Category: Religion


Vertaal vanaf Ash Wednesday (Jim Burklo)

Op my voorkop

‘n Teken van die kruis

Gesmeer in as vanuit die vuur

Wat my hubris-paleis afgebrand het

 

En, saam met dit,

Die geld wat ek weg moes gee,

Die TV wat ek as sintuigverdower gebruik het,

Die tapyt waarop ek veronderstel was

om op te verskyn,

Die deure wat ek vir veronderstel was

om vir ander oop te maak,

Die koeverte wat ek veronderstel was

om vir liefdesbriewe te gebruik

Die wyse boeke wat ek so oop en bloot uitstal,

om die illusie te skep dat ek dit gelees het,

Die lee spasies in my fotoalbums,

waar my donkerder, swaarder, seerder oomblikke onthou moes word,

Die kalenders waar besoeke aan die wat dit die meeste nodig gehad het,

geskeduleer moes word,

Die rusbank van my verlamende oorgerustheid,

Die gemakstoel van my luiheid,

Die hemde wat ek volgestop het met my eie trots,

Die skoene wat ek met ander moes ruil,

sodat ons gereisde myle kon deel.

Op my voorkop

‘n Teken van die kruispad,

Waar ek kan wegdraai van die pad van verderf,

Na die Weg van die Lewe.

(vertaling deur Hanno Langenhoven)

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Vrygewige God, U het hierdie wêreld geskep vir almal om in te deel

Buig oop ons geklemde hande om te laat gaan van gierigheid wat die armes beroof

Blaas skoon ons ore om die pyn en angs te kan hoor van hulle wat uitroep vir geregtigheid

Ontbind ons harte om diegene wat deur skuld gevange gehou word te kan herken

Ontsluit ons lippe om die jubeljaar uit te roep, hier en nou

Mag ons versorging deeglik en ons eensgesindheid tasbaar wees

Mag hierdie gemeenskap ‘n teken van hoop wees

Want nou is U genadetyd

Vertaal vanaf gebed in die gebedeboek van St Michael’s Parish, Liverpool, Engeland.

Gevind in Wisdom is Calling (p. 57 edited by Geoffrey Duncan)

Die laaste jaar of wat was, en hou aan om te wees, moeilik. Ek is diep oortuig van my roeping om vir God in die kerk te werk. Ten einde om te antwoord op die roeping het ek oor die laaste dekade van my lewe honderde duisende rande spandeer en baie uur opgeoffer. Elke sent en elke minuut was, en is, die moeite werd. Nou wag ek vir ‘n geleentheid om my roeping, passie, en gawes uit te leef, al meer as twaalf maande lank.

 Elke tweede week wag ek vir die Kerkbode om te sien waar nuwe poste oopgaan, elke tweede week doen ek aansoek vir poste in Gauteng, in die Kaap, in die stad, op die platteland, in Suid-Afrika, in Namibië, vir vol poste, kontrakposte, en jeugwerkposte. Saam met elke dekbrief wat geskryf word en elke CV wat by ‘n epos aangeheg word, ontstaan daar die hoop dat dit dalk die plek is waar ek en my vrou op ‘n besonderse manier deel van ‘n gemeenskap kan raak.

 En dan kom die ontnugtering. Meeste van die tyd word die aansoek nie eers erken nie, so 10 – 15% van gemeentes antwoord op die aansoek, en uiteindelik; die teleurstelling van ‘n onsuksesvolle aansoek. Weereens word dit in min gevalle gekommunikeer en moet ‘n mens maar in die Kerkbode lees dat die pos gevul is. Daar waar die “jammer-jy-is-onseksusvol-maar-die-Here-weet-waar-Hy-jou-wil-gebruik-briefie-seen-vir-jou-bediening-brief” wel kom verpletter die hoop van dalk-die-keer verpletter in ‘n jammer-jy-is-nie-goed-genoeg nie.

 En ja, ons almal verstaan dat baie mense aansoek doen, en ja dat elkeen nie noodwendig die regte fit is nie, maar dit is moeilik om dit nie persoonlik op te neem nie. Roeping en teologie is nie iets wat apart staan van ‘n persoon se diepste kern nie, altans nie vir my nie. My teologie kom vanuit my diepste oortuiging, my roeping is deel van my kern identiteit, en wie ek is en wat ek doen is die resultaat van my geloof in Christus en Sy werk in my lewe. So na ‘n jaar se onsuksesvol-briewe en geen antwoorde is dit baie moeilik om aansoek te doen vir nóg ‘n pos met die wete dat dit dalk kan einde in nóg ‘n nee.

 En dan die bemoedigende woordjies, “hou net aan hoop”, “hou net aan glo”, “die Here laat alles ten goede mee werk” ensovoorts. Dit help nie, dit werk nie. Na studieskuld en lewensonkoste en ‘n gebrek aan ander werk, as deel van die werklose statistiek, is ek finansieel kniediep in die moeilikheid en die uurglas se sandjies baie laag. Moed hou, aan hou glo ten midde van ‘n oenskynlik onafwendbare krisis, skuldgat, en op straat sit, en 62 siklusse van hoop en verpletterde hoop is ‘n baie waterige soppie.

 En natuurlik is daar die ander klompie stemme. “Dit is jou eie skuld”, “jy is nie betrokke by ‘n gemeente nie”, “gaan plant ‘n kerk”, “doen iets anders”, “gaan na jou ouerhuis toe en raak betrokke by jou tuisgemeente”, “proponent is te kieskeurig” en “jy wil nie werklik werk nie”, en “dit is nou maar hoe dit is, dit is die lewe” ensovoorts. Hoe genadeloos, sonder liefde, en arrogant kan ‘n mens raak. Niemand praat van proponent, soos myself, wat aansoek doen vir kelner werk, koffie rep werk, bel sentrum werk, HR posisies en vele meer nie. Niemand dink aan die proponent wat elke geleentheid om te werk aangryp nie, al is dit soos in my geval om, op ‘n maand kontrak, in ‘n industriele wassery te werk. Die vraag is uiteindelik wat is ek, en ander proponente bereid om te doen?

 Die antwoord is redeilk maklik, ons is bereid om enige iets te doen, om selfs uitgebuit te word. Ons wil dien, ons wil werk, ons wil antwoord op ons roeping. Ek byvoorbeeld, en ek is seker baie ander proponent, is bereid om as ‘n jeugwerker te werk teen ‘n klein salaries. Ek is nie ‘n student nie, ek het bietjie meer opleiding as hulle en selfs ‘n bietjie meer lewenservaring, maar nietemin is ek bereid om te werk teen ‘n student se salaries, want dit gee aan my ‘n stukkie menswardigheid terug. Ek is bereid om in gemeentes te werk teen ‘n kwart of ‘n derde salaries en nogsteeds ‘n voldag in te sit. Hoekom, dit help dit gemeente, dit gee my ‘n plek om my roeping uit te leef en te dien, dit gee ook ‘n stukkie menswardigheid terug. Ek is bereid om in ‘n kerkkantoor te werk, die vaktotum te wees wat so af en toe preek, ek is bereid om die dominee of dominees van die gemeente te ondersteun, ek is bereid om meer as een gemeente te dien wat nie ‘n dominee kan bekostig nie. Ons moet ook eet, maar geld is was nog nooit die oorweging vir dien nie. En as ek nie in die kerk werk kry nie, is ek bereid om enige iets te doen wat ‘n salarissie verdien, om in die eerste plek te dien in my familie, om te sorg dat my vrou en kind(ers) versorg is, om my roeping ten volle uit te leef in die kleinste en intiemste vorm van kerk.

 En dit is dalk die grootste frustrasie om te weet wat die diepte van my bereidheid is, om my tyd en energie selfs gratis aan te bied (wat ek en ander proponent al gedoen het), en nogsteeds nie ‘n geleentheid te kry nie. En na die soveelste onsuksesvolle aansoek kom die gedagte; dalk is die enigste uitweg die keuse is tussen selfmoord of die moord van roeping. Tog is selfmoord nooit ‘n opsie nie, en hoe vermoor ‘n mens ‘n roeping sonder om selfmoord te pleeg? En dan staan ‘n mens maar op in die oggend, struikel voort in die woestyn, en gaan slaap aan die einde van die dag met ‘n terugblik wat nog ‘n dag van genade en hoop openbaar. Maranatha

‘n Jeugwerker in ‘n Afrikaanse gemeente. Moontlik is daar twee benaderings, iemand wat dit doen bloot net as ‘n werk, en iemand wat leef met ‘n liefde en passie vir God, kinders en jong mense as sy/haar kern. Ek vermoed dat net die tweede persoon werlik ‘n jeugwerker in die ware sin van die word kan wees, of soos Robert Frost sê “[The] object of living is to unite, avocation and vocation, only where love and need is one, the deed is ever really done, for Heaven and the future’s sakes.”

Ek is nie seker of ons altyd weet wat ‘n jeugwerker moet doen nie. In die eerste plek sien ek iemand wat bereid is om tyd saam met kinders en jong mense te spandeer, om werklik na hulle te luister. In tweede plek sien ek ‘n jeugwerker as iemand wat die volgende van nature doen:

  • Die beskerming van die verwondering en onskuld van elke kind en jong mens,
  • Die skep van ‘n veilige ruimte waarbinne kinders en jong mense hulself kan wees,
  • Die skep van ‘n veilige ruimte waarbinne kinders en jong mense hul seer kan deel,
  • Die skep van ‘n veilige ruimte wat kinders en jong mense help om heel te raak,
  • Die skep van ‘n ruimte waarbinne kinders en jong mense konkreet God se liefde onvoorwaardelik kan ervaar.
  • Vermoedelik ‘n ruimte waarbinne daar minder gepreek en meer gewees moet word.

‘n Jeugwerker met ‘n liefde vir God, kinders en jong mense as kern kan nie anders as om moeite te maak om die konteks(te) en metafore van die kinders en jong mense te leer ken nie, asook dieselde energie aan die dag lê om God se betrokkenheid by hulle raak te sien. Dit is wanneer die persoon God se teenwoordigheid en betrokkenheid by die kinders en jong mense as’t ware ontdek dat hy/sy sinvol met hulle kan praat oor hul ervaring van God. Dit raak dan nie ‘n preek van bo af nie, maar ‘n deel van elke eie storie, ook die storie van die jeugwerker.

Ek dink dit is die enigste outentieke benadering tot jeugbediening, een waar die kinders en jong mense gesien word as kerk in eie reg, met real belewenisse en ‘n struggle om dit altyd te verwoord. Dit lei tot die vraag wat my dryf, hoe is ons kerk vandag sodat ons kinders, wat vandag dalk 4 of 5 is, nog oor 30 jaar gaan glo? Dalk is die vraag vir my van soveel belang omdat my eie seuntjie amper 6 jaar jonk is. Dit is dus ‘n diep persoonlike vraag, hoe leef ek vandag my geloof uit sodat kinders en jong mense oor 30 jaar nog gaan glo. Die ander kant van die muntstuk is vir my, hoe maak ek my geloof tasbaar in my lewe sodat my kind en ons kinders dit kan beleef en ook hul geloof tasbaar wil maak in hul lewe tot ‘n boodskap van hoop in die wêreld.

I am here, because God is.

I don’t always know what the latter means,

But I believe that, somehow,

It says that God is involved

With me

With my community

With the community at large

And ultimately with the community we call Earth.

Now, yesterday, and tomorrow.

 

I am here, because I belief that I can only know God because of God’s revelation

Especially in community

I confess that Jesus, the Christ

Is the pinnacle of this revelation

That in him God’s compassion,

Love,

And self-sacrifice is absolutely present.

 

I am here, because, even though Christ is not physically with us anymore,

His Spirit,

The absolute presence of God’s compassion,

Love,

And self-sacrifice is with us

Through the gift that is the Holy Spirit.

foolishandweak wrote this article for  The second issue of Exchange: The Journal of Mission and Markets.

This is a copy of the original blog that you can find here

———

Allow me to set a very common scenario: The church office phone rings and the person on the other line asks “Do y’all help pay peoples’ rent?” or “Do y’all pay water bills?” to which I always say no.  Others stop by the office seeking similar assistance.  Inviting them into my office, I work through a questionnaire that quickly paints a picture of brokenness.

In their book When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting The Poor And Yourself, Corbett and Fikkert describe poverty as a broken relationship between God, self, others, and the rest of creation which has negative effects on how one navigates social, religious, political, and economic systems.

 

poverty model image

 

With each person who is asking something of us or from us, this definition of poverty is clearly at work. However, the truth be told, all we really have to do is look in the mirror, to see this paradigm of poverty.  We are all broken at one level or another.  In light of this, God, through His Word and Son, has provided a precedent, paradigm and prescription for us, His Church, to enter into the work He is doing in redeeming and restoring all things; a work that ultimately produces joy.

Biblical Precedent

The foundation of a changed life is coming to faith in Christ.  After all, it is He who is at work reconciling all things to Himself (Colossians 1:19). However, we see all throughout redemptive history God’s care and concern not just for the spiritual but the physical as well.  The law is full of commands to live a holy life and part of that is to care for the orphan, widow, fatherless, materially poor and stranger.  When describing the use of righteousness in the Proverbs, Old Testament Scholar Bruce Waltke says “The wicked disadvantage others to advantage themselves, but the righteous disadvantage themselves to advantage others.” This truth is ultimately lived out in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.  As stated in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”  The Bible is full of examples, accounts and commands about loving God and our neighbor.

As a people who have undeservedly received the riches of Christ such as eternal life, mercy and grace, this should move us to a life of compassion and mercy towards others, particularly the materially poor.   In a recent sermon, New York pastor, Tim Keller said,

A deep social conscious and a life poured out in deeds of service to others, and especially the poor, is the inevitable sign of real faith and real connection with God.  If you think, God says, that you have a real connections with me, you have humbled yourself and you have found me and yet you don’t care about the poor then you haven’t. This is a real index of your heart. Justice is the grand symptom of real faith. It’s the great symptom of a real relationship with God. And it will be there, maybe slowly, but it will develop. But if it never develops then you really don’t have the relationship with God that you think you have…Do you understand that this is at the heart of Biblical faith?

Why was Sodom judged? We often point to their lewd behavior but that only tells part of the story. In Ezekiel 16:49 the prophet proclaims “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” This could easily be attributed to the American Church and those who fill the pews. The Church & her people are guilty of the same sin of Sodom, but guilt alone will not solve the problem. It will not move the materially non-poor from apathy to action for very long. A lack of appreciation along with no quick fixes will fast turn guilt into bitterness and resentment toward the materially poor making things just feel more hopeless for all who are involved. As Corbett and Fikkert comment, this only reinforces the God complex in the materially non-poor and the marred identity of the materially poor.

Paradigm

However, if Christ is redeeming all things, this means work too. When we look to the scriptures the very first thing we read about is God working: “In the beginning God created…”  Soon after, God assigns Adam to work caring for His creation as a botanist, agriculturalist and zoologist. All of this happens before the Fall ever occurs.  So in our original, pre-Fall condition work was good and a part of the original design to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. When sin entered, it was not just our relationship with God and each other that broke, but even work:

Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of  your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Genesis 3:17b-19.

The effects of the fall were all inclusive and utterly devastating so we find ourselves in Romans 8:22 with “the whole creation…groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

It is also interesting to note John the Baptist’s commissioning.  We often associate him with a call to repentance, but Luke tells us that he was also called to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.” This is quoted from Malachi 4:6 where it reads “And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” The lack of fathers whose hearts are turned to their child is alarming in my community.  Many children have not even met their dads.  It can often seem like my neighborhood has been struck “with a decree of utter destruction” as a result.  As a father of three young children, it is unfathomable to me for my heart not to be turned towards my children.  However, for a myriad of reasons this seems not to be the case in my community. Is it because these fathers really do not care about their progeny?  I have never met such an individual.  Instead I witness an overwhelming sense of shame that is due in part to being unemployed or underemployed and all the effects of powerlessness, hopelessness, self-loathing, embarrassment, rejection, desperation and insignificance that follow and often lead to negative behaviors.  This leaves the two of the greatest repellents to poverty, work and intact families, busted.

Dr. Carl Ellis comments that for discipleship efforts among at-risk, minority populations, there is a pronounced need for the church to address dignity, identity and significance if we are to have any hope of seeing conversions, reversing generational poverty and “turning the hearts of fathers to their children.” Yet most churches and Christian non-profits rarely see this central to Gospel ministry.

Prescription One: Penicillin for Paternalism

We must all start with a look in the mirror.  As practitioners, pastors, church members or  middle or upper class laity, we easily run the risk of thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought. We would do good to take heed of the apostle Paul’s admonition to the Church at Philippi,

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:1-4

Paternalism is deadly to the work among the materially poor and an anti-apologetic to the Gospel.  It only perpetuates the God complex in us and reinforces the marred identity of the materially poor. The work of sifting through our paternalism, racism or classism in our own stories is tedious and is often worked out over time but accelerated when we enter into authentic friendships with people different from us, particularly the materially poor, and allow them to graciously point out our deficits.  Proverbs 27:6 declares, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”

Prescription Two: A Dose of Dignity

Many Christian community development practitioners, such as Bob Lupton (author of Toxic Charity), have brought light to the fact that many of our models of compassion or mercy are broken, often leaving people inappropriately dependent on our programs to survive and stripping them of any remaining dignity.  The reality, though, is that handouts are much easier than entering into authentic relationships with the materially poor; relationships that can often by marked by long-suffering, let down and hopelessness though certainly joy, generosity, courage, and faith too.

Jobs for Life (JFL), describes the common scenario for most churches in their promotional video. They describe how churches often lead with food, housing and shelter when caring for the materially poor and rarely include work in their paradigm of assistance.  JFL offers a 8 week, 16 class curriculum to help equip people to enter into or improve their position in the marketplace.  With topics including conflict resolution, resume writing, skills assessment, interview skills and more, this program equips participants for success in the workforce.  The linchpin, though, is the mentor component.  JFL uses mentors, known as champions, to serve as a coach, encourager, reference and a network for participants.

A similar approach is taken with the Chalmers Institute’s Faith and Finances curriculum and Launch Chattanooga’s small business development curriculum.  With both programs, the core subject matter is taught through a biblically based curriculum and participants are matched with mentors to walk alongside them.  Together, these three programs offer the Church excellent tools to affirm the dignity, identity and significance of the materially poor while encouraging mentoring relationships that are marked by mutual indebtedness.

These are just a sample of best practices that are being implemented to provide a dignified solution to help alleviate and irradiate poverty. Others have launched businesses or hired at-risk teens or ex-offenders. The point is the old methods of clothes closets, Thanksgiving turkey giveaways, food pantries and Christmas toy giveaways are lacking, and often hurting those they intended to help.  New models of development must be implemented.

Joy

In Isaiah 58 the Lord instructs Israel,

Is not this the fast that I choose:  to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him.

Listen, though, to the promises God offers if we partake in such a fast:

  • your light shall break forth like the dawn
  • your healing shall spring up speedily
  • your righteousness shall go before you
  • the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard
  • you shall call, and the Lord will answer
  • you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
  • your light shall rise in the darkness
  • your gloom will be as the noonday
  • the Lord will guide you continually
  • He will satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong;
  • you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

I urge you to not settle for a mediocre, lukewarm, Christian life. Do not internalize the Christian radio station mentality of “safe for the whole family.” There is no joy to be found there. C.S. Lewis remarked,

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

There is also no Biblical mandate for our good works, which God has prepared for us, to be efficient, clean, tidy and safe. The Psalmist declares that a “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” Together let us find ourselves in the margins, the place empire has abandoned, the place of God’s holy habitation.

It seems that the one constant on internet forums, at least as far as religious dialogues go, is intolerance for the other opinion. Believers don’t gladly suffer non-believers and vice versa, Christians versus Atheists, Muslims and even other Christians, and again vice versa.

Christians so often take a type of spiritual high ground, claiming to know something or at least someone that the others don’t. Sometimes they even claim to know something of someone which other Christians don’t. A subjective understanding is mistaken for an absolute acquaintance and intimate knowledge of the ultimate mystery. It seems the humbleness of the Rabbi is forgotten.

Non-believers, on the other hand, often retreat into the bastion of reason. From here they lob high-handed pronouncements, often in the form of insults, to the so called dim-witted, superstitious believers who hold on, according to them, to worldviews and other opinions that was already thrown out with yesterday’s trash.

Why is it that these forums are so often riddled by an intolerant few? I would like to venture two reasons although I am certain there are many more that can be considered. Firstly, it seems that any chest-beating is accompanied by a certain sense of insecurity, that 0.0001% of doubt that creeps in during the quiet of the night. A sense that maybe, just maybe, we are not quite as right, quite as absolute as we would like to be; a nagging sense that there might be more to the universe, the world, and even transcended, at least other, realities to my own. With all the data we are bombarded with every day, it is almost impossible not to acknowledge that the model we build and the narratives we construct does not 100% reflect Reality nor Narrative. This begs the question, is there such a thing as Reality or Narrative and, if there is, can we have objective, maybe even subjective, access to it?

It does however seem that the more and louder the chest-beating seems to be, the louder and challenging our own insecurities is, at least as far as the way we build our models and narrate our stories.

Secondly, it seems that we suffer from a good dose, maybe a severe overdose, of arrogance. We simply know. Contrary to the postulation that we might not have the free access to the Reality that we think we have, we construct from the perspective that we do not only have access to Reality but that we have unbridled, objective, and absolute access. It seems that we think that we can transcend ourselves in order to be completely objective and have the language ability to formulate the exactness of the Reality without limiting it. Of course only the I and those who agree exactly with the I has this ability. What is interesting is the assumption that we can transcend our own subjectivity at will, but that something Transcendent can’t exist.

Thus, maybe it is time we should all heed the call of the ancients and the contemporaries, from Confucius, The Buddha, Jesus Christ, Florence Nightingale, Dorothy Day, Karen Armstrong, and The Dalai Lama that the mark of an adult person who lives with happiness and contentment in his/her skin, one would be able to argue, in her/his own faith, is the ability to live with the Golden Rule, with compassion. And if you are wondering what this rule is, here it is in its positive form: Do onto others as you would like them do onto you, this might just lead to dialogues where we listen to others and really hear them, rather than construct what they are saying from our own preconceived ideas.

The new Pope urged the faithful to translate the sacraments they received into their daily life. It seems this is a message that all of us, at least those of us who think of ourselves as followers of The Way, need to heed. The one criticism of the Church, both the institution and the believers who form it, that cannot be ignored is the way that confession and lifestyle seems to be two different things.

It seems that the majority of the Church’s energy is spent on getting members to belief in a certain way and justifying to others, believers and non-believers, why their way is the correct way. In this system formulation, the correct words, standard creeds, finely crafted dogma, and traditional confessions are of the utmost importance. The mind and reason becomes, not only the home, but the fortress of belief and the power structures of the church; the stewards of the fortress. The sad part is that the verbal-war, that is constant waging between every possible tag you can imagine, has grown toxically stale.

A world, in the midst of severe suffering, complex trauma, losing every last shred of hope, is in desperate need of the faithful making real the very essence of their faith; G-d who so love the world, that had so much compassion, that G-d-self became part of the suffering. It is where the faithful starts to venture out of the fortress of belief into a thirsty and hungry world, urged by the core of the sacraments to live according to faith, that the verbal-war becomes an irrelevant nuisance. It is where honest pilgrims daily live from the source that ground them in the reality of G-d, that a glimmer of hope breaks through and differences in dogma and creed is transcended.

It is long overdue that the faithful realize that living out a confessed faith is much more important than confessing it absolutely right.

A small part of the South African cyber space, the religious corner, is abuzz. Usually some or other dominee (minister in the Dutch Reformed Church) or other religious leader creates this type of hype by sharing a thought (via Facebook or Twitter), sermon, or book that can be labelled “liberal”. Think of, amongst others, the recent sacking of Jean Oosthuizen or “Om te mag twyfel” written by Julian Muller. This time it seems the table is turned. A dominee, Stefaan de Jager, whom can be described as more conservative shared a thought on Facebook which simply got the blood boiling. I quote (via Kletskerk):

“Dit moet tragies wees as jy `n ateis is en jou kind deur die dood verloor. Jou kind is so dood soos `n hond. Niks meer en niks minder nie. Troosteloos.” and “lyk my as jy `n ateis is is dit dan dalk nie so `n slegte plan om jou kind te laat uitsit as hy/sy ly nie. Daar is immers ten diepste mos nie vir hulle `n verskil tussen mens en dier nie. Albei bloot biologiese wesens. Huil dan na die tyd so `n bietjie oor jou kind soos oor jou dooie hondjie en kom dan daaroor en kry `n ander kind.”

(Short paraphrase: If you are atheist then it seems that your children and dogs (pets) should be equated to each other, if a child suffers, put him/her down like a pet and get a new one, as the child is merely a biological being.).

As Christians we should shudder at the callousness with which anyone, let alone a spiritual leader, can throw stereotypes and generalizations about with so much sincerity and conviction. This seems to fly in the face everything Jesus stood for and commanded his followers to be, a group of people who reaching out to the marginalized in care, understanding, and love.

It seems that Ds de Jager forgot that the loss of any life is tragic, be that the life of a child or the life of an elderly person, the life of a woman or the life of a man, the life of a Atheist, a Muslim, or a Christian, the life of a human being or the life of an animal, domesticated or wild, the life of an individual or the life of a species. The loss of life is always tragic. However, death is indeed a natural process; living, by definition, means that we will die. And with every death something, at least in this reality, is lost of the image of G-d, not the complete image but a certain snapshot of G-d’s image. Indeed we are all created in the image of G-d; we are all creature-ly.

At the same time I must wonder about the way that Ds de Jager uses the term “atheist”. The origin of the word, in Greek atheos [a- not + theos – god], can be translated “without god”, a translation that opens a number of possibilities, which I don’t think Ds de Jager entertained.

Firstly, if we translate atheos as “without god” is it not possible to say that there was and always will be only one true atheist, namely Jesus Christ; although only for a short time on Good Friday. Do we as Christians not hold that only Christ was truly G-d-forsaken in order for us, and all of creation, to live? Do we not profess that it is only by the care of G-d, through G-d’s own breath that creation is sustained?

Secondly, if you do not want to go that far and translate the Greek as god-not-existing; does the word not refer to a very specific understanding of G-d? Specifically a theistic understanding of G-d, a G-d that lives somewhere above, but close to our known Earth/Solar system/Universe and that has direct control every aspect of our daily lives, that can see, hear, and known everything at the same time whilst simultaneously be everywhere. It seems that, if this is Ds de Jager’s approach, everyone that does not believe in G-d or understand G-d like he does, is included in his pronouncement. The conviction thus, believe like I do or get over the death of your child, even more so, put them down when they suffer and get a new one.

Thirdly, is it not possible that by using the term atheist Ds de Jager forgets his own history? Can it not be argued that the first Christians were some of the world’s first atheists? Indeed, they did not believe in god as described by Judaism nor did they hold to the understanding of the Greeks and Romans with their plethora of gods. From the perspective of the Jews and the Romans the early Christians could indeed be classified as atheists, today Christians might be classified as the same by any pantheist, still by the Jews as well as the Muslims.

However, the statement is not only problematic because it only contributes sanctity to the lives of those who believe like Ds de Jager and the dubious use of the term atheist, it also puts on the table the importance of making public statements in the social media-sphere. Some commentators on the Kletskerk-post would like us to believe that Ds de Jager was justified in making this statement as a summary of the opinion of atheists themselves (Henk Zeeman and Mauritz Coetzee amongst others). The trouble is that, firstly, it is quite arrogant to turn the argument of another into a caricature like this and, secondly, social media hardly every respects context. The way that Ds de Jager formulated his response in conversation with others exposes something of his underlying worldview and intolerance to those who believe or not-believe differently than he does. I would like to argue that such a position flies in the face of the compassion that is the heart of G-d’s love for us, creation as a whole, and our mandate as Christians to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

Over above the theological implications of this statement and the responses it generated on the Kletskerk Facebook wall, is my personal reaction to it. Week after week I, together with a number of other young, unemployed theologians, send in application after application for jobs in the church. It so often happens that it is the Ds De Jagers of this world that receive our applications and CV’s. The result; we are lucky to make it though the first, brief evaluation onto any kind of a short list where we are bound to come face to face with an early judgement if we do not toe the party, read conservative, line.

It seems what we believe is still more important than the faith that stokes the fires of our core, it seems we are still holding on to precise dogma, whilst we are failing to realize our own brokenness and the call to be the healing to others which we so desperately seek. The time has come to realize that a believing and non-believing world are not interested in our pseudo-philosophical, metaphysical, and religious speculation but are hungry and thirsty for those who profess any kind of faith to start living accordingly.

The newspaper headlines proclaimed on the lampposts and airwave that caught my attention was “Sex workers do not go to Church” and “Woman bishops: Church of England votes no”. The latter set the blogosphere ablaze with articles highlighting the absurdity of being penis-endowed as one (the most important?) of the criteria for being a bishop.

The first headline did not have merely the same exposure as the latter, but read in conjunction with the latter, telling none the less. But before I continue my way of thinking on the interaction between the two headlines, please allow me a short side comment on my immediate context, the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa. It would be easy to side step this debate on woman being part of the clergy because women have been ordained as ministers of the church for some time already. Such a manoeuvre would unfortunately not be the most honest appraisal of how licensed and ordained women experience the equality of the clerical playing field in the church.

It might not be surprising that sex workers, many of them being woman, don’t attend worship in the same place where woman are excluded from facilitating the worship. It might just be that in rethinking what church we desperately need to realize that we are all created in the image of G-d, that to be fully church we both need female and male voices, and that a more feminine approach might be the transformative power we desperately need in our current day and age. Maybe the time has come that we take the Holy Scriptures more seriously if it refers to the church as the Bride of Christ, intrinsically female. If we do that, how is it possible to exclude woman from clergy and make sex workers feel unwelcome?