Some say the reason that people do not prefer photos of themselves is that we are accustomed to seeing ourselves in a mirror and not in a picture. When we look in the mirror we are deceived in seeing a reality that doesn’t exist; in the mirror, everything is backward, in a photo, it’s not. In this way, the photo is a more accurate picture than the mirror, and yet we tend to prefer the image in the mirror to the one in the photo. It is in this light that I turn to Robert Burns to express Cape Town’s gift to me. “Oh, the gift that God could give us, to see ourselves as others see others.” At Cape Town, I saw a photo if myself instead of a reflection and my brokenness was evident.
At Cape Town, this temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells became a problem for which I have no solution. Mark Mathabane states that “In South Africa, there’s a saying that to be black is to be at the end of the line when anything of significance is to be had. Why is it that in almost every nation in the world people divide or are divided based on the color of their skin? Why, in South Africa, did it reach a level of diabolical refinement to where the temples were divided so methodically that three designations were created— white, colored and black? How is it that the body, and not an ideology, the temple of the Holy Spirit and not a political view can become such an object of hate? I don’t have the answers to the questions as to why humans would treat humans less than human, except to say that we are wholly and utterly broken.
At Cape Town, we spoke of liturgical spaces. Though not familiar to me, as a missionary I am familiar with the concept of being present and sensing the presence of the Holy Spirit at a particular place and time—though He is always and everywhere present. I’m am familiar with living at the intersections of my faith journey, maintaining a position of tension in a difficult place, often on the margins of society. I once wrote, “Like the red poppies that line the margins of Europe’s lush green fields, so are those who live on the margins of society.” Living on the margins, I have learned more about God, people and myself than I did living in the center of the field. On this I agree with Rev. Boonzaaier, not only is God present on the margins, but the prophet is there as well. It is a place of apostolic engagement where spirit and space often collide, and God does His best work. And still, I am broken.
At Cape Town, the power of power is visibly present, even in the aftermath of apartheid. It is a flame that burns and consumes, and though subdued non-the-less devouring. As David Welsh so poignantly stated, during apartheid “torture, solitary confinement, detention without trial, and deaths in detention became commonplace.” Though apartheid has legally ended in South Africa the struggle for power, recognition, and reconciliation his not subsided as was so clearly articulated and felt at the session at J. L. Zwaane Presbyterian Church. And again, I find myself broken.
At Cape Town, the stories I heard, the things I saw and the lectures I attended, were compelling and life-changing. But nothing was more powerful, meaningful, life-changing or painful than me seeing myself through the eyes of others. It was a friend who came to visit with a camera in hand, it was a gift wrapped in sandpaper, a healthful, bitter and putrid drink. On the one hand unpleasant to experience; yet without the experience, I am in danger of missing the bigger picture of God’s redemptive power. And still, I prefer not to see, not to hear, not to struggle, not to think, not to let it enter my mind. Dear Wormwood, “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality, our best work is done by keeping things out…” And still, I am broken.
What exactly is that bigger picture of God’s redemptive power? Some would say it is God dealing with the sinner. This is undoubtedly the case. Some would say it is the call to reach the world with the gospel. This is true as well. Some would say it is justice in a very unjust world— also true. However, my Cape Town experience helped me to see the bigger picture of God’s redemptive power. It is first and foremost that I am broken, and therefore, prefer the image in the mirror instead of the one in the photo.
Consequently, upon reflective on my Cape Town experience here is my prayer. Lord, I am the problem; help me to see myself through the eyes of others. I am the solution; help this temple to be the change agent wherever I am placed. Lord God, you are the only solution. When others see me, may they see You first, last and only!
- Mathabane, Mark. Kaffir Boy: An Autobiography–the True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa. 1st ed. Free Press, 1998, 4.
- David Welsh. The Rise and Fall of Apartheid (Reconsiderations in Southern African History). University of Virginia Press, 2010, 73.
- C. S. Lewis. The Screwtape Letters. 1st ed. Lord and King Associates / Fleming H Revell, 1976, 16.