South Africa – but a brief pause…

Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg, Durban, Stellenbosch, Johannesburg… SA you’ve shown me many sides of yourself. And you haven’t been bashful or reserved … for the most part you’ve unapologetically said, “This is us, this is who we are.”

These two months in SA introduced me to people, attitudes and beliefs as different from one another as different can be. It would be similar to putting together a picture of America by visiting New York City, Mobile (Alabama), El Paso (Texas), and Monterey, California. The food and language (if only the accent) change, the common stories, the culture, the weather, the topography, the worldviews … and often very largely the politics take on varied and different images, heroes and villains, mantras and foci … for life looks a little different depending on the vantage point you have. History, choices and opportunities deal different cards and cards dealt don’t necessarily feel very fair or make clear sense.

South Africa I am nowhere near figuring you out …

…so let’s just pause the conversation while I head up to Jerusalem. I’ll be there for a couple months. In the Holy Lands I will begin to experience both the sacred and the secular of a place that provokes many images as well … everything from majesty and triumph to division and fear.

So till next time SA…

May God continue to heal your wounds and bless your efforts to reconcile and find justice. May God bring enough to those who know only want. May God relieve those who burden themselves with hate. And may God bring wholeness to all your people.

I like the “s”

I’ve been in a place called Lutheran Theological Institute (LTI) in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. It’s about 60 kilometers North of Durban. It is pretty much on the opposite side of the country from Cape Town. It’s a different state with a different dominant culture and language, Zulu.  But here on campus the students come from all over Africa. My roommate is from Zimbabwe, and other friends are from Botswana, Rwanda, Zambia and, of course, South Africa. There is also a large Indian population.

It’s a stew of nationalities, ethnicities and ideologies.

LTI is connected with and right across the street from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). LTI is a Lutheran college and UKZN is a secular university with a Department of Theology. LTI is steeped in traditional liturgy and church structures. UKZN’s Department of Theology is a school of liberation with a history of fighting apartheid through liberation theology and a progressive stance.

I have been attending a few classes and lectures mostly at UKZN. One of the classes I really enjoy is an African Worldviews theology course. The class proves over and over again that the most significant letter in African Worldviews, is the letter “s.” Just like the class, this place is varied, colorful and challenging. It has plenty of mind blowing contradictions and discrepancies. It has thoughtful conversations and mutual interest. I like the “s.”

I might be in class at UKZN but I live, eat and attend daily chapel at LTI. Some pictures of LTI…

Joy, sorrow and the basics of everyday…

Welcome to the Ganges! The holy river of Northern India where one trip thru the city of Varanasi on a boat will reveal a whole spectrum of human realities and ritual both religious and benign…

The holy city of Varanasi is all at once picturesque and haunting, powerful and intimate… All the sights, sounds and smells to someone like me create a real clash or dare I say, cacophony, but to the faithful believer the rhythmic harmony of life is played out at the Ghats of the Ganges. There is a never ending stream of bather’s lathering up, what seems like the entire cities laundry being washed, cows coming to cool themselves, bodies being burned for Hindu cremation, garlands of flowers placed in the river for hopes and dreams, children playing, people working, and a ton of wide-eyed tourists not sure of what to make of it all.

It’s a microcosm of the India I am learning to love, where everything that we neatly characterize and separate in the west collides expectantly as a natural rhythm of life here. Now I don’t want to sound overly romantic, because believe me some of the aromatic qualities of this rhythm are definitely not romantic, in fact they can be just plane foul. But there is something real and raw about life here; in so many ways it’s right in front of you. And you get to decide what you’ll do with it…

Will you concentrate on the stacks of timber used at funerals?

Will you get caught up in the architecture or the landscape?

Will you notice the religious bathers and the women who want their photo taken?

Will you see the faces of these happy kids who found some things that most of us would throw away and made it into the best toy a young boy could hope for?

What will you see?