Monday, March 23, 2009

my old man

Yesterday we attended the service, as we sometimes do, at a Catholic church in an Mthatha neighborhood. The preacher (a priest-in-training) spoke on healthy relationships within the family. Parents, he said, should care for children. Children, for their part, must obey parents. In order to illustrate his point, however, he selected from a newspaper a story about a broken family: a husband who used to tell his wife that he was going on vacation in distant countries only to retreat to an underground bunker where he raised up children with his teenage daughter.

It struck me that the story did not serve the preacher's point. Must children unconditionally obey parents? I remembered that two years ago I heard a preacher say that if one obeys his father, he automatically obeys God [emphasis his].

In a related vein, at our Bible school committee meeting on Saturday, the eldest mama had sent a message ahead with another mama "not to start without her."

"You know how she is," the younger mama said. "But, she is old."

She is old. He is old. She is "my old woman." He is "my old man."

Age is its own criterion. Seniority answers to no one.

Or does it?

We were discussing the factionalism that is dividing one particular branch of our Bible school, with repercussions for the whole. One man on the committee, speaking of an elder figure in the school, expressed a sentiment common among the gathered members.

"He is old, but he will destroy this school. This school is the work of God. And God will judge us if we allow this to die."

In other words, "we must obey God rather than human authority" (Acts 5:29). Even old men.

Jesus did not cede our human obedience to human authority. On the contrary, the "Abba" to whom he prayed is also our "Father." He is our Old Man. She is our Old Woman.

To him let us listen.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

it's gotta be the shoes

Two weeks ago, Pastor Ntapo preached on Jesus' betrayal from Matthew's gospel. He was particularly interested in why Jesus was given away by a kiss. He asked the congregation for an answer. I posited that the kiss on the lips of Judas--"one of the twelve" disciples--signified that often it is those who are most effusive in their response to you who are actually bent on undermining you.

"Amen," the pastor replied. Yet he had a different take on the kiss.

"Our Jesus was not like the pastors of now," he said. "He was very humble. If a person should enter this church," he continued, "he would be able to recognize the pastor instantly. He would see that the pastor is wearing this fancy suit, that he is wearing these nice shoes."

Anna and I exchanged glances from across the room. For some time already, Anna has used a pastor's shoes as an indicator of his moral fiber. In this area, a popular choice of many Pentecostal/Charismatic pastors is long, white, pointy shoes. She was particularly disgusted on Holy Saturday last year when the pastor showed up wearing said type for the first time.

On this Sunday, however, here was the pastor mocking his own appearance, measuring himself against Jesus, a man so unremarkable in appearance among his peers that only a public display of "affection" could betray him to outsiders.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

image of south africa

I have recently had cause to think about an image that would symbolize South Africa as we work with colleagues to represent Anabaptists in South Africa. The image that has not left me as I have considered this is one that I would never have expected before coming here.

The cell phone.

Upon arrival three years ago, we stubbornly stuck with our American policy of not having a cell phone. We soon realised that this was not only unfeasible but was downright rude to the people around us. For one thing, our landline never worked. At one point we thought about opening up our guest room to our Telkom technician so that he could just be there to fix our phone every time it went out. I would estimate that roughly half of our time in South Africa has been without a landline. And a landline is a financial impossibility for poor South Africans, requiring a physical address, a deposit, and a monthly rental fee. On the other hand, a cell phone can be bought for relatively little money and prepaid airtime can be added to it in increments of the equivalent of US 50c. I have yet to meet anyone too poor to have a cell phone. One time we saw a cow herder standing and talking on his phone while watching the cows graze.

The other reason that a cell phone is essential in this place is in getting to people's houses. It is almost impossible to give directions, especially in rural areas. It is also hard to predict times. So the way to find people is to phone them when you get to a certain landmark and that person will meet you there and take you the rest of the way.

And the cellphone is the great meeting of the African drive for networking and relationship with modern technology. We once heard a sermon preached on the need to be in right relationship and to make peace with your neighbours. The image used throughout the sermon was of 'network' and the image painted of how terrible it is to be 'without network.'

So now I need to eat my former assumptions and admit that this is my abiding image of South Africa and it is not a wholly bad one.

This is a video from our Bible School graduation in 2007. Watch for a few seconds and notice the woman dancing across the front while engaged in a more pressing activity.