May 28, 2015

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A South African Pentecost

A South African Pentecost

By Edwin Arrison

When the disciples gathered together with many others on that first Pentecost Sunday, they experienced what we in South Africa would call a sense of “samehorigheid”, a sense of togetherness. This is the opposite of the “apartness” to which we are so used and which we often unconsciously promote.

“Apartness” is also often our comfort-zone, while authentic “togetherness” can sometimes feel like hard work.
“Samehorigheid” is an interesting Afrikaans word, because it contains within it the idea of “ons hoor saam” (we hear together) and “ons hoort saam” (we belong together”). This is really the best word to describe community, a state where we listen together and belong together, a state of “indaba” and “Ubuntu”.

Diversity is our God-given gift. Unity within this diversity and despite this diversity is what we must work towards.
Our young people have over the last few years and months made it clear to us that they are sick and tired of a fake “samehorigheid”. Young people have this special gift: they can smell inauthenticity a mile off, and they avoid it like the plague. They are particularly searching for the element of justice in our togetherness, and if they do not find it, they are likely to break down this fake samehorigheid, sometimes quite literally. In our knee-jerk reactions, we often condemn them, but should we not first of all repent of our fake samehorigheid and actually hear what our young people are saying to us?’

The church in South Africa have much to repent for, especially if we re-read the Rustenberg Declaration of 1990. There we used words, but they were empty words, dry bones, and we should not be surprised if our words remain empty today and leads to death and not to life. We, who are supposedly the bearers of hope, are as much co-responsible for the sense of hopelessness that so many South Africans feel at the moment.

We need to listen to our young people and ask: Do they have a point? What are they saying? Where have we gone wrong? The prophet Joel has after all said that “our young men and women will see visions and our old men and women will dream dreams”. If we listen carefully to the visions of our young people, we will see that there is much truth to what they are saying and that we need to find the right vocabulary to go together on the next part of our journey.

On Friday some of us met with Bishop Paul Verryn about the idea of creating new “spaces of hope”. At some point in the conversation he used the word “dialogue”, and I said to him and the group gathered there that I think we need to start using new words. Some old words are beginning to feel like dry bones and seems to lead to death rather than to life. I suggested that perhaps a word such as “encounter” is a better word than dialogue.

After listening to our one colleague, Rev Alan Storey, who spoke about his own uncomfortableness and grappling with white privilege and power, we thought that we should also use the word “confront”. One of our other colleagues, Xola Skosana, often reminds us that we need to understand and analyse the systemic power structure in our society. These things (encountering and confronting) might all happen in one space or in different spaces, but the point is that some words (such as dialogue) often gets over-used and sometimes it sometimes gets used to preserve the current comfort-zone.

Pentecost is therefore about creating a new language for a new community. Pentecost is a moment of surprise and a moment of truth.

Another word that is currently being used at Volmoed community in Hermanus, is the word AHA! During Lent, John de Gruchy encouraged people to say AHA! at the end of the liturgy. AHA is an acronym for Authentic Hopeful actions, what we call a new moment and a new movement that needs to be built from the bottom-up. The community that gathers at the Eucharist at Volmoed was encouraged to engage in small actions that would build community with those with whom they are never really in community with. One such action was to tip the petrol attendant at least R5 when they fill up their tank, but also to get to know the petrol attendants name and something about his or her family. This also allows them to think about AHA! every time they stop at a filling station.

Besides these small actions, we will experience this AHA moment when we allow our ego’s to die and when we become alive to convergence, collaboration, connecting, communicating….this is the only way to build an AHA movement and to build spaces of hope.

The word “AHA!” is of course normally used to express surprise, and taps into the Spirit given to us by the God of surprises. Just as we were thinking about the word “confront”, there is a prayer by Archbishop Tutu says “Disturb us, O Lord”. But guess what, a young South African woman, Siki Dlanga, has now written a prayer called “Surprise us Oh Lord”. It goes like this:

Surprise us, O Lord
when we have forgotten that You are the God of Hope,
when we have forgotten that we are the light of the world or the salt of the earth,
because we failed to put our trust in You alone.

Surprise us, O Lord
by lifting the veil of poverty and bad education from our poor,
by blessing the rich with an unquenchable mission for your justice for the poor,
by blessing our nation with good leadership.

Surprise us, O Lord
with hearts that groan with gratitude,
with expectation of good to come out of our disappointments.
Allow our vision of your kingdom to be the glow that never dims from our eyes.

Stir us, O Lord
to dare more boldly into the depths of the darkness we most fear,
where we have been broken by hatred and division,
we will be forgiven and mended by your love.
Let reconciliation be true so that our human dignity is restored.

Awake us, O Lord
Breathe new brightness into the fading colours of our rainbow.

Surprise us, O Lord
so that Your joy will crown men and women in their fruitful work,
so that women are sought out for their great wisdom,
so that men are known for their love,
so that the children will be safe and sing your praises in the streets,
so that the widow will rejoice and call your justice glorious,
so that you will be called our Beautiful Hope.

Surprise us, O Lord
So that those who look upon us will say AHA!
Their hope is not in vain!
Their hope is not in vain!
Camagu! Amen!

As we have celebrated Pentecost, may we continue to discern what new words and new actions we need for a new community.

And maybe, just maybe, we might begin to listen better, especially to our young people, and create new spaces of hope – and welcome – in South Africa and in and for the rest of Africa.

  1. Very good.We need to hear more about the FirstNation experience of pentecost. It may differ in nuances but may be portraying a common message of Guarding Angel and Assurance Policy for the future. Henry

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