Saturday 28 October 2017

Thandi Gamedze

What We Are Dreaming For

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” Genesis 1: 1-3

These words never fail to inspire. Faced with some rather bleak-sounding scenery, God hovered over it all for a while, and then out of this void, spoke the earth into being. No details about this hovering are mentioned, but I like to think that it is in this time that the universe was actually created. That the hovering itself was a magnificently creative process in which all that exists now was formed inside of God’s heart. Only in the wake of this inner creation, were the generative words spoken, and what had up until then existed only as God’s dream, manifested in the natural, in the form of the sun, moon and stars, the oceans and the land, the plants and the animals, and those made in God’s image. As creative beings fashioned by the hand of the Great Creator, we too have the responsibility and privilege of dreaming up universes, and speaking them into being. In this season we as the Warehouse have intentionally sought to ‘hover over the void’, engaging with narratives of darkness and pain, remaining in the spaces of disequilibrium, and out of this place some dreams have been birthed in our hearts

We dream of seeing the church step into a greater role of advocating for the plight of vulnerable groups. Scripture illustrates situation after situation in which Jesus advocated for the vulnerable and marginalised. His teachings and actions disrupted the prevailing systems of power, and centred those who had been relegated to the margins. What would happen if we intentionally did the same as the church today? If we made spaces in our communities for society’s most vulnerable? If we centred the voices of the marginalised? If we made a point of naming and disrupting oppression in all its forms?

We dream of seeing the church engaging deeper in questions around its role in spatial injustice in South Africa. The church in South Africa collectively owns a huge amount of land, which opens up significant potential to make change in the spatial injustice so present in our country. Already we are seeing local churches grappling with questions around what restitution could and should look like, and creatively dreaming about possible uses of their resources. We dream of a society where the church becomes the example of radical restitution.

We dream of seeing right relationship across colour lines in this country. With the incremental shattering of our collective rainbow tinted glasses, it is generally accepted that although apartheid technically ended in 1994, for most, little has changed. Racism and discrimination continue to find different ways to manifest themselves, begging the need for radical healing of the wounds inflicted by our brutal history. We long to see true reconciliation that is not mere lip service, but that represents deep work and intentionality.

We dream of seeing less-resourced church leaders and churches becoming sustainable. Due to the deep inequities in our country, pastors of churches in less-resourced communities not only cope with the demands of ministering in the context of an overwhelming burden of poverty and continuous trauma within their congregations, but also live with and through the consequences of this reality themselves. Resources of many kinds are stretched thinly in the exact places where more are needed. A key mandate that we have as the Warehouse, is to see local churches become powerful forces against all kinds of injustice in their communities, and we recognise that this transformative role is very difficult to play when church leaders are struggling with their own sustainability and that of their church communities. We dream of beginning a sustainable church leaders’ initiative which will provide a platform for restitutional justice and partnerships with church leaders in addressing this.

These are some of the things that we feel that God has put on our hearts for this next season. We are excited for the time that we will be able to look back and see what he has done in these areas, and look forward to the next phase of reimagining the society that we live in.

Saturday 28 October 2017

Thandi Gamedze

What We Have Dreamed and Seen

At the Warehouse, we prioritize times of corporate listening and discernment. We believe that we are created to be communal beings, and that we most accurately hear what God is saying when we do it corporately, making space for clarification, confirmation, and deeper interrogation.

These times often provide vision for the season to come, and are helpful in allowing us to take stock of where we are going, as well as acting as a metaphorical lighthouse in seasons where the path is less clear.

In the midst of being encouraged to prophetically imagine a just society, we have also felt God nudging us to look back at the things that we dreamed into for the season gone by, and in doing so have been beautifully confronted by the evidence of God’s faithfulness.

Over times of corporate discernment, we collectively asked God what we should be paying attention to in the next season. These are some of the things we heard for the last season, as well as what we have concurrently seen.

- We were asked to pay attention to the next generation of leaders
In our attempts to do this, we have had the honour of journeying with many young leaders who are pioneering new ways of pushing for justice. We have seen many young people step up in incredible ways, but oftentimes becoming disillusioned with the church and its failure in many cases to take up the cause against injustice. In the hopes of creating spaces where these points of contention can be unpacked and discussed, we have hosted a training programme in Volmoed, as well as various gatherings on Robben Island, and have had the privilege of being involved in various happenings alongside the organisation Youth With A Mission. 

- We were asked to pay attention to how God responds to stories of pain, suffering and struggle
In so doing, we realised some of the magnitude of the trauma faced by our communities on an ongoing basis. In our work of gathering church leaders together to hear about some of the realities in their communities, we saw that although churches were attempting to offer care to individuals dealing with trauma, they were often not equipped on how best to provide support. Faced with this gap, we developed some training resources that can assist churches to best walk with people who have undergone or are undergoing various forms of trauma. Siyaphila (we are well) is an eight week programme facilitated by a qualified professional, that takes individuals on a journey to come to terms with trauma that they have faced. Sinoxolo is a shorter version of this, that can be facilitated by anybody. Children, Church and the Law is another of our resources that unpacks the Children’s Act, and provides a foundation for how it should be applied within churches.

- We felt a pull engage more fully with the subject of restitution
We have become more and more convinced that in order to move forward as a country, we need to really engage with the concept of restitution, and find ways of creating practical steps to carry this out. This conviction has led us to partnering with the Restitution Foundation in various ways, in an attempt to develop resources that facilitate individuals to go on journeys of practically embracing principles of restitution. We continue to be encouraged by stories of churches that we are in relationship with, engaging with questions around restitution, and are increasingly seeing people taking practical steps towards a more just distribution of resources.

- We were asked to be present in places of chaos
Something that we see again and again in scripture, is that Jesus continually situates himself in the centre of pain and chaos. In our time of corporate discernment, we felt that Jesus was asking us to do the same. In our society today, chaos is never in short supply, and this mandate took us on a number of journeys. We have had the opportunity of being involved with the creation of the group More Than Peace, who have trained and deployed multiple ‘peace and justice witnesses’ to difficult spaces of protest, as well as assisted in facilitating dialogue between opposing groups in these spaces. We have also had the privilege of assisting with the initiation of the RESPOND network, a group of churches that mobilise practical assistance for those affected by disasters, such as the fire in Imizama Yethu or the storm in Cape Town earlier this year. We have been really encouraged seeing the church step up to respond to these spaces of chaos.

- We were asked to step into a place of thought leadership within spaces to which we were being invited
As we have felt called to not only be faithful in doing the ‘thought-work’ around issues of injustice in our country, but also to be faithful with sharing this, we have had the privilege of receiving a number of invitations to do so. Many of our staff spoke or facilitated workshops at March’s Justice Conference. We have facilitated various trainings on an ongoing basis, and have been honoured to open up our space for the Leadership in Urban Transformation course, which is generating important thought and action regarding the transformation of our churches, cities and societies at large. Luthando Tofu, one of our members of staff, has been given a slot on Tygerberg radio station on Thursday evenings. Many of our staff have been invited to speak at conferences and events locally, nationally and abroad. We have also facilitated a number of contextual bible studies that we term ‘decolonising the gospels’, where we read scripture together, acknowledging our own contexts as well as those of the biblical characters, in order to get a deeper and more accurate understanding of the scriptures. We believe that the Holy Spirit is realigning the church with God’s heart for justice, and we are so grateful for the part we get to play in that.

We have listened, dreamed, and attempted to align our praxis to this, and in the process, we have seen the faithfulness of God manifested in a myriad of ways. Our journey has not been perfect. At times it has included bumps in the road, wrong turns, and disappointments, but we have been, and continue to be, transformed through it. No doubt there remains much work to be done, and because of this, we continue to dream.

Saturday 28 October 2017

Thandi Gamedze

Reflections on Lament

At this year’s annual celebration, Nkosi and Rene led us in a time of lament. A candle surrounded by barbed wire was used to symbolically represent the light and hope that Jesus represents, in the midst of the present pain and suffering.

In the active pursuit of justice, coming face to face with suffering time and time again, is unavoidable. The earthly existence of Jesus himself was marked by encounters with human pain and suffering, his very death on the cross almost a culmination of this reality. The gospels are filled with descriptions of Jesus being moved to compassion in the face of another’s suffering. He does not shy away from these difficult moments, but fully enters into the space occupied by the person in pain.

Our present reality is that people are in pain all around us. The kingdom whose foundations are justice and righteousness, has not yet come in its fullness. Suffering still marks the lives of so many of our siblings. And while we continue to look to the time when all is made new, it is key that we continue to situate ourselves within the suffering around us, mourning with those who mourn, allowing ourselves to be moved by the weight of their pain.

We see such lament throughout scripture:

“I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes.” Psalm 6: 6-7

“I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes- it also has gone from me” Psalm 38: 8-10

“O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult? They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast. They crush your people, O Lord, and afflict your heritage. The kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless; and they say, “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.” Psalm 94: 3-7

“How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave. She weeps bitterly in the night with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has none to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her; they have become her enemies.” Lamentations 1: 1-2

And the following captures some of our collective lament:

Lord we weep with you for the many women and children that continue to be victims of sexual violence, for the children born into poverty who are never given the chance to reach their full potential, for the hopelessness that defines the outlook of so many.

Lord we weep with you for the countless children that grow up in fatherless homes, for the children in our cities that suffer abuse, rape and violence, for the reality that circumstances of birth determine opportunities in life.

Lord we weep with you for the growing gap between the rich and the poor, for the fear that prohibits us from loving our neighbour, for a country that is still so defined by racism, for the inequality that plagues our society.

Yet in the midst of the pain, there is also a hope that we can hold onto. The light that is ever shining, even in this present darkness. That of Jesus, who took on the fullness of human suffering, and proved victorious over it. Because of this, lament is not the end of the story. We also get to be carriers of joy, bringers of hope, and dreamers that dream forth the fullness of this coming kingdom that will be founded on justice and righteousness.

Psalm 126

“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”

Saturday 28 October 2017

Thandi Gamedze

Stirring Up the Prophetic Imagination

For some time now, we have been collectively pressing into what Walter Brueggemann terms ‘prophetic imagination’.

While the prophets of old were instrumental in naming, calling out, and condemning the injustices plaguing their societies, this was done in tandem with the re-envisioning of a society founded upon God’s justice and righteousness. They did not simply call for the destruction of the present evils, but they also stirred up a collective imagination of what could be.

The recent Fallist movements in our country have been key in bringing to the fore some of the injustice that often manages to hide beneath the surface of public discourse. These movements have recognised that in order for us to move forward as a people, and as a nation, there are powers that need to be destroyed. I believe however, that within this present moment, there is also space that begs to be filled with our prophetic imaginings. With our creative dreams of a new society. With our visions of the world that we would like ourselves and our children to inhabit.

These two ingredients- the imagining of a new society, and the tearing down of the forces of injustice - are both unhelpful when taken alone. In South Africa’s rainbow nation fallacy, we have seen first-hand the lack of progression when people get stuck in a vision for the future without taking the necessary steps to get there. And on the other side of the coin, we have witnessed in many countries, the destruction that comes from the removal of leaders in the absence of solid plans for their succession.

Thus, in this current climate, where long-ignored injustices are finally being called out and seen for what they are, let us not forget the work of reimagining.
While this sounds like an easy thing to do, many of our imaginations have become stunted from their continued existence within a society that has little value for them. Beginning in childhood, we are taught to colour only inside the lines, we are dissuaded from creating imaginary worlds, we are admonished for daydreaming. Perfectionism is often prioritised over creativity, and productivity over imagination. These realities often result in the progressive diminishing of our ability to dream, create and imagine without inhibition.

Thus, recovering a culture of prophetic imagination begins with the intentional disruption of society’s dominant value systems. It begins with pushing back to make space for creativity, to encourage play, to allow ourselves to daydream. It is time to break our co-dependent relationship with the lines, and begin to colour outside of them, for the creation of a new society requires the bravery to journey where we have never gone before.