I have been in a bubble for most of my life.  As a white-male-Afrikaner my position in our country afforded me privilege and a life that I thought was “normal”.

Then the bubble burst.

It was the beginning of my conversion to South Africa.  I describe it as a beginning because I have realized that this is a lifelong journey. I call it a conversion and like most conversions it started with a conversation.

I met someone living in “a South Africa” totally unfamiliar to me.  We are both pastors and I casually asked him what I can pray for him and his congregation.  He asked that I would pray for the member’s safety and explained to me that one of the gangs were initiating new members.  They were driving through the squatter camp at night shooting people; the corrugated shacks didn’t offer much protection.  Dead people were the gang’s way of accepting new life in the gang.  My friend turned to me and asked me how he can pray for me.

I was at a loss for words.

My lily-white congregation also needed safety but they had fortified houses, alarm systems and private security firms to protect them.  They were overworked and needed ‘wisdom’ on where to go for the oversee vacation.  [Granted, this description is hyperbole but nonetheless it shows the radical divide between my bubble and the reality out there.]

Since then I have been on this lifelong journey of conversion.

Two ways that characterize this lifelong conversion is learning and moving from abstraction to people.

Learning is hard for people like me.  I assume that the skills, education and theology I accumulated in the bubble places me in a place of teaching and ‘giving’.  What I am discovering is that the life of the marginalized in our country – which is the majority of the South African people – has something to teach me.  This doesn’t sidestep my responsibility of redistribution or social justice but it does strip me of my ever-present tendency to want to play God.

I am learning that in order to see through the eyes of the marginalized I have to be in a relational position to actually hear what they are seeing.  Anything else will be based on assumptions and as the saying go, “when you assume you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me”.  I cannot see through the eyes of the marginalized if they stay an abstracted group or objects that can easily become the ground of our feel-good acts of goodness.  James Cone, in his provocative book describes the danger of abstraction when he writes that,

“Oppressors are ardent lovers of humanity. They can love all persons in general, even black persons, because intellectually they can put blacks in the category called Humanity. With this perspective they can participate in civil rights and help blacks purely on the premise that they are part of a universal category. But when it comes to dealing with particular blacks, statistics transformed into black encounter, they are at a loss”.

One can easily change “black” in the above paragraph into “marginalized” to contextualize for this synchroblog.  The marginalized consists of people with names and stories and as such people like me are always in danger of speaking on behalf of them or seeing on behalf of them; or even worse pretending as if I have contact with the marginalized by reading stories of other people who have contact with them.

Then I have to remind myself that I am invited to be a learner invited to move from abstraction to people in the presence of actual marginalized people.

Cone quotes Dostoevsky in the same passage where he tells about the doctor who said,

“I love humanity, but I wonder at myself. The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular”.

I am changing this to say that,

“I see through the eyes of the marginalized, but I wonder at myself. The more I see through the eyes of the marginalized in general, the less I see in particular.”

I can only see when I am in relationships with someone who is actually doing the seeing and graciously telling me what they see.

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