Florerende Gemeentes

Written by Jannie Swart on . Posted in Tussenin

Hierdie hedendaagse verstaan van florering as satisfaksie het heeltemal ‘n ander fokus in vergelyking met twee ander verstaansparadigmas van florering in die geskiedenis van die Westerse tradisie.  Die een tradisie, met Augustinus as invloedryke figuur, sien “human beings flourish and are truly happy when they center their lives on God, the source of everything that is true, good, and beautiful.”  In sy Cities of God het Augustinus dit gedefinieer as “completely harmonious fellowship in the enjoyment of God, and each other in God.”  Die ander tradisie, wat veral sedert die 18de eeu prominensie begin kry het, word deur Volf ‘n antroposentriese skuif genoem.  Dit is die tradisie van ‘n nuwe humanisme wat die gebod om God lief te he vervang met ‘n morele verpligting om die naaste lief te he.  Volf haal Charles Taylor aan om dit te beskryf:  “This new humanism was different ‘from most ancient ethics of human nature,’ writes Charles Taylor in A Secular Age, in that its notion of human flourishing ‘makes no reference to something higher which humans should reverence or love or acknowledge.'”

Die verskil tussen hierdie twee tradisies en die hedendaagse tendens om florering as satisfaksie te beskou word dan deur Volf soos volg opgesom:  “Having lost earlier the reference to “something higher which humans should reverence or love,” it now lost reference to universal solidarity, as well. What remained was concern for the self and the desire for the experience of satisfaction. It is not, of course, that individuals today simply seek pleasure on their own, isolated from society. Others are very much involved. But they matter only to the degree that they serve an individual’s experience of satisfaction. That applies to God as well as to human beings. Desire—the outer shell of love—has remained, but love itself, by being directed exclusively to the self, is lost.”  Uiteindelik kom dit neer op ‘n geskiedenis van wat Volf noem ‘n “diminution of the object of love: from the vast expanse of the infinite God it first tapered to the boundaries of the universal human community, and then radically contracted to the narrowness of a single self—one’s own self.”  Saam hiermee kom natuurlik die redusering van hoop tot blote selfbelang.  Die gevaar is dan dat ook God ingepas moet word by ‘n skema van hoop wat selfbelang gedrewe is.

Volf keer later in sy praatjie terug na vier oortuigings van Augustinus om hierdie gereduseerde verstaan van hoop te rehabiliteer, en om die fokus terug te plaas op God:  “First, he (Augustinus) believed that God is not an impersonal Reason dispersed throughout the world, but a ‘person’ who loves and can be loved in return. Second, to be human is to love; we can chose what to love but not whether to love. Third, we live well when we love both God and neighbor, aligning ourselves with the God who loves. Fourth, we will flourish and be truly happy when we discover joy in loving the infinite God and our neighbors in God.”  Volf meen die grootste uitdaging vir gemeentes is om werklike te glo “that the presence and activity of the God of love, who can make us love our neighbors as ourselves, is our hope and the hope of the world—that that God is the secret of our flourishing as persons, cultures, and interdependent inhabitants of a single globe.”

Dalk kan ons almal weer ‘n slag krities kyk na die veronderstellings van florering onderliggend aan ons wense en gebede vir onsself en ons gemeentes in 2010.  Mag 2010 ‘n jaar wees van gestuurde gemeentes en hoopvolle christene wat floreer in hul deelname aan waarmee God besig is in hul buurte, gemeenskappe, en die wereld!

Die Luisterende Simfonie van Gestuurde Advent Gemeentes

Written by Jannie Swart on . Posted in Tussenin

Advent breek weer ons gejaagde lewens in.  Skielik, onverwags, elke jaar hierdie tyd, uit die toekoms.  Soos die bruidegom in die nag.

Dan is dit tyd om die simfonieorkes tot bedaring te bring.  Die gewone uitvoerings van die jaar te stop.  Die musiek te verdoof.

‘n Tyd vir die uitvoering van John Cage se 4’33.  Wanneer ons gretigheid om ‘n simfonie uitvoerings van God se musiek te maak net stilte word.

Maar stilte met ‘n verskil.  Want wanneer die simfonieorkes tot bedaring kom word ons verras deur die klanke van stilte.

Vir christelike geloofsgemeenskappe is dit nie ‘n Zen Buddistiese stilte nie, maar ‘n stilte van nuwe, vars luister na ander.  In plaas van ‘n fokus op die musiekstukke wat ons moet kan bemeester, word ons opnuut bewus van die gehoor se wereld.  ‘n Wereld waar God leef.  ‘n Doodgewone, alledaagse wereld… die stadsverkeer… die hoes van ‘n kind… stille klanke van wanhoop in geweld, armoede, vigs, werkloosheid….

As gestuurde gemeentes word ons nie net gestuur om altyd iets te doen nie, maar om soms met aandag te luister na die wereld waar God leef.  Sodat ons weer kan fokus op die Een van wie ons weet Hy het ‘n eerste keer op verrassende manier tussen ons opgedaag… en Hy kom weer uit die toekoms as die lewende hoop tussen ons.

Gemeentes te midde van Armoede en Materialisme

Written by Jannie Swart on . Posted in Tussenin

On March 15, I preached this sermon on poverty. I took Mark 10:17-27 as my text.

A few weeks ago, I took a trip to Africa. I was in Cape Town for eight days, visiting family, and in the middle of that time I spent five days in Zambia at a lodge in the town of Livingstone, named after David Livingstone, a town right on the Zambian/Zimbabwean border. Zambia is in southern Africa, right beneath the Democratic Republic of the Congo, not too far from the equator.

The lodge where I stayed was right on the Zambezi River, a few kilometers above Victoria Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world. It was a little collection of buildings that were part thatch hut/part chalet, if you can imagine such a combination, and while I was there chilling with the little silver monkeys, staring into the crocodile and hippo laden waters, I met a Zambian woman my age named Kumoyo. Kumoyo is an accountant who lives 500 kilometers from Livingstone, and was in Livingstone to do an audit on the property. She and I ended up befriending each other and we ate most of our meals together. As we sat eating yogurt and beef stew and nshima and chocolate cake, we spoke of our two countries, our two cultures. 

One afternoon I said to her, “You know, Kumoyo, in the United States, a town with the population of Livingstone would take up much more land than this town. It is a town of 150,000 but it is very small in the space it takes up!” 

She said, “Yes? Why would it be bigger? What do you have in your towns?”

“Well,” I said, “for one thing, our houses are very big. And many houses have lots of grass around them. Much fewer people live in each house, so there have to be many more houses than in this town where so many family members live together. Also, we have many stores, and around the stores there are big parking lots for cars because every person in America has their own car.”

“What?!” she exclaimed. “A car for each person?” 

“Yes,” I said. “Almost every adult has their own car.”

“This is too much,” she said. “It is too much. Each person has their own car? And anyway, why do you have so many stores? What is in the stores?”

“Well,” I said, “We sell many many things in our stores. Clothes and so many kinds of food. There are many different brands of each food. And the stores sell cars and things for building houses and electronics and so many other things. Blackberrys, forty different kinds of toilet paper, salad shooters, leather seat covers, candy. We have big stores filled with so many many things.” 

“This is too much,” she said. “Why do you have so many things?”

I suddenly experienced that clarity that comes of speaking to someone who does not speak my language well, or whose culture is radically different from mine, and I have to strip off every explanatory extra and just simply tell the naked truth. I had gotten myself into a very honest conversation about America’s wealth—my wealth—with a member of a country where the average life expectancy is 37 years, and 25% of the population are infected with HIV. Yes, indeed. Why do we have so many things? Why do we have so many things?

We continued talking.

“Many times there are just one or two people living in the big houses,” I said. “Families do not necessarily live together, like here in Africa.”

“Yes?” she asked. “Why?” 

“I don’t know,” I said. 

“In Africa this would not be possible,” she said. “In Africa we are poor because we all share our money. If you get some money and you have a cousin who is sick, or an auntie who needs some money, you will give your money to those people. That is why we can never save money.” 

I laughed. “Ah,” I said, “so this is the real reason for poverty!” We laughed together. 

We began talking about wages and prices. She asked me how much rent I paid. I told her. Her eyes got big as silver dollars and she said, “You must live in a very big house!”

“No,” I said, “I live in a small apartment. Really, I promise!”

“How many rooms are in your apartment?” she asked. I told her that I had two bedrooms in my apartment, one for me, one for my roommate, and also a kitchen, dining area, bathroom, and living room. Even as I said it, I realized how rich and clueless I sounded. 

“Ah yes,” she answered, knowingly. Clearly I did live in a big place. Two bedrooms! One for each person! What was this extravagant luxury! And I thought my apartment was small. Clearly, her attitude betrayed, this American woman was not to be taken exactly at her word. Kumoyo told me that she considered herself a member of the upper class in Zambia, a college-educated accountant after all, and she speaks seven languages. She shared a one-bedroom apartment with her brother, cousin, and son.

**

I am just going to be honest and admit that while I was in Africa, I lived in great luxury, and luxury sure can feel good. My father treated me to business class on all my flights—and business class on British Air means beds and gourmet meals and personalized service. My father also paid for my side trip to Zambia, where I had high tea right on the edge of the Victoria Falls, and in Cape Town I had spa treatments and an absolutely gorgeous, private room in a five-star hotel where the entire staff greeted me by name every day. I sincerely enjoyed it all. 

Meanwhile, I was encountering some of the most extreme poverty I have personally ever witnessed.

When I returned from Zambia, one of Africa’s poorest countries, to South Africa, one of Africa’s wealthiest countries, I breathed a deep sigh of relief when I walked into the airport in Johannesburg, because here again were all the familiar trappings of first-world luxury, and I felt existentially safe once more. I say this as someone who prides herself on living a simple and not-very-materialistic life. But oh, after the deprivation of Zambia, with its desperate and dying merchants, its smell-able, palpable, profoundly human reminders that we live in an utterly unfair world and that I am one of the few who benefits from this inequality…oh, what a relief to enter the Johannesburg airport full of stores bursting with things! Brightly colored tourist things, almost all of them superfluous to subsistence, all of them easily purchased with a Visa or Mastercard, those little American-made plastic rectangles that allow us to consume and consume and consume.

How protected from suffering I felt, once again! How relieved to be back in a context where I could buy happiness, or at least distraction, where I could escape my own neediness, live out of sight of others’ neediness. And I did buy stuff. That’s exactly what I did. And this is why it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter into that elusive Kingdom of God that Jesus talks about, that place where we would actually live with our whole lives the truth that every person on earth is equally precious, equally worthwhile, equally human and divine.

Back in Zambia I had said to Kumoyo, feeling like I was giving away the Great Secret of the Global North. “Here’s the thing. Americans aren’t happy. At least, it’s not like just because we are rich it automatically means we are any happier or living more meaningful lives than people here in Zambia. We are rich but not joyful. We are lonely. So many Americans take drugs because they are sad or depressed or they cannot stand their lives. They are lonely in their big houses. They buy more and more things in the stores because they want to feel happy but buying things does not solve what is wrong with their hearts. We are rich, but so what?”

And then I backpedaled, because what right do I have to dismiss with the wave of a hand all my wealth and lifelong privilege? What right do I have to tell someone who has always lived in poverty that money does not matter, that it makes no difference? 

Jesus says that the poor will be able to enter the Kingom of Heaven, and the rich will have a very tough time of it. Reflecting on this has got me pondering up a ponderation storm. We middle-class Americans, and especially, I think, we progressive middle-class Americans, seem to assume that poverty is the problem. In Africa I got the sinking feeling that the desire of so many wealthy westerners is to make poor people into middle-class consumers, solve their problems with our solutions. Which leads me to wonder: what exactly have our solutions solved? And at what price? And, if the goal isn’t to make the poor into us, then what exactly is the goal? If the goal is a richly meaningful and loving life, as I might suggest, then where exactly does wealth fit in? Who among us is completely satisfied with what we have? Who among us doesn’t think we’d be happier if we just had a little bit more?

Why do we assume that poverty is a problem to be solved? Is it partly because we need to justify our own wealth? Why did so many of the great spiritual teachers live in abject poverty? Jesus was homeless; Mother Theresa lived in the same poverty as did those poorest of the poor to whom she ministered; Gandhi chose extreme simplicity though he came from a wealthy family. Why are we so quick to assume that they didn’t mean their teachings on wealth and poverty literally? They must have meant them spiritually! We think: Surely they wouldn’t want us to actually sell all that we have and give our money to the poor! Can’t you live a comfortable American life and be a realized spiritual person?

Dudes. I am not so sure.

There have been so many misunderstandings of what Jesus meant when he spoke about salvation and the Kingdom of God. Many of us have been the victims of lame and even destructive interpretations when it comes to Jesus and Christianity. So it is instructive to revisit what Jesus might have meant, when he spoke to the rich young man and to his disciples about the kingdom of heaven and salvation.

Many of us have been taught that the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven, is a distant, post-death reality with streets of gold, and that “getting saved” is what you have to do to get the key to the gate to this Kingdom. Frankly, this interpretation of Jesus arose from the need to distort his teachings beyond recognition in order to maintain the status quo that he sought to absolutely undermine and overthrow.

Salvation is not about getting into heaven, and the Kingdom of God is not some afterlife reality, though sometimes I think it is a reality even more elusive than the afterlife. Here is what Jesus taught, as concise as I know how to say it: Everyone is loved equally by God. Live accordingly. Everyone is loved. Everyone is loved equally. We are all God’s children, all holy creatures, none of us more worthwhile or less worthwhile, more or less in need of mercy. Therefore, we are obligated to do away with every hierarchy, every system of violence and oppression and domination. We must do away with war, patriarchy, racism, and yes, we must do away with economic inequalities. 

Jesus is not just saying that we must part with our dependence on all our possessions in order to enter this new transforming reality that he calls the Kingdom of God. He is saying that we have to altogether stop participating in the violent system that depends on the domination and oppression of others. He is not glorifying poverty; he is saying: so long as there is a system in which some are poor and some are rich–some are rich because others are poor–as long as there is such a system, none of us will be free and we will not be living fully the Kingdom of God.

In our context, I tremble to admit, this is more complicated than getting rid of everything that you own. I tremble to admit that because most of us just want to hear that we don’t have to part with our possessions, which only proves just how much of an obstacle they are to us spiritually. But actually, getting rid of all your possessions might be the easy way out. The hard thing is having the wisdom and tenacity to figure out how not to participate in the system of oppression and domination in which we are all unwittingly participating, not because we are bad people but because we don’t know what else to do. Theologian Tereza Calvacanti says, “The option for the poor means opting for the causes of the poor. Not that I become materially poor like the poor are, but that I put all my resources at the cause of the poor and assist in the struggle of the poor.” 

As long as we think of poor people as unfortunate souls needing to be saved by rich victors; as long as our goal in making money is to make sure that we get to be the ones who reap the benefits of this unjust system; as long as we secretly believe that wealth will protect us, then we are missing the point. And the point, as a young Zambian man told me as we were talking politics while looking around for giraffes, is that the system needs to change. Our hearts need to change. The point is that we can be the ones to say we will no longer tolerate the way things are. And we don’t need money to say that. We can say it with our bodies, with the way we treat each other, with our lives. People in prison can say it, as Nelson Mandela did. Powerless and oppressed people can say it, as the black people did in the south, as the suffragettes did before women had the right to vote. We can say it with our prayers, we can say it by inviting over for dinner people with whom we are uncomfortable, we can say it by volunteering, we can say it by speaking up. We can say it by getting rid not just of what we do not want, but of what we do not need. By getting rid of everything that is holding us back from love.

Two days before I left Africa, I went on a tour of the townships in Cape Town. The townships are gigantic spreads of shacks where most of the black and mixed-race people in Cape Town live. During apartheid, which was the Nazi-inspired system of racial segregation that only ended in 1994, black and mixed-race folks were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in the townships. Over the years, the townships have grown and grown. Millions of people live in these townships now. Passing by them on the highway, all you can see is massive jumbles of sheet metal and scrap wood. 

Wanting to understand better what was up with the townships, I decided to take a tour. At first I was uncomfortable with the idea of taking a tour of poverty, but I was encouraged by several seemingly trustworthy locals in Cape Town to do so, so I went. And how thankful I was that I went! My day in the townships was my best day in Africa.

Let me just say this. With the eyes of the wealthy, and from the outside, the townships look like places of deprivation and squalor and violence. And surely they are! But from the outside, the mansions of the wealthy look like places of security and luxury and fun. And surely they are. But we all know neither is the whole truth. There can be deprivation in the mansions, and I assure you that the townships are bursting with life! Sometimes I think we in the west think that the poor, brown people of the world are just lying around hoping we’ll come save them. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

There were thousands of little businesses open everywhere in the townships, the vast majority of them not registered and technically illegal. We met a woman named Beauty whose husband had slept around, contracted HIV, and then passed the virus on to her. She became very depressed and angry, but then with the encouragement of her neighbors who recognized her gifts, she opened her own sewing business and was giving sewing lessons to the young women in the community so that they too could sustain themselves. Our guide had befriended Beauty and had helped her access anti-retroviral drugs and encouraged her to eat well and she was now in good health. She had purchased several sewing machines with money donated by tourists who come on these township tours.

We met another woman named Vicky who had opened a bed and breakfast—in a township!—where young adventurous westerners like myself could come and really get a feel for township life. With her profits from the bed and breakfast, she’d opened a childcare so that working parents would have a safe place to leave their children. There is a common myth in Africa that if you are an HIV-positive male, you can get rid of the virus by having sex with a virgin. In order to know for sure that they are actually getting virgins, men are raping young girls. This is a very big problem in the townships. But this woman, Vicky, had opened this childcare so that little girls could be safe. 

I bring you this report about Vicky and Beauty and the townships because it does not make the news. Also, I want you to understand that it isn’t all up to you. As we take steps toward loving others, as we try to let go of all that stands between us and the equal treatment of every person on earth, many others are taking steps—toward us! And let me tell you, it is your great good fortune to be stuck in this soup with the poor. It is probably more our good fortune to be stuck in this with them than it is their good fortune to be stuck in this with us. 

In the reading today from Gustavo Gutierrez he says, “If there is no friendship with the poor, and no sharing of life of the poor, then there is no authentic commitment to liberation, because love exists only between equals….But how is it possible to tell the poor, who are forced to live in conditions that embody a denial of love, that God loves them? It is not enough that we be liberated from oppressive socioeconomic structures: also needed is a personal transformation by which we live with profound inner freedom in the face of every kind of servitude.”

The title of my sermon is, “Is Poverty a Problem?” and I would say this: being able to let go of money and possessions is not only not a problem, it has been given by many spiritual teachers as an absolutely crucial part of the path to becoming fully human and fully integrated into an ethical and holy life. However, the kind of poverty that is a problem is the kind that arises from the socioeconomic system in which people in the world—so many people in the world—are forced to live in conditions that embody a denial of love. That kind of poverty, the kind that implies exploitation and violence, is the kind of poverty to which we all contribute and from which we all suffer. Who among us does not coexist with conditions, somewhere in his or her life, which embody a denial of love? Because we each participate in it, because we each suffer from it, we also each have the ability to participate less, to pour our wealth—our spiritual wealth, our relational wealth, our artistic wealth, our hope and our joy and our sincerity and our pain and our money and our stories—into creating a world that embodies an affirmation of love. 

You are loved. Every one of you. You are loved beyond reason, beyond measure. So is everyone else. Live accordingly. 

Amen?

Hoop se Absurde en Omgekeerde Logika

Written by Jannie Swart on . Posted in Tussenin

Maar daar is ‘n tweede moontlike “desire of God” wat Kearney ‘n eskatologiese begeerte noem.  Dit kan goed geillustreer word met Augustinus se erotiese beskrywing van ons rustelose soeke na God.  Kearney skryf, “here Augustine addresses God as impassionate lover: ‘You shed your fragrance about me; I drew breath and now I gasp for your sweet odour.  I tasted you and now I hunger and thirst for you.  You touched me and I am inflamed with love” (soos aangehaal uit die Confessions, Boek 6).  Wat veral treffend is van Augustinus, skryf Kearney, is “Augustine reveals the double genitive at work in the ‘desire of God’.”  Augustinus se begeerte van God is ‘n respons op God se begeerte van Augustinus.  Hier word hoop nie gebore vanuit ‘n skaarsheidmentaliteit wat ek probeer oorkom met my sugting na vervulling nie, maar vanuit ‘n oorvloedsmentaliteit wat ek ontdek in God wat my alreeds gevind het en my begeer met Sy oorvloedige liefde.  Dit herinner aan Psalm 139 se beskrywing van God wat my eerste raakgesien, opgesoek, en in besit geneem het, nog voordat ek God kon ken.

Met verwysing na Psalm 34 se “wie Hom dien, het geen gebrek nie” (vers 10), beskryf Kearney dan hierdie omgekeerde logika van hoop soos volg:  “This desire of God is no mere deficiency or privation but its own reward – positivity, excess, gift, grace.  Why?  Because such desire is not some gaping emptiness or negation (as Sartre and certain existentialists held) but an affirmative ‘yes’ to the summons of a superabundant, impassionate God.”  Om in ‘n wereld van ooglopende beperkinge, mislukkings, vernietiging, en sinneloosheid te leef vanuit ‘n hoop op die surplus werklikheid van God se oorvloed is enersyds ‘n absurde logika (soos Paul Ricoeur dit beskryf wanneer hy verwys na “hope means the superabundance of meaning as opposed to the abundance of senselessness, of failure, and of destruction”).

Maar dit is ook ‘n omgekeerde logika, want hierdie eskatologiese surplus is iets wat eerder met die oor gehoor word as met die oog gesien word.  In ‘n artikel oor Vision and Voice, skryf Merold Westphal (in verwysing na die fenomenologie van Jean Luc Marion) oor hierdie soort omgekeerde intensionaliteit waarin die self nie in die eerste instansie sien nie, maar gesien word deur die ander (God en medemens).  In hierdie omgekeerde logika van hoop is die self in die eerste plek die een wat aangespreek word deur die stem van die ander (Levinas se etiese argument is ewe relevant in die verband).  Westphal illustreer dit met die voorbeeld van Moses en die brandende bos.  Moses se aandagtigheid was dieper as om net ‘n brandende bos te sien; uiteindelik het dit gegaan oor die stem wat hy kon hoor en hom tot ‘n roepingsaanspreeklikheid kon bring. Westphal skryf, “God is transcendent by being a project other than our individual and collective projects and by calling, commanding, and inviting us to join in that project, to obey its law, to accept its forgiveness, to work and to pray for that kingdom.”

Hoop is dus onlosmaaklik verbind aan roeping.  Gemeentelike hoop is ingebed in gemeentes se gestuurde roeping om deel te neem aan die missio Dei.  So ‘n missio Dei roeping is nie primer ‘n visio Dei wat hoop koester in wat gesien en verseker kan word deur gemeentes nie, maar wat hoop vind wanneer gemeentes die stem van God en ander in ons gemeenskappe kan hoor.  Om so ‘n roeping uit te leef vra dus van gemeentes om luisterende gemeenskappe te wees in verhouding met God en ander.  Dit bring die uitdaging vir die kultivering van ‘n gemeentelike kultuur waarin hoop se absurde en omgekeerde logika van ons ontvanklike gemeenskappe maak wat ons aanspreeklikheid ontdek wanneer ons die stem van God en ander hoor.

THEOLOGY AND THE FUTURE – INHABITING TRADITIONS

Written by webmeester on . Posted in Tussenin

Tradition is also like a house in which you live.  The house can be venerable and grand, it can be modern and modest; it can be built of wood or brick or corrugated iron; it can be dull and somber in appearance or decorated and brightly painted.  A house can simply be a place where you eat and sleep, but it can also be a home in which you live, a habitat in which you feel comfortable and nurtured.  Homeless people long for homes in which they can find shelter from the winter storms and of which they can become proud inhabitants.  We all inhabit a tradition, and often more than one.  For some, like a house, it is one into which we have been born, for others it is one we have chosen for ourselves.   Sometimes traditions like houses do not become homes we inhabit, spaces in which we feel comfortable, places of nurture and meaning.  We simply pass through them, briefly stopping for a meal or a sleep, but always looking at other houses, glancing through their windows to see what is on their table, admiring their architecture, searching for something better than we have.  Some houses may hold bad memories we would prefer to forget.  But even when we do find a tradition we wish to inhabit, we are always seeking ways in which it can be improved, new rooms added, fresh paint applied to the walls.  To inhabit a tradition is to feel at home in it, to cherish it, to improve its quality, so that it becomes our natural habitat, a home in which to live, think and act in ways that are fulfilling.  

Theological education and formation are intended to train us for swimming in and navigating rivers in such a way that we are sustained by them rather than threatened, able to find the life-giving source from which they flow and understand the way they have eventually arrived where we are.  Theological education and formation are meant o help us inhabit houses so that they become our homes, to appreciate their foundations, to explore their rooms, to find hidden treasures in their attics, to appreciate their shape, form and colour, places where symbols surround us reminding us of who we are and music sounds good to the ear; places where we find community and where meals become holy banquets.  

Like rivers and houses, traditions are a complex.  This has to do not only with their variety, for within the Christian tradition there are many streams and tributaries, not just one river, or to use our other metaphor the Christian tradition is a mansion with many rooms.  The complexity is magnified by the fact that traditions like rivers are constantly flowing, on the move; they are like houses to which new rooms are always being added, new windows opened, fresh paint applied. That is why it is more correct to say that we inhabit traditions, rather than a tradition.   When it comes to tradition we are all hybrids.  This brings me to another metaphor we need to explore, one derived from biology.

Hybridity

While some of us may inhabit the Reformed or Anglican traditions, and others Catholic, Methodist or Pentecostal, complex as these are in themselves, we also inhabit other discernible traditions, continually crossing over from one to others.  We inhabit several traditions at the same time, for example, African, Christian, and Modernity, or more specifically Sotho, Lutheran, and the secular academy, and we do so, as I say, all at the same time.  We might even claim to be, as some do, Christian-Buddhists, and there are those like myself who label themselves as Christian humanists to distinguish ourselves from fundamentalists and secularists!  Why, even this theological faculty, so deeply rooted in the Reformed tradition has now positioned itself more broadly as ecumenical, thus encompassing other traditions.  Some would see this hybridity as a weakness, preferring to shut doors and windows to prevent change.  But we should salute it as a strength, in fact, a necessity even if it seems a little risky at times.

Hybridity describes what happens in botanical nurseries (an appropriate metaphor for the Kweekskool!) through the nurturing of new types of plants, Such genetic modification sometimes happens naturally as plants change character in order to respond to changing conditions, but more often today it is brought about by grafting a new cultivar onto an old stock.  Cattle and sheep farmers know the importance of broadening the gene pool, for there are dangers when there is too much inbreeding.  These earthy analogies indicate the important role of diversity in the development of traditions.  Of course, I would not want to push the analogies too far, for hybrid roses evidently lose their smell and cannot reproduce!

Nonetheless, the whole history of art and science supports this hybridity hypothesis, for it is only when an art tradition encounters another one that is different from it (like Picasso discovering West African masks) that something fresh and creative emerges, and it is only when something challenges an accepted scientific hypothesis that a paradigm shift occurs revising the entrenched view or radically changing it.  It is no different with theology, liturgy or spirituality.  A specific tradition, let us say the Reformed, cannot thrive on its own, turned in on itself.  It needs to open the windows of the house to let fresh air blow through the rooms.  It needs to be exposed to, interact with, and learn from others in creative ways if it is to be vibrant and alive.  Theological educators are in the business of genetic modification and encouraging hybridity, of ensuring that there is creative mix breeding, the blossoming of new cultivars.  But, of course, this does raise the problem of identity, for when is a new rose no longer a rose, when is the Reformed tradition no longer Reformed?  How do we retain our identity in a world of complexity and hybridity?

Identity

Despite the fact that traditions change over time and in different contexts, each tradition has its own discernable character.  Traditions have their specific DNAs.  Human’s and dolphins might share 97% of the same DNA, but it is the remaining 3% that gives them their specific identity.  This is recognizable when we observe their patterns of behaviour, reproduction and general appearance.  So it is that while Christians of different traditions may share a very large percentage of the Christian gene pool, and invariably benefit from interacting with each other, they still have distinguishing features which give those who inhabit them a specific identity. 

Nothing I have said thus far should be understood, then, as a denial of the importance and significance of specific traditions in which we may have been nurtured, or are presently being formed. The fact that we are increasingly and rightly engaged in theological education and formation in an ecumenical way, and therefore learning from and imbibing elements from different traditions does not mean that we should not be well grounded in our own specific traditions. You cannot swim in all rivers or live in several houses at the same time.  In order to do theology or worship you inevitably adopt a certain approach or style and locate yourself somewhere in Christian tradition.  Many theologians and pastors today, including myself, have benefited greatly from a range of traditions within the ecumenical family, but remain Reformed in orientation.

Tradition is not only the foundation on which we build, it also provides resources for doing so and thereby sustains us going forward.  Those who imagine or think it possible to do theology without being rooted in a tradition or traditions, soon discover that there is nothing to sustain them, no way of tapping into those resources that are essential for life.  For the nutrients that make it possible for us to live today and sustain us are embedded deeply in the soil which has given us birth.  

Traditions provide a habitat that sustains us in the same way as a house becomes a home within a family is nurtured.  Through symbols and scriptures they remind us of things we may have forgotten.  That is why it is important not to reject or jettison parts of the tradition that in the present may not seem of much value, but which at another time and place may be exactly the resource we need to meet fresh challenges.  So it is not a question so much of us sustaining traditions, but allowing traditions to sustain us.  The biblical critique of traditionalism which we find, for example, in Jesus’ teaching, is not a rejection of tradition, but rather the drawing on the resources of tradition in order to challenge a false mutation, to remain authentically rooted in tradition.

Traditions remain authentic when those who inhabit them remain in critical conversation with the past – above all, for Christians, in conversation with Scripture — and engage in debate with each other and their critics about the meaning of the tradition for the present.  Traditions remain authentic only when contested from within and challenged from without.  That might sometimes mean swimming against the stream.  An uncontested tradition is one that is in danger of petrifying, of becoming in-authentic.  When the guardians of a tradition shut the windows of the house in order to protect its authenticity from the prevailing winds, they may also shut out the breath of the Spirit who gives new life and keeps them authentic.  For that reason critics along with those perceived to be heretics at this moment in time are often God’s way of challenging those who claim to be the guardians of true faith and knowledge.

Our task as theologians and especially as theological educators is to draw deeply from the well-springs of Christian tradition in ways that result in authentic and therefore sustainable expressions and embodiments of Christian faith and life.  For just as traditions can and do sustain us, we also have the responsibility to ensure that they remain authentic and resourceful.  That is why we must speak also of the critical retrieval of trajectories within a tradition that relate meaningfully to the context in which we now live.  In so far as traditions have to be continually re-invented, we have to retrieve trajectories which speak to us today without denying other trajectories that spoke yesterday and might well speak again with new authority and urgency in the future.  The guardians of tradition and its radical prophets need each other even if they frequently engage in theological fisticuffs. Theological educators, whether in the academy or within the church more broadly, are the agents of tradition, conserving, critiquing, and retrieving at the same time within a given historical context.

Context

To truly inhabit a tradition is not to live in that tradition as it flowered, flourished or decayed elsewhere, but to live in that tradition as it takes form and becomes embodied here and now. We do not live in first century Palestine, sixteenth century Geneva, or seventeenth century London or wherever our denominational traditions first took shape.  We live in the twenty-first century, and most of us live in South Africa and for that reason we have to take seriously the way in which the traditions we inhabit have come to inhabit this context that is ours.

During the past fifty years several theological and related spiritual and liturgical traditions have emerged within our historical context which, taken together, represent an emerging South Africa tradition that is important for us and the task of theological education within our context today. Let me remind you of some of the traditions we inhabit: African and Black theologies, Confessional theologies as represented by the “Message to the People of South Africa” and the Belhar Confession, liberation theologies as articulated in the “Kairos Document,” feminist/womanist theologies as expressed in the writings of the Circle of African Women’s theologians, and so forth.  

These traditions certainly embody elements of traditions inherited from elsewhere (such as Anglican, Catholic and Protestant), but they have developed uniquely within and because of our own context.  Within this development many traditions, both cultural and social, both theological and ecclesial, have been critically brought together to form a whole which is both diverse and yet recognizably South African.  And those of us who do theology today in South Africa need to do theology in dialogue with this tradition that we inhabit within the broader framework of our denominational and Christian identities.  For we inhabit all these traditions at the same time.

Our task now is to work out of these diverse traditions as we face the new challenges of our time both in South Africa and Africa, both in this context and globally.  These challenges vary from the obvious challenges of social development through to the challenges of science, technology and the environment.  And it is in response to these challenges that theology must enter the future, drawing deeply on our traditions whether inherited from elsewhere or developed right here, to help us respond.  This should mark the way in which we engage in theological education, it should be reflected in our curriculum, and it should become both a habitat inhabited by aspiring theologians, ministers and priests, and a habit that becomes part of the way in which we not only do theology and but embody the Christian faith. 

Herwin Hoop in die Batebouer

Written by Jannie Swart on . Posted in Tussenin

Hall se woorde spreek van hoop in beweging eerder as ‘n statiese hoop.  Dit mag ons dalk help om nie bates te sien as iets wat ons opbou en opgaar nie, maar iets wat eintlik nooit ons s’n is op ons geloofsreis nie.  Gemeentes as geloofsgemeenskappe van hoop is dus altyd ‘n communio viatorum, ‘n gemeenskap op reis, eerder as ‘n gearriveerde gemeenskap.  En wanneer jy op reis is kan jy nie altyd so baie bates saamvat of dit regtig opbou nie.  Maar jy kan wel die bates wat jy saam met jou op pad neem opnuut waardeer vir die waarde wat dit vir die doeleindes van die reis self het, en dit maksimaal aanwend in verhouding met diegene wat jy op reis ontmoet.  Dit maak van hoop ‘n hoop in aksie.  Toe 7 prominente teoloe in 2000 in Atlanta (onder voorsitterskap van die Ou Testamentikus, Walter Brueggemann) besin het oor die vraag, “What is the mission of the church in the 21st century?”, het hulle na maande se besinning tot die volgende antwoord gekom:  “The mission of the Christian Movement in the 21st century is to confess hope in action.” Hoop is altyd aan die beweeg in die rigting van diegene wat God se geregtigheid, heling, en vrede die meeste nodig het.  ‘n Gemeenskap van hoop wat altyd aan die beweeg is kan nooit bates opgaar vir die doeleindes van die bates self nie, maar kan wel die Batebouer vertrou dat Hy altyd op pad sal voorsien wat nodig is om saam te bou aan die Koninkrykswerk waarmee die Batebouer alreeds besig is in die wereld.

Die Blinde Kol

Written by Jannie Swart on . Posted in Tussenin

Scharmer gebruik dan talle voorbeeld vanuit die praktyk van intervensies in besigheid om aan te toon hoe bepalend hierdie blinde kol in leierskap is.  Hy som dit op:  “The blind spot at issue here is a fundamental factor in leadership and in social sciences.  It also affects our everyday social experience.  In the process of conducting our daily business and social lives, we are usually well aware of what we do and what others do; we also have some understanding of how we do things, the processes we and others use when we act.  Yet if we were to ask the question ‘From what source does our action come?’ most of us would be unable to provide an answer.  We cant see the source from which we operate; we arent aware of the place from which our attention and intention originate.”

Ek wil graag in ‘n volgende blogbydrae nadink oor Scharmer se denke ten opsigte van die toekoms as ‘n alternatiewe bron vir leierskap, maar ek wonder net op hierdie stadium hoe sy insigte oor die blinde kol ons kan help in gesprekke oor leierskap in gemeentes.  Ek sien baie boeke oor gemeentelike transformasie en leierskap wat fokus op die wat en die hoe, maar baie min wat erns maak na die vraag oor watter unieke bronne gemeentes beskik wat allesbepalend is vir hoe transformasie gebeur en leierskap beoefen word.  Selfs die van ons wat nog altyd krities was oor resepmatige benaderings tot gemeentelike transformasie en leierskap, en meer op prosesse begin fokus het, het dalk nie altyd genoeg “die blinde kol” vraag gevra nie.  Die uitdaging vanuit die oogpunt van gemeentelike kultivering is juis om te fokus op die “fertile topsoil” (soos Scharmer dit noem) waar die onsigbare en die oppervlak dimensies bymekaar kom.  Vanuit kulturele oogpunt is dit dalk ‘n krities belangrike vraag oor hoe ons toegang kry tot hierdie onsigbare dimensie van wat alles op ‘n fundamentele vlak gemeentelike leierskap vorm, en vanuit teologiese ooppunt hoe ons die rykdom van uniek christelike bronne waaroor gemeentes deur die eeue heen beskik kan ontgin as die bepalende “stof” van die “social fields” in gemeentelike leierskap en transformasie.  Om meer intensioneel hieroor te besin kan ons dalk dan ook help om nuwe maniere te vind wat die valse teenoorstelling van tradisie (bronne wat oor die eeue heen aan die kerk gegee is) en vernuwing (kreatiewe intervensies in gemeentes) oorkom.