Another guest on Friday was our mate Portal Pete who has moved with his wife, Sarah, into Manenberg and is running a drug rehabilitation program among other things, and he had these words to say:
Great food etc.
It didn’t feel awkward to me. It felt OK. Living and working in what some call missional community in Manenberg, I feel and cause offence on a fairly regular basis. We’re learning that offence most often leads to blame, and blame is one of the greatest obstacles to moving forward together (whatever that means!) We need to deal with our offence if we want to get anywhere. Proverbs 18:19 – “a brother wronged is more unyielding than a fortified city; and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel.”
When we feel we have been wronged, will we deal with our unyielding-ness? When we are accused of wrongdoing or oppression, will we acknowledge hurt we’ve caused and work towards restitution? Will we see the futility in ‘disputes’ about ‘issues’ held at arms length? It’s one thing to get all systemic about things. That does need to happen. But if it’s not preceded by friend-making across the racial and geographical barriers we bang on about, issues will remain impersonal and we will become either an enraged activist or a hopeless cynic. Very few people want to be friends with, or even listen to, enraged activists or hopeless cynics.
One of the young men we have been doing life with decided to leave the house on Tuesday, the very day he was celebrating being four months clean from drugs. It hurt. It makes me realize that the battle and the journey towards healing really isn’t against a chemical dependency on tik. Personal, communal, or national healing Is about each person’s whole life – their beliefs, behaviours, view of God, awareness of strongholds, sense of self-worth, level of humility, level of Holy Spirit, and pivotally WHO THEY ARE DOING LIFE WITH. That’s the key.
What our dear friend, or any addict, or in fact any human needs to realize is that each individual’s freedom is inextricably bound up in the freedom of others. Ian needs Dowayne, who needs Achmat, who needs Elroy, who needs me, who needs Sarah, who needs Clare, who needs Lloyd, who needs Ian – and so the cycle continues. That is why I need Manenberg – because it teaches me everyday. I, a white British male with a tertiary education and networks of economically empowered friends, become interdependent with those who have been, or are currently, marginalized, addicted, abused and traumatized. As theologian John Inge puts it, “if places are the geography of our imagination, it is…true to say that how we are affected by them will be a function not only of the place, but of the people we find in it. Our ‘placement’ is much more important than is generally imagined. It is no mere backdrop to actions and thoughts. This needs to be part of the ‘unavoidable witness’ of the Christian community.”
So the power for systemic transformation is in living locally as a generative contradiction to the neoliberal dream, living in distinct redemption to a segregated past, and in emphatic opposition to a globalised present. I think conversations like the one we had last week are important. But much more important is making friends with people different from yourself, and moving near them and doing life together. Then, from a place of close, placed, friendship, a local theology will spring up and the issues will choose themselves.
What if we all just stopped talking about it, and did it?