I am out in the country, having spent three days in the middle of nowhere with limited Internet access. I have walked the land, settled into my soul and slept more than I wanted but apparently not more than I needed. I am bringing this blog to a close today, I will start a new one here on WordPress in the days ahead but I must first write a final research paper on reconciliation and that will take most of my free time.
Today’s readings are a good reflection on reconciliation. In the first reading, Abraham barters with God as to how many good people can be save the city. I am reading “A Human Being Died That Night” by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. It is the story of a man who was known as Prime Evil during Apartheid. Eugene de Kock committed horrible atrocities during Apartheid and yet during the interviews, a human side is revealed to this monster. Is redemption possible for everyone? How does humanity recover from unspeakable acts of evil? Then as now, God’s mercy is supreme and unlimited. When we call upon God as the Psalm states, God answers.
The Gospel reading today is one of my favourites and has deep personal memories for me. Ask, seek, knock. With reconciliation, these acts must be done. Ask for forgiveness, mercy, peace, humility, joy, restoration, wonder, openness. Seek healing, peace, understanding, compassion. Knock on the door of the hardened heart, on the walls that divide, on the prejudices that remain.
Reconciliation is possible–for the multitudes and for individuals. Seek it now.
Today’s readings are about hospitality, entertaining angels and the Son of God. Are you a Martha or a Mary when it comes to welcoming people? When I think of my experience in Africa, I think back to my first encounter in South Africa, being greeted by the Immigration officer. He asked me if I was in South Africa on business or for fun. I smiled widely and responded, “FUN!!” He handed me back my passport with a smile equally as large and said, “Welcome!”
The story of the angels and Abram and Jesus with Martha and Mary also points to the need for welcoming those who are different than us. How often do we meet someone and judge them by appearance or by behaviour? I cannot imagine what Abram and Sarai had running through their heads upon seeing the “men” arrive at their tent. What runs through our minds when we meet the Other, someone who is incredibly different than we are?
I saw a play last night at the Fringe Festival entitled, They Call Me Mister Fry. The actor was the real Grade 5 teacher whose first year at a school in South Central Los Angeles taught him valuable lessons about looking beyond tough exteriors. It is a redemptive story and it made me think of a sacred story that one of the group members in South Africa shared with me about her life one night when we roomed together. This encounter was one of the most profound experiences of my journey. I was so amazed by the inner strength and fortitude of this person.
South Africa holds many memories for me of resilient people. Some of these people would not be welcomed upon arrival, lacking limbs, bearing scars, and revealing a hard exterior. The pain is sometimes etched forever on the person’s face. Others seemed like the body of Christ, present in earthly form again. I hope that I can welcome the angels and Christ figures in my life with joy and comfort and not judgment and horror. Choosing the better part can be challenging but the rewards can be a blessing.
In preparing for this trip, Mandela featured prominently in the readings and documentaries. Coming to South Africa means coming to know Madiba’s soul. So many of his quotes inspire me. His goal for freedom for all people of South Africa is farsighted and merciful. His life is a light for many. Today as he celebrates 95 years of life, I am grateful. I join him in his famous dance of joy for all that he has given to this world. His has been a life well spent.
I have several images that come to mind over the duration of the trip. I do not have the photos to accompany any of them (unless they are in the post about Robben Island). Robben Island was a powerful visit for me, knowing that this was where Mandela had spent so many of his years and done much of his strategic planning for the new South Africa. His years imprisoned taught him a new way of seeing the world and himself. Everything is stripped away and you are left with the bare minimum of life. I remember during the Millennium celebrations watching him return to his cell and light a candle. This action of peace and grace remains with me today as a sign of hope to this world. The darkness does not get to win.
We also went to his home which at the time was surrounded by CNN reporters. Every morning for us we were news-hungry for how Madiba was faring. We would awake and wonder if he had died during the night. The world was watching. CNN was interviewing people on the street. I wondered what I would say about this icon and so now I can. There is no camera running but I think I would say how grateful I am to this man for showing us how to get it right. He reconciled himself with people that he did not have to, that he could have harboured grudges against, that deserved to be “punished.” He embodied a Christ-like persona in terms of forgiveness.
When we were at the Apartheid Museum, a special Mandela exhibit was showing. I walked around the pieces in awe of this mortal. Trouble maker, reconciler, boxer, lawyer, husband, father, president, negoiator, terrorist, leader, prisoner, and friend are just a few of the labels that identify him. Here was not only a truth-teller, but here was also a truth-maker. He set a new Truth for the nation and for the world. This is part of his legacy. May we all learn a lesson from Tata–he offers many. Find one that fits for you at this point in your life. As for me, I am going to spend some time thinking about reconciliation and forgiveness and what that means to me right now.
The District 6 Museum lays out the truth of the past and the uncertainty of the future. Our guide Noor seemed to have a positive take on where the bulldozed roads to freedom have led, painting an idealistic picture of a former racially mixed and happy neighbourhood in District 6 and the dream for its future. He told us a tale of how during Apartheid a white man and a black dog could sit on a whites only bench, but a black person could not.
He crowded us all into a replica of a room of a typical house in District 6 and said that a family of six would live in this space. I tried to imagine what family life would be like in such cramped quarters but he spoke so joyfully of it, that I knew I would not comprehend from my North American lens.
He shared how District 6 was a racially mixed area where people got along. He pointed out the streets signs from the original neighbourhood. My lost pictures had the map, tributes and poems that were spread out on the floor. He hopes for a time where people can live again in harmony, like before the forced removal.
His sad story about the homing pigeons that was posted on the wall remains with me. A newspaper story of how he raised homing pigeons was among the artifacts. He trained them to come to the new home, after the removals. One day he set them free. They never came back. Driving by the old home, he was startled to find them there. We dehumanize people when we destroy their homes; even the birds knew that home is a place forever engraved in one’s memory.
What value does home have for you? What would you do if your home was bulldozed and totally destroyed? Tonight I saw a prayer of gratitude for my home.
Day 4 – Late morning
I was not really prepared to experience the Slave Lodge. The intense emotional impact it had on me was one of the “surprises” of the trip thus far. In the foyer was a reminder that slavery is not yet ended but it continues through the trafficking of humans. I appreciated this fact confronting us as we entered so that we could withhold judgment on what happened. How many of us fight slavery these days?
I began the tour with two of the South African students. In the replica of part of the slave ships, I looked over at their faces and wondered what was running through their minds. I walked on, sensing that they might appreciate doing the tour without me. They probably did not need this white woman hanging around as they encountered their history.
Two quotes from the museum percolated reactions deep within:
“They transported my body. But I wasn’t there. My memory has vomited these days when the screaming and the moaning mingled with the roaring of the sea.” (The Slave Caravan by Betani). Memory is tainted by so much. How can one remember the details of unspeakable horrors? Surely our bodies and minds are not meant to carry these terrors. They must be vomited out. Yet how then does this affect the testimonies given during the South AfricanTruth and Reconciliation Commission? The perpetrators who braaied bodies or “necklaced” snitches must have images burned on their minds forever—or buried deep. Either way, are details remembered accurate? Most people reconstruct their memories, I am sure.
“I’m not a Christian that accepts exploitation …I believe in Christianity that defends justice” ~Oliver Tambo. Tambo was clear about his faith and his responsibility. The exhibit honouring him was very enlightening. This museum allowed people to see the truth of a man whose faith inspired him to action but it begs the question as to how nations remember “controversial” figures. Today’s hero can be yesterday’s terrorist. What do we do with our judgments of people? How do we understand people in the big picture as well as the moment? There is so much to consider and I want to live in a way so that people will recognize my dependence on the Divine.
Day 4 – Morning only
We visited St. George’s Cathedral, where Archbishop Desmond Tutu presided and who was instrumental in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I wondered how many hours might he have prayed, rallying courage to continue and wisdom to lead? I have wondered what difference believing makes for me as I am confronted with the atrocities that humans inflict upon each other. I still hold on to hope in this mystery. We are not created for evil in my opinion. We are beings of the Light, of goodness, of joy.
I walked the labyrinth; my mind focused on peace with each step I took. Tutu’s words come back to me: Without forgiveness, there is no future. Ubuntu means “My humanity is inextricably bound up in yours.” “A person is a person through other persons.” This great man assisted in building a peaceful nation. He truly lived out the ubuntu spirit.
I wonder if I can understand this great mystery of being inextricably bound to the other, to the stranger, to the poor, to the least of these, to the perpetrator and the victim. I think of the Jesuit motto of being a person for others. It is the same essence really. Our lives are not our own.
What will the rest of this trip bring? This quiet time in the labyrinth and cathedral has been a blessing.
Peace…with every step.
Standing at the Cecil Rhodes Monument, I had a stunning view of Cape Town, with the morning mist not yet burned off. The slums of Khayelitsha spread out for miles. Here was the evidence that I had read about in scholarly articles and Beverly Naidoo’s book of short stories about the devastation of the forced removals. As I stood in the beauty of this new day, I could see the scars of history, reminding me that this country was still emerging from a painful past. The present is not yet fully revisioned into reality. People still live in segregated areas, although more blacks and colours are becoming middle-class. The rider on the horse looks down on the city seemingly defiantly, almost as a reminder that the other does not belong here.
Marias led us through the history of Cecil John Rhodes, painting a picture of a sickly, yet ambitious, man. I did not know the history and legacy behind the man who left a prestigious scholarship for students. I had also not heard that the name had been changed to Mandela-Rhodes scholarship, once again showcasing the work of reconciliation that Mandela continued long after his release from prison. Rhodes’ greed and ethnocentric attitude is now balanced by Madiba’s generous spirit.
Marias went on to share his personal story which I found inspiring because it shows that one does not have to claim an identity that is handed down; one has choices. Three great Afrikaner families make up his ancestors. Rather than follow in the oppressive footsteps of his ancestors, Marius wrestled with the fact that “his” people had created apartheid. He discovered that he had to integrate different parts of his identity prior to transforming them. Marius went on to join the African National Conference (ANC) and spend his life educating people about apartheid and the freedom movement. He told a story that deeply resonated with me about coming home after a march after Chris Hani’s assassination and being confronted by a right-winged man who lived at the same dorm who began to lecture him about the dangers of black people and how he was a traitor for going to the march. His response of rage was familiar to me. He had hit the wall as an ally and I could relate to this in the work that I do in the Deaf community. We talked about it later, particularly the tension between the anger of the oppression witnessed and the sadness at reality. I think there comes a time when allies cannot be passive but must move to a place of hatred of their own kind who oppress the Other. This was valuable to hear in my own personal journey. In owning my identity regarding issues of race, language, culture, gender, sexual orientation, and the like, I can come to terms with the Other.
The message that I am taking away from Day Three of this trip is that one person’s hero can be another’s oppressor.