Sunday, January 27, 2013

Coming in out of the Wind

"Let me be wise to draw from every dispensation of Thy providence the lesson Thou are minded to teach me." --John Baillie

Moving to Stellenbosch has been one of the more pleasant experiences of my life. Through the window I see a sun-baked mountain behind fluttering palm trees, tiny toy vineyards lined immaculately on the slopes. Clay tile roofs complete the picture.

I've stopped asking, "How did we get here?" I don't bother to pinch myself anymore, I'll just get a bruise, and we are still here. Ever wonder what God's got up His sleeve?

The past four years were the most tumultuous and painful in our ministry. Now we are washed up on the shore of a paradise. From this perspective I can see how God used so much in our lives to get us here. Circumstances. Circumstances which brought me to my knees and lower, circumstances which made me long for heaven and escape from earth.

As those circumstances tore my heart apart, I was not seeing in them the compost of a life which would one day produce fruit. I just smelled its acrid stench and felt the burn of its acid. In fact, I am convinced that compost is perhaps the best metaphor for circumstances that a life of faith can understand. We are to use the circumstances of our lives to bring forth the fruit of holiness.

Fruit production is lengthy business, we see a lot of it here in Stellenbosch. Sometimes its smelly and there isn't much to show for the effort right away. Now I can see where I have come from. At the time I saw nothing of the fertilizing effect. My point of view was fragmented; I saw neither the past context nor the future hope, just the present pain. 

I have a new friend, Cecile. Cecile has a radiant face, sparkling eyes, and a great sense of humor. She also has 4% vision in one eye, and a limited area vision in the other which she describes as looking through a gauzy curtain. She has one hand, her left, and her right leg cannot bend at the knee. Twenty-four years ago she was in a horrific accident, her survival was a miracle. She carries the scars of that circumstance throughout her body. But it was the circumstance that brought her to know her Lord Jesus. And while she jokes about her limitations, she says she would not trade her mobility or vision for her friendship with Jesus. 

(Here I am with Cecile and her artist husband, Hannes, in front of the Drakenstein mts.)

Jesus is in the process of making Cecile and me and all of us into a perfect gift to present to His father. We are an organic gift, so He uses compost to maximize our perfection. It is so hard for us to see that the wind and rough weather beating us down are to strengthen us and grow our roots deep. Now I can thank Him for those four tough years, as I see the bigger view. Cecile can thank Him for the painful months of recovery and the limitations she has endured for over two decades. No one can meet her and not see that she is full of the joy of life.

Now that I'm in out of the wind (not to say I won't find myself in it again at any moment), I can appreciate what St Francis meant when we said: 

That has always been and still is most dear to me and more sweet and more acceptable which pleases the LORD my God most to let happen in me and with me.

God is pleased to let compost happen to me so I may produce the fruit of holiness. I have to stand back from fretting about things, grieving over what I cannot fix, and come in out of the wind. He has a plan that includes the past, the present and the future. It is whole, not fragmented.

And one day we will wake up. The bad dream will be over. It will be morning.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Forgiveness in Relationship

Last September as I perused Garland Library’s shelves for books on South Africa, one title grabbed me, so I plopped it on top of the three biographies of Nelson Mandela I’d selected.  I couldn’t possibly pronounce the author’s name (Antjie Krog), but a title like Country of My Skull, and a quick flip through assured me of a riveting read.

Now I have read three of her post-modern, lyrical and poetic works. An Afrikaans poet, philosopher, anti-apartheid activist, and radio journalist, Antjie (pronounced AnKee) has won my admiration and set my mind to thinking. Her two subsequent works: A Change of Tongue and Begging to Be Black continue the line of thought and questions that Antjie began in Country of My Skull. That work was her journal interwoven with three years of reporting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission requested by Nelson Mandela and led by Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Antjie covers a lot of territory in her works and is not concerned with resolving as much as understanding. Her perception of “ubuntu”, that wonderful quality of the African community life which Tutu chose as seminal for the work to be accomplished in  the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is broad and deep. Her respect for the cultures which Afrikanerdom dominated and diminished is admirable. I highly recommend her work for insight into the hearts and mind-set of the Afrikaaners as they hewed their own culture and history out of the rough landscape of Southern Africa’s mountains, karoos and vast veld: caught between the mighty British empire and the tangle of tribes inhabiting subSaharan Africa.

One brilliant gem she comes away with is the breadth of what forgiveness means. Believe me, I’ve read a number of books written by Christian authors (some theologians) on forgiveness. But I think Antjie has captured a key of the truly Biblical element, and sadly, attributed it almost exclusively to African culture.

“Forgiving is therefore never separate from reconciliation, but the first personal step. It demands a response from the forgiven one, to change, to become human, to share. Forgiveness is thus not an uninformed embrace of evil, it is not a miracle brought about by an individual, but an interconnected act that makes a changed relationship possible, a future, a new way of being.” (p. 212 Begging to be Black.)