Monday, 11 August 2014

Meditation: Good News Stories by John de Gruchy


Matthew 10:5-8
Jesus says: "As you go, proclaim the good news.  The kingdom of God has come near!"

We are daily overwhelmed by bad, terrible and tragic stories of war, rape, earthquake, and disease.  The four-horsemen of the Apocalypse strike with a deadly and terrifying regularity.  This is how the world has always been,  not just when John wrote his account of the inevitable collapse of the Roman Empire, but long before and ever since as the celebrations of the First World War remind us.  The difference between then and now, between earlier centuries and today, is that we have instant knowledge about everything that is happening around the globe.  We know immediately about every natural disaster, every violent conflict, every act of barbarism, and we are taken to them in a way that makes it seem as though they are happening on our doorstep or in our backyard.  The effect is overwhelming.  No wonder people despair of the world.  We have been forced to face reality as never before.  It's no use blaming the media for this.  The problem is human nature -- greed, hatred and the rest of the deadly sins about which the Bible and Christian tradition warn us.

The Christian movement began in a world just like our own.  But it did so proclaiming good news in a world of bad news.  The good news was that in Jesus of Nazareth God's alternative kingdom had been revealed.   Within this world in all its agony, the first evangelists -- that is preachers of good news -- proclaimed a better world of grace and forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation,  justice and peace.  This is the gospel of Christ.  As Christians we live by this good news story despite everything that is wrong in the world.  We live as those who have already witnessed God's new, alternative world already present in our midst.  It is a tough but call, but it is what the Christian movement is about.  In the midst of death, there is life; in the midst of hatred, there is the possibility of love; in the midst of despair, there is the option of hope;  in the midst of revenge there is the offer of forgiveness. The kingdom of God is amongst you, Jesus said. Open your eyes! As we look around us in this old world with the eyes of faith Jesus gives us, we begin to see signs of this new reality, all of them parables of the reign of God in a world gone mad.

There are many good news parables that can be and are being told in the world today.   We need to listen for them and cherish them whether we see them on TV, or read about them in the press, or hear about them by word of mouth.  For by them faith and hope is renewed and love generated.  So I share with you one good news story today told by Professor Jonathan Jansen, Rector of the University of the Free State, a great educationalist and an inspiring person.  This is the story he recently told as recorded in The Times;

"As I stepped out of the hired car onto the property of Inanda Seminary for Girls, I dropped to my knees and kissed the stone driveway. The two senior students receiving me were puzzled and amused in equal measure. "This is holy ground," I explained. For years I've had friends who studied at this famous school urging me to visit. Now, for the first time, the privilege was mine. The next 90 minutes would transform me in ways no school visit ever has.

To the immediate right is the bust of the founding principal, a white woman charged with bringing Christianity to this hilly area of KwaZulu-Natal. Mary-Kelly Edwards's mission was urgent: "Love God, do your duty, seek purity, work hard and [be] respectful and honest."
What remains to this day as a powerful legacy at Inanda is that strong sense of old-fashioned values that imbues human relations on this modest but expansive property visible from a distance as neatly painted green-and-white buildings. The two senior girls accompany me to the chapel for the scheduled talk. They walk upright, speak respectfully and exude pride. Young women come from all over the country for a prized place in this parochial school that functions under the auspices of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa. On a hilltop overlooking this spread-out township, Inanda Seminary for Girls has survived 145 harsh winters, including the debilitating years of colonial wars and apartheid. The bodies in the packed chapel are swinging slowly to the beat of beautiful African songs "put in" by some of the girls. They are calm and immaculately dressed and nod greetings to the visiting speaker.  A senior girl steps to the pulpit and offers a warm, original introduction of the speaker which, for once, was not pulled off the internet with outdated info. The speaker's delivery contains the usual mix of piano music, humour and motivation. Then something happens that I had never seen before. Principal Judy Tate, choked up emotionally, goes to the pulpit and says: "I am calling on three girls to come forward, and reflect briefly on the speech you just heard."  In any school in South Africa, the response to such a sudden invitation is predictable - the children freeze. Not at Inanda Seminary for Girls. Young women stream forward to take advantage of the open microphone. They speak eloquently, with passion and insight. The young speakers weave their own experiences into lessons learned from the talk. They express gratitude without gushing, keeping a firm hand on emotions. The principal has to stop the flow of girls.  A young teacher, uninvited, also comes forward to share her reflections and, to my pleasant surprise, declares she is one of my university graduates. The beautiful irony of a young, white Afrikaans woman from a conservative home teaching in the heart of the black township is too obvious to ignore. If there was a heaven on earth, these moments with the Inanda "girls" was it.

Here's the important question: what does Inanda Girls do for young women that thousands of other schools fail to do?  It gives them five critical skills. One, it provides a sense of self-confidence. This is crucial, especially for women in a testosterone-driven society. The call to the stage is to enable the girls to practise public speaking under pressure in front of a crowd that includes strangers. Two, it provides a sense of security. The girls are deeply loved and everyone's story is known. Physical security combines with nutritional wellbeing and, vitally, spiritual wholeness. Three, it provides a sense of direction. Each girl knows what the present is about - diligence and regard for others - and what the future offers in return. Four, it provides a sense of duty. Hard work is ingrained in the daily lives of students in terms of academic and residence life. And five, it provides a sense of joy. Students laugh freely and leap from their seats to give high-fives to their mates. Long after the girls forget mathematical formulae or the new accounting standards they will remember how the school made them feel as joyful, uninhibited humans.  The still-teary headmistress rises again and leads the final song from the school motto, "Inanda will shine today."

Jesus says: "As you go, proclaim the good news.  The kingdom of God has come near!"  There are signs all around us if only we had the eyes to see them.  To break bread together and share the cup is a celebration that this is so.

John de Gruchy

Volmoed 7 August 2014

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