My Habakkuk Confession

Pre-read disclaimer: My guy encouraged me to share this as he felt it might be encouraging and helpful for other people too. This is an ongoing part of my wrestling with what and where my role is in a country on a continent that I am passionate about and that I want to be a part of seeing healthy and whole. God is a part of my worldview. People matter to me too so yes this is about the state of the nation but it’s also a part of figuring out how to deal with my perceptions of things around me. You don’t have to agree with them – but please play nice if you are going to comment

It’s been a Habakkuk season
This morning I broke down and confessed to my guy that I am struggling.
Struggling with the raw hurt and anger and sometimes hate that is emerging around us.
Struggling to know how much or when to respond and when to keep quiet.
Struggling with a sense of having been silenced as a result of something that has happened that I don’t fully understand.
Struggling with the edification of someone who has committed the most vile atrocities against all people in his own country – regardless of race. People who have had homes burnt down, markets and trading areas bulldozed, been tortured and killed all in the name of ‘’restitution’’ in his own country and is now seen as a voice of truth. (This isn’t my media propaganda, this is my experience of having been there, having sat with and listened to people’s stories – across the racial divide).
Struggling to deal with the calls for action that are needed but that are leading to verbal and other violence when I still have clear memories of what it was to live through these calls in the fairly recent past – when people were tortured, simply disappeared or knowingly killed for holding opposing views, within the apartheid struggle as well as between struggle parties who disagreed with each other aka faction/ political violence, or across borders within some of our neighbouring nations where this rings true too.
Struggling with the level of blood shed that has already passed and with the levels of hurt, anger, fear and even hate becoming more and more evident in dialogues and engagements – I guess I am especially struggling with this and know that on my own, or with friends who only think like me or look like me this isn’t going to be resolved.

Then I read Habakkuk again as a reminder that none of this is new.

Habakkuk reminds us that law and order fell to pieces then too (Hab 1:1-4), that justice appeared to be a joke and that anarchy, violence and fights broke out all over the place; that the wicked appeared to have hamstrung the righteous.
Habakkuk reminds that God can work among us as he worked among the ancestors and people of before, that we can ask God to not only bring judgement but also Godly mercy (Hab 3:2)
Reminds us that the paths that God takes are older than the oldest mountains and hills (Hab 3: 6)

After confessing this to my guy, who then sat and prayed with me (&for me) and we prayed for the country, for the continent, the following vision came about and Charlie shared with an instruction that we need to write this down, so here they are:

• A picture of Africa (as a continent) beating as a heart would beat but haemorrhaging, blood gushing out; a surgeon then attempted to work on stopping the haemorrhage but to no effect, the bleed continued. After this a hand, the hand of God, moved across the continent and only then did the bleed heal, stop. Charlie reinforced the sense that we need to keep praying, we need to keep holding on to the peace and purposes that God has for us in the here and now. We need to recognise that there is much hurt, much unresolved anger and much change needed and it is all pouring out at the moment. We need to keep praying for guidance as to how to manage this space, to guide it and allow it to transform not only systems but also people’s lives in order for healing to happen.

About 10 years ago I had a dream which keeps returning every time I think about the state of our nation:
Context of the house where the dream happened: I grew up in Tokai – relatively close to Pollsmoor Prison, so lived with an awareness of protests and the political awareness that my mom instilled in us through her refusal to treat or engage with people differently based on their race. In fact, mom and dad through their networks exposed us to prayer, reconciliation and story-telling weekends in the early 90’s. Our home was open to all people always and we had missionary (local and foreign) students of all race and nationalities in our house often.

My dream: I was inside the house I grew up in and could see masses of angry black youth shouting, protesting and throwing building nails at homes in anger, shouting threats and toyi toying. These nails, despite doors and windows being closed, slid under the door lintels and landed on the tiles in our passage. In my dream I remember picking up these nails and looking at them in my hands, crying that these are meant for building up and not instilling fear or damaging or breaking down.

I am still sitting with this dream – trying to work out how and where I pick up these nails (even if they prick and hurt and result in my hands bleeding, as in the dream) to know how I am part of the building process.

I am feeling a little more hope-fuelled than I was this early this morning.
I am acknowledging and confessing that my hands and heart have been bleeding.
It has been overwhelming some days.

My prayer is simply this:
God show me where you are in the midst of this?
God show me practically where you need me to be in the midst of this?
God show me how to be a part of the healing and not the hurting?
God show me.

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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.

Structural violence, poverty and ribbon wrapped cookies (2011)

Today was a day when my heart bled more than usual. And I cry easily.  I was driving to work and had put a box of treats in that I had been given: 3 heart shaped cookies beautifully wrapped with a ribbon and 2 meringues also wrapped up – in my car simply cos I didn’t want to eat them.  I prayed and asked God to show me who to give them too.  Anyway, I had to drive a different route to the  office as the road was blocked off. This meant I stopped at a 4 way stop where I saw a guy sitting on the other side of the intersection.  My light was red, and I called him over – he was in his late 20’s with his shoulders hunched over, a tall guy, who must have been well built at a point in his life, but is now lanky and gaunt.  He charged across the intersection to me (I had lifted the box) and when I looked up at him, saw tears streaming down his cheeks.  And so much sadness and pain.  When I asked him what the tears were about, was he hungry, he just said yes, Yes.  This had me in tears as I drove off.  I had bitten into half a gingerbread man (just wanted a taste) and decided I didn’t want it and tossed it in the bin 20 minutes earlier.  I drove in tears and then decided that on all levels this was wrong.  So I stopped the car and looked for my water bottle and apple and went back to find him.  I told him that I was sorry that he, as a young man was hungry like he was, but that he also needed to know that God had seen him.  That this morning I had asked the Lord who I needed to give that food too.  It also meant I took the R 20 in my purse out and told him to go buy food.  His tears had stopped and he looked like he was a little amazed, and maybe it was more about the look on my face than anything I did. I think it was because God had seen him.  And he knew that as I told him.  I asked God to show me.  He got food, heart shaped cookies and meringues wrapped in gold ribbon.  More than that God showed him to me to give them to him.  Then I spent the rest of the day with Isaiah 58 playing over and over and over again in my head.

I have spent the rest of the day perplexed.  I stopped to put petrol in my car yesterday in Parktown North.  On checking that they had fuel was told, yes- we aren’t allowed to run out.  The people in this area need their petrol.  I am pretty sure that the people in poorer communities weren’t prioritized in the same way.  Or the trucks needing fuel to get food into the poorer communities. When I asked the attendant what that was about, he just shook his head and chuckled.  This country.  This country.  This is our country – the one we esteem with the Boks and the Proteas; who hosted the SWC 2010 and had the eyes of the world on us. We built mega –stadiums but no shelters for the homeless and seemingly no government structures in our communities to address this, other than to move them out of sight.

This is about structural violence.  The violence we can’t see physically happen, but we see physically manifest.  We see it in the men under trees in parks,  in the guys’ whose fathers never come home, in the empty eyes of the guy at the traffic light who is not 18 anymore and therefore doesn’t have a home because according to the law he is too old to be in a children’s home.  How much sadness and depression and dis-empowerment should be allowed to be held in our communities and do we actually see these guys?  Not just a group of vagrants, but a group of men with dreams and hopes once, before things went pear.  Before their lives became about survival and the streets.  It’s always easier not to see them, because then they are a group and a stat rather than something we need to respond to.

I don’t have the answers.  At the moment I just seem to have more questions.  And my heart is sore.

My question is God, what do I do with this now