Living Social Justice

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Archive for the category “Reflection”

Christ, Madiba and Reconciliation

How far are we from realising Madiba’s dream of a reconciled nation? According to the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, we’re further from it than we may think. Sindiso Mnisi Weeks shares her heartbreak and her hope.

Last week I cried numerous times. It started on Thursday morning when news of the latest Institute for Justice and Reconciliation‘s (IJR) reconciliation survey results were publicised reflecting devastating findings amidst some hopeful ones.

What really got me was the finding that, of the white people surveyed, 40% disagreed with the declaration that “The Apartheid government wrongly oppressed the majority of South Africans.”

I wept.

I wept just as I weep through every movie about slavery, colonialism and apartheid, wondering how it is possible for the humanity of black people to have ever been worth so little to some and when the suffering of people of colour in this world will end.

Though I’ve seen many distressingly ahistorical comments made by (white) people on News24 and other such sites, I’ve tried to comfort myself that, firstly, it’s people with radically unfavourable views who are more likely to comment on any news site and, secondly, they’re really the minority. This survey says that they are likely a significant minority and that’s scary and extremely sad to me. How, almost 20 years after the sheer brutality of apartheid officially ended, could some South Africans still think that it was not wrong?

While my heart was still bleeding from this news, I learned with shock that Nelson Mandela had died … uTata was gone! I could not suppress the uncontrollable tears as my mind registered the irony in Madiba – who had suffered and defied some of apartheid’s worst injustices – dying on the same day that the IJR reported that some among us thought it wasn’t a bad thing.

Madiba was dead. And the IJR reported that reconciliation in South Africa was, in some ways, a failure. After all, as the IJR reported, at this time, more South Africans have little or no contact with people of different races in their day-to-day lives than do have such contact on a regular or constant basis.

With most black South Africans still being poor and confined to impoverished townships and rural areas and more than 73% of white people living in the two highest economic brackets (according to the living standards measure), there isn’t much intermingling. Therefore, the ability of improvements in class to simultaneously increase interracial interaction is unable to work its necessary magic.

And, as if that weren’t bad enough, tragically, only 27% of white people (compared with much higher proportions of other race groups) reported that they were interested in learning more about the cultures of other groups, and only 11.7% of white people (again, the lowest of all race groups) said they desired more interaction with people of other races.

So, you see, connecting the IJR report and Madiba’s death, I could not help but weep. Madiba was our primary, national symbol of reconciliation. Did that mean that South Africa’s hope of succeeding at this evidently near-impossible task was dead?

Previously, I blogged about how I came to marry my ‘umlungu’. What is glaringly absent from that account as we remember Nelson Mandela is the fact that Madiba and his comrades were a large part of making that happen. Were it not for Madiba’s unrelenting commitment to my freedom as a black person in South Africa, I could not have matriculated from a good enough school to enable me to then later study in the UK where I met my ‘mlungu’, Dan and I could not have been married in South Africa and we certainly could not have lived there together, freely, and openly these last two years. The Immorality Act would have rendered our love a crime.

Regardless of how grateful I am to uTata, however, our hope as South Africans is not in Madiba – not by a long shot. Though he lived a life that reflected God’s forgiveness, grace, commitment to justice and love, as his many, self-professed mistakes and death at the ripe old age of 95 remind us, he too was a mortal man.

As Christians – and the whole world – our hope is in Christ. He is ultimately the only one who can reconcile us. And he is committed to doing so, if only we will allow Him.

As Ephesians 2: 14-16 tells us, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

Galatians 3: 26-28 also says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

A silver lining can be pointed to in that, as the IJR survey reports, over 67% of South Africans of all creeds place great confidence in religious institutions. Thus, though the Church is made up of fallible human beings, it is God’s primary, chosen vehicle for delivering hope to an otherwise hopeless world and there is room for it to do so in South Africa.

The IJR concludes that what is needed to remedy our ‘unreconciledness’ is ‘radical reconciliation’. What can be more radical than this message of reconciliation in the Bible?!

We desperately need Christ’s reconciliation to come to South Africa, a place that needs it in many ways more than any other. Particularly during this period of remembering Madiba’s sacrifice, which coincides with the season in which we remember Christ’s even greater sacrifice, I think that South African Christ followers need to speak that message loud and clear – in words and in deeds.

– Sindiso Mnisi Weeks is a senior researcher at the Centre for Law and Society at UCT. She and her husband, Daniel, were members of the Common Ground Church Rondebosch AM congregation until recently relocating to the USA. 

P.S. Related read: A Man Who Wasn’t Afraid to Shake Things Up

A Man Who Wasn’t Afraid To Shake Things Up

How will we remember Madiba when the media is no longer reminding us? By Sam Rawson
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It’s been a sad couple of days as we’ve mourned the passing of one of the greatest gifts God has given us as a nation – Nelson Mandela – a man who exemplified Christ-likeness in his servant-hearted leadership, his unprecedented forgiveness and his humility. But as we pay tribute to these rare qualities, we may be at risk of forgetting the revolutionary, the rebel, the man who shook things up.

In so many ways Mandela resisted the status quo, holding up a different vision of the future – a future he wasn’t afraid to overturn a few proverbial tables to fight for. This version of Mandela is maybe one we’re not so comfortable with. We’re much more at ease with the image of him gently swaying side-to-side in a Springbok jersey, just as we often prefer a view of Jesus as the ‘meek and mild’ shepherd, as opposed to the revolutionary who went up against an evil system to fight for our eternal freedom.

The aim of this post isn’t to compare Madiba with Jesus – how could we even try to do that? – but rather to show that the man we’re honouring today and the Saviour we serve as Christ-followers were both ultimately committed to justice and were even willing to suffer and die for it.

Yes, Madiba was a champion for peace, yes, he was a great leader, yes, he showed immense forgiveness – all of these are important things to remember about him, but we should never forget that his goal was not peace and harmony for its own sake.  No, his goal was always justice.

One story which sticks out as an example of this is when, in 1985, P.W. Botha offered to release Mandela if he ‘unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon’. Mandela responded in a statement saying, “Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts. I cannot, and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.” He wasn’t willing to negotiate conditions for a freedom which should be his (and all South Africans’) as a matter of justice, even if those conditions would guarantee his immediate release.

The justice Mandela stood for was a big picture justice. It was bigger than political freedom.  It resembled a biblical view of justice, which includes not only the righting of wrongs, but also “generosity and social concern, especially toward the poor and vulnerable.” (Timothy Keller, Generous Justice)

After gaining the things he’d fought so hard for, and becoming South Africa’s first democratically-elected president, you would’ve almost excused Madiba if, after 27 years in prison, he’d decided to live out the rest of his days comfortably afloat this legacy. After all, hadn’t he earned some time out? No, Madiba’s life’s mission was big picture justice – and on that score, there was so much more to be done. His view of justice was small enough to show compassion to an orphaned child, but big enough to change policies to ensure effective treatment for all with HIV/Aids.

In Mark Gevisser’s obituary for Mandela in the Mail & Guardian, he tells the story of when, as heritage curator at Constitution Hill, he was responsible for showing Mandela the Old Fort prison cell in which he was held. He describes how Mandela looked a bit bored – and that he only lit up and started asking questions when someone mentioned that there was a new treatment and research centre for Aids across the road.  Big picture justice.

On Sunday, 15 December, Madiba’s body will finally be laid to rest after 10 days of public mourning. And in the days, weeks, and months that follow the media tributes, the TV shows and the adoring Facebook updates dedicated to our Tata will start to turn to other world events and news of other public figures. We will forget – even while he was alive we forgot – exactly what it was he fought so hard to see realised in his lifetime.

We will forget that justice was his mission.  Big picture justice.  And that big picture justice should be part of our life’s mission too – not because Madiba cared about it, but because Christ does.  We give thanks for Madiba, but we need not look beyond ourselves to see what God has entrusted to us and the many ways we can bring His kind of big picture justice to the people around us.

It might mean paying generous wages or building friendships across comfort zones.  It could be as small as a visit to someone in need or as big as a campaign for a cause you care about. Our opportunities to bring God’s justice into the world come in all shapes and sizes.  The only constant is that they rely on us.

Our country still has a long way to go on its path towards justice for all, social reconciliation and equality. The work is not yet done. Jesus wants to use us, as he used Madiba, to be part of restoring the world. So are we prepared to shake things up, in honour of Madiba, in the name of justice and, ultimately, in the name of Jesus?

Rest in peace Tata. Thank you for your example. We are so incredibly grateful.

What’s Mine is Not Mine

What should we do with the treasures with which we’ve been blessed? Sindiso Mnisi Weeks shares how she’s grappling to let go in a culture holding on.
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Psychologists describe how a significant milestone in child development is when the child begins to understand herself as a separate entity from her mother and the rest of the world. What follows shortly thereafter is the realisation that she can possess things. “Mine!” she says, “… mine, mine, Mine, MINE!”

Perhaps one of the most radical – counter-cultural … even, perhaps, counter-evolutionary! – lessons the Gospel calls us to embrace as adults is the lesson that, though we can possess things, what we possess is actually not ours.

How often does the Bible call us to:

“[N]ot lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6: 19-21)

And our hearts should be in God alone.

So, what should we do with those treasures with which we have been so blessed – and for which we might have worked very hard – in this world?

“Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (Luke 3: 11)

Or, in the words of the Old Testament:

“‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers. … [T]he land that you hold as a possession … will be returned in the Jubilee, and they can then go back to their property.”… “‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you.'” (Leviticus 25: 23-24, 28, 35)

In this vein it continues.

If the Bible takes such a radical approach to material possessions, why is it so hard to persuade our own hearts of this attitude?

Some would say it’s evolution – the survival of the fittest instinct that has kept us from extinction so far. Some would say it’s our fallen nature – the sinfulness within us that resists all things godly and pursues self-interest at every turn.

Maybe it’s both.

Yet the truth remains that, for most people, the child within who first awoke to the realisation that at least some things could be “mine!” refuses to let go. Very much like Adam and Eve when their eyes were opened to selfishness and greed and they lost their ability to fully trust in God’s provision for them, even as they lost their place in God’s immediate company in Eden.

I can give you the experiential background on why it’s hard for me, personally, to take this radical, Biblical approach to material possessions. I grew up in a family where financial security was rarely experienced. Now, I’m one of few people in my family who has achieved financial security and it’s hard for me not to worry about “having enough”. It’s also easy to tell myself that it’s not just for my sake but also for that of the people who depend on me for support.

Yet, in the moments in which I am able to be entirely honest with myself, I admit to God that what is really at issue is that – despite my ten years of following Him – I remain one “of little faith”.

This is what makes me desperate to possess the things that He has given us all to enjoy in the world and to do so even against the backdrop of deprivation and suffering experienced both near and far. I am pathologically attached to “my hard-earned belongings”. And, because I don’t earnestly trust that I’ll be taken care of if I do let go of them, “my assets” are where my “real, daily functional salvation” lies (to quote Revd. Tim Keller).

More than that, I don’t trust the people to whom the things I would so painfully let go of might be given to use them “well” (whatever that means), which is why it’s often hard to give to those in need.

Just recently, in my quiet time, I returned to the parable of the rich man dining at his table while Lazarus lay at his gate covered in sores that were licked by the rich man’s well-fed dogs (Luke 16: 19-31). The rich man died and went to hell while, when Lazarus died, he went to heaven. And, when the rich man inquired into why this was so, “Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” (Luke 16: 25) At essence, the cause was not the man’s wealth but what the way in which he used his wealth revealed about his heart. After all, “faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2: 17, 26)

When I sat at a restaurant later that week, there was no poor person at the door. Yet, nonetheless, the mothers watching their children die from starvation were briefly revealed to my mind’s eye and I knew it was the Holy Spirit tugging at my heart to say that I am that rich man. And, indeed, according to the “global rich list”, I am.

The only question remaining is whether, when I meet my Maker, He will say “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom … [for] as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”” (Matthew 25: 34, 40) God help my heart to let go of the things I so unwisely hold onto and recognise that the present shall pass like the night while eternity is long …

In the Apostle Paul’s words, “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on … those who buy something [should live] as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7: 29-31)

How are you feeling challenged to be generous?

– Sindiso Mnisi Weeks is a senior researcher at the Centre for Law and Society at UCT. She and her husband, Daniel, were members of the Common Ground Church Rondebosch AM congregation until recently relocating to the USA. 

P.S. Other recommended reads: “Hope In An Age Of Hunger” by Roger Wood and “What Is Urban Gleaning?” by Caroline Powell

Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow

What answer will you give when asked by a future generation, “You knew and what did you do?” George Draper shares his post-LUTL reflections with us.

Photo Credit: ºNit Soto via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ºNit Soto via Compfight cc

Have you heard of the ‘Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’ shrub? The plant gets its name because its blooms come out deep purple, fade to lilac, and finally to white before they wilt. Recently, while looking after my grandsons, my thoughts drifted to their future and the future of our country, especially in a post-Mandela scenario. It struck me how this plant is a picture of three generations.

My grandsons represent the fresh generation full of colour and promise with us grandparents at the other, more faded, end. I now see ‘Yesterday’ as my generation – the one which conceived and implemented the apartheid system. ‘Today’ is my children’s generation born into the period of transition but still benefiting from apartheid’s lingering unequal distribution. ‘Tomorrow’ is my grandchildren’s generation born after 1994 with no real understanding of the past.

The freedom of 1994 meant different things to different people. For the ‘have-nots’, freedom meant being equal and the  possibility of ‘having’. For whites who struggled with being part of an unjust society, it was freedom from feeling guilty about being white. And some equated freedom with a ‘take what you can get’ open season.

“Freedom” now is a system badly flawed and certainly not what people sacrificed and died for. The reality is that the struggle isn’t over – it just looks different. The time has come to fan into flame our dormant passion and compassion – and to intentionally do something to make a difference.

My son once asked me about the apartheid era: ‘You knew and what did you do?’ My answer was to serve as a medical doctor working in rural and other underdeveloped areas. It was during this season of our life as a family that I realized that making a real difference would include not only health care but also doing something about poverty, education, income generation, housing and paying a livable wage to those I employed. Always acknowledging and treating people with respect was a given.

Recently, this took on an unusual form. I was looking after someone’s home and the domestic helper came in while I was there. Having made some plunger coffee I offered her a cup. She accepted and remarked that now she knew what the thing she’d had to wash so many times previously (i.e. the plunger) was actually used for. This simple offer and a chat was a way for me to make her feel ‘seen’ and appreciated.

What does a biblical perspective on this look like? Isaiah 58:6-12 gives an idea.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them…?”

God wants our service to go beyond our own personal spiritual growth to acts of kindness, charity, justice and generosity. True fasting is more than what we don’t eat; it is pleasing God by applying his Word to our society

These were the Scriptures Jesus knew and used. However, he took them to a new level of action. A generation before Jesus, a well-known Rabbi called Hillel was asked to summarize the Law while standing on one leg. His answer? ‘Whatever is hateful to you don’t do to your fellow.’ Jesus was asked a similar question. His answer stood on two legs: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart… The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’”. Hillel came with the minimum requirement. Jesus came with the maximum.

God’s focus on the poor, the widow, the orphaned and the foreigner hasn’t changed. Nor have the needs of this world, if anything they’ve increased. The Live Under The Line challenge was intended to raise our awareness of these issues. In our home we learnt a lot about how people living under the poverty line (‘them’) live in comparison to how we normally live (‘us’). It would be sad, no indeed wrong, if it remained ‘them’ and ‘us’. So what can we do?

It can be daunting to think of the depth of the need and inequality in our country, but a good place to start is by thinking of those people you can reach out to in your everyday space. Remember the biblical principle of gleaning where the one that has much deliberately leaves some for others less fortunate to collect. Why not apply this principle to the people you come into contact with every day?

Remember that one day – ‘tomorrow’ – the question will come in some form or other: ‘You knew and what did you do?’

 – George is a retired medical doctor and serves on the leadership team of the Common Ground Church Rondebosch AM congregation with his wife, Bev.

P.S. Interested in finding out more about the biblical concept of gleaning? We recommend reading, “What is Urban Gleaning?” by Caroline Powell

What have you been grappling with in the weeks since having done the Live Under The Line challenge?

What Is Urban Gleaning?

Caroline Powell unpacks how we can use biblical principles to give in a way that dignifies and uplifts those we’re trying to help.

Photo Credit: downhilldom1984 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: downhilldom1984 via Compfight cc

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19: 9-10

Based on God’s generosity laws in the Old Testament, Urban Gleaning is a modern day model for ensuring that when Christians are involved in the giving and receiving of time, things, skills or money, which is still necessary in a world of inequalities, dignity is upheld to the highest standard.

While these laws were given to people living in a rural setting, thousands of years ago, the principles that they teach us are applicable to every Christian, everywhere, today.

God has given each of us, no matter what part of the city we live and worship in, a unique and precious harvest from which to give. Looking at it from that perspective, we should embrace God’s laws not to just “do charity” but to enter into a lifestyle of generosity and pursuing equality for the benefit of the whole of society.

Being a Boaz: Following God’s generosity laws with God’s heart

“As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men: ‘Even if she gathers amongst the sheaves, don’t embarrass her. Rather, pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.’” – Ruth 2:15-16

In the story of Ruth in the Old Testament, we are provided with a “gleaning tutorial” – the example of someone who went beyond just following God’s laws, but applied the heart of God by honouring his responsibility as family and neighbour, and ensuring the safety and dignity of Ruth, the gleaner.

As the church, we are called to see the world as our neighbour, to welcome everyone in as family, and to extend ourselves beyond simple charitable giving. We are also called to be like Boaz –someone who makes sure that vulnerable people are not shamed, embarrassed or harmed when the Church seeks to support and help them.

So what next?

It may be helpful to ask yourself some of these questions as you enter into a lifestyle of generosity, and dignified giving and receiving:

• What is the harvest of my life – the skills, time, relationships, money, stuff that I have to leave aside for the poor, the vulnerable, the widow and orphan?

• Do I have something other than “material wealth” to share, that I may have overlooked?

• What happens in my heart when I’m challenged not to “shake the olive tree a second time” (Deuteronomy 24:20)? Why do I sometimes want to hold onto things that I do not need, or find it so hard to give away the things I love?

• What is happening in my city, or even church, that may be causing vulnerable people harm or shame while trying to help them? How can I do things differently and speak up for change?

• How can we as the church help each other to see God’s laws being followed with God’s heart? How can we move beyond charity to relational giving and receiving?

Ways To Get Involved

Here are some practical things you can do:

• Donate items: Bring excellent quality goods to The Warehouse from 09h30-16h30. Click here for some guidelines.

• Help sort and prepare donations at The Warehouse during the week (09h30-16h30). Please telephone ahead of time if interested.

• Engage with Justice Saturdays: Come to The Warehouse the first Saturday of each month from 09h00-12h00 and get involved with a variety of fun activities including worship, prayer, bible studies, teachings and acts of service. Email The Warehouse for more info.

–          Caroline oversees Church Mobilisation and Urban Gleaning at The Warehouse, a non-profit organisation based in Cape Town that exists to serve the local church in its response to poverty, division and injustice.

For other ways  you can give of your time, treasure and talents, contact us.

P.S. Other great reads on this topic: “How I’ve Learnt To Give” by Tim Hoffman and “Is It More Blessed To Give?”

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