Nov 15, 2013

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MEDITATION: I don’t like you, but…

MEDITATION: I don’t like you, but…

For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you (2 Corinthians 2:4)

Last week a pretty American exchange student, a woman with beautiful long flowing blond hair, visited me.

She has to finish an assignment on reconciliation in the next month before she returns to her country again. And she needed advice.

During our meeting she shared her impressions on South Africa – of how she finds our country to be extremely politicized. Also her somewhat eery feeling of the racial tensions that are constantly shimmering beneath the surface. In this regard she shares an interesting incident.

Of how earlier during the week she walked past a young black student. Passing her he suddenly stopped and while looking at her intently, he remarked: “You know, I don’t really like you – your whiteness, your pale face. But your hair, to be honest, is beautiful.”

While listening to her it suddenly struck me that with this simple little story she had in fact – and perhaps even unknowingly – touched on two of the big challenges facing our society today.

The one is the necessity for people of different race, colour and language to – exactly like the black student – pause, look at each other and engage in a direct and honest manner – expressing without fear their deeper feelings, dreams, prejudices and anxieties. Meaning all those things which worry, concern, upset and frustrate them. Also their hopes and expectations.

Without such a straightforward and honest discourse there is little hope for progress in terms of reconciliation, peace and justice.

But because such a honest engagement – however important it may be – can also be disturbing and upsetting, creating the risk of even more distance and alienation, a second thing is also necessary.

We should at the same time also keep holding on to one another, keep respecting the other, keep looking with appreciating eyes, keep seeing the other as precious, unique and special. Keep trusting and hoping that more can happen than just passing one another everyday day as strangers, like those proverbial ships in the night.

In short: while we admit that we are struggling to like, trust and embrace one another, we should also be brave enough to keep saying: “Your hair is beautiful – yes, you are beautiful.”

Was this not the style of Paul in 2 Corinthians when he also became alienated from some members of the congregation?  And is this not the challenge he also poses to us?

Just read again his moving words and plea in 2 Corinthians 4:1-11.

Carel Anthonissen

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