Sunday, March 22, 2009

Power of the Powerless! by Seth Naicker

In times of great chaos and stress, people need voices of reason and inspiration. Minister Vernon Johns was, is and will forever be one such prophetic voice and stalwart. Johns preached fiery and passionate messages from the pulpit of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama from 1947 to 1952. He was Dr. King's predecessor as pastor, and a mentor of people like Ralph Abernathy, Wyatt Walker, and many others in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

“The road to freedom”, is a movie that documents the life, work and ministry of Minister Vernon Johns, and in many ways the beginnings of the civil rights movement in the U.S.A. Before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Minister Malcolm X came Minister Vernon Johns, who preached in unconventional yet passionate and practical ways. One Sunday morning Minister Johns stood up at the pulpit and reached down to fresh vegetables he farmed in his garden. Minister Johns encouraged his African American congregation to break free from the power of the social reality of a socially constructed racist society. Such freedom was possible if people became producers and refused to exist solely as consumers.

The advice of Minister Vernon Johns must be revisited as a source of strength and a strategic vice to reclaiming a quality of life existence in the midst of tough global economic times. Having people connect with their abilities to produce and initiate is a worthy task. The dominant culture of consumerism has the detrimental result of draining people and communities of their resilience and struggle for political and economic freedom. However the notion of becoming a producer could equally be demeaning to the soul of a person, a nation and a world. Producer-ism must be liberated and redeemed from the hands, strategies and venomous vexes of free trade and capitalism, which seeks to further disenfranchise the already disenfranchised.

The wisdom of Minister Johns is immersed in a notion of consciousness and pedagogy that speaks from, with and in struggle. The producer-ism that Minister Johns encouraged was not to aid the creation of another status quo. Instead it was for people to rise in their consciousness and take a hold of their worth. People were to be liberated from the vicious cycle of systemic oppression, their personal –communal - mental -physical oppression, for the purposes of producing a community of equity, fairness and justice.

In my local community Lenasia, Lenasia South and the broader community of southern townships of Johannesburg- South Africa, townships like Soweto, Eldorado Park, Ennerdale and Orange Farm, there are people living in dire strait circumstances. Right here in the Twin Cities, my community and home away from home, there are people who are equally trapped in troublesome economic times, and house foreclosures. As I walked through the streets of Frog Town in Saint Paul Minnesota, I saw several houses with these bold bright yellow notices stuck on the doors. People have been displaced from their homes and are clearly feeling the pinch, pain and disparity of tumultuous economic times.

The social reality of poverty and further complexity offered by a faltering economy has been prevalent in the U.S.A and the Globe long before the crash on Wall Street. Long before major insurance companies and fortune 500 companies started feeling the pressure of systems they are part of and systems they propel, economic pressure was the plight of people whom privileged people and power based systems would rather deny. There is a need therefore, for power structures and people who have power to invest their time and effort in bringing development and aid to people and communities steeped in globally trying times, and chaotic circumstances.

President Obama has had to defend himself, as he grapples with and attempts to bring resolve to the maze of social factors facing the U.S.A. It may be politically nonstrategic for Obama to go about multiple projects which may result in the lack of targeted success. Being a successful leader is important, especially when success is concerned with pleasing systems of power and having the popular vote. But Obama may be on a mystical path of engagement that may not make sense or fit the arena of logical and strategic thinking. Obama may be about the work of being true to his consciousness, and mindset that has been informed from, with and in the context of struggle. Obama could choose to anchor his ideology, and continue his political leadership and theology in pedagogy of the disenfranchised and oppressed.

However, as much as I am hopeful of the Obama regime I am equally critical of power based systems and people who have the power to bring positive social change. For persons who have come into power have also been noted to fall into the trap of being co-opted into the power frameworks, this ultimately diminishes their advocacy and activism for positive social change.

It is therefore of vital importance for people to emancipate their minds, their social existence and humanity from an unhealthy dependency and consumerism mode. People and communities must come together and pool together their resources to ensure that more families are not dislocated from their homes. People must claim their humanity and get creative with that which they have. It may require planting vegetables instead of purchasing them at the store. It may require communal living instead of individualized existence.

According to Howard Thurman Jesus recognized with authentic realism that anyone who permits another to determine the quality of his or her inner life gives into the hands of the other the keys to his or her destiny. The hope of the poor and the disenfranchised is anchored in their ability to believe in their worth, and to live life in human dignity even though their economic standing is not sound. This hope is provided in the basic fact that Christianity was born in the mind of Jesus, a Jewish teacher and thinker as a technique of survival for the oppressed (Thurman, A Strange Freedom, 1998, pg. 143). Jesus motivated people to break through the psychological oppression and free their minds, to determine their own destiny. Impoverished communities must rise up in the midst of their poverty and draw strength from each other, without the dependence on investment hand-me-downs from power based political systems and haughty people.

It is therefore possible for me to acknowledge my struggles, my failures, and downfalls, but rise in the midst of my troublesome circumstances and social settings. It is therefore possible for me to live with hope and a spirit of empowerment, without the power of position and economic enfranchisement. In my weakness I am strong. In my struggle I am blessed. I can live a life of activism and advocacy challenging systemic injustices. I can mobilize positive social change, and refuse to sell out on my rooted values and core faith inspired ideals. I can act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God, for there is power in collective, community consciousness and pedagogy of power of the powerless!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Poem: birthday wish for my dear wifie:)

Greetings my beautiful wifie , my darling baby girl Mahalia Khanya, my wonderful baby boy SJ on the way,
and dear family and friends!

Today marks a most ordained day
as Merrishia soaks in the land of her birth -
South Africa
It is a day that God had intended
The 11th of March 1978
It is the birthday of my best friend,
my love, my mentor, and queen
my fine wifie, Merrishia Singh-Naicker

I tell you my Merrishia, ooh she make me quiver
she get my whole mind-soul-heart and liver:)
Yes I tell you - she get me to deliver
on serving God in every endeavour

I have waivered and swayed - yes I have sometime
but Merrishia has always had a word of encouragement right on time
She stepped out with me in living faith
as we pursued our call and God ordained fate

Merrishia has been, is and will forever be
my love, my friend, and voice of guidance for eternity
I know you will join with me in glorious song
singing a birthday wish so loud and strong
Blessings Merrishia, my wife-
your mother, your daughter, your sister, aunty, cousin, friend and niece-
Merrishia child of God who has been anointed and appointed to seize-
a moment to moment walk and talk of faith, hope, love and amazing grace
while acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly in God's embrace

I miss my wifie while she is away with all of our peoples in South Africa our home
and hear I am missing her, my daughter - son on the way- feeling at times quite alone
But in this time of knowing and feeling Merrishia's absence
I express publically- my love and desire for my prophetic queens presence
So my dear wifie enjoy your birthday amongst our community and family
know I love you Merrishia from your head down to your toes- no I'm not acting silly:)
I am just thankful and and grateful for you in my life
your love for our family, friends and community-
heppy heppy birfday- my wifie!!!!!!!!

Your hubbie:)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

On a reconciliation journey from plurality to solidarity! - by Seth Naicker

People are on a journey when it comes to faith. Some admit to being on a journey, while there are those who state they have arrived. In my journey of faith or to faith, the notion of arriving at a solid base is more a myth than a reality. Values or guiding principles remain constant, but even these platforms are dynamic and not static, for they grow and develop as one journeys on.

“Slumdog Millionaire”, a Hollywood hit presents a journey of a central Character Jamal. Jamal is depicted as having his beginnings in the Slums of Mumbai and goes on to become a millionaire. One specific scene caught my attention, when violence broke out resulting in the death of Jamal’s mother. The scene captured violence fueled by religious factions, where Hindus attacked Muslims.

In making mention of this scene it is not intended to propel a villain and victim scenario related to religious intolerance. It is however intended to point out a theme of religious rivalry, which results in human rights abuses. Jamal is interrogated because he is suspected of cheating on the show “Who wants to be a millionaire?”. During the interrogation he reflects on the death of his mother. Jamal explains that if it were not for Rama and Allah, he would still have a mother.

We are living in a world of historic battles fought in the course of pursuing faith. The role of religion is clearly noted in the crusades, slavery, colonialism, Nazism, Apartheid, and the Spanish conquests. Let me not fail to mention the ongoing strife between Israel and Palestine, or the militants of Sudan-Dafur region, who continue carrying out acts of genocide. Our world continues to be plagued by numerous global religious-ethnic factions. The work and ministry of reconciliation must encourage people to see religious warring as a major contributor to violence, and continued human rights violations in our 21st century world.

On Sunday morning the 8th of July, 2007 I was ordained at my local church in Johannesburg, South Africa. Pastor Russel Abrahams my local pastor since age fifteen officiated the ordination service. The ordination service symbolically confirmed the prayers of my grandmother who fervently committed me as her grand child to God. It also presented an affirmation to my parents, and community for their support in allowing me to serve the work of bringing the good news of Jesus Christ and expressing God’s love to the world.

Following the ordination prayer of commitment and commissioning, I delivered my ordination response. My response was then followed by a keynote address delivered by my friend and mentor Ismail Vadi. Ismail is a member of government and comrade within the African National Congress. More especially Ismail is a committed Muslim. I am grateful to God for an ordination service that brought one of Muslim faith to speak on behalf of one of Christian faith. Family members and friends are sometimes critical of my inter-religious work. On this morning however, one amongst many expressed that it was quite an experience to witness the presence of God as realized through the words from a religious other.

Let us consider the words of Chung Hyun Kyung who reflects upon and advocates for Asian women theology as birthed in struggle for liberation. Kyung explains the need for moving from religious plurality to religious solidarity. Kyung states: “My third hope for the future of Asian women’s theology is that it go beyond accepting religious pluralism through interreligious dialogue toward religious solidarity and also toward revolutionary praxis in the people’s struggle for liberation.”

Kyung recognizes the importance of plurality in fighting fascist, imperialist mentality that fosters exclusivity of one’s own claim truth. Acceptance of plurality has the potential to ease the chaos in an environment of diverse manifestations of the divine but plurality is not enough! Asian women have to go beyond plurality toward solidarity if they are to join in the struggle for the liberation of all Asian women. Kyung accuses plurality of being lazy and irresponsible when it cannot mobilize women from diverse backgrounds toward common projects that will defy historical systems of injustice.

Drawing from the inspiring theology of Asian women as advocated by C.H. Kyung, I am convinced that the work and ministry of reconciliation, and the notion of a contextual reconciliation theology, calls people to consider moving from plurality to solidarity. For it is in this moving from plurality toward solidarity that the- I and the- other, enter into a sacred space of commonality. In the sacred space we understand that we are different, but our difference cannot divide us in pursuing the liberating message of the good news.

C.H. Kyung, The contribution and the future of Asian women’s theology, In Struggle to be the sun again: Introducing Asian women’s theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1990), 112-113.