Book Review: In Transit

In Transit: Between the Image of God and the Image of Man

Author: Tshenuwani Simon Farisani

Publisher: William B. Eerdmanns & Africa World Press Inc.

251 pages, including: Preface, Prologue, and Appendixes

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

The Author

At the time of writing this work, the Rev. Tshenuwani Simon Farisani served as a dean and deputy bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa, and was a visiting scholar at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkley, California. He was also the subject of two films: The Torture of a South African Pastor and A Remarkable Man. He is also the author of Diary from a South African Prison (translated into German, Dutch, and French), and a book of poetry, Justice in My Tears.

The Context

This work was written in the context of the South African apartheid regime, which has parallels to the experience of segregation in the U.S.A., as well as the present situation in America, where blacks continue to be treated unjustly—especially by white systemic racism. Rev. Farisani, prior to the publication of this volume, had been held in detention four times by the South African police, without charge or trial. While in detention he had been interrogated and tortured and had suffered two heart attacks. He suffered all of this merely for preaching the gospel message that all human beings, regardless of their skin colour, are equal in God’s eyes, and are created in the image of God.

The Genre and Content

This work makes for interesting and inspirational reading due to its creative genre. It is, simultaneously, autobiography, story, history, dialogue, and lament poetry—reminiscent of biblical prophets speaking truth to power. The chapters are compiled into four parts. The following titles of the parts are: Part I Tshiuda Grows Up; Part II Tshiuda-Tshenuwani And The God Of South Africa: The Creator’s Call; Part III Tshenuwani Answers The Call; Part IV Tshenuwani’s Fourth Time In The Bowels of Hell; and Appendixes A-F, consisting of letters and documents, a meeting report, an application for Tshenuwani Farisani’s release, news releases, and letters to congregations from Bishop Serote and Dean Farisani.

Dating back to 1600, the Dutch first encountered blacks and thought them inferior to whites and viewed them as Satan’s people. The Dutch then proceeded to create an oppressive theology, philosophy, and social, cultural and political system against blacks.

Rev. Farisani’s lament poetry speaks out passionately, revealing apartheid oppression; blacks being forced off of their fertile land to a life of starvation and working as slaves for the whites; of being punished when children come to be with their parents when the latter are working for the whites on land once belonging to blacks. The Afrikaners confiscated and expropriated black land and animals, cattle and chickens, and other possessions.

Rev. Farisani remembered how he was abused and beaten by his employer and not given the wages he was promised. This happened more than once with other bosses he had as well—as it did for far too many blacks in South Africa.

The author also recalls the racist attitudes and practices of a white missionary and school teachers: “…blacks have no mental capacity to learn much of white people’s things. There is no room for both civilization and sophistication in their brains, in their whole makeup (p.74).”

In Rev. Farisani’s call from God, he relates God’s answer to him regarding politics and faith: “Politics is not a dirty game reserved for Satan worshippers; it is among the holiest of responsibilities. (p. 84).” In one important dialogue, between God, Rev. Farisani and South African government officials; the venue is a law court and apartheid is put on trial.

Readers also learn of Rev. Farisani’s description of the status quo racist attitudes at Lutheran Theological College among the whites. He struggles with his anger at the unjust apartheid system and those whites supporting it. He also recites portions of the 1984 Lutheran World Federation Assembly document against racism, which suspended white, apartheid-practicing Lutheran churches in Namibia and South Africa.

One cringes at the vivid descriptions of how several secret police plots and traps tried to convict Rev. Farisani; and his experiences of being tortured while in detention. One poem-prayer lament recalls the abusive interrogation tactics of the white “authorities” who detained him without charge—again reminiscent of prophets like Jeremiah.

After his release from his fourth detention; Rev Farisani’s “in transit” status meant that he had to apply to the government for a visa in order to do his work as Dean.

The so-called government “reforms” were merely window dressing to give the blacks and the international community the false impression that the apartheid regime was not oppressive, racist, and unjust. In the words of Rev. Farisani: “Oppressed people want shelter, food, and clothes, not political gimmicks geared to the gullible racist world which do nothing to correct the fundamental cause of their poverty: racist greed and a false sense of superiority (pp. 202-203).”

A Personal Note

I had the privilege to attend a talk that Rev. Farisani gave in Edmonton sponsored by Lutherans and Amnesty International many years ago. In the talk, Rev. Farisani related how instrumental the work of Amnesty was in contributing to his release from prison. It was this talk that, moved by the Spirit, convinced me to become a member of Amnesty International over 30 years ago now.

Book Review: Straight from the Heart

Straight from the Heart

Author: Jesse L. Jackson

Publisher: Fortress Press

324 pages, plus Preface and Editors’ Introduction, hardcover

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

The Reverend Jesse Jackson is an ordained Baptist minister, who has a passion for social justice. He has travelled widely, and been active in a variety of human rights organisations. In some respects, he has served as a contemporary prophet on behalf of African-Americans—following the tradition of the ancient biblical prophets. He was also an unsuccessful candidate who ran for President of the U.S.A.

An articulate public speaker, this volume consists of Reverend Jackson’s speeches, divided into the following chapters: Political Progressive, Human Rights Advocate, Preacher, Comforter, Evangelist for Educational Excellence, Peacemaker, and Corporate and Cultural Critic. Each of these chapters contain several addresses.

Reverend Jackson is a rhetorical master at catchy turns of phrases. The speeches reflect the ‘signs of the times’ of mainly the U.S.A. during the 1970s and 1980s—with some references to other nations and contexts, e.g., apartheid in South Africa. One of the more tedious characteristics of Jackson’s addresses is that some of the same material shows up over and over again.

The following quotations epitomize the Reverend Jackson as prophet, social justice and human rights advocate, political analyst, and spiritual mentor for African-Americans.

When the Word (the spiritual) becomes flesh (the actual) and dwells in our hearts, that’s called good religion.” (p. ix)

The absence of segregation is not the presence of social justice or equality.” (p. 20)

We must choose the human race over the nuclear race.” (p. 21)

Centuries of crime and terror upon which this nation was built are beginning to show their effect and result.” (p. 49)

Our nation has become divided with narcissism, self-love, and white-skin worship.” (p. 49)

Reganomics wants to use the powers of the federal government to redistribute income and wealth upward from the poor to the rich.” (p. 52)

Not everyone can be famous, that is, well known; but everyone can be great because greatness lies in service, and everybody can serve.” (p. 77)

This day the God that we serve—if we will just trust him in all our ways—will still raise us from the guttermost to the uttermost. He will raise all of us from disgrace to amazing grace.” (p. 113)

Conscience is the pursuit of higher law, the authority to discern just law from unjust law. It is a just law because it has universal character.” (p. 147)

I know it is not your aptitude but your attitude that determines your altitude, with a little intestinal fortitude. No matter what yesterday’s strife, today is still the first day of the rest of your life.” (pp. 154-155)

When the philosophers have philosophized and the theologians have theologized and the poets have framed their verse, we are all driven to rely on the everlasting arms of Almighty God.” (p. 163)

And so we say, “Down with dope; up with hope” because we cannot be what we ought to be if we push dope in our veins rather than hope in our brains.” (p. 206)

Wherever racism manifests itself, the seeds of insecurity, ignorance, fear, hatred, and genocide are always present.” (p. 252)

The black church—whatever it is and ain’t—historically has been and today remains the greatest contributor to sustaining us and allowing us to progress.” (p. 305)

For we believe that in the end might is not right, but right is might. We believe that the pen is mightier than the sword, that a nation’s conscience can be stirred and moved if the truth is told with conviction and with power.” (p. 324)

Even though the Reverend Jackson’s speeches date back to the 1970s and 1980s, there is much here that remains applicable to our contemporary context.

Those interested in social justice, human rights, faith, ethics, and African-American history, religion and culture shall likely find this volume worthwhile.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today, in 1945, Lutheran pastor, theologian, and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at the age of thirty-nine years by the Nazis. There is some evidence that he had favoured a pacifist way of life. However ethically, after wrestling with the situation in Nazi Germany, he believed that under certain circumstances violence was necessary in the resistance of evil in the political realm for the greater good of society. So he involved himself in a plan to kill Hitler, and eventually he and others were discovered by the Gestapo, imprisoned and executed by the Nazis.

   Two of my favourite passages from Bonhoeffer’s writings are from his The Cost of Discipleship and Letters & Papers from Prison.

   Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

   Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a [person] will gladly go and sell all that [s]he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all [her or]his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man [or woman] will pluck out the eye which causes [her or]him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves [her or]his nets and follows him.

   Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man [or woman] must knock.

   Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a [person their] life, and it is grace because it gives a [person] the only true life. The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., Twentieth Printing, 1978), pp. 46 & 47.

And his beautiful poem, “Who Am I?”

   Who am I? They often tell me/I stepped from my cell’s confinement/Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,/Like a squire from his country-house./Who am I? They often tell me/I used to speak to my warders/Freely and friendly and clearly,/As though it were mine to command./Who am I? They also tell me/I bore the days of misfortune/Equably, smilingly, proudly,/Like one accustomed to win.

   Am I then really all that which other men tell of?/Or am I only what I myself know of myself?/Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,/Struggling for breath, as though hands were/compressing my throat,/Yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds,/Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighbourliness,/Tossing in expectation of great events,/Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,/Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,/Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?/

   Who am I? This or the other?/Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another?/Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,/And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?/Or is something within me still like a beaten army,/Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?/

   Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine./Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine! Letters & Papers from Prison (London & Glasgow: Collins Fontana Books, Seventh Impression, August 1965), p. 173.

Daily Prompt at The Daily Post @ WordPress.com

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/daily-prompt-global/

 

“Think global, act local.” Write a post connecting a global issue to a personal one.

One could write a lot on this theme, however I believe it begins with the love of God towards us and all of creation. God loves us more than we are able to comprehend and God loves creation, delighting in its beauty, complexity and diversity.

   Since we are created in God’s image; since God is love; since we have been loved and are loved by God; we can respond by also loving God, one another and caring for the whole creation. One of the most important ways we do this is by living peaceful lives.

   The book of Isaiah gives us a beautiful vision of perfect shalom-peace; of a world where weapons of war are turned into tools for peace—spears into pruning hooks and swords into ploughshares; a world where we shall no longer know—or engage in acts of—war anymore; a world where even natural predator instincts will not exist and enemies will live in peace and love together. Jesus epitomised this vision while dying on the cross and praying for his enemies: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

   When we live with the vision of shalom-peace, then we endeavour to: love God and our neighbour and yes, even our enemies, solve conflicts through respect and honest dialogue, be responsible stewards of creation by reducing our carbon footprint, planting more trees and gardens, supporting local-grown economies rather than exploiting cheap labour with appalling working conditions in the two-thirds world, slowing down to smell the flowers rather than living in the fast lane, caring for, respecting and protecting the most vulnerable in our midst including the elderly, differently-abled and children, working to support freedom, democracy, education, healthcare, along with the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter and meaningful work for everyone in the world. A tall, perhaps naïve, and impossible order, yes, and for human beings alone impossible, however with God’s help and activity, all things are possible.

The Church and the federal election

The Church and the federal election

One of the quintessential questions for some Christians over the centuries has been: What is the relationship between the church and the state; faith and politics? The question remains, for some, as contemporary and relevant as it is ancient and historical. The wide variety of Christian denominations have different “takes” in answering such questions. One thing is clear, there is no avoiding politics—those who claim neutrality are also making a political statement, there is no room for quietism and indifference (I still have not, received any comments or correspondence from the Church of Sweden on my last post and wonder what their lack of response means concerning the issue that I raised). Although I believe it wrongheaded for the Church to endorse any political party—indeed such endorsement can lead to tyranny and oppression, as the dark pages of church history have hopefully taught us—nonetheless, as citizens in the world, it is our right and responsibility, our duty and privilege to be involved in politics as stewards of creation and servants of justice and peace in the world. In our democratic society, we do this by showing up at the polling stations and voting.

So, dear readers, are you intending to vote in the upcoming federal election? If so, what are do you think are the most pressing issues in this election? What do you think of the 2011 ELCIC Compassionate Justice Election Resource? Click here.

What do you think of the KAIROS federal election kit focussing on the three topics of climate change, indigenous rights, and migrant justice? Click here

Do you think these resources are helpful for church folk in educating them on the most pressing election issues? Did reading these resources help you or change your views on certain issues? Are you going to vote in the 2011 federal election? If not, can you explain why you are not voting? I’d love to hear from you.