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Being Silent

"White man, get off our backs, we're going to do it on our own and we reject you. If you want to go and do something, do it in your own community."[1]

I have spent most of my life putting thoughts into words. I wrote diaries as a boy, describing my faith in God, my disappointment in girls (mostly my failure to attract them), and my love for tennis. I kept a journal throughout my seminary  training, documenting my learnings and my struggles. I wrote my way through spiritual retreats, days of prayer, and periods of silence in the Ignatian way. I was then introduced to the craft of the blog by Peter Woods and was addicted. Here I expressed my thoughts and opinions on everything that took my interest. I began writing a daily devotion, published each day on its own blog.  I offered theological insights, political reflections, and reactions to the world around me. I grew a following of people who read my writings – and in the process began to believe that I had something to add to the plethora of writings that circulated the internet.

Until I wrote a blog that gained real attention. I wrote a critique of the black caucus in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, and had the temerity to place it on my blog. It circulated across the Methodist Church of SA, landing up in the church newspaper and in academic articles. It was not received well by my black colleagues.   Colleagues who I regarded as friends stopped speaking to me. I was shut out of the leadership conversation of my church, who moved me out of my position as a seminary teacher. I have not written much since then – three and a half years of mostly silence.

I had regarded myself as colour-blind, and my observations were indiscriminate. But they were not received in this way – and I have come to realise the importance of context.  Adel Alharthi, in writing about humour and culture, notes the difficulties in transcending culture: “we are all human beings and we sometimes laugh at the same things. However…the way in which people compose their jokes is normally bound to their culture and their understanding of the world around them.[2] We are all products of our culture, generation and gender, and so run the risk of not being heard outside of our own cultural milieu. I have had plenty of opportunity to reflect on one of the central tenets of Black Consciousness: that white people need to stop telling black people what to do. For this reason it becomes unwise to critique a black caucus as a white person. Our history is not the same, and we run the risk of being alienated from one another.  I had assumed that because I studied at a black seminary, and had lived in a black township for many years, I had an understanding of black culture. That fact is that I am not black.  I am at my best when I critique myself in order to become better. I am at my best when I critique my culture, my language, my social groupings – because it is here that I am best heard.

That said, the Gospel of Jesus transcends culture and history. While expressed from within a culture and a specific moment in time, the Gospel of Jesus invites us into cultural transformation. In this task, it is often those who are outside of the culture who can offer a fresh perspective. New insights are gained when someone is able to speak truth from outside of the family, unencumbered by the loyalties, networks and trade-off that create the family cohesion. Examples of this are Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu, who spoke truth to black and white people, or Mary Daly and Rosemary Radford Ruether who spoke truth to men and women.  

I have decided to resume writing.

 

[1] The South African Student Organisation president, Temba Sono, to Francois Bill.
 http://www.saha.org.za/nonracialism/black_man_youre_on_your_own.htm
[2] https://www.ijhcs.com/index.php/ijhcs/article/view/41

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7 comments

  1. Yvette

    I’m so glad you have begun to write again. Thank you for sharing

  2. Mike Luppnow

    Dearest bro Pete

    I feel the pain of your exclusion like it was my own. I too was excluded from the MCSA for being different. Being told “we don’t know what to do with you” and left my fate to be decided by uninformed lay people with no training or qualifications. “We cannot be seen to be ordaining gay ministers,” I was told.

    Exclusion like ours cuts a deep mark in the soul. It stares at you everytime you look in a mirror. It echoes through the mind and taunts the conscience like the incessant barking of a dog at passers by. How could I be so wrong to be treated so badly? How bad could I be to get treated so severely? Who did I wrong to receive this judgement?

    I stand in solidarity, brother.

  3. Barbara Shallue

    I am so glad you’ve decided to write again, and to share your thoughts and reflections with us. You have a true gift. I hate that your suffered from that one piece. But good writing creates waves and often makes people uncomfortable, because it makes us stretch our thoughts beyond what they are used to. You definitely have a gift and I’m so glad you’re using it again!

  4. Trevor Hudson

    Grateful for the privilege of been able to share in your reflections and ongoing journey. Thank you Pete.

  5. Carmen Jane Vollenhoven

    I feel so fortunate to be able to read this.

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“To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” Finley Peter Dunne (1867–1936)