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"We could learn a lot from crayons; some are sharp, some are pretty, some are dull, while others bright, some have weird names, but they have all learned to live together in the same box!"

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Discipleship within empire- a white woman's perspective

This is a talk I did at the Anabaptist Theological Forum. Thought it was relevant to share with you...

A Disclaimer to begin- I am not really a theologian so when Mzi emailed me with the topic using words like hermeneutics and even the topic "discipleship within empire" I was a bit thrown... Luckily he added in the definitions- and when i understood it was my perspective and experience I felt a little calmer. My perspective and experience I can understand...

I also just want to add that (as you probably all know) God is very good and knows us and what we need. While I was reading my bible this week I stumbled across a passage of scripture which really sums up what I want to say... I will share that with you just now.

I also just want to say I am not sure I have any new insights, or any answers but probably just more questions. But I hope this gives us some things to talk about.

Reconciliation has been on my heart for a long time. And at the risk of sounding too spiritual compared to my normal blog i do think it is something God is saying to me and ca
Long me too. Maybe it is because it is something he calls us all too.

So to begin with my experiences... I want to really focus on being a white woman in SA. SA is the empire I live in. And love! I am excited about our country- the usual clich├ęs of where we have come from and where we are going to and the potential and diversity. But I am not blind to the difficulties our country has, most of which can be attributed to our apartheid past.

For this reason I want to focus on being a white woman in SA. Cos I can obviously speak with authority about that but also cos I firmly believe talking about race is one of our first steps in dismantling all the hurts, hate and lies about different races.

I'd like to separate into 2 issues and then combine them...
Growing up: similar to many white SA 's born pre 94
White in a well off, privileged home
Domestic worker who wasn't white
Went to a school where there were only white children. When I was in std 4, grd 6 first non- white children came to my school. I am ashamed to say that I hadn't noticed before that there weren't non- white children in my school. I remember asking my mom about why there weren't non- white children in the school before that. If I remember her explanation correctly it was that it was the law.
My parents weren't and are still not racist but they are not particularly politically active and so I think issues of race, which in SA is partly a political issue where not addressed. But my parents did teach me to be respectful of people regardless of race, ses or background.
I am ashamed to say that I didn't recognize the lack of different coloured people in my life until they were there.
Occupational therapy- working at Bara. Exposure to different cultures and races. My first realization that my white ways were not necessarily best. The compassion and caring and being there for your family and even your neighbors was in stark contrast to the white independence and attitude of "look out for yourself" I knew well.
Fast forward a few years to more recent times... 2 and 1/2 years ago I married my wonderful hubby. Philippe. The reason I include this is because he is coloured and our relationship and people and society's reaction to our relationship have also made me think...
Just as a funny aside... We have a "stare rating". Because believe it or not people do stare at us. And depending on the city and place it increases or decreases. Our usual reaction to this is to really give them something to stare about- usually a big smoochy kiss!
So reactions to us- the most obvious was my grandmother warning me "that he was different from me". I told her, I had noticed!
Others are when either of our families, tends to be the extended family, are saying something racist about our respective race and then realize what they have said in front of us and you get this embarrassed silence and usually an accompanying silly grin...
Seriously though the biggest thing for me has been confronting my sense of privilege and presence that I think we, as white people have. Philosophy scholars call this concept whiteliness. I don't want to offend any white people here but I do think we as white people are privileged and act in a privileged way as a result. Things we take for granted- I am judged on my ability not my skin colour. I can do things like drive badly or be late without it being attributed to my race.
I think being in an interracial marriage has made me more aware of my privilege.

And being a woman...
I am the eldest of 3. And have 2 younger brothers.
Since I can remember I have struggled with a sense of injustice in the different ways I was treated as compared to my brothers. I think in a way my parents were protective of me as a girl and so I had a lot less freedom.
My experience and what I observed from my parents and people who interacted with my parents was also of men being respected and women not. My dad commands quite a lot of respect whereas my mom doesn't necessarily.
I was also often warned about the dangers of men, as lots of us are, again I think to protect us. But it did leave me quite wary of men.
And I think fearful of men...
I am also an occupational therapist. A female dominated profession and notoriously poorly paid. Whereas male dominated professions, such as accountancy (what my brothers are and are studying) are well paid.
These experiences left me with a deep sense of injustice and anger about the hierarchical arrangement where men seemed to tower over women in many aspects of life. Made me very independent, strongly opinionated.

But God has a special place for us women. His view of me is not the worlds view. As I struggled with what the world was subconsciously telling me about women, I was also struck by what God was telling me.
I am beloved. I am bought with a price (which is not less than a mans price!). I have a purpose (which is also not less than a mans) just different. He knows me. He understands me.
What God says and how he reacts to me as a woman is so different to what society says, isn't it?

So what about being a white woman in the SA empire?
I think I am privileged. Despite the inherited privilege of being white, as a woman I am not regarded as such a pariah as a white male.
Being a wife has taught me and is teaching me cos I don't think I have got it yet that it isn't about being white or coloured but about being a Godly woman and a Godly wife. A lesson that I think our society slams as being old fashioned but it is how God tells us to live. I think this is particularly hard as a white woman cos we are taught to be independent and think for ourselves and opinionated...
Also my culture or white ways are not necessarily right- as I mentioned earlier about coming to know diff cultures at Bara I have also had that experience in my marriage. Going into marriage I thought I knew best and I'd teach Philippe. But I am coming to learn I don't know best and my white ways are not necessarily right...

I want to read from Romans 12, MSG translation:
So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: take your everyday, ordinary life- your sleeping, eating, going to work and walking around life- and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity. God brings the best out of you, develops well formed maturity in you.

Like I said earlier God really knows how to reveal pertinent stuff to us at pertinent times, doesn't he?
I think this verse is great cos it reiterates that as Christians we shouldn't be so caught up in our culture but rather in Gods ways. I don't think God has ever asked me to stop being a woman or white! But he does say don't become well adjusted to it because it drags you down to its level of immaturity.

I had breakfast with a special friend of mine this morning and we were talking about reconciliation and she said she had been reading Ephesians 3 and was just struck again by how the whole gospel is about reconciliation. God calling us to reconcile with him and us with each other- men and women, different races, different backgrounds. What I love about reconciliation is it never about us becoming less of who we are but just getting to know the other better. And in getting to know the other better we have to lay down our culture and our preconceived ideas about other people.

Discipleship in this empire is i think following God in this country but free from our culture which "drags us down"...

So I guess in closing I just want to say that I don't really want to be defined as a white woman under the empire of SA but rather as Kathy, Gods daughter living in SA.