Finding Freedom

I have a weakness, a flaw, and I know you will laugh at me when I tell you. My family certainly does. They roll their eyes back to the very backs of their heads when I make even vague reference to this topic.

I am obsessed with the British Royal Family. 

I think it all started when I was a little girl and my mom had a coffee table type book (but old, I mean it must have been printed in the 60’s or even earlier) about two princesses – Elizabeth and Margaret – growing up. It had the most beautiful, albeit old fashioned, colour plates with these gorgeous little girls who grew into glamorous modern women, and it tracked their journey.  My favourite portrait was one of Queen Elizabeth on her coronation day.

Wasn’t she lovely?

I remember my granny threatening to live to 100 so she could get a letter from the Queen congratulating her on reaching her centennial. Granny made it to almost-104, but I don’t know if she ever got that letter.

At one stage I secretly dreamed of marrying Prince Edward – the only prince young enough (and handsome enough, dare I say) for me, at age 6, to consider marrying. The phase passed fairly quickly, but still. 

Only 6 years old than me. I think I had a chance. Ha ha.

My fascination with the British royal family was fuelled in primary school when Lady Diana married Prince Charles. Diana was the focus, Charles just needed to be there for her to have a prince to marry. My sister and I spent about a year making a scrapbook – newspaper clippings, Sunday Times Supplements, and other bits and bobs – of the wedding of the century.  It was 99% Diana, 1% Charles. Diana did not disappoint. Her dress is ridiculed today, but it was EVERYTHING a 12 year old in 1981. A fairytale.

The kids insisted I add a picture of Diana’s wedding dress which they say is “not so bad”.

I was a total Diana fan and read all the biographies written about her, and watched all her interviews and all the documentaries about her. And of course I watched her little boys grow up. I thought William was the sweetest cherub.  I wished she’d had a daughter.  I remember the day she died – we were in Sabie, it was Claire’s wedding. I could not believe it, what a shock. Unbelievable. 

Years later I watched the live stream of William and Kate’s wedding, yes I did, in Lampang, sitting at my desk, sweltering in the Thailand heat. I loved every minute of it even if I had to keep moving around so the internet was strong enough to stream the festivities. I was so excited when their babies were born, so impressed with Kate’s beauty, dignity and grace and the obvious security and bond this couple had, unlike William’s parents.  But poor Harry – all alone, a little lost – I couldn’t wait for him to get married.

From my perspective, down on the southern-most tip of Africa, the new generation, William and Kate, with Harry, did a lot of good works and represented important causes and charities. They seemed to be taking the monarch into the next century, slightly modernising it, but keeping with the grand traditions.  Other younger royals were working, and getting on with life as fairly “normal” people, but providing the necessary grandeur when called upon. 

About two years ago Harry married Meghan Markle, and this was another exciting adventure – an America actress in the mix made for an interesting new dynamic. I got to watch this wedding in South Africa, with fibre, so no internet problems, but with the rest of my family interrupting quizzically every couple of hours asking what was wrong with me. They did not care that Oprah was there, nor George Cluny, nor Serena Williams, not even that Harry’s ex-girlfriends, Chelsea and Cressida were invited to the wedding. Go figure.

All this to say, I have had this obsession with the royal family just about all my life.  Don’t know why, but I think we can safely blame my mother for having that book. 

I realise that the monarchy is probably an outdated, old fashioned institution, but I quite like tradition and if I were British, I’d be a royalist. I love the pomp and ceremony. I love that the queen is the head of state, and despite all the politics and other nonsense that goes on, she’s above it all.  She is a solid figure, someone who gives national identity, unity, pride, stability, continuity, and of course brings in the tourists. In times of crisis, in world wars and pandemics, it’s been her voice that has calmed and steadied her people. 

But probably, above all, what I love is how the Queen, and her family, support the ideals of charity and voluntary service. Their lives are lives of service. They are in positions of privilege and power and great wealth, but they exist to serve. 

As the daughter of a king, I get it. I too am in a position of great privilege, as a child of God, and I exist to serve my King.

I believe that “each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). [Um, just without the glamour in my case.]

Our Lord Jesus himself demonstrated that our lives are to be lived in service to others – “for even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  Jesus taught his disciples “ “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35). 

I was excited to see what Meghan, the humanitarian, would do, excited to see the new dimension she’d bring, and I suppose, in part, because Harry has always been drawn to Africa and with Meghan being bi-racial, I thought that somehow they might bring the royal family closer to home. And then the South Africa trip happened – ooooh, more excitement. 

But as it turned out. Meh. Not so much. 

Maybe my expectations were too high, but for me it seemed like a damp squib. A let down. Can’t exactly say why, but I do know that the interview she gave at the end of the tour jarred. The “poor little rich girl” narrative did not play well. I kind of lost interest in them for a while. As I said, they were just “meh”. 

In January, when I told Nick the breaking news that this couple had left the royal family he shrugged his shoulders and, after ascertaining who Harry and Meghan were, asked, “so what?” and for once, I agreed. So what? It was a non-event.

This month, their “unauthorised biography” was published: “Finding Freedom”. I started reading it.

Why you ask? Because I was looking for answers –  l could not get my mind around them leaving a position with so much potential to do so much good in the world. I knew there must be some deep-seated, legitimate reason for them doing what they did in walking away. 

Another thing is that I wanted to learn what freedom they were looking for. For me “freedom” is what we have in Christ, freedom to live, freedom to serve, freedom to love, freedom to be servants of God. So it was also going to be interesting to understand their take on what freedom was.

Very early in the book I realised that either Harry and Meghan had told this story themselves (their innermost thoughts and feelings, their toilet trips, what they ate – or did not eat – and other details that simply had to come directly from the horses’ mouths are included) and they were lying having had absolutely no contribution to or involvement in this book. Which meant it was not an unauthorised biography.

Or else it was gossip and heresay written like a soppy Mills & Boon romance. Except in this Mills and Boon romance they were instantly, madly, hopelessly in love. In a real Mills & Boon there would have been a  few false starts as the tension builds to the final moment when they realise that they had loved each other all along and had just misinterpreted each other at every possible turn, and then finally fall into each others’ arms and live happily ever after. Yes, I read Mills & Boon in Standard 6 – but I am assuming you’ve already lost respect for me, so it doesn’t matter.

I did not finish “Finding Freedom”, I felt a bit dirty reading it … and this coming from someone who has read Mills and Boon. 

I have sworn off H&M for now (M&B too), but the thoughts I had swirling in my head needed capturing and so here goes:

Marriage takes work, adjustment, learning. It takes humility and time.  A cross-cultural marriage takes even more.

Living cross culturally takes work, adjustment, learning. It takes humility and time. 

Having a baby (especially in country that is not your own) takes work, adjustment, learning. It takes time to find your rhythm. And humility. 

“Hitting the ground running” in a country that is not your own, is unwise if you have not learned, understood, and made a conscious decision to integrate and be culturally sensitive. Which takes humility.

When you are in a foreign country, with a new-born baby, and people are not saying nice things about you, it takes work to handle it, its not easy, it takes time, but it can be done, and it does build character.

I know all of this because I have been though most of it myself.

“Finding Freedom” is about a rich, privileged couple alienating and criticising people who seemed to love and try to support them. A couple unwilling to submit to authority, desperately desiring to do their own thing, demanding that others look out for their interests in view of their perceived importance, wanting to control, and generally outlining their petty grievances and evidence of their inability to rise above it all. All the while attempting to promote the narrative of their exceptional goodness.

The freedom they seek, it seems to me, is the antithesis of my view of freedom. They wanted freedom to do what they wanted to do, say what they wanted to say, be who they wanted to be, and the freedom to demand that the world say/think what THEY wanted the world to say/think about them.  

This attitude to life, is not the attitude of sons and daughters of the King. The children of royalty always look to the needs of others, and to the one whom they serve. They do not serve themselves. So its fitting, therefore, that H&M left the royal family. They clearly don’t belong. 

I get slightly annoyed because they could have been so much, done so much, represented so much. 

But, all is well, my friends, please do not worry about me. I still have the Queen – a legend in her own time, Princess Anne with her incredible work ethic, Edward and his lovely Sophie – who was a much better choice than I would have been, Charles and Camilla – whom I respect for the storms she weathered so stoically, and of course the almost-too-good-to-be-true William and Kate and their gorgeous children who represent a bright and hopeful future for the monarchy. 

So my royal watching days are not over. Sorry fam.

As for finding freedom? I’ve found it:

Galatians 5:13-14 “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

1 Peter 2:16 “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom to cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.”

Bark and Run – Part 2

In Part 1 I talked about how we “bark and run” like Mojo the Wimp of a Weimeraner.

One way we “run” – as humans, as opposed to canines – is using “whataboutism”.  My kids love this option. 

“Please clear the dishes in the TV room.”

“But what about Jonty, he hasn’t done it all week”

or

“It’s time to go to bed”

“But what about Emily, she’s still watching Netflix.”

That’s just in the home, when the issues are not all that controversial, although, truth be told I have heard major feuds break out over a fork or a side plate as the kids do the dishes in the evening. 

When we tackle issues such as black lives mattering, racial integration, racial inequities, crime, violence, political issues, I have heard responses like:

What about black on black violence? 

What about corruption in the ANC? 

What about farm murders?

What about …. anything other than whatever uncomfortable topic we started barking at. 

Or, we refocus the narrative. We put the focus on Toffee, and hide behind her. We twist the conversation to focus on something that is easier for us to talk about. The food parcels we distributed to the poor and needy, the internships we assisted with, the hard work we’ve put in… 

Another way we do this is to become the victim and/or take offense, like Mojo whimpering as he runs. We get hurt and offended by implied accusations. We feel that we are being expected to apologise for even existing, e.g. for being white. We think that we are being made to feel guilty because of the past and present injustices and we don’t like it – understandably. But when the focus of these conversations turns to our [perceived] guilt or hurt or offence, then it becomes about us and our feelings and conversation is derailed. 

And we shut down opportunities to “one another”. 

Feelings are important, of course they are, but most often discussions on these big topics like racism and inequality in our country have nothing to do with how white people feel.  When we need it to be affirmed that that we ARE good people, or for it to be acknowledged that our intentions were good and that obviously we did not mean to offend,  then the image I have in my mind is of Mojo being carried along when he’s perfectly capable of using his own legs.

It’s up to us to try to understand the life experiences of those who have not had ours, it is up to us to try to understand how we have offended, and then to adapt our behaviour to be less offensive. This is what it takes to “one another” which we are commanded to do as children of God.

And my final method of “running”, is simple avoidance. The belief that there is no problem. There is no issue. 

My last blog sort of touched on this – saying we are united in Christ, the work is done, could be one way of doing this, forgetting that there is still work to be done. Using Christ to shut down conversation. 

I’ve heard people say that apartheid ended 26 years ago, this is not be an issue any more, we’re colour blind, we’re the rainbow nation. Avoid, avoid, avoid. 

And in so doing we shut down the conversation and the opportunity to “one another”. 

Sometimes when Mojo does his bark and run thing, I see the other doggie looking forlorn and just kind of giving up – all he wanted was to be friends and sniff Mojo in ways humans never would or should.  But Mojo ran away and the moment was over.

A friend of mine said the other day that it’s exhausting. The engaging, the having the freedom to speak openly to a white person, which in itself takes getting used to, the moment to express something meaningful, to talk about deep feelings, hurts, and then inevitably, the person “runs”.  Conversation is shut down, well, that is, until it starts up again, and the cycle repeats and repeats and repeats. It’s exhausting. 

Don’t be a Mojo: have the courage to bark and engage, to actually “one another”, instead of running. It might be uncomfortable, it probably will be, but it might be more honouring to God and more helpful in building His kingdom. 

Mojo with his trusty bodyguard: Toffee

Bark and Run – Part 1

Mojo is our Vizmaraner – that’s a cross between a Vizsler, a Weimaraner, and a complete Scaredy Cat. He’s quite big, much bigger than Toffee, the bull terrier, but sadly his courage is quite small. 

done the bark, time to run!

Mojo has this technique we like to call “Bark and Run”.

The bark is because he knows he needs to do the right doggie thing and protect his people from every threat – imagined or real – and let us know that he is doing his job, let us know that he is doing exactly what is expected of him.

The run? Well that’s because he’s a bit of a wimp, and when reality hits, he gets nervous, awkward, feels threatened, and so he runs.

I’ll be standing at the gate, getting a delivery, and Mojo will bark very bravely at the extremely dangerous, threatening Courier Guy, and then the instant the guy reaches for a pen to get the paperwork signed, Mojo runs for cover, usually behind Toffee.

We’ll go for a walk, and Mojo will bark bravely at the toy pom which is even more dangerous and threatening than The Courier Guy, and then the second the toy pom looks at him, Mojo runs as far and as fast as his legs will carry him.

Once, along the spruit, he ran so fast and so far – I think it was from a yorkie that time – and we spent so long looking for him that I eventually went back to the car to wait. Half an hour later I saw one of the kids, in the distance, staggering along, carrying Mojo, the so-called big brave hunting dog.

Lots of bravado, then when things get the tiniest bit tough or uncomfortable or when he feels the tiniest bit threatened, he runs for cover or needs to be carried. He often whimpers and yelps as he runs, feeling terribly sorry for himself. 

Chatting to a friend recently I realised I tend to “bark and run”, when it comes to deeper conversations, particularly those uncomfortable, awkward conversations.

Maybe you do too? We start strong, we engage, but then we run for cover, or expect someone to carry us when it’s a bit scary or even just awkward.

We open up an uncomfortable conversation a little, expose ourselves just a tad, because we do feel it is the right thing to do i.e. the “bark”.  Then we “run” as soon as we feel uncomfortable, or the conversation is tough, or we feel a bit threatened. 

The end result of barking and running, intentionally or unintentionally, is that we close down conversation and we lose the opportunity to one another. We lose an opportunity to do what we are called to do.

Galatians 6:2 – Bear one another’s burdens

Romans 12:10 – Be devoted to one another & Honour one another above yourselves

Romans 12:16 – Live in harmony with one another 

John 13:34 – Love one another

Romans 14:13 – Stop passing judgment on one another 

Romans 14:19 – Build up one another

Romans 15:5 – Be like-minded towards one another

Romans 15:7 – Accept one another

Philippians 2: 3 – Consider others better than yourselves 

Philippians 2:4 – Look to the interests of one another

Colossians 3: 9 – Do not lie to one another

Ephesians 4:2, 32 – Forgive one another

1 Peter 4:9 – Show hospitality to one another

James 4:11 – Do not slander one another

Ephesians 4:15, 25 – Speak the truth in love to one another

1 Thessalonians 4:18 – Comfort one another

Ephesians 4:32 – Be kind and compassionate to one another

1 Peter 5: 5 – Submit to one another

James 5:9 – Do not grumble against each other  

1 Thessalonians 5:11 – Encourage one another

Galatians 5:13 – Serve one another

James 5:16 – Pray for one another

Ephesians 5:19 – Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs

Galatians 5:26 – Do not become conceited, provoking and envying each other

Colossians 3:13 – Bear with one another

Hebrews 3:13 – Exhort one another

Colossians 3:13 – Be patient with one another

Colossians 3:16 – Admonish one another

Colossians 3:16 – Teach one another

There are more. How can we do ANY of these, if we bark and run? Every time we run, we lose an opportunity to “one another”.

How do we throw these opportunities away? A couple of ways. And this is what I will explore in Part 2.

 

The History Project

Yesterday Emily had a History project due. Actually, I think it was probably due some weeks back, possibly even months back, but she did it yesterday. [If you have kids doing online schooling, who have not had a single day in the class, at school, with friends, not seen a teacher in the flesh, not done a single extra-mural activity, or team sport, since mid-March, you can let me know how they’re getting on with it. My Grade 9 is taking a bit of strain.]

Anyway, Em had to create an Apartheid poster. There were various options to choose from and she, being Emily, chose the Women’s Day March, which is fairly fitting seeing as its Women’s Month and in fact today is Women’s Day! Happy Women’s Day.

Because I know she is little behind and trying to catch up, I offered to help.

This kind offer was declined, fairly dismissively, because, as she said, “you didn’t even study apartheid when you were at school”.

She is right, I didn’t.

I didn’t learn it because it was not history then. It was our reality. We lived it. I travelled to school on a segregated school bus, attended a segregated school, and followed the segregated curriculum.

The history syllabus in my Standard 7 year, what is now Grade 9, focused very much on World War 2. I made a model of the “dambusters” for my History project. How well I remember the papier-mâché dam that I created, with monopoly houses, and the pièce de résistance: blue-green jelly as the burst dam waters. How proud I was, but oh how lacking in foresight and perhaps common sense, as by the time it was displayed, the jelly was mouldy and instead of being wowed by my creativity, people wrinkled up their noses and quickly moved on to view the model of the Attack on Pearl Harbour.

I am glad my children learn about apartheid in history. I am glad that it is history. I am glad that they learn about racial issues that go so far back in the history of our country. I am glad that they learn that black people in South Africa were oppressed, dispossessed of their land and means of livelihood, and stripped of basic human rights for years and years. Under colonialism and under apartheid people who were not white were excluded, denied rights and disempowered.  All the while white people enjoyed rights and privileges. Apartheid was introduced in 1948 – apparently to allow for separate development of all the races – history shows us that what it served to do was preserve white privilege.

History informs us. It helps us to better understand the world, the society, the community, we live in. When we understand the historical events, trends, we have a greater appreciation of the reality we live in today.

As the history of our country informs us, so too the history of our friends informs us. It allows us to understand, empathise, shift our paradigms and assumptions. If we are willing to listen and learn.

I cannot imagine what it would have felt like if my grandparents, my parents – and even if I – had been denied the freedom to live where we wanted to, marry who we wanted to, associate with whom we wanted to, access whatever government services we needed to, work where we wanted to, speak the languages we wanted to. These are things I took for granted.

I cannot imagine, or truly even begin to understand, what my black friends, most of them brothers and sisters in Christ, have experienced. But I can listen to their stories and learn their history.

I am not a political person. In fact, I confess I am fairly ignorant about politics, but I am a Christian and as a child of God I want to live a life that honours and glorifies Christ. I believe that the Lord expects unity from us because we are ONE in Him.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22

The beauty is that we are one in Christ, we have unity in Him. Race is but a social construct – God created us as one human race. We have a wonderful future to look forward to – the picture we see in Revelation 7 of all people worshipping together in perfect harmony. [When I say “perfect harmony” I am assuming that I will be given a new voice in heaven.]

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Revelation 7:9-1

However the reality of the world that we live in – particularly in South Africa – is that different people exist. Different cultures, tribes, languages, customs, world views, skin colours, eye colours, hair colours exist. The goal we work towards is being one, being unified in Christ, even though we already are. That Ephesians verse says “in Him we are being built together” – I think it’s significant that it says “are being built”, not just “built”.

It’s one of those paradoxes of the Christian faith – the already and the not yet. We are one, and we work together to be one. Unity, peace, reconciliation with God and with each other is a message we read in the Bible. It is done. But is is also being done.

We cannot sit back and say we have no work to do because we are one in Christ. No, its because of Christ, because we are one in Him, that we have work to do. We’ve got a dwelling, a temple to build!

I think knowing our country’s history and listening to our friends’ histories, is a pretty good place to build from our cornerstone – Jesus Christ. And oh, so much more useful than a dam buster project.

 

A Green Light

Coming back from Delta Park after an icy morning walk with a friend, I stopped at a red traffic light – that’s a “robot” for South African readers.

I waited diligently, and then just as the light was about to turn green for me, two pedestrians, one from each side of the road, decided it would be a good time to cross the road right in front of my car. Despite the green light I could not safely go, so waited a couple of seconds.

Literally two seconds.

The somewhat impatient young gentleman – we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and call him that – waited a split second after the light changed, then started hooting, honking his horn in frustation.

The light had turned green, so strictly speaking I could have gone. I had right of way. It’s assumed that when the light turns green, you go. I could have done what the person behind me clearly thought I should have done, and expected me to do, and ploughed ahead. But had I driven at that point, I would have injured, or possibly even killed two people. I’d say innocent people, but I guess they were both guilty of jaywalking.

So, parp parp, parp, comes from behind me. It was still early morning, traffic was minimal, but this man was clearly frustrated – poor dear, 8 in the morning and his day already going to pieces – and hooted to indicated his displeasure.

The thing is, he could not see or perhaps did not see the two pedestrians right in front of my car.

I sweetly indicated to him that there were two pedestrians in front of me. He threw up his hands in what seemed to be disbelief, why, I don’t really know. Less than 2 seconds later I did drive on, and so did he. I would say that he probably arrived at work all irate, and told his colleagues about “women drivers” … but I won’t because we are giving him the benefit of the doubt.

My point is: We don’t always know what is ahead.

Sometimes we think we do, but we’re seeing things, or we’re not seeing things that are actually there. We imagine what’s ahead, we assume based on past experience, we anticipate a certain reaction, or we just follow the law and then based on what we think we know about how things will be, based on what we believe is fact, we take action and make decisions. Sometimes wrong ones.

Because we don’t know what is ahead we can get grumpy in traffic and put people in harm’s way. Figuratively speaking. We make bad decisions and take wrong action because we do not actually know, but think we do.

God does know though. In Psalm 147:5, David writes “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” Isaiah 40 asks:

“Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.”

While our understanding is limited, the Lord’s understanding has no limit. No one can fathom it. God knows it all. Everything.

Isn’t that humbling? And incredibly liberating?

We are not God. Because of God’s limitless understanding and knowledge, it is okay that we don’t know everything. Accepting that liberates us from always having to be right, from proving our point, and hooting in traffic. It frees us from having expectations of ourselves and of others, and allows us to be humble. No, it requires that we be humble. In humility, we trust in God, knowing that HE knows and we don’t.

In humility we are able to extend grace. When we accept that we don’t necessarily know that there is an pedestrian up ahead, we don’t necessarily understand the complexities of the issue, and that we don’t know the future, we can deal with our frustration, we can change our perspective, and hand everything over to God.

God is omniscience. He has no limitations. He is all-knowing. He knows the potentialities of any given situation. There is nothing that he is not aware of. He knows past, present, and future. We don’t even know that there is a pedestrian crossing the road.

All we need to do is be humble and gracious and allow ourselves to be guided by HIM. We keep our eyes open and stop hooting those hooters!

Called by name

But now, this is what the Lord says …“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.

Isaiah 43:1

 

Names convey important information about who we are and our identity. With each of our children, and indeed our pets, we spent months – in the case of our children – and days –  in the case of pets –  getting the name just right. Each name we have given conveyed a message, and has become part of who they are.

IMG_4401

My parents decided to give me the very distinguished name of  “Patricia”. Apparently this is not an easy name to pronounce. 

In primary school I was called Pretisia, or Prititsha, or some other mangled version of Patricia. My family called me “Trishy” but that was a personal family name and I did not like anyone else calling me that. And before you even think about it, I am just NOT a “Pat” or a “Patty”. End of story.

In Standard 6 we had to wear name badges, and at the beginning of the year, I had nightmares of being called Preteezia till I matriculated. So, I decided that enough was enough and made the decision to be know as “Trish”. That is how most people know me today, except for my Thai friends.

In Thai “Trish” is just about impossible to pronounce. There is not really a “Tr” nor a “sh” sound in the Thai language. So on Day 1 in Lopburi, Thailand, I sat down for my one-on-one class with my language helper and without further ado she informed me that from now on my name would be “Thip” with a high tone.

I spent the next year or so trying to pronounce my new name properly. I didn’t mind, it made me feel special really. Nick’s name was easy to pronounce so he kept “Nick”, and I felt quite sorry for him. When we moved from Lopburi to Chiang Mai, we worked with another Nick and this became too confusing for our team members, so my Nick, the new Nick, became known as “Channa” and he got a Thai name at last.

I know that most (black) South Africans have beautiful African names, but when they introduce themselves to white people, like me, they will use their “English” name or an easy-to-pronounce shortened version of their name.

Having experienced the frustration of my own name being mispronounced, and having been given a new name, I thought I understood. When someone pronounces your name wrong enough times you do resort to making it easier for them and calling yourself just Trish. And when someone gives you a different name in a different cultural/language context, its fun and exciting. I know, I’ve experienced it.

But I was wrong. My experience is not the same. Not at all. Because never has any name change ever robbed me of my identity.

I came across this poem by Magoleng wa Selepe the other day:

My Name

Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa

Look what they have done to my name . . .
The wonderful name of my great-great-grandmothers
Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa
The burly bureaucrat was surprised.
What he heard was music to his ears
‘Wat is daai, sê nou weer?’

‘I am from Chief Daluxolo Velayigodle of emaMpodweni
And my name is Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa.’

Messia, help me!

My name is so simple,
And yet so meaningful,
But to this man it is trash . . .

He gives me a name
Convenient enough to answer his whim:
I end up being
Maria . . .
I . . .
Nomgqibelo Ncamisile Mnqhibisa

While my name may have been mangled or even reissued, it was never done in a way that took away my identity or devalued me as a person or made less of my mother tongue.  As I was growing up my name never caused me to not get a place in a school, or to not be considered for a job. (Obviously this probably does not happen in 2020, but this has happened to several black women my age, or a little older, whom I know.)

In South Africa, there is a long history of white people giving Africans English names. It started with British colonial rule and Christian missionary schooling. On his first day of school, our own beloved Rolihlahla was given the name “Nelson” by his teacher – even though his teacher was black woman, not a white, British colonialist. Through the days of apartheid parents would give their kids English names so that white people wouldn’t have to struggle pronouncing African names. 

I have some questions.

To white South Africans: Why have you not bothered to learn and use African names? Do you use English names because you consider African names/languages to be inferior? Is it just easier, more convenient, to use names you are familiar with? Is it possibly covert, casual racism to use use English names? Is it so much the norm that you don’t even question it? Don’t even notice it?

To black South Africans: Do you want to spare white South Africans the “burden” of learning your name? If so, why? Do you actually believe that English names have greater value than African names ? Are you proud of your African name? Are you fed up with white people not being bothered or is it that you also could not be bothered? What stops you from using it?

I think it is possible that South Africans, black and white, are complicit in devaluing African names (and language) but maybe I am speaking for my generation only. The children that my kids are friends with seem proud of their African names, and don’t go by English names, and surprise surprise, my kids have NO issue with pronouncing their names. 

What’s the big issue with pronunciation anyway?  I have a few friends/family/acquaintances with names like Eunice, Louis, Chené, André, Isabeau, Angelique, Etienne, Sinead – you can’t tell me these are simple names to pronounce! And then there’s the fact that we have to remember whether this particular Stephen is pronounced STEE-van or STE-van or STEFF-an. Is Laila LAY-la or LIE-la? Is it a KA-ren or a CAR-en before me? Does this Andrea like to be called  Ahn-DREY-ah or AHN-dree-a or An-DREE-a? And what about surnames like Kleinhaus, Cronje, Bicker-Caarten? 

And yet we manage.

So, whoever you are, when you meet me, please introduce yourself using the name you like to be called. I am happy to call you Nompumelelo, Thandiwe, Thokozile, Joaquin, Siobhan or Cian … or whatever your name is. Don’t go easy on me, give it to me straight. If I’ve been getting it wrong for years, now is the time to correct me!

Please do help me pronounce your name correctly, so that I can honour you by calling you who you are and recognising your identity.  

Please bear with me, extend grace, as I try. Even if it takes me a while, I will get there. After all, I managed to eventually get “Thip” – with a high tone  – right. In the end.

[P.S. If you get so frustrated because I cannot pronounce your name, and you resort to shortening it, please find a version of it that YOU like, not one that others think works  i.e. Trish not Pat!  One of Emily’s friends “Mpoentle” would normally be shortened, by white people, to “Mpo”, but she wanted to be “Entle”, and so she’s “Entle”. Pretty cool. And actually if you can say Entle, you might as well say Mpoentle.]

You deserve it!

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “deserve” as “worthy of merit”, “to be worthy, fit, or suitable for some reward or requital”. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “to have earned or to be given something because of the way you have behaved or the qualities you have”.

Recently a few people, some of them famous, have spoken out, apologising for not having done enough because the younger generation “deserves better” or words to that effect. This has also been used to apply to race relations, the environment, issues around sexuality, etc, in recent times. The youth deserve a better world.

Do they deserve it? More so than previous generations?

I have heard people say at weddings – “to the most deserving couple” or “no-one deserves happiness more than you”.

Do they?

It has always been used in advertising. You deserve a MacDonald’s meal, or the service you’d get at a particular bank, or get the respect you deserve if you bought a certain car, or simply that you deserve that bigger, chunkier chocolate. Demand the best because you deserve the best!

Do you?

Yes of course – because we’ve worked long hard hours, we’ve made wise decisions, wise investments, we’re good people, we’ve been too hard on ourselves, we have behaved in an excellent way, we have endured, and we have added value.

From the Christian perspective, we might think “we deserve it” because we’ve done all the right things, we’ve prayed, we’ve fasted, we’ve had faith in the face of great hardship, we’ve reached out to the lost, the poor, the needy, and we’ve given financial – sacrificially, generously.

Don’t get me wrong. I love it when good things happen – especially to people whom I consider to be good people – but there are a couple of glaring problems with this line of thinking.

Firstly, when we believe we “deserve” something, we lose out on joy and gratitude. We believe we are entitled to it. When are we ever truly grateful for receiving what we believe we are entitled to? And worse, if we DON’T get something we think we DO deserve we can get rather bitter and resentful. It steals joy.

As Christians we are told to be thankful and joyful. “Thankful” in various forms appears over 70 times just in the New Testament alone – I did a word search on my Bible app – and “joy” had 222 hits.

“Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Ephesians 5:20

We tend not to be thankful when we think we deserve something, but when we receive something we believe we did not deserve, our joy, our gratitude, and our humility actually increases.

I can’t think of many who sacrificed more, or worked harder, than Ruth. And when Boaz was kind to her she responded: “What I have I done to deserve such kindness?” Ruth was overwhelmed with gratitude. To put this into perspective, at the time she said that, all Boaz had done was allow her glean in his field, invite her to drink water, and told his men not to lay a hand on her.

Not quite the thinking of the world we live in!

The good things in life are all gifts. Having a job, a salary, health, a business, nice clothes, special friends, love and marriage, a home, pets, children, God’s goodness, God’s faithfulness, God’s provision… all gifts! And the appropriate response is gratitude and joy.

The other problem I have with thinking “we deserve it” is that, as Christians, we know exactly what we deserve because the Bible tells us in no uncertain terms. If we just stopped for a moment to think about what we deserve, we should be very very grateful that we do not get what we deserve!

Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and just a couple of chapters later in Romans 6:22 we read that that the wages of sin is death. In case we think we’re not sinners, John writes that if we claim we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves, the truth is not is us and we are making God out to be a liar.

So yeah, we deserve death.

I had a look at what some of the people in the Bible had to say about getting what we deserve, and I have chosen just a smattering, but you will see when it comes to getting what we deserve, its almost ALWAYS used in a negative context!

Ezra: “We have actually been punished far less than we deserve”

Zophar (one of Job’s friends): “Listen! God is doubtless punishing you far less than you deserve!”

Daniel (to the Lord): “We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy.”

Criminal crucified on the cross next to Jesus: “We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.”

There are a couple of situations when the word “deserve” is used in a positive sense, but NEVER in the sense of riches, or fame or fortune or extra chunky chocolate or even joy. It is used in the sense of getting “pay” and “food”. The basics for survival.

Jesus said to his disciplines when he sent them out, “Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who work deserve to be fed”. Paul said to Timothy, “Those who work deserve their pay”, yet even so, Paul said of his own ministry: “If I were doing this on my own initiative, I would deserve payment, but I have no choice for God has given me this sacred trust.”

I’m suggesting that we be more careful about brandishing that word “deserve” around. Yes, we do perhaps “deserve” some good things – wages for the work we do, food on the table, basic human rights, last year Nina worked really hard with a huge amount of determination and she came top of her grade, so she deserved the recognition she got …. but more often than not what we actually deserve is not so great.

She deserved it!

Of course we should work towards a better world for our children and grandchildren to live in, but because that is the right thing to do, not because they necessarily deserve it – and anyway, why would they “deserve it” any more than our generation “deserved it”?

Ultimately we DO have a precious reward waiting for us, an inheritance from the Lord, but it’s because of grace and grace is getting what we don’t deserve.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3: 23 – 24

Rays of Light

A friend of mine (Wendy, it’s you) challenged me to find the light in these times. “Chase” the light she said. Chasing the light appeals to me.

I have a tattoo of a moth on my shoulder – yes, sorry Mom and Dad, I do, and I am not just being a rebellious teenager, I am in my 50’s now you know. What I love about moths is that they are drawn to the light. They just cannot help themselves. The lesson of the moth teaches us that it is better “to be happy for a moment and be burned up with beauty than to live a long time and be bored all the while”, but my light, the light I am drawn to, is Jesus. The light of Jesus. And I do believe that it is better to be with him for a moment than to live a long life – even with plenty, with riches, wealth, comfort, etc – without him. That’s not without Biblical precedent:

Psalm 84:10: Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

In these dark times when things are hard, people are losing jobs, losing income, losing businesses, facing a pandemic that can kill, a virus we don’t understand, when nothing is “normal” and when the days flow so blandly from one to the next to the extent that we are not even properly conscious of time any more, when significant memories are not being created, when we do not know what tomorrow brings, in these times we should be all the more focussed on the light.

In Christ we have hope of things to come, but he is also our light in the “every day” business of living life. For myself, there have been many days when I have had to look a little harder, open my eyes a little bit wider to see the light.

What are my hourly, daily, weekly lights?

  • Obviously my family. Kind of goes without saying that I am delighted at the amount of wonderful close family time we’ve been able to have.
  • Hilarious moments with Mojo and Toffee, the idiot dogs. They really are. They make us all laugh. They are good for the soul and even though I’ve never wanted dogs as pets, I think God knew what he was doing when he made dogs “man’s best friend”.
  • Adorable moments with the cats: Popcorn and her antics, Sing and his affection, Sukhothai and his attention demanding wails and the way he insinuates himself into the warmest cosiest spots.
  • Preparing the slides for lyrics for Sunday’s worship – love choosing the images and listening to the worship song as I do that job. Highlight, not just a light.
  • Virtual coffee dates with friends to catch up conversations.
  • Walks with friends.
  • Preparing meals with my family – they each have a turn with me, and its precious time together.
  • Friday Pizza Night – and bonus! I don’t have to cook.
  • Sunday Services – 9am on Sundays is precious time.
  • Bible Study on Wednesdays and Fridays, even when we forget to study the Bible because we get so busy chatting.
  • Watercolour painting – especially when I love what I am painting or when I’m learning new techniques.
  • Writing (like this, like now)
  • Cleaning my desk so that its all nice and ready for action.
  • Cuddling under the blankets in front on the fire and watching “Red” with the whole family (for the uninformed “Red” is Raymond Reddington in “The Black List”).
  • Sitting in the sun, on the verandah, with Nick, drinking coffee (or G&T).
  • Shopping for wool with Emily.
  • Knitting – especially when I finish a beanie. I have knitted 3 and am on my 4th. For some strange reason it makes me happy – strange times we live in.
  • Accepting that we are not a “board games family” (except when camping and there is literally nothing else to do) nor a “jigsaw puzzle family” and being okay with that.
  • Passionate discussions with my three teenagers about issues as diverse as homosexuality, racism, Harry Styles, feminism, gender based violence, Jesus, Alpha, cancel culture, salvation, careers, subject choices, emotional health and Dad’s jokes, to mention but a few.
  • My new boots. They are basic, comfy and warm. And were on a sale and the only item of winter clothing I have bought this winter.
  • Cleaning. Really really cleaning. Once I get going, I can’t stop. And its so satisfying, that is, until Mojo runs in with wet paw prints.
  • Connections and conversations with people I have not connected with or needed to have conversations with before Covid-19. They have brought light into my world.

The mundane little things. There is light, we just need to recognise it. I struggled to start my list, but then didn’t want to finish it. That’s the thing about light, it drives out the darkness.

What are your rays of light?

Thandiwe’s Story

A lady I have grown very fond of, let’s call her Thandiwe, is a nice person. A really nice person. A good person. She is very hardworking – she works long hours to make a living and it’s hard work. She is good at what she does, and is always cheerful. She does not go out at night, not because she can’t afford to (although she can’t) but because it’s too dangerous where she lives, so she stays home and works. She has four children who live with her mother so that she can earn money in Jo’burg to support them all. She is a devout Christian, a lady with immense dignity. I have never had a conversation with her without her mentioning the goodness of God, and how His ways are perfect.

For the record – Thandiwe is black.

This week she had a very bad week.

On Wednesday she was on her way to buy supplies for her small informal business when she was mugged by two men who threatened her at knife-point. They stole all her money and her identity documentation. She has nothing left. Thandiwe has not been able to work for months because of the Lockdown and even since restrictions lifted, business has been very very slow. She didn’t have much to start with, and it’s not like she has an access bond or savings account she can tap into.

For a few moments I felt angry with God, and asked him why this had happened to Thandiwe: how could He allow it and what was He going to do about it? And then I felt such immense conviction that He was going to do something about it – through ME.

I guess it helped that Sunday’s sermon was about asking better questions – e.g. instead of asking why these awful things happen, we should rather ask how we can be God’s hands and feet in the darkness?

Within a few hours I had raised enough funds for Thandiwe to be able to buy the necessary supplies. She spent the whole day Thursday trying to sort things out at the police station and get new ID documentation, but on Friday I took her shopping. We went to a factory outlet in an area where we were safe (from thugs because they have security and from Covid19 because of the excellent precautions the shop takes) and not to the CBD where she usually shops.

Thandiwe left my house on Friday afternoon saying she will work through the night so that she can sell her products on Saturday. I think she will be able to get her back on her feet.

Now I know that that sounds very “nice” of me, but I am not writing it because I feel good about myself. This whole incident caused me to be become extremely self-critical, and wondering about my so-called niceness.

In our society, I am one of the “haves” and I love to be able to help others. With the assistance of some of my friends who are also “haves”, we are able to sort out situations for the “have nots” like Thandiwe.  

I like to be the one giving, not the one needing to receive. I don’t like being the one receiving handouts. I like to be the good hard working citizen, helping out the less fortunate. This plays into my narrative of who I am as a nice, good person.

I know a lot of nice and very kind white people. People who help the hungry, clothe the needy, start schools, sponsor families, donate to animal shelters, and try to uplift the community. People who give a lot.

We should not stop doing what we are doing, we have to do these things, and even more so in these difficult times. But despite being so kind, we seem to find it hard to have discussions about the racial injustices that have resulted in white people being able to be the nice people that we are.

I have noticed that things get counter-productive fairly often when talking in person, but even more so when it is done online or on social media. Seeing as so many of our social engagements are on social media now, I think the pre-existing condition we have has been exposed.

Inevitably when the discussion turns to racial issues and injustices, we get quite defensive at the very hint that we might have racist tendencies, despite our heritage which kind of sets us up for failure in this regard.

In my circles what might start as a discussion on racial issues inevitably turns to a discussion about our good works, our good intentions, the child we have helped educate, the lady who sells Shweshwe products that we support, and then of course, all the problems with the ANC which leads us onto Julius Malema i.e. all clear evidence that we are not part of the problem.

Being perceived as racist or being accused of racial bias is deeply offensive to us as good Christians. Our God is love, and hate goes against everything we stand for. But one of the lessons I have learned over the past few years is that racism does not necessary equate to hatred. There are the overt forms of racism which are certainly driven by hate, but there are more subtle forms as well and this has worked, and is still working, in favour of white South Africans, and working against black people.

At the heart of it, most white South Africans know that we benefit from being white in this country. Deep down we understand that we have had privilege simply because we are white. We know life has been unfair to our black brothers and sisters. We  know it is a problem and we know it is wrong so we don’t want to be complicit.

We know it is wrong, but, and I think this is the crux of the matter, we are also quite comfortable.

I live in a comfortable bubble. I am happy to help, to give, to do my bit in the community, to give to causes, but I am also very happy to return home to my bubble. I am prepared to step out of my comfort zone, but a 2 hour trip into Diepsloot or Alex for a community project, or a shopping trip with Thandiwe, that makes me feel better about my comfort, before I step back into that comfort zone, now feeling so much more deserving of my comfort, is what suits me.

I don’t challenge things too much, and don’t like to be challenged too much. I am happy to “do my bit” but not happy to contemplate my life being disrupted by tricky issues such as BBEEE, land redistribution, and tackling all the power imbalances in this country. Why? Because privilege suits me and that is the bottom line.

I admire so many people in my life – I am in awe when they act as God’s hands and feet, and am grateful when I get the opportunity to do something – but something niggling in the back of mind is saying it is not enough. It comes from this place of comfort, as the “white saviour”, which does not feel right.

Is it really possible to effect the kind of change we need in this country and stay in our comfort zones?  Will we ever create the society we need here if we only deal with the symptoms of a broken system?

Somehow I doubt it.

I don’t know the solution. I am not saying we must all move to Diepsloot or sell all our possessions. I don’t really know what I am saying, but I do think we need to be willing to think about these issues and allow ourselves to be challenged. I will close with the words of a wise young man who proof read this blog and then said:

It’s all so hard. I think we need a factory reset.

j J Bekker

It’s so difficult. I think we need a factory reset” Jonty Bekker

NOTE:

In her book, “White Fragility”, Robin Diangelo says that we are quite fragile when it comes to discussions on racial issues. If you have not read or listened anything by her, you can start now by following this link to her website. She’s American, and that is something I feel I need to explore as well, because racial issues in SA are not the same as racial issues in USA, but she’s got a wealth of really good material and some of the issues are universal.

Marmalade

Yesterday I wrote Part 3 in response to the “men are trash” slogan. It was an exhausting process, I was exhausted. Said to my DH that I need to post something positive and uplifting, like a recipe. And then I remembered: marmalade.

Marmalade makes me happy.

IMG_4106

Trishy’s 3-Citrus Marmalade

 

Last week we packed food parcels at Pippa’s home and while we were there she offered everyone lemons from her overburdened lemon tree. When I went to pick the lemons, I saw she had an overburdened grapefruit tree too. She graciously told me to help myself. And as luck would have it, I have kumquats on my trees at home, so, ta da, three citrus marmalade here we come!

Here is my recipe. I know it is not the purist’s way, and I take a lot of short cuts and don’t prepare mason jars in the proper manner (sheer laziness), but it seems to work anyway.

TRISHY’s 3-CITRUS MARMALADE

  • 5 – 10 kumquats
  • 1 large grapefruit
  • 4 lemons
  • 4 cardamom pods, crushed
  • 2 star anise
  • 3 cups water
  • 8 cups sugar (I know, I know, that’s a lot of sugar!!!)
  1. Slice each piece of fruit in half, and then lengthways. Then slice very thinly. Then slide into chunks.
  2. Place the fruit and the water with the cardamom and star anise into a pot and boil for about an hour.
  3. Add the sugar and stir until it’s all dissolved. Bring to the boil.
  4. Continue to boil, uncovered, for about 2 hours. Stir frequently.  I let it boil until I felt the consistency was right, which is why I don’t actually know how long it took. It was at least one hour, maybe 2.
  5. Ladle into jam jars and enjoy with toast, muffins, in yoghurt, in vegetarian lasagne, over brie, use to glaze chicken, stir into your morning oats. The sky is the limit.

P.S. I leave everything in, pips, pods, stars, because I like it that way.

Yes, marmalade makes me happy.  I think I will go and have a slice of 3-citrus marmalade on rye now.