The trip continues to go well–we continue to have rich, full days with lots to give thanks for and lots reflect upon. Today I finally have the time & mental capacity to gather my thoughts and offer a few things that have impacted me these past few days.
The first reflection that I want to share comes from our conversation with Dr. John de Gruchy. He is one of South Africa’s premier theologians and was so insightful. He lives in an intentional Christian community called Volmoed, which means “full of courage” in Afrikaans. They do lots of work around reconciliation, bridge-building and justice, with lots of workshops, small group retreats, etc. it was a beautiful place.
One of the things he talked about that I thought was so interesting was his self-identification as a “Christian humanist.” That has become an important part of his self-understanding, and something he desires for the church as well–he thinks the church needs to reclaim its humanist roots (following Bonhoeffer here). A large part of this also is an apologetic for the church–when you say that you are a “Christian” many people have a negative association with that word; but if you say you are a Christian humanist, you are emphasizing your care for social justice and the human community. Frankly, I would rather try to rehabilitate the word “Christian” than feel like another adjective needs to be tacked on–all of the good that “humanist” conveys actually is already present in the word “Christian,” rightly understood, and I want to resist the impulse to concede a narrow, other-worldly understanding of Christianity.
But actually the most interesting and powerful thing he said was that we are born racist. What a thing to say! But, frankly, as a Lutheran, I totally got it. We have been hearing other people say that we are all born good, no one is born a racist, etc., etc., but if you have a strong doctrine of sin, you know it is more complicated than that. De Gruchy went on to nuance his statement a bit: “We are all infected with the DNA of racism”–I actually liked that even better. His point, of course, is that when you are born into a society, you are the inheritor and a participant in its sins (not in a biological sense, but in a social sense); it’s not your “fault,” he said–unless you don’t deal with it, then personal agency and fault do come into play. So, that was just a very interesting perspective. He was a fascinating conversation partner, a wise theologian, and a lovely human being.
The last reflection I want to share suddenly comes with more urgency, as we just got the news that Trump is pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement–putting the climate at even greater risk than it was already. Yesterday we spent the whole day, basically, reveling in the natural beauty of this part of South Africa. We started the day spending time on Table Mountain, which recently has been declared one of the seven wonders of nature–it has the most biodiversity per acre than any other area in the world. Then, we drove down to the Cape of Good Hope. On the way, we stopped and saw a colony of African penguins–they are endangered—and saw where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. Then, we went to the Cape itself, and saw a tribe of baboons and a family of ostrich. It was amazing to think about how close we are to Antarctica, and how important that eco-system is for not only South Africa (and especially its marine wildlife) but for the whole world–and it is rapidly being destroyed, with the ice melting at an unsustainable rate. I have gained an even deeper appreciation for eco-diversity and the magnificence of the diverse animal kingdom since being here, and I can’t help but wonder what things will be like in 50 or 100 years–or even 25 years, at the rate things are going now. We simply cannot continue on this path.