Sunday, 5 February 2017


I'd spent hours glued to CNN and BBC, watching the unfolding saga of Donald Trump's first 100 days as America's newest President. As a political and news junky I was overdosing on talking heads. Half in jest I posted on Facebook: "I'm seriously considering giving up Donald Trump for Lent."

The response was great: 140 likes/loves, four shares and 26 comments. Oh, and I zapped a Facebook 'friend' who loves The Donald and called me an ugly old witch.

All light relief from the right-wing bigotry of a tweeting billionaire with a false tan and funny hair who looks set to hurtle us into World War 3. I was on a roll – until I received an invitation to lead a quiet morning for our diocese. What a wake-up call!  Initially, I was gobsmacked. You see, I’m not a quiet priest and I’m far from holy. So, I told my caller I’d think about it and let her know the following day.  

I had a ready excuse: “Thanks, but I’m too busy”.

Now, unlike so many other good Anglicans, I’ve never had God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit speak directly to me but occasionally I get a spiritual zap that stops me in my tracks.

I pondered the Diocesan invitation. If I did accept what would the theme be?  Where am I spiritually? What right do I have to guide people, who unlike me, are not “too busy” to devote quiet space to God? 

I prayed. Not a Tweet from heaven. But the vitriolic response from the Trump fan I’d de-friended kept rattling. It was like a stubborn tune that becomes an unsolicited soundtrack and it signalled that I’d reacted exactly as Trump would have. I’m wielding social media as a weapon.

Then it hit me, I’d lost the plot – too quick to demonise and dehumanise.

In the frenzy of interacting with some 4000 Facebook and 5000 Twitter followers I was so busy being smart-assed I had shelved God in cyberspace.

I did accept the invitation to participate in the quiet morning and I knew that my role was not to lead but to facilitate a mutual spiritual journey. I prayed some more. Still no Tweet from heaven. I did, however, receive Greg Goebel’s blog. He pointed out that, although we priests are supposed to be politically non-partisan, the Gospel does need to be proclaimed in every aspect of human life. This includes politics, social conflict, and institutions.

I quote, “Being non-partisan doesn’t mean that we should avoid politics or protests or social conflicts. It can’t mean that, because we are supposed to be there with the Gospel.”

Of course, so much depends on how one interprets the Gospel and we Christians are past masters at interpreting Scripture to justify our bigotry, racism and other uglies.

My personal saga continued.

I’d no sooner mulled over Greg’s blog when Michael Weeder, Dean of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, posted a story on Facebook. It is called “White Beaches”. It was his comment at the end of his post that made me realise how badly I needed to reset my spiritual compass. Instead of exclaiming about American politics I must refocus on the gospel imperative to love and serve my neighbour.

I am ashamed of letting my dream new South Africa slip away. Thousands of children are not in school; the #FeesMustFall crisis continues; unemployment is rife; At least 94 mentally ill patients died in Gauteng last year. I had even lost sight of how we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to make a difference – each in our own sphere of influence. How it begins with empathy, caring about and for others. Listening with our hearts. Using social media as a positive force. Stepping out of our comfort zones.

Here's Michael’s story. Called ‘White Beaches” it is about his youth in Cape Town:
They laughed their way along the winding roads through the Gardens, Tamboerskloof ...up towards the mountain way before the sun had touched their homes on the flats.
"Hello uncle." someone would always shout to a white man behind a fence. A smile or a languid wave of the hand in acknowledgement, if not an acceptance of familial ties then to indicate, “You don’t scare me, chaps.”
“Why do you call the vark (pig) ‘uncle’?” Sammy once asked of his younger cousin, George. The reply was quick in coming, “Because I see him visit your mother when your toppie’s (father) at work.”
Sammy’s father was a Bedding Boy on the railways and his job took him out of town for long periods of time. When he was home he continued with the drinking that helped him deal with long nights through the Karoo. And the passengers. Their attitudes.
That and blikseming (beating) his eldest son who he believed wasn’t his own. He knew he was wrong and that the boy was his, evident in his Maasbieke (Mozambican) complexion, flat nose and lopsided smile and his Barry White baritone. But the accusation helped him feel less guilty about his frustrated fists that kept Sammy at a cautious distance.
Roger, the St Andrew’s Eureka Estate Church Lads Brigade captain, intervened before Sammy could reply with an open-handed klap to the head of his nemesis. Instead he responded with Option 2, a fervent “J-j-j-ou m-ma se p...” His stutter slowed him long enough for Roger’s sharp pinch on the back of his neck to curb the challenge of a thousand township fights.
Over the years “Hello uncle” was replaced with a good-natured, “Look ma’ nice after the house. I am moving in when the revolution comes.”
Sammy, George and Ivan were sitting at Breakfast Rock. It was 11’0’clock and they had finished their padkos of boiled eggs, cream crackers and Kool-aid. Roger had joined the navy and was no longer moving with them. Ivan spoke about his cousin in Bonteheuwel. He had seen a laaitie  (young boy), Christopher Truter die in front of him. "It was during the riots."
George had once seen a dead man lying under a bush at the Hoene’ Kamp near Balvenie Avenue. “He was very light. The Diener just held his legs together by the knees. With one hand.”
The sun was hot on their back as they looked towards the white sand of the beach in the distance.
“My broer (brother), if you swim in a straight line for five days you’ll get to Brazil.” Sammy was looking towards the blue water of Camps Bay when he offered this bit of travel news. “That whole country is just full of coloureds just like us.” Roger had told him this at the church Youth Club. “And the gooste (girls), my broer, don’t even wear bikinis. Just a piecie string called a tanga.”
“You are blind stupid, you know?” Challenged George. He was still naar about Sammy’s intended attack on his mother’s honour.
“The sharks will vreet (eat) you like kaaiangs and you can’t even swim!”
He started moving away as Sammy stood up finally completing the sentence that Roger had stopped a few years ago.
“Ja man, and in Brazil there are only Brazilians. We coloureds are not made anywhere else.” Ivan joined him, “We are one hundred per cent Bushies, jou nwata!” He shouted and started running across Pipe Track and down the side of the mountain.
They kept running towards the beach. The cool breeze coming off the sea spurring them on. They realised that hardly had they stumbled and jumped over boulders and shrubs for more than 10 minutes that they were no longer on the mountain but running onto private property.
 They ran angry onto the white beach.

Michael ‘s comment at the end of his Facebook post was: “The memories, laughter always to mask the pain of our savage rejection. Will this injustice to us ever leave us? I doubt it!

I wanted to post back, “I feel your pain.” But that would have been a lie. I’d never experienced the rejection of those young boys. Those beaches were always mine to use and they now call out to me in their windswept beauty to remind that there are still too many youngsters who feel unwelcome on too many beaches.

Our communities and even our Anglican parishes are planets apart – pockets of misunderstood pain.

I know a ‘coloured’ parish that is making the priest’s life hell because she is a woman and black. I know a black parish that resents having a priest of any other colour celebrate the Eucharist.  I know a white parish that resists the smallest ‘Africanisation’ of liturgy with the determination of last defenders of European colonialism.

I also know that our country is riddled with the cancer of subliminal racism and I’m hungry for the passion that once fuelled all our hopes for the future.

South Africans are allowing the rainbow dream to slip away and I believe we in Church are called to prophetic ministry along with our Archbishop Thabo and other faith leaders who are speaking out. 

Because I stopped listening with my heart and I forgot a black friend’s recollection of our first democratic election back in ’94:
“For me, going to the voting booth was like going to a very private chapel. There was elements of great joy of knowing that this is a victory, this is a burial of something very evil, and that was my joy and my private satisfaction. What was also an element of great sadness was knowing that I was doing something which my father couldn't do. He couldn't vote...he couldn't exercise the very basic right. Knowing that there were so many of our people who had gone on beyond without tasting, without savouring this simple thing, I think I'll always carry that.”

Too many of us have forgotten the privilege of our vote and the cruelty of apartheid. Unless we share our stories we will never close the divide. And it’s not just about black or coloured pain.

Wendy and Xylon van Eyck
In her devotional blog Wendy van Eyck, a white woman married to a black man, tells of how differently they are treated because of the colour of their skins – how a second-hand book store accepts books from her but not her husband. She also reveals the pain a white mother when her darker skinned children are rejected socially – how white women who inter-marry lose their “whiteness” within their own communities.

When last did you hear a sermon on racism? Is it addressed in our Confirmation syllabus? Do we fuel it in conversations our children overhear? Do we underpin it with indifference about our neighbours?

How do you think we can make a difference?

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