I got up early on the day of the conference, surprised I was going at all. Willow had vomited all over the bed the night before, I was sure I would need to stay home with her. But she woke up so bright that we strapped the babies into car seats and packed Mini Cheddars into our bags and drove to the church.
I used to think about justice a lot. It was a passion of mine, in those London days where we would read books early in the mornings and debate the world’s brokenness at dinner parties. Then we moved to Mozambique and it squeezed me, tight. No water, flickering lights, high humidity, overwhelming need, beans again for lunch. Babies squeezed me tighter, and my babies got sick, again and again, and while I loved that nation it felt like sandpaper against all of my skin some days. So justice – addressing poverty systematically and challenging my own privilege – became another burden on my breaking shoulders. I instead insisted on relief. Sometimes I looked defensively, bitterly at proponents of justice – don’t tell me anything else. I am tired. Let me have my imported ice cream and a luxury break in Cape Town and don’t dare talk to me about my money, my privilege. I’ve given everything else away.
And so it remained that way. We still made big decisions based on justice – we moved to Manenberg, we handled money in an unorthodox way. But I was still recovering from the squeeze of Mozambique, and when it came to discussing systematic injustice at a deep level my hands remained gripped, in the shape of a fist. I no longer wanted to discuss restitution much. Love yes, but not justice.
I listened to the speakers at that conference. I opened my ears and I think that is a good place to start. Colonialism, slavery, apartheid, economic injustice, educational disadvantage, people without bread. Knock, knock, knock. Knocking on my heart and opening it up to consider that my life’s work is deeper than charity. I considered restitution – that old friend I used to think about. I listened to the stories of the past. Of women who were raped and men who were dehumanized and children – this nation’s children – who grew up thinking they were less than because of the colour of their face. These are also the stories of today and I needed to hear them, I needed to connect what is happening in Manenberg to what happened twenty years ago. I needed to connect what is happening all around the world to what happened hundreds of years ago. And as I opened up I knew this: I need to understand and I need to change. I felt incredibly heart sore and it didn’t go away, it lay heavy on my heart through every session, every coffee break. I felt sore and soft. My fists uncurled and my cheeks grew wet.
On the second day of the conference a mother was shot down the road from us. She was caught in the cross fire. She leaves behind a six month old baby. And I couldn’t stop thinking about this baby. And how Leo looks up at me and knows me, how he smiles a sparkly-eyed smile for me, and how he roots around with his tiny lips for my own body’s milk. How a mother’s love was stolen from this sweet six-month-old baby forever. My friend was caught in the shooting and, shaking, she said to me, why are we here talking about the colour of our skin when innocent people are being killed in Manenberg? And I couldn’t really answer her in that moment, but what I wanted to say is, because they are connected. I know that gangster was the one who pulled the trigger, but there is something else we need to talk about, not just him, but I can’t explain it, I just have to tell you that my own fists are uncurling.
I faced my own sinfulness at this conference. It was hard. I know, I know, maybe some will tell me not to be so hard on myself, will tell me I’m doing good. But I’m just being honest, that is what I did. I looked inside and I saw how much I don’t want to share. How much I block out the hungry and the mamas struggling to clothe their babies and grown men defecating in buckets. As I hold my money tightly. I think that is sin. Let’s not be to scared to admit we have it. I came forward on the last evening during worship and I was crying. Jesus you will not want to look at me, I told him and I knelt on the ground. And then I saw him, in a vision, in a way I don’t often see. His clothes were blazing white and his eyes were pure and burning. And I was so surprised, He was looking right at me. Even in all of our sinfulness, there He is. He is looking straight at us. With all that love, not flinching for a moment.
There is a tap running, Mahlatse Mashua shared with us on the last night. You come into the flooded room, and what do you do? You can mop up the water, but you must also turn off the tap. I walk into the floods of Manenberg, and I am busy mopping up the water, catching these little ones who no one is mothering, and taking them into our little preschool. We paint and play. My arms are tired and my back aches, but I know this mopping work is beautiful. And during this conference I was reminded of the tap – the systematic reasons why everything is such a flooded mess – and I feel like I am seeing with a bit more light again. I don’t feel so afraid to talk about these things. I can mop up the water and wrestle to turn off the tap. Turning off the tap means searching out my sinful soul, and becoming free. I am no longer so frightened of that. There is a new strength.
In fact perhaps these waters, like Lisa Sharon Harper said, are a baptism for me. Isn’t it freeing to think we don’t have to hold onto our wealth? Isn’t it refreshing? Isn’t it like cold water in the face, a little jolting but so cleansing? I am becoming clean. And isn’t it a bit like resurrection? Like Thomas, as Craig Stewart said, putting his hand in the side of Jesus, feeling the wound and finding the resurrection power? I think that’s what I’m finding. Water, life, resurrection, and the hope of a redeemed world, at last. If the process is brokenness, then the promise surely outweighs it in reward.