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So I am forced into a holiday for a couple of days. Public servants are striking and that means that if I go to work I could be beaten up, even though I work at a private school that has nothing to do with the strike. There are threats of violence. There are tense confrontations. There are postponed cricket matches… and other more serious problems related to the education system.

Meanwhile, for the last two days, the local hospital has been virtually deserted. In spite of promises that the strike would not cause effects that constitute a direct threat to life, my mother in law and wife were on their own for most of the day trying to help a young pregnant woman through a difficult birth. I thank God that a local doctor was able to get into the hospital to perform an emergency c-section. If not, this strike may have cost the woman and her baby their young lives. From what I’ve heard, they would have formed a small part of a big statistic.

Casualties of war.

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government (except for all the others!)

We all respect the democratic rights of the workers to demostrate and strike when they feel they are being abused by their employees. This is democracy, and like any form of government, it isn’t perfect. People are dieing.

I believe in a Kingdom. Not one made up of harp-playing, cloud-squatting, “nice people”. I believe in a Kingdom which compels people to show their faith in practical ways in serving their communities. The love of Christ compels us.

I criticise the church a lot in this blog, and with good reason. We get it wrong so often. But today, in my little town, if it had not been for the church of Jesus Christ, many people would have gone hungry, or gotten infection, or died without much-needed medication, or (at very least) felt unloved and unwanted and abandoned by a society in which ubuntu seems to be a moral ethic that gets switched on and off at will.

As I walked into the maternity ward this morning, I came across a teenage boy who couldn’t figure out what the large silver thing on wheels was in front of him (it was a food trolley) and whether he should clean it or not. He had spent the last two days helping out at the hospital. He did so even though he didn’t know anybody there, he had no expertise (obviously), received no reward, and was in very real danger of violence erupting if the strikers arrived unexpectedly. Why did he and many others like him do it?

The love of Christ compels them.

Lord Jesus, help us to be more like this and less like the idiots we so often are.

It’s Good Friday, and I have been thinking about heroes.

We pick strange heroes.

How many films about the 2nd World War have you seen? I’ve seen a bunch. I loved Saving Private Ryan with Tom Hanks and that other sniper-guy who quotes from the imprecatory psalms while he’s lining up a target. Almost universally, the ‘heroes’ are British or American privates, and yet all the stats show that it was the Soviets who contributed the dead. More than half of all the Allied dead and more than twice all the Axis deaths. But they are not our heroes… because they were Soviets.

Ulysses S. Grant, celebrated general of the industrial north in their war against the pro-slavery south and later American president, once said that “within two hundred years, when America [sic] has gotten out of protectionism all that it can offer, we too will adopt free trade”. That should be the year 2075. We’ll have to wait and see whether or not the US will follow this schedule, but either way, it must be acknowledged that my hero, Mr Grant was not so much anti-slavery as he was pro-outsourcing.

I live in a little town called Piet Retief, in the Gert Sibande District of Mpumalanga. Up until yesterday I had no idea who Gert Sibande was. I think that very few white people my age do. He was known as the ‘Lion of the East’ and was instrumental in mobilizing awareness and action against the exploitation of farm workers (working essentially as slaves) living around Bethal in the 1950s. He was tried for treason in 1956 and testified passionately on behalf of the workers. Eventually he had to flee to Swaziland. I live in a district named in his honour and I didn’t even know who he was.

But I knew about President Grant – the outsourcing emancipator. We pick strange heroes.

What does it mean to be a white South African Christian living in the year 2009? For many people I know it means being tired of shame. Implied shame. Only gentlemen like Mr. Malema (ANC Youth-League leader) and his friends seem politically incorrect enough now to actually shove it in our faces, but the shame is pervasive. It lies behind every third newspaper headline. It sits in the eyes of the car-guard at the shopping center. It even pollutes our hearts while we worship in our multi-cultural churches. Shame – irrational and unfair and denied and stubborn as a wine stain on our whitewashed hearts.

I’m 27. Apartheid is an academic misadventure to me. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t my fault! Sometimes I shake my fist at God for this shame. As if it was His fault.

Remember Daniel?

I used to wonder if Daniel felt this shame as he worked the endless ours in the service of the king who had destroyed his people? Who kept him as a highly educated slave? Who had castrated him? And I wondered if he fought the shame as he walked around the city feeling the eyes of the locals on him? Jew. Eunuch. Slave. I wondered if he shook his fist at God as he knelt down to pray. God had judged his people and delivered them into the hands of the enemy. Their sins had found them out. And Daniel was paying for the sins of the fathers with his very life.

No he didn’t. Daniel poured out his life in service, not to the king of Babylon, but to the King of Heaven. He sacrificed his royal bloodline and his right to marry and have children, and his right to be angry with God on the altar of worship.

Being a white South African Christian (or any Christian for that matter) means learning to lay down the injustices of the present and the past and the future and to fix our eyes on Him. In that gaze, there is no more shame.


    (NOTE: The parallel is not to be taken out of context – I am NOT comparing the ANC or black South Africans to the Babylonians or white South Africans with the people of Israel. The parallel exists only in the way I wish to respond like Daniel to the feelings of unjust shaming that I inherit as a white South African living in 2009)

Have you ever had one of those annoying conversations where someone asks you to try to define yourself without mentioning your job, your relationships, your abilities, your interests, or your appearance? It’s hard. We tend to always identify ourselves in terms of the other – “I am a husband” (in relation to my wife), or “I am a musician” (in relation to tone-deaf people, but not so much in relation to real musicians), or “I am a Child of God” (in relation more often to those who are ‘not a child of God’ than in relation to God Himself). This desire to distinguish ourselves is virtually unavoidable, but I believe it’s damaging on many levels.

For one thing, defining identity as in relation to the other almost always leads to some form of pride and/or persecution. We need not even go into the history of slavery, colonialism, apartheid or any such tragic realities. The insidious draw of nasty national pride is something every internet-using Springbok rugby supporter understands first hand. Who has not gone into a chat room or an online poker game and said, “Hey all you wallabies, kiss my green and gold butt! Tri-nations champions 2009, woohoo!!!”?…. Well maybe that’s just me. It’s worth noting though that virtually every nation has at some stage publicly voiced that secret “truth” that ‘we’ are just better than ‘them’. Consider:

    Cecil Rhodes on the British: “The British race is sound to the core and… dry rot and dust are strangers to it”

    Thomas Babington Macaulay on the English: “[we are] the greatest and most highly civilized people that ever the world saw”

    The United States Journal 1845 on the US: “We, the American people, are the most independent, intellegent, moral, and happy people on the face of the Earth”

    Strabo on Europeans: “I must begin with Europe because it is both varied in form and admirably adapted by nature for the development of excellence in men and governments”

    South Africans at any large sporting event: “Ole, ole, ole, ole, We are the Champions, We are the Champions!”

Of course, as an English-speaking South African, I can laugh at this national sentiment a bit easier than most, feeling always a pilgrim, lost somewhere between the Isle of Wight and the Johannesburg Zoo. I can agree more easily than most with Dean W.R. Inge that “A nation is a society united by delusions about its ancestry and by common hatred of its neighbours”.

Who are we really?

Christians are citizens of another Kingdom too. And the lure of national (religious) pride there is as strong as in any other ‘nation’. We feel the same sort of ridiculous pride at Angus Buchan open-airs as we do at the Springbok rugby games. As if we had had something to do with being born South African… or being born again by His grace. In truth we have about as much right to be proud of being tall or having blue eyes. I reject this kind of identity in terms of the other. I will not sing with the Smalltown Poets: “Call me Christian”. I will not nod my head stupidly at the speakers at youth camps when they tell me “Your identity is that you are a child of God – nothing else matters”.

It’s not that I don’t value that adoption. It’s just that it can be a substitute. I spent years in the church nodding stupidly at altruisms that I didn’t understand and at the same time desperately trying to suppress the sinking feeling that I didn’t have a clue who I was. Identity is not an objective expression of relations between individuals. Identity is a subjective experience. I had just such an experience one day as I lay sobbing my eyes out and shaking my fist at God for abondoning me to my depression. I can hardly describe it in words, but I want you to understand that in one moment I was very aware of God’s nearness and love and in the next moment I was thoroughly aware of how mistaken I had been about everything in my life. I had a peace and a clarity that has never left me. I knew who I was.

And that is why I say that identity is an experience.

The Kingdom of God…
What is it?
Where is it?
When is it?

In evangelical seminary they taught us to think of the Kingdom as “here now” and “still coming” at the same time. This paradox is said to be evident in the teachings of Jesus in the gospels, and has been the source of much confusion and frustration for generations of Christians. In fact the idea of establishing the Kingdom of God on earth is not a uniquely Christian concept, but a religious concept. It is a well documented fact that wherever faith in God is strong, our human disposition for using violence to enforce what we believe will increase. This is as true today in the Church as it was for the Medieval crusaders or the zealous reformers. The forms of violence are not always as obvious, but the result is the same: a strong sense of self-righteousness in ‘believers’ and a strong sense of distrust in those outside the bounds of the Church.

All of this stems from a misunderstanding of the nature of the Kingdom of God.

“The Kingdom of God is advancing violently and the violent take it by force”. To Richard the Lionhearted this meant that the Islamic hold on Jerusalem was an assult on the Kingdom Jesus came to establish. To many charismatic worship leaders this means that aggressive ‘spiritual warfare’ through prophetic song and marching around our cities seven times is the key to ‘taking back our neighborhoods for God’. To many evangelicals who flirt with emergent ideas (a little knowledge is a dangerous thing), it means that aggressive political lobbying for social justice is the key to ‘bringing in’ the rule of God in our nations. But is this really faithful to the teachings of Jesus?

There can be no denying that in most of the Church over the last one hundred years there has been an overemphasis on the “Still to Come” aspect of the Kingdom. Bruxy Cavey writes,

“The religious fixation on salvation as an otherworldly destination allows for frustrating disconnects between this life and the next. For instance, Hindus can ignore the basic needs of the hurting lower castes while they look forward to eventually entering a state in which everyone’s needs and desires are met. Muslims teach marital fidelity and abstinence from alcohol in this life while they anticipate the heavenly rewards of multiple virginal sex partners and rivers flowing with wine in the next life. Christians fight wars in order to spread peace and may ignore the environmental issues of our planet because heaven is all that matters. But Jesus invites us to live one coherent life, starting now… Jesus raises the question: Are you living now the way you want to live forever?”

The Kingdom of God is not like earthly Kingdoms, where at least the threat of force (police) is necessary to maintain the Kingdom. The Kingdom is established in the hearts of those who follow Christ. The Kingdom has no boundaries. And violence and religious “effort” destroys the Kingdom rather than building it up. There is thus no possiblility for the seperation of means and ends in the Kingdom. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr, “Peace is not merely a distant goal we seek [or await], but a means by which we arrive at that goal”.

Thus, Jesus doesn’t require us to lobby for, or wage war for, or sing-in the Kingdom. On the contrary, it is simply by our BEING the expression of God’s rule through the way we live that we express the “now” aspect of the Kingdom, and it is simply in the way we trust God to establish His Kingdom in us ‘with ever-increasing glory’ that we express the “still coming” aspect of the Kingdom.

Let’s consider a contemporary application of this thesis: homosexual marriage rights.

A “Kingdom coming” mindset has people frantically trying to barricade their congregations and homes and televisions against this question. They are waiting for an escape, as they watch the world slowly but surely transform into Sodom and Gomorrah part 2.

As already mentioned, this isolation and escape theology is in stark contrast to the teachings of Jesus.

A “Kingdom now” ala charismatic Church sees people singing songs about God’s eternal law and prophesying God’s judgement of the Church and the nation’s sin in this regard and praying in tongues for the deliverance of those who wish to renounce their homosexuality.

A “Kingdom now” ala confused social gospel sees the Church lobbying for equal rights for homosexual couples and shaking their fists at conservative theology that values laws more than love.

None of these approaches is adequate because they see the Kingdom of God as something that we can establish in our cultures and nations and constitutions instead of something that God is establishing in the hearts of His people continuously. When we see the Kingdom this way, we focus, not on external issues of policy towards gay marriage, but on internal issues of the way that Jesus requires us to treat all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or sin inclination.

Another illustration:

Years ago, my father was conscripted into the army during the Rhodesian border wars. As was the case with many Christian men in South Africa at the time, Dad had to deal with the moral questions surrounding war. Aren’t we supposed to love our enemies, not shoot them? While there are no easy answers about “What Would Jesus Do” in the situation, and many better men than me who lived through wars disagree with my pacifist views (including C.S. Lewis), I can’t help but admire my father’s choice: he sat on the border doing guard duty… with no gun. He did not escape the war. He simply fought it according to the rules of a Higher Kingdom, in which Jesus challenges us to be the salt of the earth and a city on a hill.

This is the kind of Kingdom that Christ came to establish on earth. One in which we enter a whole new way of living where we submit to and partner with God’s loving ways at work in this fallen world, no matter what earthly Kingdom we might also belong to.

About Me

Ecstatically married to Leane. Studying Theology and Teaching. Working as a worship leader, teacher, coach, guitar teacher. Living in the Mighty City of Mkondo in the sunny province of Mpumalanga, in the blessed country of South Africa.

Favourite Thoughts – Outbox

Religion is to be defended - not by putting to death - but by dying. Not by cruelty, but by patient endurance. - Lactantius (c.304-313).
What is essential Christianity? From first to last it is scandal, the divine scandal. Every time someone risks scandal of high order there is joy in heaven. - Soren Keirkegaard.
Where there are two Christians, there are three opinions... [Actually a Jewish saying, but at least as true for Christians]

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