On referendums and supreme court rulings to bring social justice

I’ve been thinking a lot about politics lately (as you can tell) and the role that politics play in bringing social justice. We’ve been listening to More Perfect (a podcast about the US Supreme Court) and it’s been blowing my mind.

Recently we listened to a podcast about test-case trials. In cases where people feel the law is unjust, or needs to be challenged or reinterpreted, but there’s no way to get that through the normal political process (like the State representatives voting on it), Civil Right’s activists find a case where an individual is being treated unfairly under the law, and take the issue to court.  Continue reading

Some facts about the stuff in the world

I’m going to be sharing what I’ve learned about God’s view of stuff from this book I’ve been reading, but first I want to lay some ground work so we’re all talking about the same thing. Before we start talking about God’s view of stuff, it is helpful to get some facts about all the stuff in the world. So, here it goes:

The stuff in the world is not shared equally, in fact, it is shared WAY less equally than we think it is:

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Nation Building: Our country, not “this country”

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO SAY.jpgI’ve been out of the loop on the #Zumamustfall campaigns that spread across South Africa at the end of last year calling for the removal of our corrupt president (protestors are pointing to things like Nkandla, the mansion Zuma built with tax payer money- protest chant is simply “Pay back the money!”) I’ve been out of the loop because I’m in America, and I’ve been out of the loop because the articles that my black South African friends are sharing on social media aren’t super supportive of the movement. Yes, many South Africans across racial lines want Zuma to be held accountable, agree that the ANC is becoming complacent with their power–using it for themselves (the few) rather than to benefit the many. But the biggest critique I’m hearing is that these protests are springing up because Zuma sacked the finance minister and that put the Rand in a downward spiral and the best way to get white South Africa to turn out to protest is mess with the economy. When poor people are out there protesting about the rising cost of food, but the Rand has stabilized, will white South Africa still be there? Continue reading

Conversations on Privilege with Brett “fish” Anderson part 2

Conversations on privilege

Today we’re continuing this conversation on privilege with Brett! Check over here for part 1.

How do you feel about the idea of privilege now? 

i find it so frustrating seeing people who don’t ‘get’ it. Partly because i feel like i have to some extent ‘got’ it for a while now and been talking and writing and engaging with it for so long and so it always surprises me when i come across people who react so negatively to the idea of it. i completely believe that for the most part people have a wrong understanding of the concept of white privilege when they get so defencive. Feel bad for being white is the message they hear. White guilt is another one. You are bad because you have this white privilege thing is another.

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On Suffering, sovereignty, AIDS orphans, anxiety, giving thanks and all that

Instead, I think sovereignty is the promise that it will all be healed in the end. Sovereignty means that all will be held.

I still remember reading Ann Voskamp’s book Ten Thousand Gifts for the first time in college. I fell into her poetic style and devoured it. Her practice of finding God and finding gratitude in every day as a way to battle back her anxiety came at a time when I was making war with my own anxiety, and wondering how to get through each day. There is so much good in that book. But there was an underlying idea that the whole book rests on that didn’t rest easy with me. It was this idea in the air-tight sovereignty of God; that a child getting run over by a tractor is just as much God’s will as sunshine slanting off a wet wheelbarrow, and while we begin by giving thanks in all things, we grow to give thanks for all things, because God works them for good.

Her book is about contentment. She has anxiety, she’s trying to get away from her impulse to control and run the world, and instead lean in to surrender and trust. I get that. But is it God’s will for Ann’s friend to die of cancer, leaving behind several children? Is it God’s will for famine and earthquakes and drunk driving accidents? Can you just “lean in” to that and accept it? Ann comes to the conclusion—yes. Because for her, the other option is too horrible: that God is not in control, that this world is spinning out in chaos, that these are all random acts of suffering, that we’re at the whim of chance and evil. If God is not in control, then we are lost.

The problem of pain and the sovereignty of God is one I’ve always struggled with (who hasn’t?!) and when I read this book I had the vague notion that if this is the way the whole thing works, maybe I’m just to spiritually immature to handle God’s sovereignty and suffering.Because I didn’t like this perspective one bit.

I remember senior year, hanging behind in my Contemporary Christian belief class to talk to my professor about it. We were probably talking about freewill in class (because, you know, that’s what every philosophical conversation circles back to on Christian college campuses) and I asked him about Ten Thousand Gifts, and the idea that God’s behind cancer and tractor accidents. He said the problem with strict Calvinistic thinking is that people get trapped in their own logic, and can’t embrace paradox. And that God could still be sovereign and also not be behind cancer. That God could be in control and be against suffering just as much as I am.

Later that semester I went to a Christian writing conference and I heard Ann speak. Hearing her speak gave me so much more sympathy for her as a person. Sometimes you read someone’s writing, and you think they’re on a higher spiritual plane than you, and they’ve got it all figured out and are judging you from on-high. (Ahem, Jim Eliott). Seeing her in person made me realize: she’s not kidding when she says she’s literally clinging to these gratitude lists every day to keep her sane. She gives you the feeling she’s at peace and quiet, but only because she is bravely clinging to God as a lifeline.

There was a time for questions, so I asked her something along the lines of:

“If all things, even the bad things, come from God, why pray? Why ask him to change circumstances, and why bother to act and change circumstances ourselves if we’re just meant to sit in them and be thankful? What about the earthquake in Haiti, or children infected with HIV from their parents?”

She said prayer is surrendering our will to God’s, and letting him make us into people who go out and help the broken in the world. That’s true. And she did seem to say we should act to end suffering (heck, she has been the one pushing action on the refugee crisis and other amazing social justice campaigns). But, I still feel like she didn’t answer my question.

Because if we’re taking this thing to it’s logical conclusion, the conclusion where we give thanks for tractor accidents and friends dying of cancer, why not give thanks for HIV, and why do anything to change it? 

And then I went to work with iThemba in South Africa, and the questions just got bigger. When you hear stories of preschool children being raped, of orphans living with negligent grandparents who won’t give them their ARV’s and so they end up dying, of children abandoned in hospitals, of fathers who are alcoholics… I can’t give thanks in this, let alone for this.

And I don’t think God wants me to, either.

One reason why I love reading is because it’ s a way to find community. You know you’re not insane, because someone else as had the same thoughts as you. I’m reading Sarah Bessey’s new book ,Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith, and I got to the chapter called “Obey the Sadness: on lament and grief” and I read these words:

Sovereignty is a promise, not a threat. I no longer think of God’s sovereignty as what theologians call a “blueprint” plan for humanity. I can’t say things like, ‘Well, God ordained you to be poor.” Or, “God ordained for your baby to die.” I know that some people find comfort in believing that God’s sovereignty, his plan for all things, is behind their suffering and grief. It gives meaning to our grief, I get that. But I don’t think it’s true. In fact, I think it’s a crappy thing to say and a crappy thing to believe about God. God’s sovereignty is not an excuse or a reason for the bad things that happen in our lives: God is light and there is no darkness to him. No one will ever convince me that God made my babies die or that God killed our friend with cancer or that a hurricane is an act of God as punishment for sin. Instead, I think sovereignty is the promise that it will all be healed in the end. Sovereignty means that all will be held. That God is at work to bring redemption and reconciliation, that somehow at the end of all things, we don’t escape from the goodness that pursues us, the life we are promised, the love that redeems.”

I’m going to lean in to the paradox that God is in control of everything, and that he is grieved and angry about the suffering in the world. I think God wants us to make war against suffering and darkness and pain and sadness. If he was willing to send his own son to bring about our reconciliation, if he is making war against this darkness, then I don’t have to sit back and accept it.

People, this is quote just a snippet of all the goodness in the book! It will give you SO much to think about, and SO much to be comforted by– but you’ll have to buy the book Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith to read the rest. It comes out in stores on November 3rd, but you can pre-order it on Amazon now.


(And let it be known I love Ann Voskamp still, and get so much from her writing and blog, and it is probably that she’s not even saying things I think she’s saying it’s just all my interpretation etc all that ).

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The Weird and Wonderful of the Interwebs this week

I have a couple of guest posters coming up who are going to be sharing about hospitality. But in the mean time… there’s just too much stuff I’m reading these days to keep to myself. So welcome to the weird and wonderful of the interwebs:

The American Race clicks:

Race Bias in Photography: There was this 5 minute video on film processing that was sent to me by a photographer friend. Did you know that the chemical processes used to develop color film were created in order to make white people skin tones look good but just made black people skin tones look one, pretty uniform dark brown? The color-tests they were using to check their processes were of a white person (another example of how white = “normal”, but actually white isn’t normal). And they only started correcting this in the 1970’s when chocolate companies and wood furniture companies complained that the photographs of their products weren’t looking that good? WHAT?!

If you’re confused about Black Lives Matter, and think that it’s exclusive, or leaving people out, and that maybe we should talk about #AllLivesMatter, this article does a really good job explaining why Black Lives Matter is important. AND, how as Christians, when we say things like #AllLivesMatter we’re hurting our brothers and sisters in Christ, not helping.

“What, on the surface, “All Lives Matter” attempts to communicate – that is, we all matter, we all have value, we are all of the same race, all human, all the same color on the inside – actually accomplishes the opposite. Instead of bringing ALL lives together, “All Lives Matter” is, in essence, attempting to erase the experience of the black community. In saying all lives matter, you are choosing to ignore the lives that are not being valued now.”

-Lindsay Wallace, “Light Breaks Forth” blog. “Things Christians Probably Shouldn’t Say: All Lives Matter.  

And then there was finally an amazing speech by someone in government about the major issues that the #BlackLivesMatter movement is seeking to address. Yay to Elizabeth Warren for talking about broad policing reform to protect both police and the people they are interacting with. If you’re interested in signing a petition calling for some of these concrete reforms to our policing and criminal justice system, check out the Black Lives Matter movement website.

“We’ve seen sickening videos of unarmed, black Americans cut down by bullets, choked to death while gasping for air — their lives ended by those who are sworn to protect them. Peaceful, unarmed protesters have been beaten. Journalists have been jailed. And, in some cities, white vigilantes with weapons freely walk the streets,” Warren said. “And it’s not just about law enforcement either. Just look to the terrorism this summer at Emanuel AME Church [in Charleston, S.C.]. We must be honest: 50 years after John Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out, violence against African Americans has not disappeared.” – Elizabeth Warren in the article by the Washington Post

The South African Race Clicks: 

On the #IamStellenbosch campaign fail. In response to some of the recent protests and calls for certain symbols of colonial oppression to be removed (as well as calling for a more Afrocentric syllabus, among other things), one university tried to start a campaign to promote unity and break down stereotypes. Students were supposed to hold pieces of paper sharing a fact about themselves that broke a racial stereotype. Great idea? Except… not. This article explains why. It’s full of a lot of big words like hegemony, sooo, it might not be your cup of tea. But the title of the article sums it up well: #IamStellenbosch: Non-racialism, and feigning a perfect society. Basically, the author argues that this campaign is silencing the actual inequalities that still exist, and the ignoring the fact that race still has “currency” in South Africa– it does matter in our interactions, in who are friends are, where we live, in our syllabuses, when we look for jobs, or spend our money, or get pulled over by the police. And when we argue for color-blindness and enforce a narrative that “race doesn’t matter”– we’re just conveniently propping up the white (rich/capitalist/whatever you want to call it) status quo.

Oh wait– silencing? That sounds a lot like the #AllLivesMatter stuff that’s going around in the states. See– connections!! And plenty of food for thought.

“The #IAmStellenbosch campaign is microcosmic mimicry of the reckless, offensive and violent way which the Rainbow Nation project attempted to feign a perfect society.”

““Non-racialism” is the new magic cloak whiteness wears to disguise itself.”

Also, I LOVED this post on how we celebrate Heritage Day in South Africa by Peter Ruddock over at Vapours in the Wind. He argues Heritage Day should be a time of introspection and embracing all parts of our heritage and past: the messy parts, the privileged parts and the painful parts.

“Now there is something wonderfully communal and unifying about the braai, and traditional outfits reflect something important about culture, so I do not object to them per se. But I remain concerned that by celebrating only in these ways, we have reduced entire cultures to costumes and what it means to be South African to a spicy sausage.”

The South African and American Race Clicks Collide!

And THEN I read THIS article, shared by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, which was talking about the removal of Confederate symbols in the USA (in this instance, he’s talking about Memphis, but with all of the #takedownthatflag stuff going on, it relates to Confederate symbols anywhere). The author compared it with the #RhodesMustFall campaigns on university campuses in South Africa. I like that he highlights the need to think about the meaning of these symbols and be willing to listen to people and wrestle through the issues. However, he slightly touches on, but doesn’t delve into the idea that it’s easy to make a symbolic gesture and say the past was unjust… it’s a little harder to make changes that affect present injustice. 

To make the process more constructive, there must be a more thorough and honest look into the past and its effects on the present.That includes acknowledging the pain caused by symbols of oppression and the disadvantages and attitudes that linger from that era. Dismissals of the relevance and legitimacy of that pain with statements like “let’s move on” or “you can’t change history” only make productive dialogue more difficult.

“Rhodes Must Fall”and Memphis’ Confederate Monuments

On Social Justicey things:

I loved this article on the refugee crisis and our limits of compassion by Ebony Johanna. I mean, it’s a pretty tough article, but she sure speaks truth! Definitely worth the time to head over to her blog and read the whole thing!

Have our hearts become so hardened, our humanity so compromised that we cannot recognize that of another unless we, with our eyes, see that they are dead? I hope not. But the current reality does not allow me to imagine another scenario. We do not seem to move unless blood is spilled, we do not seem to care unless the target of our affection is not breathing. We do not care about babies until they are aborted, black lives until they are dead in the streets, the lives of women until they have no more voice, refugees until they are drowning in a sea of forgetfulness. Our compassion towards each other begins and ends in death; with such a distorted perception of care, how can any of us truly live?

And now a HAPPY one! You know I like complaining about how people are presented in a lot of community development/ international aid fundraising campaigns, right? Okay, so how cool is it that when the UN announced their new global goals for sustainable development, they made this video by Africans, for Africans, featuring African artists? Africans are a part of bringing sustainable development to Africa, this isn’t just something that people in the West dream up and then fly over to implement, despite the picture that most big-name charities present. Also, I like that they portray urban culture and technology use– two other things you don’t often see in presentations of Africa. I’m sure someone more cynical than me can find plenty of things wrong with it. But hey, as things go, it’s pretty good.

Plus, it’s a catchy song,even if it’s cheesy propaganda. 🙂

And finally. I have to share how PROUD I am of myself for successfully making Peppermint Crisp Pudding for Heritage day with only ONE of the same ingredients that the original recipe calls for. Yes. I did it.

Here’s the ingredients: whipping cream (=same), coconut biscuits I found in the Mexican aisle (instead of tennis biscuits), Andes mint pieces (instead of peppermint crisp) and the BIG one: Sweetened condensed milk (instead of caramel treat). I boiled the tin of condensed milk for 2.5 hours using these instructions, and turned it into caramel treat. It worked! Best dessert ever.


Why did I not know who Peter Kerchhoff was?

The mosaic of Peter Kerchoff at the Cathedral of the Holy Nativity in Pietermaritzburg (thanks to their Facebook page).

The mosaic of Peter Kerchhoff at the Cathedral of the Holy Nativity in Pietermaritzburg (thanks to their Facebook page).

I don’t remember how old I was when all the old street names came tumbling down, and the new, shiny street names were hammered up in their places. Or, more correctly, hung over the old ones, so that people could get used to it for a while, and still find their way.

I just remember people were grumbling. Everyone grumbled. The new names were long, and sometimes unpronounceable, and why would they change something nice and easy like “Chapel” for the long “Peter Kerchhoff”. Or “Chota Motala” and “Langalibalele” for things like “Old Greytown” or “Longmarket”. People were worried with the name changes happening all over South Africa that the old and familiar history they knew and loved–where they knew who the heroes were and who the villains were–was all being wiped out, and all that was left was a confusing jumble of unpronounceable syllables.

Even recently, when I was still home, I heard someone moan about the way the government had come in and inconsiderately changed all the names.

And then one day I learned who Peter Kerchhoff actually was, and it was like I had found a piece of my story and my place in South Africa. 

Peter Kerchhoff was a white guy. He quit his job as chief chemist for an aluminum company to turn his little back room (with his wife) into the headquarters of PACSA, (Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness). He had four kids. He had a nice life. But his Christian convictions compelled him to do something about the injustice around him. PACSA mostly campaigned and spread information about the injustice under apartheid (such as the forced removals), and today they continue to be actively involved in researching and spreading reports related to social justice issues. Kerchhoff was detained in the 1980’s, but was released. After 1994, Kerchhoff was famous for saying, ““It’s not the new South Africa, it’s the real South Africa.” And keeping the organization focused on serving those who are most marginalized in our society.

There’s a mosaic of Kerchhoff as the good Samaritan in the Anglican Cathedral in downtown Pietermartizburg.

Chapel street is home to many churches- An old Baptist, a massive Pentecostal, a Methodist. And when renaming it, our mostly black, secular government decided to name it after a white Christian guy.

When I discovered that, I started googling these people. Who the heck is Chota Motala? Oh, you know, a doctor who was pretty cool, stowed away on a ship to India to learn medicine, then came back and practiced in Pietermaritzburg as one of the first black doctors, and also advocated to end apartheid.Alan Paton, the prize-winning author and former professor at UKZN is the name of the street going past the university.

For some reason, the story of the re-naming of streets had always been presented to me as some kind of tragic debacle. Like just another thing the government had done after 1994, and confused everyone, and it was just so arbitrary. Maybe it’s just me who got that impression (maybe it was my teachers at school, who knows).

But I wish I had gone on this adventure when I was in fifth grade. Maybe they do that in school now. I hope they do. Maybe they have a unit called, “Street names and local heroes of our rainbow nation”, where they get on a school bus, and drive down all these streets and hear the stories of these heroes of every color who sacrificed and campaigned to make our country better. Because when we gave up our old heroes, our Rhodes, and our Queen Victorias and our P. W. Bothas, we weren’t sacrificing everything there ever was about our identity. We got to trade them in for better heroes. 

So, in case there’s anyone else out there like me who was super confused about that whole renaming thing: Our streets are named after AWESOME people.

Exploring white privilege: Guest Posting at Irresistibly Fish

Brett Fish has some great conversations about white privilege happening over at his blog, you should definitely check it out! One of the big things that is coming out of my research is that a key catalyst for helping white people in South Africa move from a position of apathy (or an inability to even “see” racial privilege) to being active about racial justice is other white people who challenged them to start thinking differently. Which is why what Brett is doing is awesome. So if you’re curious, skeptical, or if you are already passionate about racial justice and want to learn more, head over! (Recently on Irresistibly Fish, Nkosi shared some of his views on what white people can do to help make South Africa a more just society, sparking a great conversation. And oh, one of them was pay your domestic helper a living wage… that sound’s familiar? :D) 

As a lot of the white privilege literature and conversation comes from an American context, I shared a few ramblings about what I have noticed in the South African context– the biggest thing being our perception of loss can blind us as white people to the privilege that still exists for us in this country… but that doesn’t change the fact that we are privileged. Here’s the start,

I’m a target of crime. I have to leave the country in order to find work.  I do not have leaders in government who are my race. When I’m stopped by a cop, they most likely do not look like me. I’m not privileged, I’m a victim.” 

These are some of the sentiments that I’ve heard (explicitly or implicitly) and read as I’ve talked with people about the topic of my master’s research, which includes issues of white privilege. Peggy McIntosh wrote an article called “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” where she lists all the unrecognized benefits she has as a white person living in America. At first glance, it’s hard to tell if these benefits come from a history (and present reality) that systematically privileges white people, or if they come from being part of a racial numerical majority. (I mean, obviously she’d be able to find band-aids that match her skin colour, if the majority of people buying band-aids have white skin).

To read the rest of this article, head on over