Latest Event Updates
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
I had a dream. Once long ago in a land far away, there lived a beautiful people. Some of the people were purple others blue, some of them were orange others crimson, and some pink and vermillion. There were also green people and yellow people, in fact people of every colour of the rainbow. They were beautiful as individuals, but when they were all together on special occasions they made a spectacular sight. Their colours blended in rich harmony as they acknowledged each other as part of a tapestry in which each was necessary, none superior, each an important part of the whole, but none insignificant on their own. They were known far and wide as the rainbow people. Unlike other nations, there were no white people or black people, for those colours are absent from the rainbow, only people of all colours, shapes, shades and sizes, like pieces in a magnificent jigsaw puzzle. Each piece was necessary to complete the picture, none more special than any other, but when each piece linked arms the picture was stunning even though while still incomplete.
Then I woke up. It had been a wonderful dream, but it was not reality on the ground, certainly not if you scratched beneath the surface. How could it be when for centuries all people saw was black and white, and when laws insisted that they should never mingle, never form a rainbow, and laws, guns and dogs were used to keep them apart. Water-canons were also used to suppress their protests and wash all the colours down the gutter. So only black and white remained to make sure that everyone knew who they were, that all that mattered was that you were white or black. From childhood we learnt we all learnt that we were not part of a rainbow. but as different as daylight and midnight, some superior others inferior, some privileged others oppressed. Most whites imbibed this belief with their mother’s milk and their father’s talk who, in turn, learnt this from their ancestors who lived over the seas and thought blacks were alien creatures inhabiting a dark continent alongside strange beasts.
Many thought that this was just how God intended it to be, that it had been like this since the foundation of the world. Some were predestined to rule and others to serve, some were intelligent and could play cricket because they were white, and others dumb and could only play soccer because they were black. Yes, everything was in black and white, like the laws written down to ensure that they remained separate and knew their place. Scholars and politicians thought long and hard how to describe this and eventually they found a word that seemed to fit. They called it “race” and insisted there was a white race and a black race, even though we know that there is only the human race made up of many cultures of all colours. So racism was born and racism ruled. In protest black became beautiful and white the colour of oppression.
But things don’t work well in black and white. It is like watching old movies where people are not only black and white, cowboys and Indians, good guys and bad, who shoot each other but never talk to each other. Just like living in a colourless world makes you ill, so racism was a disease which made society sick. People lost their humanity, and committed crimes against humanity. And even though not everyone had the disease, it affected everyone, for when some are in bondage to racism all are in bondage and end up doing hurtful things to each other. So people began to dream of and struggle for a non-racial nation, a nation made whole.
After many years, too many deaths and much suffering, enough people came to their senses and helped construct a rainbow. Their dream became reality. And they all settled down to live happily ever after. Except for one thing. They did not take into account that the racism virus, like the plague, had not been eradicated, it was only dormant waiting its chance to reappear and infect the fragile rainbow. Too little had been done to get rid of the virus; it had only been brushed under the carpet. Too few acknowledged that establishing a non-racial society could not be achieved by the stroke of pen. Human nature had to change, and that is a tough call.
So twenty years after the rainbow nation was born, and much achieved, the reality of racism cannot be ignored or denied. Its symptoms keep showing themselves, both crude and subtle, for not everyone is afflicted to the same degree. Some forms are mild like the common cold, others as violent, abusive and deadly as Ebola. Everyone knows a crude racist when they see one or hears them speak. But subtle racism is more difficult to detect, and even those who are afflicted do not always acknowledge that they have the disease, and sometimes vehemently deny it. So they are taken by surprise when someone calls them racists. “Who, me?” they ask in shock.
There is no easy cure for racism, no antibiotic. But we do know that unlike Ebola and the plague, it can’t be dealt with by isolation. Isolation only strengthens the virus. The way to overcome the disease is through contact, through discovering that people who are different are just like oneself; that we are all human beings, all of the same human race. We belong together because God has made us so and history has brought us together. It is only as we learn to respect each other so that our differences actually enrich each of us, that the virus can be contained and eventually overcome. It is a long, hard battle, because racism has perverted justice and robbed people of their land. But we have to start somewhere, and we can and must begin with ourselves. We can acknowledge that the virus is real and not deny its reality. So we have to be careful about what we say about others, about the attitudes we have, the way we act, the off-the-cuff comments we post on Facebook. This is not all that is required to build a rainbow nation, but without this we haven’t begun.
Oh, and by the way, Jesus gave us a golden rule to deal with the racism virus. Do to others what you would want them to do to you and therefore MMspeak about them in ways that you would like them to speak about you. Imagine such a world! Is it only be a dream? Or can we make it a reality?
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 21 January 2016
“Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”Luke 18:1-8
Not giving up is one of the hardest lessons of life. There have been many times over the years when I have been tempted to give up on certain projects or tasks. I know it sounds frivolous, but playing the bagpipes was one of them. Yes, I gave up and everyone in the neighbourhood rejoiced! And still today, I am tempted every Tuesday and Friday not to go to gym! Simply the thought of going is more than enough to raise some serious questions: do I really want to do this? Maybe at my age it is not a good thing to do? But, of course, going to gym is really a minor matter when I come to think about it. There are much more serious challenges that face us in life when the temptation to throw in the towel is strong, sometimes overwhelming.
The issue Jesus was talking about to his disciples, and therefore to us, in his parable of the widow and the unjust judge, was certainly not gym, but prayer and s it happens, justice as well. The opening words of the story make it clear that prayer was the subject that Jesus first wants to talk about. Don’t lose heart in trying to pray, he tells his disciples. I am quite sure that fisherman like Peter, James and John would have had no difficulty in going to the gym and pumping iron. But prayer? None of those first male disciples were pious, people to whom prayer might have come naturally. Maybe they joined in the synagogue prayers in Capernaum, but nobody would have asked Peter to lead in prayer at the weekly prayer meeting, and everybody would have been surprised if Andrew had a daily Quiet Time! So Jesus had his time cut out in helping his inner circle to learn how to pray and not lose heart. Persevere in prayer was his counsel. And that is also his counsel to us as disciples. Prayer might come naturally and easily to some, but not to all of us. But, says Jesus, don’t lose heart! And those of us who meet here on Volmoed every day for morning prayers sometimes need to be reminded of this when our prayers seem to hit the ceiling and bounce back. Don’t lose heart! The only way to learn how to pray is by persevering in prayer. As Isobel paraphrases Julian of Norwich
If you have come to God with your request
asked him again and again;
implored him over and over,
but still not received
what you asked for,
don’t be discouraged;
don’t give up.
Keep on waiting
for a better time,
or for more grace,
or for a better gift.
For God has heard you…
But Jesus’ story develops beyond prayer. The widow in the story wants justice. Maybe a corrupt official has stolen her welfare allowance. Who knows. What we do know is that the judge did not care. The widow could not afford to bribe him, so she was a nobody as far as he was concerned. As Jesus says, the judge had no respect for God or for anyone else. He was a nasty man whose judgments favoured the powerful not the poor. But the judge had not counted on the persistence of this feisty widow! She was not going to be pushed around even by a powerful judge. She wasn’t asking for favours, she just wanted justice. So she kept on banging on the judge’s door, making a real nuisance of herself.
Sometimes we have to do this as disciples of Jesus. Whether we want justice for ourselves, or we are fighting for justice on behalf of other people who have been badly treated, we have to keep on banging of the door of those in authority. This is what I like about Thuli Madonsela our former Public Protector. She refused to give up doing what had to be done for the cause of justice even though many in powerful positions tried to prevent her from doing her duty. What an example to all of us of someone who did not lose heart. And as a good Seventh Day Adventist, I bet that Madonsela didn’t give up on prayer either. She persisted in both prayer and the struggle for justice.
Well, in the end the judge gave up! That’s the truth of the matter. Prayer and having justice on your side is a potent force, and often an unbeatable combination when it comes to dealing with corrupt judges or a corrupt political system. In the end the powerful crumble before the persistent onslaught of truth telling in the interests of justice, and especially in the interests of people like Jesus’ widow who are poor and regarded as insignificant. In the end the judge, says Jesus, was worn out by her persistence and caved in. So, says Jesus:
Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you he will quickly grant justice to them!
But, yes, there is a “but” that sneaks into the story because it does not always work out as it did for the widow. Not everyone who prays for justice has his or her prayers answered even if they persevere as did the widow. Sometimes, as Julian of Norwich counsels, we simply have to go on praying and struggling for justice against all odds, even when it all seems so helpless. That is why Jesus ends the parable with a question put to all of us who would be his disciples: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” When all is said and done, will we remain faithful in prayer and the struggle for justice till the end simply because that is what the disciples of Jesus are called to do? That is a question we all have to face. That is a question the church has to face, and never so much as right at this time in the history of our country.
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 13 October 2016
“How can anyone be born after having grown old?”John 3:1-10
Many people were surprised recently when N.T. Wright, an Anglican Bishop and distinguished New Testament scholar, publicly stated that “heaven” is not a place you go to after death. When Jesus speaks about “heaven,” Wright said, he is not talking about a heavenly realm beyond the clouds populated by angels playing harps. The word “heaven” is used by Jesus as an alternative for the word “God” because that word was not meant to be uttered. Heaven is the presence of God. Where God is present there is heaven whether in this life or the next. Heaven is a reality beyond death but also a possibility on earth. As the Psalmist says God is present everywhere. (139:7)
So what does the “kingdom of heaven” or the “kingdom of God” mean? It refers not just to God’s presence, but also to God’s authority. When we obey God, the kingdom of heaven is within us or among us, in the life of the Church and the world. How we participate in God’s kingdom, how we obey God’s authority, was precisely the subject of the conversation between Jesus and the Pharisee Nicodemus which we read about this morning. Nicodemus was not asking how he could get to heaven when he died, but how he could live now as a citizen of heaven on earth; that is, how could he enter God’s kingdom.
Jesus tells him straight out that he had to be “born again,” (Authorised Version) or in other translations, “born from above.” Nicodemus was perplexed. What do you mean? He thought he knew all there was to know about God’s kingdom for he kept the Law of Moses diligently. He was also perplexed because he was old, and old people cannot change their ways, they cannot as it were enter into their mother’s womb and start life again. Jesus, who we must remember, was about 30 years old, is adamant. Nicodemus, you just don’t get it! You can’t see that God’s kingdom has come in what I am doing and saying because your mindset prevents you. I am showing you the door through which you can enter God’s kingdom but you are resisting because it requires a fundamental change of mind. You are trapped in traditions that prevent you from seeing and entering. Instead of the Law enabling you to understand God’s rule, it has become a stumbling block because you have turned the law into burdensome rules.
This was the bone of contention in all Jesus’ dealings with the Pharisees. It was not that they did not keep the commandments or were insincere in their beliefs, but they had turned keeping the Law into a burdensome legalism which prevented them from seeing the whole point of the Law, love of God and neighbour, justice, mercy and compassion even on the sabbath. That is why Nicodemus had to start again. “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15) Think of it this way. When children play together in a nursery school they don’t worry about the fact that some are white, others black, some from rich backgrounds and others poor, some foreigners and others local, some clever and others not. They simply accept one another as play mates. It is only when they grow up that they begin to be conditioned by social norms, cultural conventions and prejudices. They lose their childlike capacity to be inclusive of others just as they lose their creative imagination.
Nicodemus acknowledged that God was at work in what Jesus was doing. He was a thoughtful, wise and righteous man. But he had yet to grasp the secret of the kingdom revealed in Jesus. Namely that God’s grace fulfilled the Law, that entry into God’s kingdom was not determined by race, ethnicity, gender, class, or religion. In Jesus, God had opened up his kingdom to all who would enter. Jesus even said, “the last shall be first in the kingdom of God.” He also said that rules like those for the Sabbath could be broken if human need required it. This was the good news of the kingdom of heaven which Nicodemus had failed to grasp. So he had to go back to nursery school and start again. And the same applies to everyone, not least those of us who think they know what it means to be born again! For many “born agains” live by laws that exclude others rather than by God’s grace and love that embraces them. (See Galatians 5) So they not only fail to enter the kingdom, but also prevent others from doing so. (See Matthew 23:13-15)
During the Volmoed Youth Leadership Training Programme the “voeltjies” as we called them, kept on helping us to see things differently, not least Sam White, the African American whose booming voice so enriched our worship. Well he, and some of the others have since become active in the “Black lives matter,” movement in the US and in South Africa. Understandably some people have responded: “yes, of course, black lives matter, but then all lives matter!” That is an understandable reaction but it misses the point just as Nicodemus did. Yes, all people matter, that is fundamental. But in many contexts some matter more, and often far more than others. Blacks not whites were slaves, migratory labourers, , paid less, lynched and shot by gun-toting cops. In fact apartheid was based on the belief that white lives mattered more than black ones. That mind-set is still prevalent among many white South Africas, even those who claim to be “born again” Christians! It is called racism.
Jesus did not say that his fellow Jews did not matter; but he insisted that Samaritans matter as well, as do women, children, slaves, tax-collectors, prodigal sons, prostitutes — in fact he specifically named and included everyone that the Pharisees excluded. And that is why today we have to say that black lives matter, Palestinians matter, gay people matter, poor people matter. Like Nicodemus we have to begin to think out of the boxes into which we have been imprisoned since nursery school by convention, culture and prejudice. That is what repentance in the NT means, quite literally change your mind so that you can see things differently. We all need a change of heart so that you can live and act differently. And by God’s grace we can do that even if we are old. Otherwise we won’t get the message of the good news of God’s kingdom, God’s inclusive, saving grace which embraces us all and sets us free to love others. We all really do need to be born of the Spirit, as Jesus said.
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 13 October 2016
“One who trusts will not panic.”Isaiah 28:14-16
“First sit down and estimate the cost.”Luke 14:28-30
Given all that is happening at the universities, to say nothing about the amazing cricket win against Australia last night, you might have missed another remarkable news item. South Africa’s MeerKAT radio telescope has now released its first image showing 1,300 galaxies in the distant universe. This is far more than was previously thought to be the case, and it is only the beginning. Sometime within the next decade when the SKA or Square Kilometre Array telescope reaches completion, astronomers we will have a picture of the universe that is more immense than we could ever have imagined. This is the bigger picture within which the earth exists as a tiny blob on a distant horizon. But, of course, those of us who live on this tiny blob might well wonder what is so important about this cosmological discovery and why we should spend so much money on exploring outer space. I don’t actually know the answer to that. I simply assume we need to know all we can about the universe in which we live for some good reason..
But there are other big pictures that are of more immediate concern. I refer to education in South Africa brought into sharp focus by the #Feesmustfall protests. If education is a priority matter for the well-being of society, if there are injustices in the system that need to be dealt with, and if lives and property are at risk, then we must as Christians, be concerned, become informed, and respond. But in responding nobody should lose sight of the bigger picture. It is easy to make assumptions, form opinions on hearsay or media reports, or make unhelpful pronouncements. It is also easy to get into panic mode, take rash decisions, and act in ways that are counter-productive. The need for urgent action, and we do need urgency, is not helped by panic reaction in this matter as in life more generally. The issues are complex, and there are no short-cut easy fix solutions. So we need to get some perspective. Let me offer some thoughts that might be helpful.
Firstly the basic demand of the students for a free education for the poor in South Africa is right. This is the corner stone of their protest and we must not lose sight of it amid all the other stuff that is going on. It is central to the bigger picture. But this requires that the government re-think its spending priorities, not at the expense of health, housing and other basic needs, but by cutting back on projects that are sucking our economy dry and dealing more energetically with corruption. Government funding of tertiary education is woefully inadequate. But we also have to ensure that those who attend university have received a quality school education that equips them to succeed. Those in authority certainly to sit down and count the cost involved in funding free education, but they also have to count the cost of not doing so. So the battle on the campuses is part of a political struggle about what the government does with our taxes. Of course, there are other political agendas at play in the protests. The fight being waged in parliament, between the EFF and ANC, is the back story to much that is happening on the campuses.
Secondly, non-violent protest is a constitutional right. Students have a right to engage in protest on the campuses, and they can do so as energetically they see the need. Students have done this through the ages, and have done so in South Africa many times before now. And often their causes have been just and proved right in the end. But acts of violence are illegal and counter-productive. None of us, and I think the vast majority of protesting students and their leaders, do not want to destroy buildings and the rest. They know that these belong to them and future generations. But in the bigger picture, violent action is indicative of the pent-up anger and frustration among many back students even if, and we have no way of knowing, there might be some criminal elements among them. It is true that the law must take its course to prevent anarchy. But excessive police force and even brutality is a sign of panic and bad training, and only makes things worse. In the bigger picture negotiation is the key, however difficult that is. You can be sure that every effort is being made to do this. I know personally know some of those involved. They need our prayers and support.
Thirdly, it is vital that the universities get back on track as soon as possible, but also in doing so that they put in place mechanisms that will deal adequately and as speedily as possible with the grievances of the protesting students. University administrators know this and they are doing everything humanly possible to make it happen. They know only too well that, we cannot afford preventing doctors, educators, scientists, and others that society so desperately needs, from graduating this year. They are desperately needed. But we also know that it is equally important that all who qualify to become university students and therefore future leaders in society, should have the opportunity to achieve their potential. It is not just this year’s students that matter; it is this and the coming generation that matter as well. Solutions to the current situation must be long-term. That is why we have to count the cost of funding education and not make rash decision, but we also have to count the cost of not doing so adequately.
I have not said everything that needs to be said, or everything that I would like to say, but I I ask you to take to heart the words of the prophet Isaiah: “One who trusts will not panic!” If we really believe that God is at work in the struggles for justice for the poor; if we really believe in the integrity of those who are giving everything of their time and energy and skill to deal with the problems in ways that will bring healing; if we really do believe that times of crisis are also times of God-given opportunity in which transformation and renewal can take place, then we will not panic. But we will certainly pray and seek to do what is right where we can, and do so with urgency. We will also do everything we can to ensure that the present and the coming generations of young people can achieve their potential. That is why Volmoed is committed to the Volmoed Youth Leadership Training Programme and supportive of the Sparklekids initiative. All this is part of the bigger picture of which we are a part. It may only be but a small part of the bigger picture of our ever expanding universe, but it is our part. “One who trusts will not panic.” That is the Word of God!
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 6 October 2016
“You know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” II Corinthians 8:8-15
“In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,” Ephesians 2:11-12
This week the International Court of Justice found an Islamist militant leader guilty of war crimes for the destruction of historical sites in the ancient city of Timbuktu. This, the first time that the Court had prosecuted someone for the destruction of a world renowned heritage site, highlights the significance of heritage, something we celebrated on our own Heritage Day last week. So three cheers for Heritage Day, as long as it does not become a source of division instead of mutual enrichment. But there is another aspect of heritage that is equally important: inheritance, for heritage is not just about culture but everything we inherit from the past. Unlike cultural heritage, inheritance is more personal, a sensitive subject usually only discussed within the family circle or behind closed doors in lawyers offices. Families can fall apart when, at the reading of a will, the inheritance is not what was expected by those who have been excluded or received less than they thought their due.
Isobel and I attended the Hermanus Supper Club on Monday evening at Duchies Restaurant. The Club is a great an attempt to bridge the divide between the white and black communities in Hermanus. I sat next to someone from Zwelihle who is one of a growing number of professionals in the township. He was telling me about his difficulties in trying to get reasonable housing despite earning a good salary. He simply did not have enough capital to raise a loan, and of course, he had no inheritance to help him out. The truth id, the vast majority of people in South Africa and probably world-wide do not inherit much if any material wealth. If you do, it gives you a kick start in life, but if not you are at a great disadvantage. In fact it is one reason why the poor get poorer, the rich, richer, and the middle class get stuck somewhere in between — not poor enough to get welfare grants and RDP housing, not wealthy enough to get loans to buy a house. No wonder there is so much anger among students whose parents cannot afford to pay their university fees and who fear that if they take loans they will get into such debt that they will never be able to get out of it again. This is a universal problem facing stidents, not least in Britain and the United States.
Of course, inheritance is not just about money or property, it is also about less tangible matters. You can inherit a great deal of money but very little else by way of true values, love, and happiness. In this respect those who are poor are often richer than the rich. Many people can testify that while their parents were not wealthy, they left them a legacy far more important than what money can buy. Some financial inheritance would undoubtedly have helped, but being loved was of more lasting value. While love does not help you buy a house or pay your fees, when we think of what our children or grandchildren might inherit we would do well to think as much if not more about our moral and spiritual legacies as we do about money. Those who inherit material wealth are by no means better people as a result. Of course, none of implies that those who are wealthy have a right to keep the poor in their place by piously saying: “seeing you are spiritually rich you really are better off than we who are materially, so stop demanding more — your reward in heaven will be greater than ours!” This was not Jesus’ teaching. “From those who have much,” he insisted, “much will be required.” Sharing wealth is not charity, it is justice. A true commonwealth is a just society, not a political organisation for former British colonies.
The first Christians were generally poor, many of them peasants and much that Jesus taught highlighted this fact. “Blessed are you, you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20) The church back then was a commonwealth. But as it expanded it included people who were more wealthy than others. This wealth disparity soon became a problem, as in the church in Corinth. That is why Paul challenged the more wealthy to give generously to support the poor, prefacing his challenge by saying “You know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” He went on to say: “if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has — not according to what one does not have.” Like the Corinthians we can tax ourselves, we don’t to wait for the Receiver of Revenue to do it for us! And while we are doing so we should also consider what we are leaving behind for those who have worked for us over the years, and for those causes and institutions that are committed to serving the common good.
But what about our spiritual inheritance and wealth? When Paul, or whoever wrote the letter to the church in Ephesus, told them that “in Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,” (1:11) he was not preaching a “prosperity gospel.” Becoming a Christian did not mean becoming materially wealthy. The inheritance Paul had in mind was and remains “the immeasurable riches of God’s grace.” (Ephesians 2:7): forgiveness, healing, salvation, abundant life. This is the imperishable inheritance that we received in Christ. We have, says Paul, been made heirs of God’s kingdom, “co-heirs with Christ” in knowing God (Rom. 8:17).
So we should not only be asking ourselves about what material goods we might leave to the next generation, to those who have served us well, and those organisations and institutions that are committed to serving others, but will be our moral and spiritual legacy. What values are we handing on? And what about the inheritance we have in Christ — our knowledge of the love and grace of God, the importance of forgiveness and the need to embrace the stranger, of justice, mercy and compassion? This must surely be part of the heritage we pass on for the next generation to celebrate. Not to do so, would surely be a crime against humanity.
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 29 September 2016
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability?… How is it that we hear, each of us in our own native language?” Acts 2:1-8
The story of the Tower of Babel Genesis 11:1-9)was often misused during our apartheid years to justify the separation of people from each other. The argument was that God punished our primordial ancestors for trying to build a united nation to which all people belonged. And God did so by confusing their language. This, it was said, was why there are different cultures each with their own language. This was God’s doing, and God, they declared, intends people of different tongues to develop separately. It was all bad theology and distorted logic based on a misreading of the Babel saga. It was also a very bad understanding of the amazing history of how languages actually originated and developed over the millennia of human history. That story as any philologist will tell you, is truly remarkable. Today there is not a corner of the world without a language, grammar and vast vocabulary shaped by context and experience.
Language is the basis of human well-being and social life, of knowledge and science, and the way we share information and wisdom. Language links us to our ancestors and introduces us to our descendants. And the birth of language in all its splendid variety is repeated with the birth of every human being in every culture. Our lives may begin with grunts, but unless there is a speech impediment we soon begin to speak the language in which we are nurtured We find our voice. And in doing so we discover something fundamental about being human. We are created in the image of God by whose Word the world came into being. Being human is not being a parrot. In order to become truly ourselves, more truly who God wants us to be, we have to discover our own voice and learn to listen to the voice of others. So with our own words we establish relationships, name animals, flowers and mountains, we share the peace, bring healing, express love speak truth to power and spread the good news.
Some languages have become international through conquest and trade. As a result English-speakers have an enormous advantage and often forget how difficult it is for non-English speakers to be educated in English. But millions have successfully done so leaving us who are English-speakers also at a disadvantage. While others have learnt English we have not felt the need or to learn theirs. We can speak in our own tongue, but we cannot understand those who speak differently. Worse still, we sometimes think we are somehow superior and have the right to speak on behalf of those who can’t speak English properly. Like children struggling to express themselves, the voiceless, we say, need our voice. We forget that they actually want and need to speak for themselves. They also fear that we will put words into their mouths to ensure that they say the right thing, the words we want to hear. Parents often do this on behalf of their children; husbands and wives on behalf of their spouses. We forget that unless children find their own voices they do not grow up, and unless spouses listen to each other and allow each other to speak for him or herself, their relationships will remain superficial. Learning the art of mutual listening to each other’s voice and speaking in one’s own, is fundamental to any worthwhile relationship.
Part of what is happening today in our universities is that students are finding their own voice. as they do in every generation, but they don’t think they are being heard. As always, the issues are complex but I think the students are right in their demand for free education; I also think that this demand might be met if the government dealt with corruption and the misuse of tax-payers money. What if the 6 billion Rand bail-out for SAA could have been used to meet the fees crisis? Students are rightly tired of an older generation that does that kind of thing telling them that they know what is best for them. They want to speak their own mind in their own voice. And when they do, they want others to listen to what they are saying even if others may disagree. There is no solution to the conflict that has erupted without all sides learning to listen to the voice of the other, and learning to speak to the other in ways that foster understanding and trust.
If the Tower of Babel is a mythical attempt to explain the origin of diverse languages, the story of Pentecost marks the beginning of a new movement in history to promote understanding across language difference and so build community. That we should each understand one another even though we speak in different tongues is part of the reason why the church exists. The church is not meant to be culturally uniform but pluriform; the church is not meant to sing in one language but with one voice; the church is not meant to be the church of one nation or tribe, but the church for all nations. The church is meant to be the new humanity in which everyone can speak and be heard in his or her own tongue in ways that build relationships and community. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. And when the church listens to the Spirit it becomes part of the solution to human conflict instead of being, as it too often is, part of the problem.
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 22 September
“My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns, that can hold no water.”Jeremiah 2:10-13
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give them will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” John 4:1- 15
As the rain pelted down early last Friday morning, waking me up from sleep, I suddenly thought about some of the new names given to churches in Hermanus, among them Living Waters and, simply, Rain. In the past local churches have usually been named after saints, like St. Peter’s, or according to the denomination to which they are affiliated., such as Mowbray Presbyterian, Rosebank Methodist, or the Dutch Reformed Church in Hermanus. Nonconformist churches sometimes have chosen names from the Old Testament like Bethel, which means the House of God, or Bethesda, the House of Mercy. But there has been an explosion of new trendy names in recent times. One is In Via, “on the way,” in Stellenbosch, another is Renaissance in Pretoria, and next month I will be preaching at Mosaic in Randburg. Then there are those on our own doorstep like Rain, Living Waters and Live the Life.
There is something attractive about these new church names. They tell us something about what the church is meant to be rather than its institutional connections and form of government, however important that might be. I guess we are all glad that this place is called Volmoed, “full of courage and hope” rather than after our friend Fr. Roger Hickley’s favourite saint, St. Agapanthus. In a time when denominational affiliations and loyalties are no longer as strong as they once were or are non-existent, I can understand why some people searching for a life-giving faith after a period of spiritual drought might find Rain more appealing than going to Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, and Living Water more attractive than Ebenezer Tabernacle. Certainly as the rain woke me up last Friday, it was living water that came to mind and set me thinking about such things. We all thirst for living water, but I guess that in the end it does not matter much what label is on the bottle as long as it contains the water of life..
The metaphor “living water” comes from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. The people of Israel, he says, have “committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns, that can hold no water.” Broken cisterns were a serious matter in the Middle East as it is today, especially in times of drought. We at Volmoed know all about the dire consequences that follow the drying up of the spring of clean water that has gushed out of the rocks up the mountainside for as long as anyone can recall. Virtually every day we have to check our water supply, make sure that it is clean and sufficient for ourselves and our guests. You can live a few days without food, but you cannot live without fresh water. You can get away with second class meat, but not water from stagnant pools or polluted rivers. Only pure, living water sustains life.
So living water is a powerful biblical metaphor. The prophet Isaiah describes people joyfully drawing “water from the wells of salvation.” (Isaiah 12:3) Wells that go deep into holy ground, and never run dry. Ezekiel speaks about the living water that will flow out of Jerusalem when the Messiah comes. John has all this in mind when he tells us about Jesus and the woman at the well, or when he describes Jesus standing outside the Temple and inviting all who are thirsty to come to him and drink.( John 7:37-9) The water that Jesus offers is the gift of the Spirit, the water of eternal life.
Eternal life is not simply life that goes on forever, it is a spirituality that quenches our deepest thirst. The contrast is that between death-producing polluted water, and the crystal clear spring water that is life-giving and sustaining. Between the law which kills and the Spirit which gives life. It is the difference between the religiosity of hate and exclusion, and the Spirit who sets us free to be responsible, committed to justice and love for others; a religion that is self-centred and a religion of the Spirit who evokes compassion; religion that dehumanizes and the Spirit who makes us truly human; religion that tries to take possession of God’s name for dubious purposes, and God the Holy Spirit who takes possession of us in order to give us life. Like stagnant water that kills the body, bad religion kills the soul; like fresh water bubbling forth from the spring of eternal life, the Spirit renews and energizes the soul.
As global warming increases and droughts become more frequent, we can anticipate that clean water will become even more a cause of strife than oil. We will all have to learn not only how to save water but also how to share water. Clean, pure, life-giving water is becoming a precious commodity that has to be treasured, but also shared with others especially those who are thirsty. And this is true of the living water of life that Jesus gives us; it is not provided for us to bathe our souls in; it is meant to be shared with others. Just as Volmoed depends on being able to provide clean drinkable water for our guests, so Volmoed like the church more generally exists to share the living water of the Spirit with all who are thirsty for abundant life. Water is not ours to possess simply to quench our own thirst, dammed up in the church, kept clean and pure for private use. The water of life is poured out for all. So in the end it does not matter whether your church is named after St. Agapanthus or simply called Rain, Bethesda or Mosaic. What matters is whether a church gives us access to the well-spring of the Spirit of Jesus. “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, let the one who believes in me drink…Out of the believers heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-39)
O God, the well-spring of our lives, pour into our hearts the living water of your grace, that refreshed by you we may live this day in steadfast reliance on your strength, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 15 September 2016
“How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.”Luke 18:18-27
In a world of great poverty, in a country dramatically divided between those who have so much and those who have very little, Jesus’ words come as a sobering reminder to those of us who are comparatively well-off, that our money and possessions can prevent us from being part of God’s kingdom. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” says Jesus, and he not only had the “filthy rich” in mind. No wonder that those who heard these words said “Then who can be saved?” Is it only those who turn their backs on the world, take a vow of poverty and join a monastery? Can we continue to live in a complex world with all its inevitable compromises, and still be saved?
Not far from Stockbridge in western Massachusetts, where Isobel and I have spent some time, is the old Shaker village of Hancock. The Shakers were a small Christian sect founded in England in the 18th century that believed Jesus was going to return within their own life time. So they sold up everything, got rid of worldly possessions, formed communities of mutual support, and waited for Jesus. Persecution forced many of them to seek refuge in the United States where they became well-known for their handcraft, the way in which they danced during worship, and the songs they sang as they did so It was one of these that prompted this meditation. I woke up last Friday with the words “it’s a gift to be simple” running through my brain! They come from what is probably the best known Shaker song:
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
There is something attractive about the idea of living simply unless, of course, you happen to be poor and have no option but to live simply. But living simply is an enormous challenge for all of us who live in our modern day complex world shaped by market forces and new technologies. The moment you get a bank account, smart-phone or computer, whatever innocence you might have previously imagined you had, flies out of the widow along with your e-mails, Facebook entries, and much of your cash.
I asked Isobel what she thought “living simply” meant. In response she wrote a long poem, far too long to repeat here (but see below). Each stanza begins with a question seeking further clarification: does living simply mean living uncomplicated lives, or uncluttered, or living in a less complex world. or being simple or single-minded? And, she ends: “Can we really live simply without a drastic life-style change…without giving away everything” and joining a monastery? And we might add, can it be done without the restructuring of the South African and global economies that are built on inequality and kept going by us acquiring more and more stuff that we don’t really need? And yet, can we now live without upgrading our cell phones and computers, and the money and bank accounts we need to service them? The examples are endless. We seemed to be trapped in complexity. Who then can be saved?
In his book The Freedom of Simplicity Richard Foster provides an important perspective. “Christian simplicity,” he says “lives in harmony with the ordered complexity of life. It repudiates easy, dogmatic answers to tough, intricate problems. In fact, it is this grace that frees us sufficiently to appreciate and respond to the complex issues of contemporary society.” In other words, living more simply does not mean escaping the complexities of life but learning to cast off what is not important in responding to them. This is the work of grace enabling us to seek first God’s kingdom as we struggle to live responsibly amid the complexities of modern life and respond, for example, to the environmental crisis facing us.
The gift of simplicity is not cheap grace, but the grace of discipleship. Brother Roger, the founder of Taizé, provides a clue to what this means in the Rule he wrote for his community: “Your availability implies continual simplification of your existence, not by constraint, but by faith.” Continual simplification, not because we are commanded to simplify, but to make us more available for others. To live more simply then means following Jesus in becoming and being more available for others irrespective of how complex our lives may be. It is not just a matter of shedding stuff we don’t need, it is about what we do with what we have, and how we relate to others, especially those in need.
Yet it never fails to amaze me how it is often those who are poor who are the most generous. Jesus reminds us of this in his story of the widow’s mite. Most of those who put money in the Temple treasury box, Jesus says, “contributed out of their abundance,” but the widow, “out of her poverty has put in everything she had.” (Mark 12:41-44) Which brings to mind what Jesus also said: “To whom much is given, much will be required.” (Lk. 12:48) This does not only refer to money, but to all other gifts, skills and talents, time and resources, education and friendship, solidarity in the struggle for justice, caring and compassionate living. And the paradox is not only that the more we share the more we receive, but the more we become free. That old Shaker songwriter knew this to be true. For the gift to be simple was at the same time the gift to be free,. But not just free in ourselves, or free from the cares of the world, but free to be responsible, free to be for others, in a complex world..
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 8 September 2016