Invisible Geography

“May my mind come alive today

To the invisible geography

That invites me to new frontiers

To break the dead shell of yesterdays,

To risk being disturbed and changed.”

John O’Donohue

In the month of April have seen snapshots of the invisible, the inconceivable and the unimaginable become visible, tangible and real. Our Heavenly Father certainly deals generously in making the impossible possible.

A friend gulping down a big slice of pie. Two weeks before this was almost unimaginable as he had not been eating, except for a few bits of bread. Aggressive chemotherapy had robbed him of his appetite. But there he was eating the pie with such delight and finishing every last crumb on the plate.

A friend holding her new born baby. A year ago she was not sure if she will ever fall pregnant and have a child of her own. But there she was breastfeeding her precious, perfect baby girl.

A friend arriving at her surprise bridal shower. A few years ago she had broken free from a destructive relationship but never thought that she would ever find a person to share her life with again. But there she was being showered with gifts and preparing herself to be a bride, a wife anew.

A group of 25 diverse individuals sitting in a room talking openly, respectfully, honestly about the “hot topics” of the day in South Africa. Who would have thought it would be possible for us to be so vulnerable? But there we were, listening to each other speak about white privilege, land, power, fear and the pain of the past without becoming defensive, sharing the same desire for true reconciliation in our country.

In these snapshots, I have seen “dead shells of yesterdays” shattered. I have seen the invisible become tangible in front of my very eyes. Hope restored in my heart. God glorified. 

Two things seem almost unimaginable to me today: A South Africa truly restored and reconciled, and secondly, a truly South African church, authentically African, authentically Christ-following, deeply reconciled to God and each other. This is our “invisible geography”, our “new frontiers”. We desperately need to break free from the dead shells of yesterday. We need change. We need to take the risk of being disturbed.

And I pray (with John O’Donohue), “Father, give us the courage to waste our hearts on fear no more!”

Responding Justly.

soros_access_to_justice_flipped.jpgSince I published my previous post in which I wrote about being faced with my own privilege and prejudices on a daily basis, I have had so many people ask me, “What should we do about this?” or “Which organisation can we donate money to?” How do we respond in the face of our own privilege?

For a long time my response was one of guilt. Guilt that I have been given so much and others have so little. Guilt that I have unduly benefitted from a system that have taken so much away from others. I spent a long time dealing with that guilt which still pops its head out every now and again. But guilt, as my friend, Christie, said in response to the previous post, is not a productive emotion. In order to rid ourselves of the guilt, our response is very often to donate money to a charity, give away (second hand?) items of clothing, drop a couple of coins in the beggar’s hands or give the car guard R10 instead of R5. Whilst there is not necessarily anything wrong with each of these things, it is what is at the heart of this giving that concerns me. Giving from a place of guilt, rather than a place of compassion, is not the answer. Random acts of kindness, even though we can never underestimate the fact that it can make a significant difference in someone’s life in that moment is not the answer. Besides, privilege in this country is about more than just having more money than others…

I cannot remember who I heard this from, but someone once told me that the true meaning of justice is “right relationship”. Justice is not simply defined by some kind of abstract system involving economics. Justice is not simply “outreach projects” by rich people into poor communities. In a meeting last week, someone made the statement that making the poor our “Christmas Day project” is an insult to them. It is incredibly patronising. It does not set relationships right. Justice means doing things in a way that will set relationships right.* Yes, “outreaches” and “hand-outs” may bring relief, but does it rectify the power dynamics of the relationship between the privileged and the poor? Or does it sustains them? Those who have privilege still remain the “saviours” and the poor still remain victims needing to be “saved” which only serves to perpetuate the privilege in the minds of everyone involved. 

Shane Claiborne says,

I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.

It is so much easier for those of us who are in privileged positions to give our money or time to a cause or a project than it is to sit down and have a conversation with a poor person. It is easier to donate money to a feeding scheme than it is to visit a poor family and share a meal with them. It is much easier to give the car guard R10, than to take 5 minutes and ask her something about her life.

Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, made the following statement,

While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary

The path to this world in which charity has become unnecessary**, a just society, certainly has economic implications for those of us who are privileged. But perhaps it starts with us sitting down and getting to know the people around us who are in positions of less privilege. In that space, from building those relationships, we come to a place of understanding – understanding our own privilege, understanding the depth and complexity of privilege and it’s impact on this country, as well as understanding the real needs of those who find themselves positions of less (which in fact may be surprisingly different from what we would assume them to be).

So when you are confronted with your own privilege this week (and I hope you will be), rather than merely flicking a coin into a hand, make eye contact and greet the person. Rather than merely dropping a few items of tinned food in the charity trolley at the shop, visit a poor person’s home and share a meal with them.

Here are a few other suggestions that might help:

  • Do you have a domestic worker? Or a gardener? Have you been to their home for a visit?
  • Instead of having lunch with your colleagues, have lunch with the cleaner at your work place this week.
  • Instead of giving the security guard in your road or your complex left overs from supper, go outside and have supper with him or her.
  •  Sit down with someone in a position of less privilege and ask them about their childhood. (What was their home environment like? Did they have a relationship with their father? Who helped them with their homework? Did they have access to computers (or the internet) growing up? How many people had cars in their family and how did they get to school in the mornings?)

 

*I believe that the way to right relationship is not paved with feeling sorry for the other person or judging them or making judgment calls on their behalf, but through deep reconciliation with each other and our identity as image bearers of God – being able to see Jesus in the other person and treating the other person accordingly. Would we treat Jesus in a patronising manner…?

**Sounds like heaven doesn’t it?

 

Honestly.

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How are you enjoying your new place?” seems to be the question replacing the frequently asked “Why?” question I wrote about a while ago. To be honest…I am not sure how I should answer that question. To be even more honest, it was really hard coming back from a week’s holiday with family to our “new home” in the city. But not for the reasons you may think.

Not because our place is small.
Not because we don’t have (space for) a washing machine and I had a BIG bag of washing to do after the holiday.
Not because of the noise or the busyness.
Not because I wasn’t sure my car would still be there and not have been stolen while we were away.
Not because of any of the reasons you may think.

In fact our place is actually really great. It really is not such a “dodgy” area. It really isn’t that unsafe. It certainly isn’t “upmarket”, but it still way more than we need. It is simple in our eyes, but may very well be luxurious in the eyes of many of our neighbours. And the city has surprised us in so many ways (we hope to do a post soon on all the things we love about living in the city). The noise doesn’t bother us anymore. And despite the narcoleptic security guard, my car was still there after the holidays.

But it is exactly in these things I am struggling: We have the choice of driving a car. We can move into a bigger place and to a different neighbourhood at any time. We have money in our bank accounts. And credit cards. And we fly to family in a different city for Easter holidays. And here we have been moved into an environment where those around us (mostly) do not have these choices – don’t have these privileges. Where we used to live, I could “safely” drive to a shop, park in the covered parking, do my grocery shopping, drive back in my car, get home and greet my neighbour who also just did their shopping at the same store and never be confronted with the reality of the privileged position I find myself in. In the city, my experience is different.

I walked over to PicknPay the other morning. I was so shocked at the prices of certain items that I left disgruntled not having purchased a few of the items I wanted…and feeling oh so very sorry for myself. The entrance to our apartment is also the entrance to St. Paul’s daily soup kitchen. So as I was approaching home, many people were sitting and standing around gratefully devouring their soup and brown bread ration for the day. In honesty, I will put it out there: I really had a hard time looking the people who were being fed in the eye to greet them as I walked past with my bag filled with groceries.

Every day I am confronted with the reality of my privilege. Every day it stares me in the face and asks of me how I am going to respond today. Living in the CBD disallows the options of denying or being blissfully ignorant of my privilege. And that is what makes living in the CBD really hard for me at this time. So is there joy in living in the CBD? Most certainly! But am I enjoying it? I am still not sure how to answer that question.