride, greed for gain and prestige, and the influence of ambitious intimates can also play a role. Under the sway of these, often gradual forces, the courage to serve selflessly and stand for the truth often waivers. The end is not always death through assassination, but some types of execution still occur nevertheless. Redeployment, marginalization, demonization, victimization, sabotage, subterfuge, etc, have become the standard responses to the prophetic voices of the Johns of our times that still dare to speak truth to the Herods of our times.
Too often the messengers are killed and the message is spun away, we think. The reality however is that the ghosts of our Johns come back to haunt us. And we know that the truth, that sets us free, never dies!
It is easy to read this as a message or judgment against the sins of the powerful few. But we must remember that John reached out to the many. His call to repentance was not just for Herod and the religious leaders, but for all Judea, for all of us. We too are faced with situations of our own where we have to choose between standing for the truth and falling for the temptation to turn aside from what we really know to be right. Often, we too succumb to temptation to please our peers and the powers that be, and just look on when the Johns of our time are beheaded. Often we know right from wrong. We know certain things should not be done. But we end doing them anyway. We are not much different from Herod and Herodias.
Or we, like the friends and colleagues, cheer others on to do wrong. And keep quite when they do it. Surely John was not the only one who knew about the adulterous marriage. Surely someone else should have wondered about the use of the girl. Surely someone else should have spoken when the head was paraded. But, alas! They kept a cancerous silence, it seems.
We can garner the courage to stand up for the truth at all costs because of the Christ that John the Baptist always pointed to. This Jesus, this Son of God, had come to bring God's promise of forgiveness and deliverance from evil and death. He is the one who promised to be with us to the end of the age. It is when we allow the spirit of truth to empower and guide us that we can withstand the pressures of the powers of this world.
About the Author: Rev Dr Ben Khumalo-Seegelken,
Edendale Lay Ecumenical Centre (1972-1975),
Convenor of Bible-Translation Project “Biblia Zuluensis”,
Lecturer and Researcher - Theology and Social Sciences,
Carl von Ossietzky University, Oldenburg, Germany
“…put it into practice!”
A hint I have cherished since my childhood comes to mind: “Do not fool [yourself] by just listening to His word.” stands in the Letter from James, chapter 1, verse 22, and goes on: “Instead, put it into practice!”
Girls and boys of 14 to 16 in school-uniform who stood up in protest in 1976 and dared resist and confront shooting police-forces in Soweto, Langa and elsewhere are, if they did survive, adults in the meantime – most of them parents and some even grandparents – today, 18 years since that morning in 1994 on which they also woke up and went for the first time with everybody else to cast their vote as citizens in an emerging democratic state. The strides we took that day gave our country a new face and helped open new horizons not only for us and our immediate offspring, but – as we have come to realise - also for our neighbours the world over for generations to come!
With the survivors of ‘June 1976’ we rejoice in witnessing the tradition of striving for justice and peace gaining maturity in our midst; we remember with gratitude and high esteem those who gave their lives, we commemorate the strives and struggles of those days, weeks, months and years with the youth of today and particularly those of them coming of age this year, rejoice particularly with the African National Congress for goals reached with and through them over the last 100 years and pray for a good future for us all – including more especially those that we very often seem to have written off in the meantime, having labelled them ‘the lost generation’ and continuing marginalising them in every respect.
Recalling together the hint from the ‘Letter from James’ in June 2012 might, I wish, confront us with the necessity to revisit the sources and re-examine the teachings underlying our being today. Our eyes, our ears and our hearts might, in that process, rediscover the multitudes in our country that we might not overlook, if the road ahead were to lead to worthwhile horizons for us all – including those we occasionally term and marginalise as ‘minorities’.
“Meeting half-way to return home - or to proceed - together”, said MaDlamini, explaining to a guest from a partner-congregation in Germany visiting her village, Vulindela near Pietermaritzburg, recently. The residents of that semi-rural settlement had been undergoing a cleansing-ceremony as one of the steps towards “ukuBuyisana” – ‘burying the hatchet’ and trying to reconcile after over 16 years of ‘civil war’ that had ruined everything and terrified everyone right up to 1996 in that district. These efforts of breaking the silence and finding words and tokens of dealing with the evils of the past in order to be able to live together today in peace, attract the attention of people in many countries today who are faced with similar challenges as we were especially up to the advent of democracy 18 years ago. MaDlamini has - not very long ago – conversed also with some visitors from Palestine and others from Damascus and Mogadishu, all wishing to reach home one day – back home hopefully soon.
The world under our roofs
Guests from all over are no longer that seldom in some homes in our country today; some visit the victims of farm-evictions, “abaHlali baseMjondolo” in the Western Cape and elsewhere, talk to students, parents and workers in controversies for example at the Free State University and to demonstrating mine-workers and non-government organisations with a variety of concerns, they worship with their hosts in rural villages, on farms and in ‘townships’ in Limpopo, in the Cape Flats, in Lusikisiki, Diepkloof and Sandton in Gauteng, Hartbeespoort in North-West.
“In almost every home and every school,” one youth-volunteer from the Netherlands reports, “in almost every neighbourhood and every region throughout the country people seem to be gathering new strength and many are, indeed, steadily standing up and taking steps in the sense of – as they say – ‘ukuBuyisana’ – ‘turning a new leaf and reconciling.’Practically no one seems to have chosen to remain sitting where the conflicts of yesterday left them. South Africa is, indeed, in motion!” Horrible incidents of children, women, aged and disabled as victims of neglect, insult, intimidation, coercion, assault and murder have nonetheless not decreased by any measures worth mentioning.
The two short sentences in James’ hint are likely to give the misleading impression, as if the reader would instantly and perhaps always know, what it is that has to be done in implementing good teachings and principles.
Praying and toiling together
I listen to our guests and realise: Men and women all over the globe look at us and watch attentively; many wish us well and pray with and for us that our endeavours at gaining new strength and setting forth the good path towards a stable and peaceful future be at least as successful as the breakthrough 18 years ago. Some of them kneeled with us as we prayed and toiled with us as we struggled in the darkest hours right back in 1976, in 1948, in 1910 and earlier; they pronounce the same calls and pleas with us before God with regard to those of our children going with an empty stomach to school and dreadful notions to bed, having hardly any prospect of once someday earning enough for a living in dignity and security - calls and pleas with us before God with regard to many who live in fear in the face of greed, hatred and violence. We uphold the call: “Yizwa imithandazo yethu!”
Yes, towards the end of the first half of this eventful year, I also hear concerned voices in homes and congregations in the member-churches of the South African Council of Churches (SACC), deliberating and guessing whether and how they as bearers of hope could gather new strength and stand up again to keep pace with the community they have been part of up to this day. The future seems insecure.
The youth of yesterday, the adults of today within the SACC-family will hopefully not have to go it alone revisiting the sources and re-examining the teachings and the hints that have kept so many of us – all of us as a country before and after 1976, 1948, 1910 and earlier - above water and above waters to the present day.
Makube njalo! [Amen].
>> iThuba-Nhlahla eMzansi-Afrika
Reflections on Workers’ Day – May 2012
Author: Rev. Dr. Vuyani Vellem
Director - Centre for Public Theology
University of Pretoria
Celebrating May Day in the Midst of an ‘e-tolling Jesus’
Matthew 20: 1-16
Without any doubt, the celebration of Workers’ Day, the 1st of May every year in South Africa must be understood equally as the celebration of the vital role the ecumenical movement played in the struggle for the recognition of the dignity of the workers. After eighteen years of democracy in South Africa, the National Planning Commission, with many other commentators in public life, acknowledges the good our land has hitherto achieved, while it also recognizes that there is still more that needs to be done to improve the lives of the millions of our people.
Workers’ Day is thus part of the broad celebration of our achievements in our land, indeed the bright sun that shone since 1994 after centuries of oppression. One thing certain, South Africa is different today—of course not different from any of the African countries—but different from what it was destined to be, as a construct of the colonial and apartheid ponderings of the past. We must never take this country back to that past.
In their nature Africans are a celebrating people with a unique sense of communal and collective rhythm to life that includes both their sorrow and happiness. So we celebrate for the healing we so need to deal with our repugnant past, but also for the new energies we have acquired for future orientations and hope for our land. As the ecumenical movement, we celebrate remembering also that the earths, together with the cosmos, are generous gifts from God even before there is work.
We celebrate the gift of all the minerals, the beauty of our environment, the rivers that flow in our land, the plants and animals, and many other beauties of natural resources bestowed on us, especially labour with which we are able to produce goods to sustain our lives in South Africa. We are grateful that even before we are able to produce through our labour, we have a God who provides and sustains our lives, God who is life-giving.
We are not dancing, drumming, ululating and singing our problems away nonetheless! As Nelson Mandela once said, not again shall we have to return to the dark days of the past. His very first speech in 1994, addressing the newly formed parliament, located the need for the restoration of human dignity at the centre of the new dispensation. We should therefore, remember that since the dawn of democracy, South Africans are not oblivious to some of the flaws and contradictions that were built into the structures of the new dispensation.
Our ability as a nation to continue to celebrate is now seriously challenged as the very dignity with which we have hitherto celebrated, despite the flaws built into the new structures of our land, is being corroded. Clearly, those jobless millions who are excluded when the celebration of work which objectifies human dignity takes place, should point to some of these flaws as unemployment has worsened since the dawn of democracy in our land. While joblessness poses a major threat to the consolidation of our democracy and the restoration of human dignity, let me conclude this reflection by pointing to a deeper question that is blatantly undermining our human dignity as a nation in my view.
Enrique Dussel makes a profound contrast between value and dignity. He asserts that human beings cannot have an exchange value as the dominant economic system of the world seems to suggest today. Human beings, he argues, cannot have a function of economic exchange because their dignity is the basis for the economic exchange value, thus their labour cannot be simply determined by the markets. Dussel says, “The living subject with his (sic) human life is what is ‘worthy,’” meaning that if there are criteria to validate economic value, then not a single of those criteria must be above the worth of human life, human labour and thus, human dignity.
It is this point that is crucial to this reflection, the harrowing reality of criteria whose worth is now unashamedly put above the worth of human life and dignity that Mandela located at the centre of our discourse in building the future of our country. The epithet for this distorted discourse is the “e-tolling Jesus.” Not God who is life-giving is the giver of our worth anymore, but our ability to pay counts more than our worth and lives. In this context, even those who are luckier to have work are subjected to the dominant instrumental logic of an economic system that reduces them to sheer factors measured on cost-benefit purposes and the whims of profiteering and greed.
They are treated as ‘elements’ or ‘pieces’ of economic exchange. Workers have different measures of employability too. Some are close to elimination from employment, while others and a few indeed are far away from the guillotines of unemployment. If we were to measure the employability of these groups by joy as we joyfully celebrate this day, very few would be a million times happier in their jobs given the type of logic that under-girds employment in our land. We are a country of a very few people who are fulfilled and joyful. We are a country of a few well-connected groups and the beneficiaries of our past who enjoy life, the gift from God. Yes, a few joyful in the midst of fragile employment for many and unemployment for millions more!
The e-tolling saga and its murky transactions offer a good image of the type of ‘Jesus’ we see today in public life. This is a ‘Jesus’ who says ‘pay, pay, pay and pay’ for your God given dignity! South Africans are free from the apartheid political laws, but not free from the owners of property who pervert human dignity as an economic commodity that can be bought. This perversion is religious, it is religiously driven! Like the labourers in the vineyard of the parable in Matthew 20:16, millions of South Africans are subjected to the mercy of owners of capital to which they must kneel to make ends meet. This ‘e-tolling Lord’ asks: “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” Matt.20:15 NIV.
The concealed abuse of work, human life, human worth and dignity in this text, accompanied by the skewed logic of the generosity of the landlord that conceals the pain and angst of the poor is an enigma. The saga of the e-tolling of roads in South Africa provides me with the image to depict the underlying imaginary of market fundamentalism and its pseudo-religious antics post 1994. It is once again a story of a loveless “e-tolling Jesus.” I am not discussing e-tolling per se, but our celebration of Workers’ Day coincided with this saga.
I am interested in the logic of e-tolling which perceives money as the most important and most valuable thing than everything even when there are demonstrations by millions to plea for an alternative approach. I am fascinated by the anti-democratic logic of the economic system that says the beauty of our high ways derives from its generosity. I am appalled at the instrumental logic of market fundamentalism that conceals the original denial of the dignity of workers after centuries of economic enclaves that excluded blacks in their millions. Imagine ‘toll gates’ as all the services that are rights to the people of South Africa. Imagine the ‘highs ways’ as all forms of concoctions of a hedonistic culture that ruptures the soul of the nation in the name of happiness. This “e-tolling Jesus” does not shed blood for us, but sucks blood from the poor.
Nonetheless, to conclude, the joy, the laughter, the song, the dance, the drums and rhythms of these millions who are sacrificed in the shrines of neoliberal economics must continue to be the focal point of the ecumenical movement in South Africa. We must focus on that peculiar love of Jesus Christ, peculiarly unlovely (Terry Eagleton), indeed if the dross of the Cross remains our symbol of hope. For the Lord says:
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. 
We celebrate because we will never turn the light that shone in 1994 into darkness again, only if we locate our celebration for dignity “in the ‘primary power’ of the poor.”
 See the quotation in Sampie Terreblanche, A History of Inequality in South Africa 1652-2002 (Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 2002), 442.
 See Enrique Dussel, “Dignity: Its Denial and Recognition in a Specific Context of Liberation” in R Ammicht-Quinn, M Junker-Kenny & Tamez, E The Discourse of Human Dignity (London: SCM, 2003), 96.
 Enrique Dussel, Dignity, 97.
 For a reflection on the distorted role religion can play to legitimize neoliberal capitalism, see Vuyani Vellem, “The opiate of neoliberal Globalization and the dawn of Democracy in South Africa” upcoming in Theologia Viatorum.
 The NIV version, Isaiah 58: 9b-10.
 Vuyani Vellem, “ Serithi/Isidima: Reflections on Human Dignity in South Africa from a Black African Perspective” in Scriptura 104(2010):320-321.
Authors: Emily Mnisi and Helen Vale
Co-Clerks of Central and Southern African Yearly Meeting, (C&SAYM), 2012
Reflections on Human Rights – March 2012
Here are a few reflections on the concept of human rights taken from Living Adventurously (2009) compiled by Quakers in Southern and Central Africa as a way to capture in words our experiences, witness and insight from living our faith in this region which we are sure that Christians from all churches in Southern Africa will be able to relate to as we ponder the significance of Human Rights Day in South Africa.
“In order to protect rights, we have to have a steely determination to protect people from all the horrors that governments and others inflict from time to time: the murders in the name of the state, the tortures, and the destabilisation in the name of democracy. We need to search out the truth about such events and make them public, for most of these deeds flourish in the dark. Pursuing public truth is the first line of defence”
George Ellis, South Africa
Developing Human Rights Values
Richard Gush Lecture, 1996.
“So here is God laying the burden of responsibility for changing our sad and broken world on our shoulders. For early Friends (Quakers) saw it as being called to bring the kingdom of heaven here to earth now. But God could not and does not abandon us to handle this task on our own. Nor does God expect us to achieve miracles purely in our own strength. That is why our living experiential relationship with God is so essential. For in this relationship is our strength. Our daily knowledge of God walking by our side, carrying us when we do not feel up to the task, encouraging and convincing us when we need that extra push, forgiving us when we chose to ignore or those burdens laid upon us, is what drives us into action and supports us while we carry out the responsibilities we are called to”.
Simon Lamb, Ireland
A Faith Worth Living. Richard Gush Lecture, 2002.
“We can feel overwhelmed by the problems of the world, but also reassured that beyond the clouds, the sun of God’s love still warms and illuminates”.
Epistle of the Central and Southern Africa Yearly Meeting
Modderport, South Africa. 2000.
Author: Rev Dr Frank Chikane
Former General Secretary of the SACC
REFLECTIONS ON THE STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS – A FEELING OF HOPE BUT FEAR OF DISAPPOINTMENT!
“They gave to anyone as he had need” Acts 2:45
The State of the Nation Address by President Jacob Zuma came at a historical moment of joy and celebration of the 100th anniversary of the African National Congress (ANC) – an anniversary that spoke to extra-ordinary men and women who took a stand that they would not let the dehumanisation, oppression and exploitation of the people of God continue without end.
They called on all Africans to unite against the odds (tribal, language, regions, distances, racial laws, and others) to resist the injustices perpetrated against them. Pursuant to this the ANC was formed in January 1912 at the little Wesleyan church in Mangaung (Bloemfontein). From there on many generations of South Africans sacrificed their lives, their professions and possessions; many were detained and tortured; some spent many years in jail and many others were forced into exile, for the freedom of our people and for justice to be done.
Freedom was achieved in 1994, and the dignity of the people was restored to them in terms of ending the racists system that dehumanised blacks and treated them like less than human beings. But the legacy of apartheid did not only remain but it abounds! It is accompanying us into the future and frustrates efforts to better the lives especially of those who were historically disadvantaged.
About eighteen years since democracy was established the ‘triple challenge’ remains, as the President said. This is poverty, unemployment and inequality. Many of the people the many generations of South Africans made great sacrifices for are still trapped in apartheid enclaves and barren localities which can only increase their poverty and pain. The President spoke in the presence of the families and descendents of generations of leaders of the ANC who know better the pain that these leaders endured, including their immediate family members, friends and communities.
At this historical moment, and in the presence of the witnesses of South Africans who were sitting in that Parliament and those who were listening from their homes, the President had to give hope to the people. To do this he recalled and built on the experience and learning from the preparations for the 2010 Soccer World Cup:
- The development of infrastructure, which is necessary for the growth of the economy; the development of skills and experience; and the creation of jobs, however temporary some of these were, and
- The development of tourism facilities, sites and spaces; and
- The use of the private and public partnership (PPP) to achieve these objectives.
For those of us who were in Government it is clear that Government has decided to pick up those elements of infrastructure development, like railways and ports, which are critical for the growth of the economy, including the creation of jobs.
Over and above this he added necessary elements like agriculture, mining, manufacturing and the green economy to complete the picture beyond the World Cup programme to reach out to every province and corner of the country.
As one listened to the President, it began “to look possible” (to use his own words); it was promising. The Budget Speech by the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, even gave more hope that it could be possible, given the resources that this country is capable of generating. But the challenge is always at the delivery level accompanied by the greatest challenge of our time, that is, inequality.
On both counts the failures are occasioned firstly by lack of capacity in Government to deliver necessary services, especially in the poor areas of our country. This lack is in technical and managerial skills. In some instances this is occasioned by wrong appointments which are influenced by political considerations that have nothing to do with the interests and needs of the people.
This leads us to the second cause of failure, which is, the lack of courage of the leadership to take a stand against those who are responsible for this failures as this would threaten their positions and jobs. The worst forms of patronage here distort reality and allow the government machinery to work against the least of people of God in the interests of the few. In this state of affairs corruption abounds and greed takes over to dictate the behaviour of politicians and officials alike, further robbing the poor and enriching the few.
All of us accept that a democratic system is the best way of managing conflicting interests of society but it is also corruptible. If I am elected on the basis of promises and commitments I have made to individuals and various interest groups I am bound to serve their interests even if this is done at the expense of the interests of the people, particularly the poor. Patronage as it is known distorts democratic processes and at worst corrupts the system. It also weakens the capacity of the State to deliver as it puts people in positions they cannot manage purely because they support the leader in his or her election bid.
For me corruption is the worst forms of the worst of capitalism. Even if it underpays people or gives them sub-standard jobs, the worst forms of capitalism still employs some people. But corrupt politicians and officials simply pocket the money and use it solely to satisfy their greed (expensive cars, houses, boards, and even private jets, etc.) and 100% at the expense of the people. Accumulation during the apartheid days was of a similar nature as it was designed by law to benefit one section of the community against another.
In a society where greed and accumulation of wealth becomes the driving force those who have more than they need are reluctant to participate in a project to meet the basic needs of the poor. Those who accumulated their wealth based, in the main, on the privileges they had during the apartheid days are even more reluctant to accept that they achieved those levels of wealth at the back of those who were victims of the system. As far as they are concerned they are not ‘their brothers’ keepers’. Government must solve the problem.
Those who are Christians deliberately forget that God’s created reality was designed in a way that would meet the needs of all the people. God’s created reality reproduces and replenishes itself in a cosmologically balanced way to sustain life and make it enjoyable. But humanity has distorted it in a quest to accumulate more, much more than humanity needs, and this has produced unintended consequences that affect billions of people negatively.
From one generation to another, efforts have been made to correct this debilitating imbalance without much success. In the Old Testament times, programmes like Jubilee years when land was restored and slaves were freed was one of the corrective measures, and in the New Testament times, the birth of the Christian church is characterised by sharing, with those who have redistributing to meet the needs of those who did not have. “They gave to anyone as he had need” (Acts 2:45).
Their form of socialism was simple. They were “one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. ... There were no needy persons amongst. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need” (Acts 4:32-35).
Later, in Paul’s time, the evil seems to have broken through the net the apostles had put up to make sure that no one was in need. The gap between the poor and the rich was wide. Those who had to keep on given were becoming weary of it and Paul intervened: “Our desire”, he said, “is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little” (2 Cor 8:13-15).
I am of the view that the politicians - on their own - cannot resolve this matter which is larger than just a South African problem. It is a global challenge which requires a global strategy which involves all sectors of our societies. We need to change the behaviour and attitudes of all the players and those who are excluded from this game. We have to change the hearts and minds of the people. We have to redefine the concepts of (self, family, friends, faction, etc.) ‘interest’ to that of a ‘common good’ which guarantees peace and prosperity for all.
May God help us as Church to grasp what the Lord, our God, would want us to do in the face of the kairos we are facing.
Author: Rev Mpumelelo Qwabaza
Ecumenical Secretary: SACC Eastern Cape
REFLECTIONS ON ADVENT SEASON
Luke 1: 26-38
During the Advent season we symbolically participate in the waiting of the patriarchs, Kings, Prophets and Priests, as we await Christ’s final and glorious return. Something in the fabric of the cosmos shifted as creation became a fitting vehicle for God’s redemption work.
As we wait in long lines this Advent season, or as we wait for anything really, I think it is important that we remember the waiting of those expecting the Messiah, and always wait with patience, humility and expectant hope in a state of prayer.
The story of the annunciation by the Angel to Zechariah (1:5-25) immediately precedes this story of the annunciation by the angel to Mary.
The Zechariah story is like the annunciation to Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18:1-15) in that both couples were old, beyond child bearing age, and both Zechariah and Sarah doubted.
The Zechariah story is like the annunciation to Mary in that neither Elizabeth (Zechariah’s wife) nor Mary is a likely candidate for motherhood.
Elizabeth is too old, so John’s birth will require a miracle. Mary is a virgin, so Jesus’s birth will require an even greater miracle.
Here Mary has the lead and Joseph is only a supporting actor, this is much different than in the Gospel of Matthew.
It is remarkable that, in this patriarchal society, Mary is front – and – centre in this story. Young men are expected to be seen, but not heard.
Also in the centre of the angel’s greetings are the words “Rejoice, you highly favoured one”. In Greek, the words are, “chaire kecharitmomene”. The alliteration is that Chaire keCharitomene reveals a grace that no translation can convey.
While Luke does not cite scripture, as Matthew does, the angel’s promise reminds us of God’s words to Moses at the burning bush. “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12)
In her not – very – large town, Mary would not often see a strange man, much less have him appear unexpectedly and address her directly. Mary is further perplexed by Gabriel’s words – Chaire kecharitomene meaning “Greetings favoured one”. We must remember that Mary is a female in a world that prizes male – an almost – child in a world that reveres age and wisdom – a nobody in a nowhere town.
In the preceding story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Luke tells of, that couples religious virtue, but we have none of that here. Nothing is said of Mary’s faith or character. Mary is not chosen because she deserves favour, but is favoured because she has been chosen. As Mary will say in response to the angel’s announcement, God brings down the powerful from their throne, and lifts up the lowly.
As Presbyterian, we’re often criticized for believing in predestination, that all things happen according to some pre – ordained master plan. Well, I am not here to defend Calvin or the doctrine of predestination, only to say I think we have an important perspective on faith others need to hear and that is simply that God is in charge. Nothing happens, good or bad, outside of the providence of God’s grace and love.
Believing this, we are able to take the unexpected events of everyday life and see them not as impositions that get in the way or as obstacles to be overcome, but as opportunities that can lead us into a clear relationship with God and those around us.
Rev Gift Moerane
SACC Gauteng Office
Mark 14: 9
“I tell you the truth, wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her”.
Women continue to play a vital role in the life of the Church; But very often their works and enriching contributions in Church Ministry are fast forgotten. In the passion of Mark’s gospel, two of the twelve, the most spoken of - Judas who betrayed Jesus Christ and Peter who denied Jesus Christ at a crucial moment of His Ministry. There is an unnamed woman who anointed Jesus Christ but on the contrary, there is no mention of her role. Though Jesus pronounced: “I tell you the truth, wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her”; it is worrisome that the prophetic sign action by the woman did not become part of the gospel knowledge of Christians. Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, a Theologian and Professor of the New Testament, also lamented that even her name is lost to us.
How often do we repeat the same mistakes of forgetting the central role played by women in Churches, we even forget their names. One of the woman who played an important role in the Church history is Catherine Booth – dubbed “Mother the of Salvation Army", lived between 1829 – 1890. How often do we hear her name about her constant help? She worked alongside her husband, the founder of the Salvation Army; she provided constant support to him throughout; she mothered this institution and continued to take care of her eight children at the same forming an army of Christian workers whose purpose was to carry salvation through the length and breadth of this world. Truly, she was filled with the Spirit of Christ. Women are gifted; they need recognition and support at all levels of leadership.
Rev Dr Vuyani Vellem
Director - Centre for Public Theology
University of Pretoria
Former Deputy General Secretary of the SACC
On Climate Change - October 2011
Psalm 24: 1 and 9
"The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;.......Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in".
This brief reflection on the Psalm 24 will focus on the 1st and the 9th verses. In the first verse David poetically tells the whole world and those who believe that the whole constellation of creation is GOD's possession. This means everything in our planet earth; plants and animals, minerals, mountains, rivers, air, human beings even those things we cannot see...everything on earth belongs to GOD.
To say that David conveys this message poetically could be an understatement because traditionally, biblical scholars tell us that the book of Psalms is a collection of Worship resources that were used in the Jewish Temple. Viewed from the perspective of worship, what verse 9 is conveying is a powerful message. This verse carries the thrust of the message of this Psalm. Imagine the whole earth opening up its gates. Imagine the whole earth opening up its doors, imagine everything that has a head lifting up its head in order for GOD to have a majestic entry in this planet which indeed is HIS temple. Everything, every creature, every star and the galaxies must worship GOD.
Therefore, the challenge of Climate Change calls upon all of us to discern who the LORD of creation is. With deep holes on earth, left by those who mined gold and extracted other minerals, the suffocation of the whole creation due to carbon emissions, pervasive droughts, floods, most recently even the threat to the Nile River - all of these challenges and signs simply ask all of us to know the GOD that must be Worshiped for the salvation of creation.
"We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time"
Paul's writings, particularly in the face of the challenges of the 21st century, must be read with an understanding that they were written in the context of empire. What is common to all empires is that they are able to manufacture their own forms, structures and rituals of religion. This is one of the most harrowing and vicious truths about the experience of people, animals, plants, in fact creation that is subjugated by an empire.
Perhaps, to put is differently, in the ears of an empire, the groans of creation sound like melodies that are chanted to the praise and worship of an empire. The groaning sounds of children, sons and daughters, of men and women,displaced and scattered all over the globe by the might and the myths generated by the shrines of an empire, sound like good melodies in the ears of an empire.
That Paul says that this pain is like that one felt at child birth must be very deep. It is fascinating that Paul uses a metaphor that strictly speaking, is a unique experience of women. Do we not have to remember therefore, that one of the worst signs of an empire is exactly their double experience of pain than men? One could even say the hardship of a woman now triples that of men if today's experience of their suffering were to be our measurer.
Indeed the triad of economic, political and ecological must render the message that climate change beckons us to the pain of the unemployed, poor woman in the margins of society who is taking care of children abandoned by their fathers, or left by their parents as a result of illnesses that are rapidly claiming millions of lives like HIV/AIDS in the violent patriarchal world of the empire. Creation is groaning!
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