Mandela Exhibit in Cape Town
Last night we celebrated the life of Nelson Mandela at evening chapel. It was a community event: we sang and read prayers together in several languages; the college rector, Dr. Barney Pityana, shared memories of the struggle for freedom in South Africa and his encounters with Mandela; the Sunday School children unfurled a banner they had made and performed a dance; and we all lit candles to represent the light Mandela brought this country. The power of this man continues to radiate in South Africa and throughout the world.
In South Africa, Mandela is often called Madiba, a term of endearment, or Tata, father. On his 95th birthday on July 18 people all over South Africa honored him by performing some kind of service to others for 67 minutes, representing the number of years he has served his country
In a prayer last night, we asked God to make us “through your love become slaves to the freedom of the gospel…” Prayers in South Africa often juxtapose words that seem to be total opposites, slaves and freedom. People here understand through their own experience what it means to live in freedom though oppressed. By truly becoming slaves to the freedom of the gospel perhaps we can understand more fully the message of forgiveness and reconciliation Mandela has lived.
Ethos and Context
The two most used words at The College of the Transfiguration by both students and lecturers seem to be context and ethos. We are constantly reminded that ideas we share in classes and in informal conversations must always reflect an African context. Similarly we are encouraged to factor in the ethos, the fundamental values of a specific person or culture, as we engage with each other.
Both are important concepts to the college community because so many cultures and races are represented in its student body and faculty. There is an expectation that lecturers use African scholars and theorists whenever possible. When I introduced concepts about human growth and development in my Christian education classes, I visited the Rhodes University library to look for books that contextualized western theory for African cultures.
Much to my dismay, I have realized that I sometimes have not used the same discipline in understanding individual behavior. Students here have similar needs to students anywhere. After a stressful week, they sometimes need to blow off a little steam. When I enter into their raucous joy instead of watching it from one side, I find myself in a new place. I’ve discovered relationships that share a range of emotion run deeper. Laughter is a powerful medicine for all of us.
Spirituality and Aging
Life in South Africa is busy, disappointing, rewarding, and exasperating. Sometimes it seems like a lot of effort for so little impact. This week I talked about spirituality and aging to 10 people, all of whom are over 60 and members of the Cathedral. I spent way too much time preparing; I thought we’d have at least 15. After my talk a woman who just turned 80─a remarkable person who taught drama at Rhodes University but now is losing her vision and hearing─approached me and took my hands in hers. “I didn’t know anyone else understood my life right now,” she said. “Thank you for being here.” A gentle reminder from God that sometimes the smallest connections are the most important.
Mpho Tutu with Tom and Dorothy Linthicum, 18 May 2013
Tutu Legacy Foundation
While we were in Cape Town last month, we had the opportunity to visit Mpho Tutu at the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation in Milnerton, a suburb of Cape Town. Mpho, daughter of Desmond and Leah, is executive director of the foundation. We knew her from her residency as a priest at Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia, U.S.A.
Mpho graciously gave us part of a morning to talk about the foundation and her family. We ended our time together at morning tea where we met the foundation staff.
The main purpose of the foundation is to protect and promote the legacy of Desmond and Leah Tutu. It also is working toward making Cape Town “a world capitol for the intellectual and practical pursuit of global peace, morality and human dignity.” To find out more about the foundation, go to www.tutu.org.za.
People throughout the world know about the Tutus, who see themselves as “servant leaders rooted in the African philosophy of Ubuntu. They have touched people across the world of all religions, races, ages, ideologies and social classes. Their moral courage and integrity have inspired a generation to work for peace with justice.”
The Tutus continue to confront issues and leaders today. In this week’s Mail and Guardian, a respected South African weekly newspaper known for its thorough coverage of people and events, Desmond wrote a commentary about the state of democracy in South Africa (“Where did our future go? asks Tutu,” Mail and Guardian, May 10 to 16, 2013, Vol. 29, No. 19, p. 25)
He argues that the “best memorial to Nelson Mandela would be a democracy that was really up and running; a democracy in which every single person in South Africa knew that they mattered, and where other people knew that each person mattered.” He strongly believes that South Africa can be “one of the most vibrant countries in the world.”
He adds, “… it’s an ache, it is a very huge ache, for oldies like me to see our country deteriorating.” Desmond calls for changes in the constitution of South Africa where elections would be based on a constituency, “where you are voting for an individual who would be accountable to the electorate.” He believes this system would usher in a stronger, better democracy for the country.
Desmond and Leah Tutu continue to create new facets of their legacy as they speak out for justice and peace in South Africa and the world.
Our Pet Spider
This is the spider that lives on our wall. He (no longer an “it” since we talk to him every day) has claimed this space and has stayed there for over a week. I commiserate with him when it is especially cold and he curls his legs toward his torso.
We have a new appreciation for creatures in our life here. The piles of dirt from moles that keep popping up in my garden, the yard, and all over town are treated with benign neglect by residents in general. Sometimes the piles are smoothed out and tamped down, especially in a walkway or playing field. But usually they just become a part of the scenery.
When visiting a friend recently, we gently pointed out a swarm of ants clustered on something spilt earlier. Ah, he said, they’ll clean up the mess and go back outside. He was right.
So we are learning to share our space with most of God’s creatures, although I draw the line at mosquitoes. Not all of our guests share our new views. Our formation group (six students who we see on a regular basis) was having an animated discussion in our lounge (living room), when one noticed our spider on the wall above those seated on the sofa. They obviously did not share our laissez-faire approach to insects. Those on the sofa eyed the spider warily, and sat on the edge of their seats the rest of their visit.
I don’t know if I will have the same attitude when we return to the states, but a live-and-let-live attitude makes life a lot easier!
St. Peter’s in Sidbury. Dorothy and Father Isaias in front of the church.
St. Peters in Sidbury
Sunday we went to St. Peter’s in Sidbury, a former farming community southwest of Grahamstown, for the rededication of the original pump organ and where I preached. The church, which was completed in the 1840s, is now surrounded by a private game preserve.
When we got out of the car, the first thing I saw behind a screened fence across the road was a majestic lion. There are times I almost forget I am in Africa, but then something ushers reality back to my consciousness.
We entered the cool church building stripped of everything except the basics, and a piano and organ, which was covered with a canvas sheet. The smell from bats that lived in the old building was very strong, but the incense sticks the warden placed in windows began to cut the scent. I am discovering very practical reasons for some of our traditions—while I usually don’t enjoy the use of incense during a service, on this day I was very grateful when the censor came swinging down the aisle.
The congregation meets once a month when a priest from the college leads Eucharist. They are joined by Methodists, whose church is located on the other side of the preserve lodge. A few workers from the preserve came to the service as well. Children from two or three families meet for Sunday School during the service, led by a dedicated teacher from the Methodist Church. From the sounds of their laughter drifting into the church, they obviously enjoyed being together in this place.
The church has no electricity or running water. The old organ purchased early in the last century, was recently refurbished. We had brought a talented student with us to play the instrument, who was at first unsure of how he could play with his hands and pump with his feet at the same time. However, a member of the congregation slipped behind the organ each time it we sang to pump the organ to life. After a long hymn, he was red-faced and breathing hard. Later, this same person showed me a name written next to the pump lever—it was his great grandmother’s.
Because the church remained cold during the service, we moved tea to the sun-filled churchyard. Several parishioners had brought thermoses of hot water, tea bags, instant coffee, milk, and homemade muffins and pastries. We basked in the warmth of the sun as we heard more about the history of the church and Sidbury. The town cemetery spread around the sides and back of the church, filled with headstones and fenced-in family plots.
The lion watched all of this activity with little interest. When it was time to leave, the cross and the candles were packed into a car, along with the leftovers of our tea. The door was locked awaiting the first Sunday of June when the church would again be opened for this small, faithful congregation to gather.