1987 – 2014
Grace and Peace to you
One of the privileges of our pain-filled oppressive past is that we have experienced first-hand a very similar context to that of the Gospels and early church. An experience, or in the very least, an understanding of Apartheid oppression should give us insight into the Scriptures. Sadly too often we forget to read the scriptures through the privileged lens of our past (and present!).
For example, think of Steve Biko for a moment. There is nothing one can read of or from Biko that is not profoundly political and subversive towards the dominant racist regime. That is a given. Yet when we read the writings of St. Paul for example we may be inclined to forget that Paul was the Biko of his time — or if not the Biko — then at least the Beyers Naudè. There was nothing Paul could say or write that was not political and subversively threatening to the dominant powers. Yet when we forget this, we begin to interpret Paul’s mission as trying to get people “saved” into a “heavenly” realm with little relevance or consequence on earth.
Remember Paul’s “struggle credentials”? Imprisonment; floggings to near death — with both whips and rods and to top it off, stoning. Let’s be clear one is not subjected to these “tribulations” for leading spiritual retreats, but rather for being a threat to the status quo of oppressive power!
When Paul writes: “…if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9) he was doing so in a context where salvation was promised by confessing Caesar as Lord. In other words it was a political act of treason to confess Jesus. It was like claiming Mandela as president while P.W. Botha was still sitting in the Union Buildings.
Let us also not forget that almost every word — we have come to associate with “spiritual” matters was in fact a political term of the day. Words like: “Lord”, “Shepherd”, “Salvation” and “Redemption” were all social-political words which have since been privatised and individualised — in other words they have been tamed.
Further examples include the concepts of: “Eternal Life”; “Soul”; and “Heaven”.
- Eternal life is mostly understood today as life Jesus awards us when we die. This interpretation delays the promise of new life until after death. Its original meaning was the gift of new life NOW that death cannot take away. In other words it is the transformation of the present.
- Heaven is mostly understood today as a spatial place where we go when we die, yet for the Hebrews Heaven is the illustrative embodiment of the real, real world. Heaven is the clear picture of what we struggle to see on earth — namely that Jesus the Lamb actually is on the throne and not the Caesar-like-powers. Heaven is the truth that we are called to live into being. All we need to do is keep faithful to the end. Heaven is also the prototype of how we should be living on earth. “Your Kingdom come, your will be done ON EARTH as in heaven.”
- Soul is mostly understood today as that part of our being that is immortal. In other words the part of us that “goes to heaven” when our body dies and disintegrates. This segmented view of the human person is more Greek than Hebrew and it has subsequently encouraged a “saving souls” approach to evangelism which ignores the full context and condition of the human being. The Hebrew word we have translated into soul literally means one’s entire being. The person’s entire being is to be our concern.
Sadly the powerful world-changing words of the subversive Gospel story have had their meanings domesticated by being pushed to another time (eternal life), another place (Heaven) all the while reducing the human person (soul).
Back in Jesus’ and Paul’s day, salvation would have been celebrated if the previously segregated beaches and buses were open to all. Salvation was the victory ushered in by the winning combination of God’s grace and people’s faithful struggle.
Grace and struggle, Alan
Dare to have your life re-storied by the Gospel
The stories we tell ourselves and each other are how we make sense of the world and our place in it. Some stories become so sticky, so pervasive that we internalize them to a point where we no longer see their storiness — they become not one of many lenses on reality, but reality itself. Stories we’ve heard and repeated so many times they’ve become the invisible underpinning of our entire lived experience”. ~ Maria Popova