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.
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?