30 April 2007

Thinking blogger award

A deacon by the grace of God has tagged me for a Thinking Blogger Award which means that I have to tag five other blogs that make me think. One difficulty is that many of my blogging friends have already been tagged for this, so I'll have to think quite hard to find someone who hasn't been tagged already.

F
irst, the Rules:
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think;
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme;
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).
Now, the Blogs (in random order):
  • Circle of pneuma - Reflections on life, spiritual growth, spiritual dialogue, spirited action on today's pressing issues, and challenging complacent conformist consumerist forms of Christianity.
  • The Scrivener - Sympathy for the befuddled, the bookish & the believing
  • Glory to God for all things - Life, journey of faith, Orthodox Christianity and religion in culture.
  • Notes from a commonplace book - Common-place Book: n. a book in which common-places, or notable or striking passages are noted; a book in which things especially to be remembered or referred to are recorded.
  • +Seraphim's Journal - an amazing collections of thoughts and jottings inspired by literature, art, places and friends, by an Orthodox bishop
Like the originator of the meme, I find MyBlogLog useful for keeping contact with blogs that make me think, so I also challenge those I've nominated to join MyBlogLog if they haven't already done so! You can see how it works in the "Recent Readers" widget in the sidebar on the right.

29 April 2007

Moral equivalence

About 7-8 years ago someone I was having a discussion with in an electronic forum said that he rejected "moral equivalence" arguments. I wasn't sure what he was on about, and so asked him what he meant.

His explanation wasn't very clear but it didn't worry me much until other people started saying the same sort of thing. It didn't appear to be just a random phrase, but something that was part of the regular jargon of a group or subculture, which knew what it meant so well that it was like a shorthand expression for a whole complex of ideas. Because their own inner circle know what it meant, they saw no need to explain it to outsiders either, and so seemed reluctant to explain it.

But the meaning I pieced together from the kinds of things they were saying were not pretty.

It seems that the "moral equivalence" that they reject is roughly based on the old proverb "what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander" -- in other words, that there should be no double standards in judging -- that there should be one law for rich and poor, black and white.

But those who reject it seem to be saying that what is bad when done by someone else is good when done by me.

Well, I know the feeling.

It's so easy to confess other people's sins, so hard to acknowledge my own.

I think for myself.
You are argumentative
He is a bigot.

But to think that when I do something it's OK, but when someone else does it it's bad is not just a rejection of moral equivalence, it's an acknowledgement of moral turpitude.

27 April 2007

Orthodox mission in the 21st century

This post is from the concluding chapter of my thesis on "Orthodox mission methods", submitted in 1998. I have posted it mainly as a follow-up to the previous post and comments, especially the comments by Phil Johnson, on monasticism and utilitarianism

In the history of Orthodox mission, we have seen two kinds of approach to the world. There is one where the world is evaluated positively, and another where it is evaluated negatively. In the first view, the world is seen primarily as God's world, part of his good creation. In the second view, it is seen primarily as the fallen world, the world that lies in the power of the evil one.

These two approaches extend to cover the ecumene, the humanly inhabited world. They are found in relation to culture, to church and state, to the relation of the Church to human society. If Christians are in the world but not of it, then some have emphasised the importance of being in the world, and others have emphasised the importance of not being of this world. I have pointed out that I believe that both these approaches are authentic parts of the Orthodox tradition, and that both are in fact essential to the maintenance of that tradition.

How does this affect Orthodox mission as we approach the twenty-first century? In the First World, the predominant culture is post-Christian. Modernity has affected Christian thinking, and postmodernism has affected some of those who have abandoned the Christian faith altogether. In the Second World, several decades of communist rule have effectively secularised society, leading to a modern post-Enlightenment outlook, though it has sometimes taken a different form to that of the First World. In the Third World, Christianity has been expanding tremendously in Africa, and has been shifting from a Roman Catholic to a Protestant emphasis in Latin America, while remaining a minority religion in most of Asia. There is a sense in which postmodern culture is spreading throughout the world, though taking different forms in different places.

How do Orthodox Christians evaluate these cultural changes in relation to mission? In the negative, or pessimistic view, often expressed by Fr Seraphim Rose, these cultural changes exemplify the spread of nihilism (Rose 1994:12). They are inimical to the gospel, and most Orthodox churches will lapse into apostasy as the world is prepared for the coming of the Antichrist. Mission, then, becomes the gathering of the faithful remnant out of the world, and out of those Orthodox churches that are seen as apostate. In its extreme form, this view is expressed in sectarianism and schism, over such questions as the calendar, or, in the Second World, over such questions as Sergianism - those who were said to be too subservient to the communist state. The emphasis is on maintaining the distinction between the Church and the world.

In the positive, more optimistic view, the world's culture is not seen so negatively. The Orthodox Christian faith can be incarnated in any culture. The positive approach of St Nicholas of Japan or St Innocent of Alaska to the local cultures in the countries where they were missionaries can also be used with the cultures of modernity and postmodernity. In its extreme form, however, the effect of such accommodation can be to do away with the need for mission at all, such as when a prominent bishop was reported as saying that Mohammed was a prophet of God. Orthodox Christianity then becomes nothing more than a way of "being religious" for people of a certain ethnic or national cultural background.

One of the things that keeps these two tendencies from falling apart completely is that they both look to the same missionary saints: Nicholas of Japan, Herman of Alaska, and Innocent of Moscow as examples, even though there may be different emphases in their interpretations of their life and ministry.

It is probably too soon to try to define the characteristics of postmodernism or postmodernity. It is sufficient to note that in many areas of culture the influence of the Enlightenment, or modernity, has begun to wane, or at least to be modified by new approaches that are in some ways incompatible with modernity. The secular science of the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on empirical verification, also gave rise to scepticism about what could not be verified empirically. In the postmodern world, however, such scepticism is often found side by side with credulity. It is said that G.K. Chesterton once remarked that when people stop believing in God, they do not believe in nothing, but they will believe in anything (though this is frequently attributed to Chesterton, and is the kind of thing he might have said, I have not been able to find a source for it in his writings) . So we find, for example, that people who are sceptical about the resurrection, or even the existence of Jesus Christ, are sometimes quite willing to believe the most amazing stories about flying saucers and the like.

In some ways the postmodern world looks very similar to the world in which the Christian faith first appeared. There is, for example, a similar religious pluralism. The rapid growth of communications has made it possible for religions that were previously confined to one area to be found all over the globe. As a result of missionary activities and the diaspora of members of different religions, people living in places where, a couple of centuries ago, they would have had little chance of meeting members of more than one or two religions in the normal course of their daily lives, can now encounter dozens of different religious views and outlooks. Interreligious dialogue, which previously was regarded as the province of specialists, and involved meetings to which people travelled from all over the world at great expense, now also takes place electronically. Ordinary lay Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, neopagans, Mormons, Baha'i and many others from different parts of the world meet and discuss their religious beliefs and practices on electronic networks. There are also numerous new religious movements, and they too spread rapidly and widely. In the nineteenth century, St Nicholas of Japan took Orthodox Christianity from Russia to Japan. In the twentieth century, a new religious movement, the Aum Shinrikyo sect, has more adherents in Russia than in Japan where it originated.

Many of the new religious movements are extremely eclectic. The neopagan religions of the First World are usually conscious attempts to revive the pre-Christian religions of northern Europe, especially the Celtic and Teutonic ones. But in North America (and sometimes elsewhere) they are often combined with elements of North American native religion. Wicca, which, like some of the others, also claims to be a revival of a pre-Christian religion of Northern Europe, is in fact nothing of the kind. It has reinterpreted and combined elements from many different religions, ancient and modern, including Christianity, and some of the elements were made up by twentieth-century novelists. Many Wiccans are solitary, and consciously practise a kind of "mix and match" religion. There is also the New Age movement, which is even more eclectic. Many Christians characterise the neopagan religions as "New Age cults", though most neopagans themselves do not see themselves as "New Age", and make a distinction.
These movements, however, even where they do claim premodern roots, have a radically different attitude. They cannot be regarded simply as a revival of premodern religions; they are primarily a reaction against modernism. And they are therefore profoundly influenced by modernism. Tinker (1993:121) observes:
The withering of white Christian spirituality has so disillusioned people that many have engaged in a relatively intense search for something to fill the spiritual void, from Buddhism, Sufi mysticism, or Hindu meditation to Lynn Andrews hucksterism or the so-called "men's council" movement, with channeling, astrology, and witchcraft falling somewhere in between. In this time of spiritual crisis, Indian [i.e. native American] spirituality, which just a short while ago was the anathema of heathenism, has now become an appealing alternative to many of the seekers.
The main difficulty is that Indian spiritual traditions are still rooted in cultural contexts that are quite foreign to white Euroamericans, yet Euroamerican cultural structures are the only devices Euroamericans have for any deep structure understanding of native spiritual traditions. Hence, those native traditions can only be understood by analogy with white experience...

Both well-meaning New Age liberals and hopeful Indian spiritual traditionalists can easily be swept up into a modern process of imposed cultural change, without recognizing deep structure cultural imposition even when in their midst. The first Indian casualty today in any such New Age spiritual-cultural encounter is most often the deep structure cultural value of community and group cohesion that is important to virtually every indigenous people. As adherents of Western cultures, Europeans and Euroamericans live habitual responses to the world that are culturally rooted in an individualist deep structure rather than communitarian. In this "meeting" of cultures, the communal cultural value of Indian people is transformed by those who do not even begin to see the cultural imposition that has occurred, however unintended. Hence dancing in a ceremony in order "that the people might live" gives way to the New Age Euroamerican quest for individual spiritual power. What other reason would a New Yorker have for rushing out to South Dakota to spend eight days participating in a Sun Dance ceremony? Yet well-meaning New Agers drive in from New York and Chicago, or fly in from Austria and Denmark, to participate in annual ceremonies originally intended to secure the well-being of the local, spatially-configured community. These visitors see little or nothing at all of the reservation community, pay little attention to the poverty and suffering of the people there, and finally leave having achieved only a personal, individual spiritual high. "That the people might live" survives merely as an abstract ideal at best.

According to Tinker then, modernity can be not merely imposed from without, by aggressive culturally-insensitive Western missionaries, but also from within, by religious sympathisers who are ostensibly seeking to learn. In Alaska and East Africa, however, the native people who had become Orthodox regarded Orthodoxy as part of their culture within a very short time, as I have shown in Chapter 7. I believe this might well be because the Orthodox missionaries were themselves rooted in a communitarian deep structure rather than an individualist one. In addition, as I have tried to show in chapter 2, Orthodox soteriology has tended to regard human nature and human institutions in a somewhat more positive light than much Western theology; as distorted and blemished by human sinfulness rather than "totally depraved".

The modern revival of the ancient European cults of Odin, Thor and Lugh among people living in the First World involves the same kind of reinterpretation of premodern beliefs as that described by Tinker, but at least it does no harm to living community practitioners of those cults. In part the phenomenon that Tinker describes is the difference between tribal and urban cultures. It is also the difference between what McLuhan (1967:84) describes as literate and preliterate, or manuscript and print, cultures. The cohesive kinship community structure of the tribal polity makes way for the anonymous individualism of the urban one - a process that began in the modern age in north-western Europe with scholasticism and the Renaissance (McLuhan 1967:100).

One reason for the rapid growth of African Independent Churches could be their successful retribalisation of the Enlightenment-style Christianity preached by most Western Protestant missionaries. In effect, they have reinterpreted the Christianity of modernity in premodern terms, and have rejected the "cult of civilisation" in which it was packaged. And it is precisely among such groups that Orthodox Christianity is growing in Africa today.

Postmodernism is primarily a First-World phenomenon, though because of the ease of communication, it is influencing other parts of the world as well. Within the First World, many Christians who have been brought up in "Enlightenment" denominations are discovering Orthodox Christianity, and Orthodox apologists are seeking to help these "Enlightenment" Christians to understand Orthodoxy. The religious pluralism of our time has brought these Christians into closer contact with each other. Orthodox Christians from Eastern Europe and the Near East have migrated to America, those from Cyprus have gone as migrant workers to Western Europe, and stayed. Refugees from the Bolshevik Russia have settled in other parts of the world. In the past, the differences between them and Western Christians were explained ethnically. It was the difference between the Greek and German, the Cypriot and British, the Arab and American, the Russian and English, way of seeing things. The new Orthodox apologetic literature takes a different approach, comparing the paradigms or worldviews, rather than national characteristics.

One example of such literature is Bajis (1989) Common ground: an introduction to Eastern Christianity for the American Christian. The book begins with a section called "Western and Eastern outlooks compared", which starts at the levels of paradigms or worldviews or frames of reference. Bajis (1989:6-8) notes that:

  1. Eastern Christianity is communal
  2. Eastern Christianity is intuitive
  3. Eastern Christianity is holistic
  4. Eastern Christianity sees the Church as a living organism of which Christ himself is a member
  5. Eastern Christianity sees the Christian faith as relational, personal and experiential
  6. Eastern Christianity sees the grasp of truth as dependant [sic] upon one's moral and spiritual sensitivity.
In many ways, these are characteristics of premodern thinking as opposed to modern thinking. Bajis seems to be inviting his readers to suspend their modern worldview, and try to see things through premodern eyes. As I have tried to show in earlier chapters, Eastern and Western Christianity have been influenced by modernity in different ways, and this accounts for most of the differences listed above. Daneel and others have observed similar differences between African Independent Churches and the Western missions in Africa. In parts of rural Greece, as described by Stewart (1991), Hart (1991) and others, the same could be said.

Modernity tends to be analytic rather than synthetic. It seeks to understand things by breaking them down rather than by building them up. It relegates "religion" to the "private" sphere. It is individualist rather than communal. Modernity is not holistic: its analytical approach seeks to reduce wholes to their components, to disassemble and dissect, and to see the whole as purely the sum of its parts. The holistic view of Orthodoxy (and many premodern societies) is quite alien to this approach.

In the modern world - that is, the world of modernity - Orthodoxy finds itself misunderstood. Modernity has faced ideological battles between individualism and collectivism, which to the Orthodox appear to be two sides of the same modernist coin. But to collectivists, such as the Bolsheviks, Orthodoxy, with the value it gives to the human person, seems to be yet another manifestation of bourgeois individualism. To individualists, Orthodox communalism seems to be another manifestation of totalitarian collectivism, and many Western observers of Russia have seen a continuity between the Orthodox vision of "Holy Russia" and the political messianism of the Bolshevik regime, while to the Orthodox the Bolshevik regime was the logical conclusion of the ideas of the Western Enlightenment, imported and imposed by Peter the Great. In this way Western professional "Russia-watchers" still give a picture of the Russian Orthodox Church in which many Orthodox Christians find it difficult to recognise themselves.

Orthodox communalism, expressed in such terms as kinonia and sobornost, is hard to express in English. "Fellowship" has become trite, "conciliarity" is too abstract, "community" is too vague. But at its root, it means something similar to the Zulu saying, "umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu" - a person is a person because of people; or as the English poet John Donne put it, "No man is an island".

In the light of this, one might expect Orthodox mission to be more effective in premodern societies, and as I have tried to show in the preceding chapters, this does appear to be the case. In Alaska and East Africa, for example, Orthodoxy could become part of the culture of people. Even where it changed and influenced the culture of the people, it did so in an organic and internal way, so that baptism replaced initiation ceremonies such as female circumcision, even where Orthodoxy had been accepted in a protest movement against a missionary ban on female circumcision. In the diaspora among people from Eastern Europe or the Near East who emigrated to North America, Australia, and other places, Orthodox mission has been less effective, however.

In itself, however, the greater effectiveness of Orthodox mission among premodern people, particularly in hunting, gathering and pastoral societies, is not necessarily unique. Western mission has also tended to be more successful among such peoples in Africa and South America, while spreading more slowly among people who follow the "great religions" such as Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam. But Orthodoxy does seem to have been more easily "contextualised" in premodern cultures, and to become part of the culture of such people.

In the diaspora, Orthodox people, many of them coming from villages in the Balkans and the Near East with a premodern worldview, have emigrated to cultures where modernity is part of the culture. The cultural milieu has tended to be assimilative and hostile to tradition. Orthodox immigrants have often sought to identify with the host culture, and Orthodoxy has tended to become a relic of the past, or a mark of ethnic identity or nostalgia for one's ethnic roots. In such societies, Orthodoxy found it difficult to "contextualise" the Christian faith - unlike Western Christianity, and Protestant Christianity in particular, which both helped to produce modernity, and was in turn a product of it.

Postmodernity has been bringing a change in this. It is less hostile to tradition, and has often led people to search for "traditional wisdom" outside modernity. The danger, as Tinker has pointed out above, is that the eclectic postmodern approach, while valuing tradition more than modernism does, can also destroy the traditions it seeks to adopt, by appropriating the superficial forms, but not the worldview they are based on. Thus it can sometimes come as a surprise to Orthodox Christians in the diaspora to find that attitudes in the surrounding society towards them are beginning to change. They may find that some people, at least, no longer regard them as irrelevant relics of the past, but as somehow "cool" and "countercultural".

The West, after centuries of using terms such as "navel gazing" as a term of abuse, symbolic of all that is backward and out-of-date about the Orthodox Church, as suddenly begin to show an interest in such things. An age that has begun to look to gurus - Hindu holy men from India - for advice, is more open to the message of monastic spiritual elders from places like Mount Athos, whose long hair and beards have now become a symbol of ancient spiritual wisdom.

In Russia, one of the characteristics of the religious revival of the late Soviet era, particularly among the intelligentsia, was that it was driven by a search for the roots of Russian culture. Marxist materialism was somehow unsatisfying, and people began a spiritual search in traditional Russian culture. Though this was in many cases a religious search, it was not necessarily a Christian one. Russian culture, however, was profoundly shaped by the Orthodox Christian faith, and thus led many of these searchers to Orthodox Christianity.

One of the mission strategies being followed in the current religious revival in Russia, therefore, is the promotion and teaching of Russian Orthodox culture. As time passes, however, I believe that such an approach will prove to be inadequate. In the Soviet era, pre-Soviet Russian culture was sanitised and Bowdlerised to fit the Marxist ideology. Those who discovered the Christian faith by exploring Russian culture did so as a deliberate choice, which was an act of rebellion or non-conformism according to the values of the dominant culture.

The collapse of the Soviet system, however, has opened the floodgates to a much wider range of cultural choices. There are many more choices, and young people who have grown up without knowing anything of the restriction of life under the Soviet system might be less inclined to seek answers in the Russian culture of the past. Those who are most involved in the religious revival, in the 25-40 age group, never had the opportunities to encounter the variety of culture that the younger generation is now able to experience, and might therefore not be able to interpret the newer imported cultures as easily in Orthodox terms.

The generation of the under-25s, however, who have grown up without really knowing the communist system, might be more difficult to reach by such a method, or might, if they do adopt it, lapse into nationalism and xenophobia, covered with a very thin veneer of Orthodoxy. The collapse of communism has not yet led to its replacement by anything else. The glowing picture of the virtues of capitalism and the free-market system painted by Western propaganda has created a lot of unfulfilled expectations. What it has done, and what Western Christian missionaries to Russia have sometimes unconsciously reinforced, has been to implant Western values of individualism and greed, which find little outlet in Russia, except in a life of crime.
The tensions in Russian society are also to be found in the Russian Orthodox Church. There are groups within the Church that have adopted a xenophobic and nationalist attitude, and have rejected even Orthodox Christians from outside Russia. The leaders of the Church are under constant pressure from such groups to suppress foreign influences, to discipline clergy who are seen as "modernist" and so on.

As the Russian Orthodox Church is the largest Orthodox Church in the world, this is bound to affect Orthodox mission, not only in Russia, but elsewhere as well. It could easily cause a kind of paralysis, and a concentration on external and political considerations. Questions such as participation in the ecumenical movement, for example, could be decided on the grounds of political expediency, on whether it would promote or block the influence of this or that power bloc or pressure group. Such an attitude will not promote Orthodox mission.

If Orthodox mission is to be effective in future, then I believe tradition and traditionalism are very important. The Orthodox Church needs to avoid the error made by so many Western Christians in self-consciously seeking to make the church "relevant to modern man" by the wholesale adoption of modern culture, values and attitudes. It also needs to avoid the pseudotraditionalism of making certain selected traditions badges of identity, and therefore marks of self-righteousness. The self-righteous denunciations of others by many of the Old Calendrists, for example, have little to do with the genuine Orthodox tradition that promotes the virtues of modesty, humility, patience and love. Using traditions as badges of identity to denounce others is quite incompatible with this.

What is most urgently needed for mission is the renewal of the genuine tradition of Orthodox monasticism that promotes these virtues. In many places, this is happening. Monasteries, like mission, have been growing since the 1960s. If this genuine spiritual life in Orthodoxy grows, then mission will be the automatic consequence. If Orthodox leaders who participate in the ecumenical movement are filled with these virtues, then they will not be corrupted by their participation in it, as the xenophobes and nationalists fear, nor, should they withdraw from the ecumenical movement, would it be from considerations of political expediency.

The revival of interest in tradition that has come with postmodernity provides a mission opportunity for Orthodox Christians not only in the First World, but also in the Second and Third Worlds as well. The religious eclecticism of the New Age is not confined to the First World. It is universal. One of the students at the Orthodox theological seminary in Nairobi was from a country town in Cameroun. He had been baptised a Roman Catholic, and at the age of 16 had become a Rosicrucian, and had tried Ekankar, Wicca and several other Western religious movements before becoming a Hindu and travelling to India to spend some years studying under a guru. On his return to Cameroun he had a vision in which his spirit guides told him to worship the Triune God, and he travelled to Yaounde, the capital, to look for a trinitarian church. The first one he found was the Orthodox Cathedral, so he became an Orthodox Christian.

But postmodernity, as a reaction against modernity, can also impose the values of modernity. Traditions can become diluted by eclecticism, and the salt can lose its savour. The Orthodox vision and vocation is not to be overwhelmed by the world, but it is a vision of a world renewed and restored by the life of Christ. The traditions need to be strengthened so that they are not diluted and overwhelmed by eclecticism. This means that monasticism needs to be restored, as is happening in parts of Greece, Russia, Serbia and other places. It also needs to be returned to Africa, where it started.

The obstacles to this are great. Where, in the Orthodox disapora, Orthodox Christians have sought to accommodate to modernity, monasticism has not flourished. Some have tended to be embarrassed by it, and have at best regarded it as a quaint survival, or not quite in accordance with the image of a "modern" church. In the Second World, monasteries have to overcome the deliberate attempts to destroy them made by communist regimes. To extend the metaphor used by Sister Philotheia of the Monastery of St John the Forerunner in Karea, Athens, the wells are few, and so many are having to make do with bottled water. And sometimes the bottled water could come from contaminated wells.

As we look forward to the 21st century then, the Orthodox Church in its mission is faced by both opportunities and dangers. For the first time since the 6th century, more Orthodox Christians in more countries are free to engage in mission, unhindered by hostile and repressive governments. The Orthodox Church's unique experience of modernity, and its stronger base in premodern culture, gives it more opportunities than Western Christians to make its message heard, both among those who are becoming somewhat disillusioned with modernity, and among those who have been, rather reluctantly, dragged into it.

25 April 2007

From communist youth to Orthodox monks

Most of us have read in the newspapers and seen graphic images on television of the violence and destruction of the Wars of the Yugoslav succession, when Yugoslavia tore itself apart (often with outside assistance) during the 1990s.

But even in the midst of the destruction, there were signs of hope, as some, at least, pursued more preaceful ideals. Among these is a new generation of Orthodox monks. They grew up under the communist system, indoctrinated at school with atheism, and now have turned to a life of prayer and repentance.

There is much talk nowadays, especially in "emerging church" circles, about a "new monasticism", but in the former Yugoslavia the youth have opted for a restoration of the old monasticism.

And now the man who has been at the centre of the monastic revival in Serbia, His Grace Artemije, Bishop of Raska and Prizren, will be visiting South Africa, and will speak on the topic Orthodox monasticism, and the revival of the monastic life in Serbia after communism at St Thomas's Orthodox Church, Sunninghill Park, Gauteng on Saturday 5th May 2007 at 5:00 pm. If anyone is interested in attending, you will find more information here. Anyone who is interested in Christian monasticism, new or old, is welcome to attend.

How to get there


From Johannesburg, Pretoria, East Rand, West Rand, take the N1 freeway to the Rivonia Road offramp, then turn North towards Leeukop prison. About 2km from the freeway exit the road narrows, and just before it narrows there is a turn-off to the right, and almost immediately one turns to the left, then right again, and the entrance to the church parking is just round the corner. There will be a sign that says "Church Parking" at the gate.

If you have any questions, please use the comment form below.

23 April 2007

Witchdoctor - a cultural stereotype?

A recent issue of The pagan activist has some interesting articles on Western neopaganism in Africa, and some contrasts with African paleopaganism. I do take issue with the articles on one point in particular -- the use and misuse of the term "witchdoctor". I suppose my time in the Editorial Department of the University of South Africa has made me a bit of a pedant about such matters.

I think the term originally was a clear and reasonably precise description of a specialist, found in many different African societies, whose job, or part of it, was to protect against malign witchcraft. In different African societies these specialists were given different names in local languages, but the English term was clear, and covered them all. In Zulu such a specialist is called an isangoma, and that term has been universalised in the form of "sangoma" to apply to other societies too. Another way of translating "sangoma" into English (though it is well on its way to becoming an English word in its own right) is "diviner". The diviner is not only a witchdoctor, but rather determines the cause of evils and misfortunes, such as disease, quarrels, accidents, crop failures and the like. The cause, as determined by the diviner, may be witchcraft, but it may also be that the ancestral shades (amadlozi in Zulu) are annoyed because they have been neglected. Witchcraft is not the only possible explanation for misfortune.

If witchcraft is determined as the cause, then the sangoma may put on his (or her) witchdoctor hat, and prescribe treatment. This may include the use of umuthi (Anglicised as "muti"), in which case the sangoma is functioning as a herbalist or medicine man (inyanga in Zulu).

A witchdoctor, therefore, is one who protects against the harmful activities of witches. One of the articles in The Pagan Activist, however, implies that "witchdoctors" are the ones who perform harmful activities uxsually attributed to witches, which implies that witchdoctors actually cause harm, rather than preventing it.

I suggest that there are two possible sources for this misunderstanding.

  1. Hollywood movies, especially those of the mid-20th century, which portrayed "witchdoctors" as a force of evil, tyrants in African societies, and especially likely to turn a tribe against white visitors. Some of this may be based on historical incidents. When the Voortrekker leader Piet Retief visited the Zulu king Dingane in 1838 to negotiate a treaty, the king ordered his soldiers to "kill the witches" (bulala abathakathi). It is possible that a diviner told him that Retief and his companions were witches; it is also possible that he reached that conclusion on his own.
  2. A witchdoctor who "changes sides" and practices as a witch. A parallel can be found in Western medicine with a medical doctor who misuses his knowledge to poison and kill patients. Such cases are not unknown. Also, a corrupt police officer might moonlight as a member of a criminal gang. This does not, however, mean that "doctor" means "poisoner" or that "policeman" means thief"; so it also does not mean that "witchdoctor" means "witch". And sometimes sangomas may use their specialist knowledge in activities that are beneficvial to some, but harmful to others. In a recent case a four-year-old child was murdered on the advice of a sangoma, and parts of the child's body built into the wall of a hairdressing saloon, as muti to make the client's business prosper. Ritual murder, however, is not witchcraft.

I won't go into the different meaning applied to the word "witch" by many neopagans. That is another discussion, and one that I have dealt with in an article on Christian responses to witchcraft and sorcery.

21 April 2007

Bantustans for Europe? Should Kosovo be independent?

Is Europe about to get its own independent homeland of Bapetikosweti? The Nato attack on Yugoslavia in 1999 (which was every bit as foolish as the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, lest anyone think that there is any significant difference between the two major US political parties) not only failed to solve the problems of Kosovo, it exacerbated them.

One of the things that seemed odd to me, as a South African, was that just at the time that we were at last abandoning the follies of apartheid, Europe seemed to be embracing them. The following extract from an article by Jan Oberg puts the situation in a nutshell:

One of the most dangerous and unrealistic ideas circulating today in international politics is that the Serbian province of Kosovo is a "unique" case.

So much blood has been shed and so many international administrations and peacekeeping forces have ruled in dozens of other regions around the world facing a similar situation involving separatism. Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Palestine, Northern Cyprus, the Basque region, Chechnya, Northern Ireland, Tibet, Taiwan, Kurdistan ...

People in all of these areas, and many more, are following the Kosovo story very closely, especially given that most of them have suffered more violent conflicts and have waited for the solution of their problems much longer than the province of Kosovo.

Given the continuous pressure on the Serbian community in Kosovo, it is easy to imagine that the independence of the province would most certainly lead to a mono-ethnic Albanian Kosovo. Serbs who left would never come back.

Such a result would completely undermine the arguments of those who supported the NATO bombings in 1999, which were said to be carried out for the "multiethnicity" of Kosovo. The 1999 bombings would be seen as a campaign for Kosovo's independence, which is a long way from the proclaimed goals of the "humanitarian intervention."

It has been an open secret for a while now that "goodwill advisers" have been suggesting to the team of the United Nations chief negotiator for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, to find a legal basis for the "uniqueness" of Kosovo in order to avoid setting a precedent that could affect other regions of the world.

But Ahtisaari should avoid a "one- time solution" that gives independence to Kosovo. Breaching international law might appease Albanian separatist aspirations in Kosovo, but it would certainly open a Pandora's box of separatist causes worldwide.

Jan Oberg, Lund, Sweden. Director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research

Aleksandar Mitic, Brussels. Chief Analyst at the Institute 4S and TFF Balkans team leader

There is also a longer and more detailed article about the ethnic cleansing that has been taking place under Nato supervision here.

Apartheid didn't work in South Africa, where its detractors sometimes referred to it as "balkanisation". And now it has been re-exported to Europe, where the voices calling for the Bantustanisation of the Balkans are growing louder.

It's a strange, strange world we live in, Master Jack.

20 April 2007

Hope for African blogging?

During the last month I've written about the dearth of African bloggers on anything but technogeek subjects (here and here).

Now comes an exciting review of some African blogs, which I hope may encourage more people to get into blogging, and blog about something other than electronic gadgets, marketing and entrepreneurship.

May synchroblog - films, TV series etc

A few months ago John Smulo and Phil Wyman suggested that a few of us try to synchronise our blogs by posting on the same day on the same topic, which was syncretism . Each person posted, and Phil Wyman provided a list of links to the other synchrobloggers, which we also posted.

That was back in December 2006.

People found it interesting, so it was decided to do it monthly -- in January we blogged about spiritual warfare (see Notes from underground: Thoughts on Spiritual Warfare (synchroblog)), in February about love and so on. Not everyone could participate every month, but a couple more joined in most months. A mailing list was started to coordinate the arrangements -- mainly collecting and posting a list of the participating blogs and the titles of their synchroblog posts.

We've actually succeeded in adding a new word to the language -- -- because others have started synchroblogs too now.

The May synchroblog will be on the topic of film (which can be broadly interpreted as movies and TV series etc) and the Christian faith. This is mainly because a couple of synchrobloggers are ardent fans of horror flicks, and even have blogs dedicated to discussing them. In this case you people don't have to blog on horror films. It's open to discussion of all genres.

If you'd like to participate this time round, contact Mike (mike@hingston.demon.co.uk) and ask to be included in the mailing list, so you can see what other titles will be, and add your own to the list. Otherwise let Phil Wyman know by 10 May at the latest -- the name, title and the URL of your blog. The synchroblog usually takes place on the 12th-15th of the month.

18 April 2007

Massacres

On blog after blog and newscast ofter newscast I have read expressions of shock, horror and sympathy prompted by the massacre at Virginia Tech where 32 students were killed by a deranged fellow student.

Our prayers and thoughts are with them, said Tony Blair. And so they are.

But there here is something that happened on the same day.

BAGHDAD (AP) - Six bombs exploded in predominantly Shiite sections of the capital Sunday, killing at least 45 people in a renewal of sectarian carnage that set back the U.S. push to pacify Baghdad

Are our prayers and sympathy and thoughts with them too, or is it not politically correct to say so?

16 April 2007

The ikon in an age of neo-tribalism

The following article was originally published in Ikon, Vol 1, No 1, Winter 1969. I am republishing it simultaneously in this blog and also as a regular web page. Readers should remember that it is nearly 40 years old. See the end of the article for explanatory notes
The most fundamental division between Christians has been that between East and West. The differences between churches of the West, 'Catholic', 'Protestant' and even 'Pentecostal' have been almost insignificant by comparison.

The Reformation has been seen as one of the most formative experiences of Christians in Western Europe. It changed not only the Protestant churches, but in the Counter Reformation the Roman Catholic Church experienced a similar process. But the Reformation took place in the context of social and economic changes in Europe, and one factor that had great influence on the Western churches was the invention of printing.

Marshall Mcluhan, one-time Professor of Literature of the University of Toronto, has made a study of the effects of different communications media on society. Before the Renaissance, he claims, the culture of Europe was primarily aural. Communication was through the ear rather than the eye. Written documents were in manuscript and could reach wider audiences only by being read aloud in public. The Christian art of both East and West was similar in pattern and style. Both East and West used ikons - generally in mosaic - to proclaim the Christian gospel. The mosaic ikons in 13th century Italian churches do not differ markedly from those in the Byzantine churches in Greece and Asia Minor. The pictures were standardised, and followed a set pattern. Later, when in the Eastern Churches the ikons came to be painted on wood, the style changed to accommodate the new medium, but the theology remained basically the same.

The West, however, moved from an ear culture to an eye culture. The ear has no 'point of view' - sounds come from all directions and are accepted as an inclusive environment, in which several things happen at once. The eye, however, does have a 'point of view'. Western art came to emphasise perspective, which made the beholder the point of reference for the picture. This was also true in architecture. As Mcluhan puts it, the watchword of the Renaissance was 'a piazza for everything and everything in its piazza'.

The invention of printing played an important part in extending the new visual stress in the West. Printed books meant that more people could have copies, more people could learn to read. The portable book could be read in privacy and isolation from others. Reading became a private, individual activity rather than the public, communal one of the manuscript culture. The private, fixed point of view became possible, and literacy conferred the power of detachment, non-involvement. The Protestant idea of 'private interpretation of the scriptures' presupposes a visually-oriented culture. In the Eastern churches the Scriptures are still read in public, and the ikons in the churches bring the heard word to life. The liturgy is a communal public action. In Protestant churches the liturgy loses its meaning. Public worship is based on the word. Instruction becomes more important than participation. People go to church, not so much to participate in the worship of the body of Christ, as to be instructed, edified, uplifted. In the Roman Catholic Church a similar process follows, but it is not quite so obvious. The old liturgical forms remain, but they take on a radically different meaning. Again the individual, with his private point of view, becomes the centre. The worship as a communal action disappears, and is replaced by private devotion. 'I' make 'my' communion.


The recent objection to A message to the people of South Africa by the Baptists reflects this cultural background.i The doctrine of individual, personal salvation, which, the Baptists claimed, the Message ignored in favour of a more social conception of salvation, only appeared at the Reformation. It could not have arisen before the invention of printing, when the reading of scripture became a private rather than a public activity. Jesus Christ 'my' personal Saviour is not a Biblical concept. In the Bible, Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world.

In South Africa, most of the evangelisation was done by literate Christians from Western Europe. They found they had to teach people to read before they could proclaim the Gospel to them. But the Africans had no written language - they lived in a tribal, aural culture. This has led to many difficulties in the churches, and the tension between these two cultures has certainly influenced the formation of Zionist Churches, which are trying, among other things, to express Christianity in a form that has meaning for people living in an aural culture.

Many of these problems might not have arisen if Southern Africa had been evangelised by the Eastern churches. The oldest African churches - those of Egypt and Ethiopia - have retained the Eastern pattern. In Eastern churches, literacy is not a prerequisite for hearing the gospel. Indeed, many of the clergy are barely literate. The Gospel is communicated by participation in a Christian community. And this is the only way in which the Gospel can really be communicated. Jesus did not leave a book of teachings - he left no writings at all - only a community filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Eastern Orthodox Christians, when they enter a church building, first kiss the ikons. To the Western, literate Christian, this seems like superstition and idolatry. But idolatry is more of a Western phenomenon. The Western church has its images - statues, which are often very lifelike. Candles are lit in front of them, and personal devotion is paid to them. A statue is three-dimensional; it is a thing in itself. You can walk around it, and it is still there. The ikons of the Eastern churches are two-dimensional. They are not there to draw attention to themselves, but to point to something beyond themselves. They are windows rather than pictures. So if I enter an Orthodox Church at Easter, I might kiss the ikon of the resurrection, and I do this to greet the risen Christ. I might light a candle in front of the ikon for the same purpose. But it is not enough just to light a candle in front of the ikon or to kiss the ikon. So I must light a candle in front of my brother who stands next to me. On Easter morning the whole congregation kisses the priest, and they Exchange the Easter greeting: 'Christ is risen: He is risen indeed'. They kiss the ikons and the book of the Gospel and they also kiss each other, exchanging the same greeting. They kiss the ikons of the saints too, for they are also part of the congregation.ii The Eucharist looks forward to the Messianic Banquet in the New Jerusalem - when all the dead have been raised, when the final victory over evil had been won, and the new creation is consummated.

Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order - Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Now according to Mcluhan the age of literacy, which has so moulded the Western churches and accentuated their schism with the East, is ending. And it is the advent of electric technology that has killed it. Electric light, the telephone, radio and television have made communication global and all embracing. News of events on the other side of the world reach us at the same time as news from the other side of town. Electric technology is turning the world into a global village. Through a medium such as television one can participate in events as much as, if not more than, one could if actually present. The same event might be seen through three, four or five differently-placed cameras - and so the individual point of view is abolished. Sound radio is, paradoxically, more 'visual' and akin to the printed word than television. Radio is the medium for the monologue, the instructive sermon. With the advent of television the whole concept of church broadcasting had to be altered. For radio, the printed script is adequate - the Protestant type of service, with its emphasis on the word is made for radio. On television this appears boring and static. A liturgical service, with its greater sense of participation and involvement is more suitable. With this type of communication, literacy becomes more important. We are moving into an age of symbolism, an age of neo-tribalism. A new generation is appearing whose life is built on mythical and symbolical involvement. This new generation will communicate less through the rationalist perspective of literate culture and more and more through myth and symbol.

Modern theology is at present dominated by the demythologisers, and the demythologisers are the last fling of a literate era - the culmination of the Protestant refusal to understand things in terms other than language. These bourgeois theologians of the age of literacy tell us that 'modern man' can no longer accept concepts like incarnation and resurrection and that we must demythologise the account of the resurrection of Jesus. But despite the modern, or rather not quite modern theologians, modern man finds it only to easy to believe in resurrection - and if they are told that they can no longer believe that Jesus rose from the dead, they will nevertheless proclaim that 'Che Guevara lives!', 'Camilo Torres is not dead!', and 'Chairman Mao will live for 10000 years!'

Here in South Africa we are still clinging to the age of print. Verkramp politicians have sworn that we will not have television. We still cling to sound radio - a medium that reached its zenith with Hitler and Mussolini. Social researchers must find South Africa a fascinating field for study, a living fossil in a new world shaped by a new medium of communication.

Whether we like it or not we are moving into this new age, but it is an age of opportunity. It is an age when myth and symbol can easily be understood, and when the pre-literate myths and symbols of Christianity can once again be understood. And new myths and symbols can be found to express the Gospel in the new ikonic age. In every age the Church is to be the ikon of the New Jerusalem, the new human community of a world set free from sin and evil, injustice and oppression.

Epilogue

As I noted at the beginning, I wrote this article in 1969, when I was 28 years old. Quite a lot of things have changed since I wrote it, including me, and so if I were writing it today, I would not write it in the same way, though I generally stand by what I wrote back then. So I have written these notes to explain how some of the changes of the last 40 years might have affected what I wrote then.

Pentecost


One thing I would have added were I writing it now would be the ikon of Pentecost, which illustrates some of the differences. I noted that in Western Renaissance and post-Renaissance art there was an emphasis on perspective, stressing the single, indiovidual point of view. The Orthodox ikon of Pentecost, on the other hand shows multiple perspectives. It does not show what we would have seen had we been there, but rather what most people did not see. It shows the apostles sitting in a semi-circle, receiving or waiting to receive the Holy Spirit.

The semicircle is incomplete. It shows people who were almost certainly not present on the occasion -- St Luke holding the scroll of his gospel, which had not been written yet. St Paul, who was to be a persecutor of the churtch before he joined the circle. And because it is not a closed circle, but an open semicircle, the viewer is part of it, the circle of the apostles extends to embrace the church in which the ikon is.

In the centre of the floor is a window, and while the floor is horizontal, the window is vertical, in a dual perspective. It shows an old and weary king, Cosmos, representing the world. Like the stable in C.S. Lewis's book The last battle the inside of the upper room is bigger than the outside, because it contains the whole world. The apostles are sent into all the world, not out to all the world. And as we look at it, we see Cosmos as our own reflection in a mirror -- we are part of that old and weary world, waiting for the good news of liberation, and we are also part of the circle of the apostles, charged to take the good news into all the world. The ikon therefore has a great deal to tell us about mission.

Other differences


Here are some of the other differences, and some explanations of some of them, and some background information.
  • I was moved to republish this old article after reading an article in Matt Stone's blog "Joureys in between", called Tribalization and Cultural Identity. Reading Matt's article made me realise that many concerns now being expressed in emerging church circles were similar to those we had back in the 1960s.
  • One of the changes in me since I wrote the article is that when I wrote it I was an Anglican, and I am now a member of the Orthodox Church, for reasons that should be clear from what I wrote in the article. I wrote the article for the first issue of Ikon, an "underground" Christian magazine started by me and some friends. Ikon ceased publication in 1972 when all the editors had been banned by the South African government.
  • In 1968 I returned from England, where I had studied at the University of Durham. An experimental drama festival was held at Durham, with participants from all over the UK, and from some of them I learnt about the works of Marshall McLuhan, such as The medium is the massage, Understanding media, and The Gutenberg galaxy. Not everything that McLuhan wrote about media was true or useful, but some of it was, and it helped me to appreciate some of the differences between Orthodox and Western Christianity.
  • In 1968 I attended a seminar on Orthodox theology for non-Orthodox theological students at the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Study Centre in Bossey, Switzerland, ending with Holy Week and Pascha at St Sergius in Paris. It sparked an interest in Orthodox theology that grew over the years until I joined the Orthodox Church.
  • We now have words to describe what I wrote about then. What McLuhan called "preliterate" would now be called "premodern:, and much of what I thought would subsequently happen is now called "postmodernity". But back then we did not have those words.
  • The death of literacy did not occur. Back in the 1960s the idea of the personal computer was quite remote. McLuhan, with his talk of the "global village" foresaw globalisation, and that it would also be both global and tribal. Computer communications have spread rapidly over the last 20 years, and people who would never had typed their own letters have learned to do so. E-mail, computer discussion forums and SMS have meant that more people are using written communication than ever before.
  • In his article Matt Stone also raises questions about the relation between tribalisation and globalisation, which are not really dealt with in the article above. I hope to return to them in a later blog posting.
  • For more background, and for a tracing of developments from the 1960s to the present, see my article on Christianity, paganism and literature

12 April 2007

The martyrs of Epinga

Persecution and the suffering church -

Ovamboland, Namibia

On Sunday 30 January 1972 the congregation of St Luke's Anglican Church, Epinga, was coming out of church after Mass. Epinga is about 30 miles east of Odibo, where the main Anglican Church in Ovamboland is situated. While going from the church, members of the congregation were accosted by a police patrol, and were told they were not to attend any meetings. They scattered into the bush, and then when the police vehicles had departed, they came back together again asking what it was all about when police on foot surrounded them.

They were searched for weapons and one young boy aged about 18 was carrying a walking stick. The chief of the police began poking a stick into his face and shouting at him. The boy lifted up his arms to ward off the blow, whereupon the policeman shot him through the head. The whole patrol then opened fire, and shot at him until his skull was a bloody pulp. Seeing this the con-
gregation fled, and several of them were shot as well. Four died instantly, and another is said to have died later in hospital.

Those who died are: Thomas Mueshihange, Benjamin Herman, Lukas Veiko, Mathias Ohainenga. The wounded were Seimba Musika, Phillipus Katilipa and Kakaimbe Hidunua. The parish priest still had some fragments of the skull of the boy who was first shot in the vestry of the church. In the early church too, it was the custom to bury the bones of the martyrs who had died for Christ under the altar of the church, and to erect churches on the tombs of the martyrs.

At the inquest into the deaths, the police said they had been attacked by a group of 100 Ovambo armed with axes, pangas, bows and arrows (the Rector of the parish said they were armed with Bibles, prayer books and hymn books). The police also said that after making "exhaustive inquiries" they had been unable to identify any of the dead except Benjamin Herman. Almost all the affidavits at the inquest were from the police, and those of non-police witnesses (who were wounded) attest to the fact that the congregation was not armed. The inquest magistrate found that the police had opened fire "in the execution of their duty".

The Archdeacon of Ovamboland compiled a list of the names of the dead and wounded, together with their next-of-kin (the spelling of the names above may not be correct, as they were transmitted orally, by telephone).

The circumstances

The Rector of St Luke's, Epinga was the Revd Stephen Shimbode The Archdeacon of Odibo was the Ven Philip Shilongo, of St Mary's, Odibo. The Archdeacon of Ovamboland was the Ven Lazarus Haukongo, who had been Rector of the Parish of Holy Cross, Onamunama, which was close to Epinga. Most of the Anglican parishes in Ovamboland were among Kwanyama-speaking people, and were stretched out eastwards from Odibo along the border with Anglola, at intervals of about 10 kilometres.

Kwanyama-speaking people lived on both sides of the border, and many Anglicans lived to the north, in Angola, and until this time the crossed the border to attend church services. Most of the church buildings were no more than half a kilometre from the border fence.

A short time before this incident the South African government had declared a state of emergency in Ovamboland, which prohibited meetings. There was no time for news of this proclamation to have reached ordinary churchgoers in Ovamboland, so the members of the
congregation were almost certainly not aware of it.

There are various possible conclusions that one can draw from the inquest.

One is that the magistrate was either under the control of, or intimidated by the police, and saw it as his duty to exonerate them no matter what, and that he therefore either did not either
ask for or consider evidence from all sides, and that the verdict was therefore a cover-up.

Another is that the magistrate was aware of what had happened, and that he considered that it was the duty of the police to shoot church congregations.

The brief report above was one that I compiled shortly after the events described, which were one of my closest encounters with persecution in which people were actually killed. A month after that I was deported from Namibia, along with the bishop, Colin Winter, the diocesan secretary, David de Beer, and a teacher, Toni Halberstadt.

I thought the story of the Epinga martyrs deserved to be told, but the Anglican Church in Southern Africa was strangely reluctant to hear the story of its own martyrs. It honoured contemporary martyrs in Uganda, such as Yona Kanamuzeyi, in the church calendar, but not its own martys in Epinga. It dishonoured those who were imprisoned for their faith in South Africa and Namibia and other places by removing the feast of St Peter's Chains (August 1) from the church calendar. So I thought I should tell their story here.

And since a blog is a journal of sorts, I reproduce my journal for 28 February 1972, which was the day on which I first heard of the events at Epinga a month earlier. It was my last official duty in the Anglican Diocese of Damaraland (as the Diocese of Namibia was then known) -- to represent the Anglican bishop, Colin Winter, at the uniting synod of two Lutheran Churches in Namibia -- the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Ovambokavango Church. We had received our deportation orders over the weekend, so the bishop was unable to attend himself. And deportation was itself persecution of a sort.

Monday, 28 February 1972
Early in the morning I went to the bishop's house to fetch Philip Shilongo and Erica Murray to go to the Lutheran Synod at Otjimbingue. Erica came out alone, and said Fr Philip had not returned home last night, and said she thought he had been going round Katutura getting up a petition for the removal of the dean. We drove past Katutura to go to Abraham Hangula's new house, but we found Fr Philip walking down the road, and he got in the car and came with us.

We were driving in the blue Combi, and refuelled at Okahandja, and got some road maps for Erica so she could see where we were going. We arrived about 10:00, and went and talked to Pastor Wessler. The bishop wanted us to discuss the whole situation in Ovamboland with the aim of issuing a joint statement on it, as Nangutuuala had asked him to do. Unfortunately the Ovambo delegates to the synod had not yet arrived, so we could only meet with the Evangelical Lutheran Church people.

Fr Philip told us what had happened at Epinga on January 30th at Fr Shimbode's church, St Luke's. He said that after Mass that Sunday, at about 1:00 in the afternoon, the congregation was coming out of the church, and a patrol, whether of police or army he could not find out, told the people coming out of church that they were not to hold any meetings. The congregation scattered into the bush, and when the lorries had driven off, they came together and began to discuss the incident, and asked each other what it was all about. Then the patrol surrounded them, and searched them for weapons. One boy, aged about 18, had a walking stick, and the leader of the patrol began shouting at him, and poked a stick in his face. The boy lifted his arms to ward off the stick, and the captain shot him with his revolver. Then the whole patrol opened fire, and shot his head to pieces. The congregation scattered again, and three of them were shot dead, and two or three more seriously wounded. One of the injured ones died later in hospital. One of the others had serious brain injuries, and they did not expect him to recover. Fr Shimbode still had some of the bones from the shattered skull of the boy who was shot first in the vestry of the church.

So lie in honour the bones of the martyrs who by the blood of their necks have borne
witness to Jesus, and to their faith in the kingdom of God; they shall shine like stars and move like sparks through the stubble, and their Lord will receive them with honour in his kingdom.

Some of the Paulinum students, who had worked at the Oshakati hospital during the vac, testified to the admission of people from that area who had been shot, and the numbers tallied. They also knew of others who had been shot on other occasions, but we did not know why, or the circumstances of the shootings.

We had lunch with the students and I met Miss Voipio, who wrote the booklet about the contract system. After lunch we returned for more discussions, and then had tea with Pastor Sundermeier and Pastor Kaipianen and Miss Voipio. Dr Sundermeier was now teaching at Mphumulo in South Africa, but had come up for the synod where the two Lutheran churches were uniting. After tea I phoned the Daily Mail, and had great difficulty in getting through, the dictate typist told me to hang on, and then cut me off, and then after three minutes I began to dictate the story, what Fr Philip had told us. I had just got to the part where I said "four people were shot dead" when we were cut off. I rang the operator at Karibib, and she said Windhoek had cut us off -- there was a strict limit on trunk calls of six minutes, and there was nothing she could do about it. I had visions of what might happen with half a story like that going around, and told her it was a very important call, and did an excited Smitty act with her, but it made no difference. Later I talked to Father Kangootui, who had also come for the synod, and told him about our deportation.

The synod followed, and the opening session was a service, with a sermon preached by Habelgaarn, the guy from the Lutheran Church in South Africa. Bishop Auala presided over the first session of the synod then, which was greetings from other bodies and churches, and I represented the bishop in bringing the greetings of the Anglican Church.

Afterwards I met the combined church board with Fr Philip, and told them again what we knew of the situation in Ovamboland, but the Ovamboland people -- bishop Auala and company, were stalling. They were sympathetic, but not interested. We went on till after 11:00, and there was no conclusion. Afterwards Pastor Maasdorp and Pastor Rieh came and apologised to me for the meeting, and both seemed terribly embarrassed by the prevarication of the delegates from the Ovambokavango Church. They felt they had let us down, but it wasn't their fault at all. Then Pastor Diehl also came and apologised, and he too was embarrased by it all. Two delegates from the German Lutheran Church had earlier expressed support for us in the action we were taking against Dahlmann. We drove back to Windhoek, and after we reached the tar at Wilhelmstal, I stopped to let Erica take over. I went to sleep in the back, and Fr Philip acted as kudu observer, and there were many kudus on the road, all bent on suicide. We got back to Windhoek after 2:00 am, and I drove the Combi back to the hostel, feeling dead beat.


Some explanatory notes:
  • Daily Mail - I was a stringer (correspondent) for the South African Morning Group of Newspapers, and so regularly sent news reports to them. But the story of the Epinga martyrs was never published, except for the distorted account of the inquest. That is one reason why I thought it should be told here.
  • Smitty - was J.M. Smith, one of the craziest journalists in Namibia, whose legendary encounters with the Namibian telephone system were repeated years afterwards.
  • Dahlmann - another journalist, Kurt Dahlmann, editor of the Allgemeine Zeitung, who had been a Luftwaffe pilot in World War II. The Allgemine Zeitung under his editorship was an ultra-rightwing, almost neo-Nazi paper, which had recently published several slanders against Christian leaders in Namibia.

    This post is part of a , in which several bloggers blog on the same topic on the same day. In this case the topic is "Persecution and the suffering church". Below are links to the other blogs with posts on this topic.

11 April 2007

Christianity and literature

I have a number of web pages on Christianity and literature, linked to one main page on the topic, and I had a look at the statistics for the main page today to see who had been visiting it.


Num Perc. Country Name
drill down2133.33%United StatesUnited States
drill down1320.63%GermanyGermany
drill down69.52%MalaysiaMalaysia
drill down57.94%South AfricaSouth Africa
drill down57.94%CanadaCanada
drill down34.76%PhilippinesPhilippines
drill down23.17%New ZealandNew Zealand
drill down23.17%JordanJordan
drill down11.59%AustraliaAustralia
drill down11.59%MoroccoMorocco
drill down11.59%AustriaAustria
drill down11.59%United KingdomUnited Kingdom
drill down11.59%PolandPoland
drill down11.59%BelgiumBelgium


One of the things that surprised me was the number of visitors from Muslim countries - Malaysia, Jordan and Morocco. Nobody left comments in my guestbook or message forum linked to the page to say why they were visiting the page (unless they were the ones who keep visiting my guestbook to enter advertising spam, which I delete before anyone has seen it). So it leaves me wondering if there are Muslims who are interested in discussions of Christianity and literature, and whether there are Muslims who are interested in the kind of literature I discuss on those pages (mainly fantasy literature by the Inklings (Lewis, Williams, Tolkien & Co) and Beat generation literature).

Another thing is that there are no Second-World countries on the list. One thing that struck me when I was doing my doctoral research on Orthodox mission was the number of young people at the end of the Bolshevik period who came to faith in Christ through reading fantasy literature by the Inklings. Quite a number of them were interested in space travel and science fiction, and when they came across the space travel books of C.S. Lewis, like Out of the silent planet, said that these had changed their perception of the Christian faith, and aroused their interest in it. Have changing times caused them to lose that interest?

Statistics by StatCounter - see sidebar for link

10 April 2007

Simpler, better, faster...

Simpler, better faster...

Some will remember that that was, until recently, the advertising slogan of the Standard Bank of South Africa.

But it seems that they realised that they couldn't deliver on their commitment to make banking "Simpler, better, faster...", and so, perhaps in a rush of honesty to the head, they acknowledged that they had just made it more involved.

And that was certainly the experience of their clients -- a few years ago you could go in to the bank, speak to the manager about a problem, and the manager would see to it that it was solved. But no one solves problems any more; they just address them or give them attention. That makes it "simpler" (for them, not for the customer), so you go in to discuss a problem but you don't get to see the manager, instead you see a "consultant" who knows zilch about solving problems (or even addressing them) but is trained to sell you "products" that you don't want and don't need. So from the customer's point of view the process is certainly more involved, because the "consultant" doesn't know how you can cancel your mortgage insurance once your mortgage has been paid off, and says you must contact someone else. So their new slogan is "Inspired, motivated, involved..." They are certainly inspired and motivated to make banking more involved.

And what were they thinking of when they began calling bank accounts and insurance policies "products"? One pictures them rolling off a production line and plopping into a bin and being taken in a lorry to be sold at corner cafes.

And bureaucratese and politician-speak are as bad as bizspeak. We are being swamped by a tsunami of jargon and buzz words.

I hope that when they've finished moving the goalposts and levelling the playing fields we'll be ready for the World Cup in 2010, but I wonder if it will happen by the end of the decade because it certainly won't be by the end of the day.

And they're always putting initiatives in place -- somewhere on a shelf in a locked strongroom where they'll never see the light of day, much less be implemented.

And computer geekspeak is even worse.

I'm longing for the day when I can once again buy an unenhanced keyboard, with the function keys on the left, where they made typing simpler, better faster...

07 April 2007

Too exhausted to blog

I have an hour or two before leaving for church at 6:45 am. In the second half of Holy Week there is little chance to read my friends blogs on my blogroll, much less write anything. At most there's a time for a quick glance at visitors on MyBlogLog.

From Thursday we have two services a day, lasting 3-4 hours each, and about 6-8 hours travelling time each day, which doesn't leave much for anything else except a few hours' sleep. I fetch 3-4 people in Mamelodi, and take them to St Nicholas Orthodox Church in Brixton, Johannesburg (the only English-speaking Orthodox parish in Gauteng) a 200 km round trip. What with the speed humps in Tsamaya Avenue, and the traffic jams in Buccleuch, it's an exhausting journey, and takes a minimum of 3 hours for the round trip. The 70c a litre petrol price increase doesn't help either.

This year our Holy Week coincides with the Western one, in which Good Friday is a public holiday; in the years when they don't coincide there is more traffic on the roads, so the travelling time goes up to about 8-10 hours a day.

To my Christian blogging friends: Kali Anastasi (Good Resurrection).

03 April 2007

After Morse, Lewis

Bede's Journal comments on the new TV series Lewis, featuring the former sidekick of the late Inspector Morse, and notes that it has a somewhat unusual feature for British television -- a positive portrayal of the Christian faith. For Lewis is now the senior, and has a sidekick of his own, and the sidekick is a Christian, rather than a TV caricature of one.

True crime

MOUNT LAUREL, N.J.(AP) - A motorist beat a former Soviet political prisoner to death with a rock Thursday at a highway rest stop after the victim declined to buy his religious CDs, police said.

As A conservative blog for peace notes:

True crime
Elderly Russian exile beaten to death on highway
One may ask where God was in all this. Michail Makarenko didn’t die alone: his interpreter was with him to pray:

Отче наш, иже еси на небесех...

01 April 2007

Orthodox Holy Week

The following Orthodox blog has some very useful material for Holy Week.

I printed it out for our mission congregations and others may find it useful too: Orthodox Holy Week

Here are some pictures of how we began Holy Week in Johannesburg last night.

To all my Orthodox friends: kali anastasi (good resurrection!)

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