Blessed are the peacemakers…am I really one of them?

What does this mean in a time where there is so much conflicting evidence, opinion and ways of being?

What does this mean when I see one overall picture and understand that (as much as I can anyhow) and yet when I look at some of the details and nuances of the picture know that I can’t ignore those too?

What does this mean when I understand that one man’s army/ terrorist is another’s freedom fighter?

The past 10 days we have seen escalations of rockets and strikes in Israel and Palestine.
We have heard horrific stories from people who have been able to tell them out of Baghdad, Iraq.

How quickly I forgot that wars can’t be won in social media platforms.
How quickly I forgot that posting a status doesn’t communicate anything of my position rather simply puts me at one end of the extreme or the other – and alienates discussion.

Do I think that it’s important for me to know why I think what I think and be willing to stand up for it? Yes.
Do I think that I am always wise in the way that I have positioned this? No.

A friend’s Mom who has known me since I was 12, said to me in a discussion “you and I both suffer with this desire for everything to be right and fair”. She and I have been communicating via facebook and via email in an attempt to figure things out – something I so value and appreciate. Not because we want to be right, but because we have both wanted to understand more.

This weekend I have had nights of poor sleep which have involved lying awake and praying – for Israel, for Palestine and for Iraq. Nights where I have asked God to make sense of this for me, to make sense of how people can do to others what is and has been done.

Someone posted back on something I had posted on facebook and asked for input on, that “regardless of who holds the passport, one life lost is one life too many”. I totally agree with her: This I have never disputed and ironically is very much in keeping with the Israeli position on life.

A wise man I know told me to be pro-peace, pro-people and pro-the Existence of the State of Israel, a place where Jewish people – and others – have a home, in where I position myself.

In my own reflections I have read and been sitting with Ecclesiastes 7: 18

“It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The wise man who fears God will avoid all extremes” (NIV)
Or
“It’s best to stay in touch with both sides of an issue. A person who fears God deals responsibly with all of reality, not just a piece of it” (The Message)

So what does this mean for me, in my (limited) understanding of the current, but ongoing, crisis:

• I understand the fact that Israel has rockets launched into it weekly, if not daily, from Gaza and that these go unreported and unknown for the vast majority of us. Someone I know lives in a part of Israel that has rocket alerts at the very least, once a week – he is a peace loving person, who sees value in ALL people and wants peace. He has no political agenda in sharing this information. These ongoing “rockets” have happened in one way or another since the establishment of Israel in 1948.

• I understand that to be a Palestinian means to be treated differently. I know that there are aspects of this that don’t make sense to me at all and I know that there are aspects of this that need to be addressed and looked at.

• I also know and have personally witnessed Arabs and Israelis co-existing and doing life in Israel – living, eating, shopping and studying together. I ate & shopped in Arab owned businesses which my Jewish friends took me to and where they were all known by name.

I see a piece of the picture for Israel. Israel who has heard repeatedly that they are not recognised by certain parts of the Arab world, that they need to wiped out and I see the horrible details in this picture belonging to the people of Palestine.

I have learnt this week that I feel strongly that to see one without the other is to not see the full picture:
That they are different parts of the same picture.
I have learnt that I have failed in being a peacemaker in this – and I am sorry for this.

I have learnt that it matters to me that we are not selective in the “justice via social media” that we are dispensing – that what is happening in Iraq matters just as much as what is happening in Palestine and Israel and that my frustration levels at people not acknowledging this is what has contributed to my failing in part, in the way I have responded.

I have learnt, that to quote Solomon:

“Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good” (Ecc 9:18)

Blessed are the peacemakers in our world who are weeping together, walking together, mourning together.
May I learn what it means to be one of them.

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What does a freedom fighter look like?

This morning this went through my head after I received a message from a woman that she was furious at people’s attitudes and the stuck narrative that things were better pre-94. That she had “lost it” with someone who wouldn’t respect or listen to another man (of darker colour) doing his job because “it was better before”.

Under apartheid.

You know the days when there was a blanket quota system in place: white, preferably male and um – ja….that was about it.

What kind of freedom are we talking about when we talk about freedom fighters?
– Freedom to vote?
– Freedom to speak our minds?
– Education & health care for all?
– Freedom politically?
– Freedom to be safe?
– Freedom to love who we want to?
– Freedom to worship?
– Freedom to be who we are – male/female/ pink/ purple/ worshipers/ non-worshipers?
– Freedom to know that we matter, that people matter?

I teach a course on contemporary society and all my foreign students (whether from the rest of Africa or elsewhere in the world) comment on the fact that South Africans are obsessed with certain social interactions and dynamics (like race) that aren’t a part of the general narrative in their countries of origin – this doesn’t mean the dynamic isn’t there. It just isn’t as apparent. Day to day, people in different contexts compare what was and what is and question what will be in terms of our contemporary society’s future.

Politically and economically as a broader community we are trying to work out what economic, social and political freedom really means. People like Julius Malema, Steve Hofmeyer, political parties and others are all touting what they believe needs to be, needs to happen for us to be free as a nation. Freedom fighters stereotypically are the icons that have been part of revolutions, to see broader social change come about so that we can have discussions about our leaders, about Steve and Julius on the same social media forums without fear of reprisal – other than people disagreeing or deleting you if they disagree with you.

Yet, when I think about this woman, I see a freedom fighter too. Someone who won’t be on coffee table coasters or t-shirts; someone whose name you probably won’t have heard of.

I see a woman who found ways of helping people know that they matter despite a political system that said otherwise.

I see a woman who stood up in front of a community of displaced, formerly homeless people in a refuge in the 80’s where everyone was scared of HIV/AIDS, who shared a cup with someone living with HIV to make the point that HIV wasn’t something you could catch by simply doing life with people – doing lots of other things yes, but not through sharing life things.

I see a woman who was raised and is a part of the cultural grouping associated with the oppressor – the Afrikaaner – who rants and raves and challenges people yearning back to the days of oppression. Not out of a naive space, but out of a bigger picture space of recognisning that things aren’t all great BUT….

I see a woman who has been impacted by crime directly, overseen health care for political prisoners and gangsters, who with her husband, exposed their family to racial reconciliation weekends in coloured communities pre-94 while there was an awareness that this wasn’t the norm amongst most of their peer group.

I see a woman who has watched her husband’s retirement be impacted by the change of management, whose husband exposed things in his place of work that weren’t ethical and was then “moved out” of his place of work and left with a greatly reduced income because of it and who isn’t bitter.

I see a woman in her 60’s still advocating for fair wages, for good conditions, for people to be seen and for justice for all.

I am humbled by this woman.

I am proud to call her mother.

(Today my mom lived for me Micah 6:8… I am forever grateful for the gift of my mom and dad – we are blessed)

Social Justice in my Kitchen…a South African trying to figure things out

Over the past few weeks I have spent a lot of time thinking about what does “Social Justice” look like when I am not being a social worker or community worker or an educator?

What does it look like in my personal space?

What does it look like in my home and how do I live intentionally into this space with the people immediately in my world?

Recently I had a conversation that felt like a values clash with someone who I know genuinely does value people and yet we clashed horribly on expectations of a house helper. Their philosophy was very much if it is someone’s job to clean then regardless of the dirty “mess” in the kitchen that is what they need to do. My stance was that there is mess and then there is disrespectful mess – things like a difference between leaving food scraps on the stove to be cleaned by the helper the next day vs simply ask her to wash the dinner dishes.

My reaction to this was “clash” was shock knowing this person’s stance on other issues of PEOPLE MATTER – all people. My mom raised me to believe that the unspoken messages we give to people we work with, who work for us and the way we engage with them is as important as the spoken messages, thank you’s and requests.
I spent some time last night thinking, again, what would I think or feel towards people who felt it was okay to leave dirty mess for my mom to clean; what would it be like seeing my mom walk to a taxi rank in the rain, wait for transport in the dark and always seem vulnerable to being pickpocketed or mugged.

This week I had a conversation with a friend (of colour) who should be the head cheer leader for the Eastern Cape – she can’t stop raving about how much she loves her home. I also know that this same person has been mugged & pickpocketed more than once while walking or on taxi routes; I know someone else in this area whose mom was brutally raped and murdered en route home from collecting her pension. We have prayed together, cried together and been angry together about this.

My helper, for that is what she does is help me in so many ways, approached me at the start of winter about changing work hours to avoid standing in the dark – something that I had thought about generically but hadn’t owned, and realised we need to think about this too where we can.

BUT then I come back into my own space and think about it again:in my car, in my home with someone to come and help me manage things better so that I can work on other things, I sit in a place of privilege – my mom isn’t walking to the taxi rank in the dark to clean for another family – and yes, I get its work & employment – but how do I respect and value the work of someone who helps create my home to being the nurturing space I want and experience it to be if I don’t honour the fullness of who she is (a pastor’s wife, a mother, a woman, a carer) and what she does?

This morning the woman who instils a sense of peace in my home whenever she has been here and I had a conversation about what makes her feel valued vs what doesn’t make her feel valued in people’s homes where she works. It was that simple a question – which required digging a little deeper into what type of things “do people do or not do” that make you feel respected? It was clear that there is a line between being a person coming to clean for people as opposed to being the function of picking up dirty tissues and wiping down day old food. It was apparent that respect & value, in this manner was something that wasn’t spoken but was felt and communicated.

Justice and being advocates of justice really does start in the kitchen. Unspoken messages of I respect you and honour the role you play in my home are an important of what justice means. It’s not about bags of old clothes or simply making sure that wages are living wages – it’s about ensuring that people who work in our homes are seen and honoured beyond being the arm that wipes a kitchen counter.

I don’t always get this right at all – and I am aware that this is a journey of growth and understanding and finding ways of communicating regardless of the awkwardness to figure things out – to work out how to negotiate this space. I know that it matters to me to be seen and respected and I want to make sure that people around me know that they are too.