Different sets of eyes; different stories

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So after what seems like an eternity, I’m back, baby!

I have missed writing about stuff that helps me grow, so I have decided to do a resurrection of sorts.

I went for a jog this afternoon (yes, I am one of the crazy ones who will try to do my first Comrades this year), when I ran past a woman. She was either faking a cry or crying for real. She couldn’t understand English or Afrikaans and I couldn’t understand her language. From what I could gather in our sign-language-and-different-languages conversation (I think) she is from Mozambique, and someone hit her and took her money.

I can’t vouch for her story, but it was a frustrating, but profound moment.

I have to be honest: my first reaction was that she had to be the con-artist for the bunch of thugs behind the bush that would rob be. But when I realized that wasn’t the case and I couldn’t really say anything to her, I greeted her (clumsily) and off I went.

A numb sadness came over me. I knew this woman had a story(ies), but I couldn’t hear it. I could see it, though. In all the scars on her face and arms. And in her eyes. Here was a battered woman, and a woman on the outskirts. If only her voice could be amplified.

All of us have a story. Some would love to start a new chapter. Some wish people would actually care about their story.

Don’t be too busy or too selfish or too caught up in your own world to listen to the real, messy, honest stories of beautiful people (Note to self).

Anyone Can Google-search a Quote…

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So, what are some of your favourite quotes? Quotes have a knack of sticking around in our heads. Sometimes a meaningful quote can inspire, make us think, or upset us at just about the right time.

One of my favourite quotes have been sticking around in my head for almost fifteen years. A speaker at school (I can’t even remember his name) once said: ‘If you have a setback, don’t take a step back; get ready for the comeback’. This (pretty average!) quote has really helped me in times when I really felt like giving up on work, myself, studies and relationships.

Jesus also said many radical things when He walked with people on earth. A bunch of the stuff he said was short enough to tweet; golden nuggets of wisdom that’s easy enough to stick around in our heads.

But in the image-saturated, quote-infested world we live in, there is danger in living from the one inspiring image or quote to the other.

Gandhi, Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Spurgeon, Mother Theresa… these are only some of the names I often see when people post quotes. But here’s a question: of all the quotes that we live by or that we post, how many of the people that actually said those words first, do we know much about? Most quotes come from somewhere: from a speech that changed the course of history, from a book containing a few hundred pages of inspiration, from a life lived greatly. Quotes also come from a context. Getting to grips with the context that birthed a quote often multiplies the significance of a quote significantly.

Think about all the tweet-worthy things that Jesus said. Getting to know some of his well-known quotes doesn’t nearly give me the depth of what Jesus really came to do on earth. To really get the significance of Jesus’ words, I have to start searching deeper than a few quotes. I have to immerse my body and soul into who He was, and what that means for my life today.

The truth is, quotes are not going to change the world that you are living in.

There’s more to life than posting a few cool quotes and pics every now and then. If you want to be someone with real depth, you’re going to have to go deeper than searching for an inspiring quote. It means that you will have to immerse yourself into life, and soak yourself with knowledge and wisdom. Read books, listen to podcasts, watch teachings or talks, get to know history, find out why some people’s names still appear every now and then, even though they may be long gone.

There is more to life than the superficial stuff that entertain us so easily. Go deep.


What do our reactions to SONA and 50 Shades of Grey say?

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This past week, two issues have been ruling social networks: the State of the Nation, and 50 Shades of Grey. Judging by what people have to say about these things, I am pretty sure people are worried. Worried about the political situation of our country. And worried that the minds of people (especially teenagers) will be polluted by unhealthy pictures of what sexuality is all about.

These fears are valid. We should be worried by the lack of moral fibre in society. The state of leadership in Africa is a clear indication that we have a whole lot of work ahead of us. We should also rightly be worried about the conflicting messages that young people receive when it comes to sex. I know, for instance, that the unhealthy sexual pictures that I got exposed to when I was a teenager, had a very toxic influence on my own sexual development. I had to walk a long and painful road of sexual re-discovery.

I am, however, not convinced that our reactions to the things that worry us, are always helping.

When we react to something, there is always an unwritten message that goes with the reaction. For instance, if someone tries to give me constructive criticism, and I am very quick to justify the criticism, the unwritten message that I am sending is that I am not open to criticism.

Many peoples’ reaction to the State of the Nation and the chaos that erupted, sends a clear message: our nation is going up in flames, and there is nothing that we can do about it. Although we have many serious issues, we cannot afford to start believing our own unwritten messages. Because these messages spell nothing but destruction. There is always hope.

I can remember when I was a young boy, the movie Basic Instinct was a big thing. I can still remember conversations between boys at school: “Dude, you can see everything! We have to find a way of watching it!” I am just wondering, if kids get a clear unwritten message from us that Fifty Shades of Grey is not something that they should be watching, might that not fuel their curiosity so much that they will do anything to feast their eyes on this piece of forbidden fruit.

In the midst of many worrying things happening around us, may we always be on the lookout for beauty. Beauty happens every day. All around us.

If a mom and dad shows their kids the beauty of love and respect in marriage, they have a much better chance of sending an unwritten message to their kids that what is often portrayed as love and healthy sexuality is anything but the case. If a beautiful couple talks to their kids about love and sex, the message is more likely to stick.

Don’t allow the worries of this world to blind your eyes to the beauty all around us.

Jesus’ Kingdom is alive and kicking. We are invited to share the beauty. It’s a pretty powerful message.

Social Justice and an Appetite for Beautiful Stories

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We don’t need to look too far to spot some kind of injustice in society. Just the other day, I spoke to a man working for the government in Mpumalanga (South Africa). Their health department is currently under administration. Instead of the R 120 per person allowed for departmental catering, one catering company asked R 500 per person…and they got paid!

I have started thinking about the way I (and other people) react to injustice, and whether I am really contributing by turning social injustice into social justice. In the social media culture that we live in, it’s so easy to comment on an injustice, go on with our own lives, and eventually forget about the issue altogether.

There are a few things I think we might consider if we really want to make an effective contribution:

  • Look for the plank in your own eye                                                                                                                                     It’s easy to curse the deeds of a criminal, but not always so easy to spot our own blind spots. The first step to becoming a voice against injustice, is remembering that we are all broken people and in need of a ton of grace. If we forget this, we are in danger of becoming self-righteous faultfinders.
  • Choose whether you want to curse the fruits, or find the root of a problem.                                                                      It’s quite straightforward to spot an injustice. That is the fruit. To spot the root of the problem (and even trying to do something about the root) is a different story. We can have something to say about violence against women and children, but to find a platform where we can influence the boys who might carry out what they have been exposed to in their families and communities, will take some more time, effort, intention and prayer.
  • Raise your prophetic voice wisely                                                                                                                                  When Jesus turned over the tables in the temple, the reason behind his anger was the greed of people, and the fact that some people were excluded. But according to John’s account, Jesus put together a whip out of strips of leather before he responded. Making a whip takes time. While Jesus was working with the leather, he had enough time to think. I believe that by the time Jesus reacted, he had a clear idea of what he was going to do, and the words that would accompany his deeds. I regularly get convicted by the fact that my words should actually lead to change. Sometimes, words weigh much heavier when accompanied with intentional deeds.
  • Put your money and your body where your mouth is                                                                                                   Money talks. We all know the saying. When it comes to social injustice, as much as we need people to call a spade a spade, we also need people who will be able to use the spade; and some to buy the spades! In the community where I stay, a 25-year old chose to stand for councilor, because he had a vision to (amongst other things) invest in the lives of young people. Always be on the lookout for places where your time and/or your money will make a tangible difference. That’s being a proactive prophet.
  • Don’t forget to look out for beauty                                                                                                                                                                                              We hear many stories daily. The rhetoric of the majority of stories that we hear (especially in the media) is that the world is falling apart. But there are many beautiful and hopeful stories out there. We have to decide how hungry we are for these stories. They might be a bit more difficult to find, but when we develop a healthy appetite for hopeful stories, our view of the world, and of our calling as followers of Jesus will change dramatically.

Stewardship of More or Less

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About a week ago an informal settlement in Kya Sands, near Johannesburg, suffered a terrible blow when about 500 shacks caught fire. About 2000 people were left homeless. Unfortunately, because many shacks in informal settlements in South Africa are built very close to each other, occurrences like the recent fire in Kya Sands are quite common.

I met a man this week who started a Non-Profit Organization in Kya Sands. The aim of their organization is to give the children of this impoverished community a fair chance in life, by providing pre-school children a place of safety and development, where they are fed nutritious meals.

While this man was showing me their facilities, a young man walked past pushing a wheelbarrow. I asked him about the contents of the wheelbarrow. The few burnt steel objects were the only salvageable things left of his home after the fire. He lost everything. He was taking the steel to a scrap yard where he would use the money to start rebuilding his shack.

After hearing the story of this young man, I started wondering how I would have reacted if I had to lose everything. But to be honest, for those of us who are economically privileged, it’s highly unlikely that we will ever be in a situation where we lose everything. Most of us are insured. Most of us have some kind of medical aid. And even if we had to lose everything, I can think of many family members and friends who would lend (or even give) me money to start over again.

Maybe that is why Jesus didn’t have too many good things to say about the wealthy: the more we have, the less we realize that our very being depends on the providence of God. For a person with a healthy bank balance, it’s easy to say that you trust in God. But to trust in God when you don’t even have a bank account, is something totally different.

Another challenge for many economically privileged people, is that we isolate ourselves from the majority of the people around us. It’s easier to sleep sound at night when I claim not to be aware of the plight of many other people.

When I grew up, my idea of stewardship was something like this: whatever I own, I should look after properly. If God has “blessed” me to be able to drive a top of the range car, I have the responsibility to look after it. Maybe stewardship is something totally different. Stewardship reminds me to make the distinction between what I want and what I need.

May we not turn a blind eye to the needs of people around us. May we become responsible and thankful stewards.

To Braai or Not to Braai (with them), that is the Question…

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Many South Africans celebrated their heritage a few days ago. This national holiday is called Heritage Day, but I wouldn’t be surprised if many people (children especially) refer to this day as National Braai Day.

National Braai Day is an initiative where South Africans are encouraged to gather around fires, celebrate the heritage of people from different cultures, languages and backgrounds, and of course, share our common heritage: the fact that South Africans know how to braai!

But I wonder how many South Africans actually stood around the fire with people who share a different heritage from their own?

I was invited to spend Heritage Day with a crazy mix of people…and meat! There had to be at least seven kinds of meat that we could choose from. Some of the people are working for the British High Commission in Pretoria, there was a lady from Colombian descent, there was another guy working for National Treasury, and there was a Pedi couple who own a restaurant in the inner city of Pretoria, to mention a few. I really enjoyed meeting people from such diverse backgrounds. If I had to invite people to my own braai, we would probably have been a much more uniform group of people.

I think we sometimes lack depth in relationships and knowledge about the people that share this country with us, because we don’t get to know people from diverse backgrounds on a social level. And because we don’t really know each other, we sometimes live with huge perceptions that we struggle to break down.

Jesus was a great cultural analyst, and he often nudged his people (the Jews) to think differently about difference. The Jews had a pretty bad story to tell when it came to their history with the Samaritans (and vice versa). They didn’t get along at all. But Jesus not only spoke to his people about the Samaritans; he also chose to break the cultural boundaries and engage with the Samaritans. I can only imagine the bad things many Jews had to say about Jesus’ way of thinking and doing.

Jesus didn’t forsake his own heritage. He attended the religious festivals, and he was a partaker of his culture. However, when his people adopted a culture that wasn’t on par with the Kingdom of God, he used his countercultural voice.

As followers of Christ, we have a shared heritage, regardless of where we come from. I also believe that our heritage as Jesus followers should weigh much heavier than our earthly heritage. And this is one of the reasons why I believe we are called to break boundaries, and to be willing to climb into the skins of people who are different from us.

The next time you think about inviting people over for a meal or a braai, try to ask yourself the following question: “How is God inviting me to cross boundaries?”.

A Story about Sibu and Sam

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Meet Sibu and Sam.

Sibu and Sam have been friends for as long as they can remember. Sibu’s parents were poor, and Sam’s were rich.
As a teenager, Sibu loved to listen to the stories that his grandfather would tell of his childhood. Sam would often try to lure Sibu out of these conversations. You see, Sam’s grandfather passed away long ago. And besides, he couldn’t really understand how all the time spent listening to old people would be beneficial to his future.

Sam was a very intelligent kid. Sibu not so much. But Sibu was an avid learner. He enjoyed gaining new insights. Sam made sure his marks were good enough so that he could further his studies. He saw school as a bit of a waste.

Sibu’s hard work paid off in the end. He received a bursary, finished his degree and started working his way up in a company. Sam also finished his degree. His father gave him a substantial amount of money to start his own business.

Sibu and Sam are successful. Sam makes a lot of money. But the people who work for his company aren’t really fond of him. They often feel like pawns in the game that Sam is playing. Sibu is a manager at a company. He isn’t earning loads of money. But the people that work with Sibu, love him. They feel like Sibu is imparting his knowledge into his team. Many are eager to learn from him.

How do we define success? Sibu and Sam are both successful, but success shouldn’t always be measured in numbers. For Sam, his success has come at a cost. Sam has built an empire, but he is a lonely man. Sibu may not have all the money in the world, but he is living a rich and meaningful life.
The relationship that Jesus modeled with his disciples reveals to us the good practices of learning, unlearning and relearning.

Go ask any successful leader, and they will tell you that we are never too old, too wise or too busy to learn. All of us need to intentionally tap into the wealth of knowledge, experience and life lessons of the people around us. Without this, we will end up like Sam.

Choose your circle of influence wisely. I have often made the mistake of listening to people that will only say what I want to hear. If your circle of influence always tells you that you are on the right track, and where there is conflict, you are not the one who needs to change, you have a bad circle of influence.

Without the willingness to learn and to listen to others, we have not yet earned the right for people to learn from us, and listen to our stories.