Monday, April 19, 2010

Prejudice and the Communion rail

Read Acts 9:1-20

These past two weeks have been filled with reason for anxiety, fear and increased prejudice. The killing of Eugene Terre'blance... the songs, words and aggression of Julius Malema... Jacob Zuma's chastising of Malema... the list goes on. As a result it seems as if many people are looking for a group where they will feel safe. Lines are drawn, sides are created and the differences between "us" and "them" are described, protected and used as ammunition for discrimination. Sometimes it is explicit, sometimes subtle, but it is there.

As I was reflecting on ET's funeral, I picked up a newspaper and saw an AWB-member in uniform. Immediately labels started flying through my mind, describing who this person is. "Extremist", "Racist", "Person living in the past" were some of my thoughts. I turned the page and saw a picture of a politician. Once again, the labels started flying. Strange thing is that as these terms came up, it was as if I knew these people very well. I could imagine every detail of their history, personality and even their ambitions. And then I heard God ask: “Do you really know this person?”. I tried to justify my thinking of my 'knowledge' of them. But I was completely floored by what I believe God was saying: "Believe it or not, Wessel I formed him in his mother’s womb. I know his mother and grandmother. I have journeyed with them in their past and know where they will be going". God really seems to know us all.

And I realized that human beings are very clever. We spot trends and tendencies in people and we formulate these as our truths. At the same time we are also lazy. We don’t engage with people, we use these formulated truths to dictate our response to anyone who vaguely reminds us of them. Social psychologists call this the use of schema's. Reading the passage in Acts reminds me that I am not alone in this struggle.

Ananias was no different. He heard about this person called Saul. An image was created in his mind of who Saul was and what he was capable of. And so we read that he was filled with fear. He even tried to get out of meeting with Saul. But here God is, saying to him: I know Saul. I have spoken to him. Go to him. Ananias my not have thought it possible for Saul to hear God or for God to speak to Saul. I'm often tempted to think that God doesn't speak to those who are a threat to me or my beliefs. God surprises Ananias by revealing that God is already at work in Saul's heart...without Ananias' permission!

I am so glad that God does not act like a human being. Can you imagine how God would respond to you and me based it purely on a generalized observation? If God were far removed, observed and created a schema of humanity, God may look at me and say: "Wessel belongs to that specie that cannot love and which is destroying my planet, and so I will encounter him as an angry and vengeful God". No, God comes to us with the bias of love, compassion and grace.

Furthermore, God stepped down and entered the realm of humanity as a person to "live our life and to die our death". What enables God to resist generalized schema's? Perhaps the willingness to walk alongside us. For this reason I am convinced that if we are to work for peace in our country, then shouting from the edges won't help us one bit. Perhaps we need to walk a mile in each other's shoes. But before you do that, you have to take off your own.

This means trusting that God loves everyone, that God is at work in everyone. So, this week, I am going to draw alongside those who are a threat to me. I waant to pray with them and for them. Hopefully they will do the same with me. And where we meet as threatened individuals, may even find that place where we can look at each other and call each other "Brother" or "Sister".