It takes a village to stop the cycle of violence

typorama (64)In South Africa (and many other countries in the world), we have become desensitized to stories of violence, especially against women and children. For many of us, another story, another name, quickly becomes part of the statistic. In a few weeks, the name Tshegofatso Pule, a pregnant mother who was recently stabbed and hanged to a tree, will not be ringing a bell anymore.

And I can understand why. Firstly, because many of us feel powerless to make any practical and significant change. The mountain just seems too steep. Also, we tend to distance ourselves from something personal. If we had to feel… really feel… the weight of every case of violence against another mother or child, we might just go crazy.

There is a danger, though. Our mechanisms to protect our own sanity, may lead to indifference. And indifference is a silent killer.

So what can we do? What should we do?

To start with; if you are a man, make sure that your heart, and your house, is a safe place. A place where women and children can feel safe. If you grew up with any notion or misconception about your role as a man, that you have to be the ‘strong’ one, or the ‘enforcer’; confront those lies with the truth it deserves. If you have trauma or issues that you need to work through, do the work that the people around you desperately need.

If you have done the work to make your own heart a safe place, make the commitment to do the same for other men and boys. If your own children are safe and your boys are raised to love and respect others, be on the lookout for men and boys where you can make a lasting difference. The statistics don’t lie. Many boys grow up without good male role models. Some boys are raised by their own sisters, or grandmothers. If all of us make the decision to love and mentor one boy or young man that is not our own, society will be so much better for it.

Lastly, we have to look at the soil where we sow. If the society that we are a part of, has systemic ills, we should do what we can to help change the soil. It seems like a massive task…and it is. But if a big chunk of society has the will the make their hands dirty, we can make a difference to the growth that we will see in the future.

The kingdom of God doesn’t need superheroes. It needs faithful servants. Imagine the change we wish to see; it is possible.

A Women’s Day Tribute

This is for the woman who gives herself away everyday, expecting nothing in return.

Here’s to the full-time mother keeping a full-time job.

For the women who head single headed households, we honour you.

For the mothers who seldom receive child support from absent fathers, you are our strength.

Here’s to the women who bite their lips in meetings and conversations when you are talked down upon.

For the woman who bakes pancakes, makes fudge or sells flowers so that your child will have a proper education, we admire you.

For the woman who gives it all she’s got but doesn’t earn equal pay; you deserve more.

Dear woman who raises kids who are not your own; may they be your joy.

To the women who have had to learn to accept and love who they are when society tells them that they don’t qualify to be called beautiful; you are radiant.

To the battered and bruised women who have endured the childishness of insecure men, he doesn’t deserve you. How can we help you?

For the many women who are the spiritual backbones of their families; may your sowing bear plenty fruit.

May you be respected. May you be cherished. May you be blessed.

What High Walls and Fences Can’t Separate

Wandering with an eye interested to gather new insights about people is a gift. The great thing is that we don’t have to cross oceans to do so. In this wonderful, diverse country that we call home, even studying your neighbour (not stalking!) or getting to know someone from a different neighbourhood, can return some interesting insights and make you a richer person.

Danél and I recently visited some friends in the UK, and decided to explore Ireland and Northern Ireland as well.

Through AirBnB, we met some wonderful people along the way.

We will never forget Belfast. Belfast is a wonderful city with many things to do and to see. Their political history is evident in many of the murals found in some neighbourhoods. Some murals have a paramilitary undertone, while many murals speak of a new era and a fresh narrative that many citizens are embracing.

Even so, you cannot help but see the high walls and fences; still separating Protestant Unionists and Catholic Republicans. I couldn’t imagine how it would be to live in a street where the flags and the murals shout daily for your loyalty.

Our AirBnb hosts in Belfast are wonderful people who invited us into their family as friends. The one evening, over a glass of wine, they explained the intricacies of the peace and reconciliation process in Belfast. Very similar to South Africa, their process of reconciliation started in 1994.

One place stood out in East Belfast. CS Lewis square is an immensely symbolic public square. The well-known writer of The Chronicles of Narnia (and many other outstanding faith-based books) was born in Belfast.

In East Belfast, with our untrained and subjective eyes, on the walls and lampposts, we saw traces of intolerance. In the behaviour of some teenagers, we saw hopelessness. A pregnant teenager walked across the square. And there, in the middle, stood Aslan (the Great Lion in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia). Aslan is the figure of hope in the story, the true King of Narnia, a depiction of who Christ is for us.

Next to the statue of Aslan, these words are quoted from the book: “’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King.”

In the midst of hopelessness and despair, when it seems as if the powerful will have the last say in life, where intolerance seems to have the upper hand…that is where you will find Aslan. It may not seem as if He’s stealing the show or gathering all attention to Him.

But He is present.

Why Swys de Bruin is (and stays) one of South Africa’s most powerful coaches

If you follow South African rugby, you will know who coach Swys is. As coach of the Lions and a consultant for the Springboks heading to the World Cup, he is an influential figure in South African rugby.

If you have heard of coach Swys, then you will also know that he needed to take a break from coaching. Stress-related issues kept him out of the coaching setup for about three weeks.

Coach Swys has been very frank and open in the media about his recent struggles and the toll that his role as coach has had on him. In one interview he explained it this way: “The past two to three years, I haven’t given enough attention to the tremendous amounts of stress and anxiety that I experienced.”

For his openness and honesty, I want to salute him. The Lions could have made a watered-down statement about his health and that he was sick, but he chose the path of vulnerability. In my mind, his vulnerability will be one of his biggest assets for the road ahead.

I sincerely hope that other influential and successful leaders will learn from his struggle. If a fifty-nine-year-old, public leadership figure can say that he needed to take a break, all of us can. That is not called weakness, my friends.

We need to tackle (pardon the pun) the notion that mental health issues are signs of weakness. Our societies will be safer, healthier spaces when we view mental and spiritual health the same way we view any other sickness or disease. If we can go to the doctor for a runny tummy, why on earth would we raise an eyebrow if people see a specialist to better their mental health?

Leonard Sweet’s poignant words ring true:

“Scars and fails are nothing to be ashamed of. Everybody has them. Artists are there to frame them. Composers are there to score them. Musicians are there to play them. Physicians are there to treat them. Theologians are there to understand them. Jesus is there to redeem them.”

Be strong. Be vulnerable.

When the membrane thins

Have you ever been caught up in a moment where you had the impression that what is taking place right now, is holy? What is taking place right now, has serious meaning? What is taking place right now, will change something or someone?

I experienced a similar moment the other day when a group of teenagers gave some of their time and attention to a group of children who are desperate for all the time and attention they can get.

What started as a circle of kids sitting in the shade of a tree, with some silly songs being sung, gradually changed into worship.

What were they worshiping along to?

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.

Now, I’ve heard some say that we shouldn’t actually be singing along with those words. Because the man who wrote them, wasn’t addressing ‘our’ God. When we sing along, we are actually worshiping a god unknown to us. It is not true. The song was first sung in public in 1899, when Reverend Mboweni, the first Tsonga Methodist minister, was ordained.

It turns out, ‘our’ God can, has and will, use any song, game, conversation, food, whatever… that unites people. You see, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika was the only song that all the children in the circle knew the words to, and could sing along to.

So there we were, worshiping…because we were aware of God being in the midst of us.

Have you noticed that in moments like these, we wished that time would go by just a little slower? That this fleeting moment, could be our everyday reality?

During those moments, the membrane dividing the heavenly and earthly realm, becomes very thin.

 

Explore the Ecosystem

What do you value the most?

Let’s compare what we value to a living, vibrant ecosystem. Until the day we draw our last breath, we are on a mission, exploring the crevices and cracks of all there is to value.

There are things that we have attached much value to for many years. And then, on a random day, we realize that the thing we valued, starts to lose some of its shine. What was once the most relevant and important thing, drops down on the pecking order.

It turns out, amidst the wealth of life in this ecosystem that we are discovering, other things are much more valuable. It just took a little more effort to come across some hidden gems.

Like vulnerability. Once you discover and treasure vulnerability, most relationships start changing. Friendships are more real, marriages are scarier but more intimate, and our kids get to know a more authentic version of who their mother or father really is.

So here’s the straight-up truth: whatever takes up the most of our headspace tends to become what we value.

So delve into that ecosystem. Values were never meant to be rigid. Explore the deep, dark spaces that you have forsaken to explore. The treasures that you find there, will make you a richer person.

Why Excellence?

Why do we want to be excellent?

I am busy reading a book by Jane Duncan, called Protest Nation: The right to protest in South Africa. Her research makes for some fascinating reading, and is certainly changing some of my preconceived ideas about protests in our country.

In one of the chapters in the book, she explains that the manner in which journalists write about protests, contribute to our public opinion and perception. What it boils down to, is that lazy journalism often withholds much needed perspective to the public.

What I gained from this particular chapter, was that our country needs excellent journalists; journalists who are willing to go the extra mile to make sure that their readers are well-informed.

So, why do we want to be excellent? Whether you are a high-capacity leader, an artist or a pensioner volunteering in your community every now and then, most of us have some kind of impact on others.

We are excellent, because we care. Our being excellent will always serve a purpose. Excellence will always inspire.

Why we need insult-free spaces

In her recent tribute to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in the National Assembly, Naledi Pandor, Minister of Higher Education suggested that fellow politicians should stop insulting each other. She said: “An insult doesn’t build a road, an insult doesn’t build houses, an insult doesn’t educate the nation. Frankly, the level of insults that we hurl at each other, is the reason for the violence that we see in society, because we are not an example to the nation.”

Our country (and the world) is poor. Many people are physically poor, but there are many others who are poor in our capacity to talk together, to build together, to trust each other.

Parents don’t trust teachers, we don’t trust public servants, heck; many church members don’t even trust each other!

There aren’t many platforms where people from different backgrounds, cultures or political persuasions can learn to trust each other. Or learn to connect with each other. So, if we can’t seem to find these platforms, we will simply have to start creating them.

Whether it’s my small business, the people I work with, the body corporate in my complex, a group of parents at school, a youth group where you volunteer; we need these safe spaces. Don’t wait for someone else to start doing something.

The smallest nucleus where all of us can start creating safe, trusting spaces, is our own homes. If we have spent our lives investing in our (and other) kids’ capacity to trust, respect and love, surely those kids won’t be the ones insulting and breaking down?

Erring on the side of Foolishness

Fear is never a good catalyst or motivator.

I know of a whole bunch of people (some who are my good friends) who are emigrating. Many for a season (and not out of fear), but some of them for good. In Afrikaans we sometimes say “Die wêreld is klein” when the person we speak to also has a connection with another person who normally lives far away. Well, we live in such a globalized world that the world is becoming smaller and smaller.

What worries me, is that many of these people are fantastic human beings who have so much to offer. Especially in education circles, our country is suffering a very big brain (and heart) drain. Luckily (and hopefully) many of these gifted people will come back to share themselves with the children of South Africa. We need them.

People who have some knowledge of how savings and investments work, will tell you that when you invest your money, you should learn to play the patience game. To move your money around on a weekly basis is not a good idea.

My father-in-law (who was a financial planner), in his efforts to coach me on ‘Finances 101’, used to tell me that there are two things that often sway people to invest or move their money: the one is greed, and the other is fear.

Whether it’s decisions about our career, our networks, friends or family, where we will stay (or move) or many other things; when fear is our main driver, we make decisions that protect and isolate ourselves and our own interests.

Obviously, our families are very dear and important to us; which is a good thing. Parents will do almost anything to serve and protect their children. But parenting out of a mindset of fear can be detrimental for our children. No child is supposed to be smothered. That is not the best environment for kids to learn and grow into life-embracing people.

I believe that people who walk the Jesus-way have a different set of things to consider when we make decisions about who we are, and how we choose to live. I would like to believe that we choose dialogue and relationship with people who have different ways of thinking; that we would consider engaging spaces that need God’s redemption and beauty. For me, that is what transformation looks like.

That is what should excite us. To see change, beauty and meaning all around us.

Should we make foolish decisions about our own safety? I don’t think so. But I would rather err on the side of foolishness, than cover myself in safety.

What is your motivation? What moves you…and where does it move you?

Grief and Loss: Making Sense of the Non-sense

Our year started very much unexpectedly. While I was camping with a bunch of teenagers, I got the dreaded phone call in the middle of the night.

Danél lost her father (my father-in-law) and stepmom in an instant. While on their way to holiday, a truck made an illegal turn. Dad and Stepmom were gone. Just like that.

So in this post I am simply trying to make some sense of what we experienced the past few weeks. If you are encouraged by it, then I’m grateful.

So let’s start with the Holy Spirit. Funerals and bereavement counseling is not really my thing (I’m a pastor), but it’s one of those things that a pastor can’t always choose not to do. Sometimes it chooses you. So I’ve had quite a few funerals, standing next to deathbeds, trying to offer some comfort and support to families.

I’ve always known and believed that the Holy Spirit plays a special role when we are confronted with death, grief and sorrow. Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is (among many other things) the great Comforter. I never really paid special attention to the ‘how’ of this comforting that takes place, because it wasn’t my shock, my sorrow or my grief.

I’m sure that the Spirit comforts in a variety of ways, and that the comfort that we receive differs. All of us are unique creations, with different personalities, temperaments and spirituality types. But my experience was, to say the least, very different from what I expected. You might even say that it was refreshing.

I had the idea that the peace and comfort that we receive when we are grieving, hurting or overcome with sadness would be something like an emotional or spiritual state of calmness or even a ‘fuzzyness’; almost like taking a pill that some old well-meaning lady offers you at a funeral, which puts you in a bit of a trance.

My experience was a bit different. Two things happened: in the midst of the chaos and the hurt, I was never left wondering where God was. I instinctively knew that He was in the midst of the chaos. That He really was there. And that was what caused the calm inside of me. There was no fuzzy feeling. There was intense sorrow and confusion, but all of that happened, knowing that God was right there with us.

The other thing that I experienced, was that the Holy Spirit was connecting certain dots. Some things just made sense, in the midst of the chaos. I could mention a host of things, but I would like to mention two…

Danel and I had the privilege of seeing our father and stepmom this past December. We live about 900 kilometers apart, so time spent together really was special everytime. It was a great visit, and we spent our last night with my father-in-law on his farm. It was the first, and the last time that we would spend the night with him on the farm. Sleeping under the stars, and waking up to the sun rising on Klipkuil was magic. That morning was especially difficult for Danel to leave. She and her father bade each other an emotional farewell; more emotional than other times we had to greet. As we were driving away, ‘Pa Flippie’ waving his arms around like crazy in the distance, Danel mentioned: “I don’t know what is wrong with me today”. That was their final farewell, and the Holy Spirit reminded us that it was no coincidence that it was such an emotional one.

The last month that my father-in-law and his wife spent together on earth was probably their best. Their marriage had their ups and downs, like many marriages do. After their accident, one of my father-in-law’s best friends told us about something that he shared with him on the day of the accident, just before they left on holiday. ‘Pa Flippie’ was a little late (classic Flippie Becker), and went to his friend to borrow a trailer for the trip to Reebok (a small town close to Hartenbos). His friend mentioned: ‘Dot will probably have something to say about the fact that you are running late.’ ‘No she won’t’ he replied, ‘things are going really well between the two of us.’ For us staying behind, knowing that gives so much solace. And that is another dot that, I feel, the Spirit connected for us.

When I speak to people about their grief and loss, I am particularly economic with the language that I use, because I know that some things really aren’t that easy to explain. Many things in life don’t have quick-fix answers.

But this is my experience. This is my story. The Holy Spirit comforted. The Spirit comforts.

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