1. Introduction and background
n the year 2000 a big public debate was triggered when Chris Louw wrote a cathartic article in the newspaper Beeld entitled “Boetman is die bliksem in” (Boetman is really furious). The article was written in reaction to a book by Willem de Klerk called Afrikaners, Kroes, Kras, Kordaat. The contents and anger in Louw’s letter were aimed at the generation of Afrikaners preceding him, like De Klerk (who had many years prior to the book condescendingly addressed Louw as “Boetman”). Even before Louw’s letter and to this day there are lots of people in South Africa who are very angry. Many people are disillusioned for many different reasons. Some people were angry some years ago. Others who were not angry then are angry now. Many were and are still angry. Today there are many more reasons why people in South Africa are angry. We thus have those who were angry and those who were not angry years ago, but who indeed are today. Here are some examples of angry South Africans and an angry South Africa.
The level of anger and aggression is rising. This is an expression of deeper trouble from the past that has not been addressed. We have to be more cautious about how we deal with a society that is bleeding and breathing pain. Graca Machel
At the funeral of Mido Macia, the 27-year-old Mozambican taxi driver who died after the police tied him to their vehicle and pulled him 500 meters through the streets because he argued about a traffic offence, Graca Machel, the widow of President Nelson Mandela, said: “South Africa is an angry nation.” She added “the level of anger and aggression is rising. This is an expression of deeper trouble from the past that has not been addressed. We have to be more cautious about how we deal with a society that is bleeding and breathing pain” (Laing, 2013:1-3). Articles such as “Ek is kwaad, baie kwaad na rooftog” (I am angry, very angry after burglary; Nel, 2014:15) can be seen every single day in our South African newspapers. Early in 2015 Tim du Plessis wrote in Rapport that it is his intention to stay angry for the rest of the year.
In the Western Cape a music group called Dookoom1 launched a song called “Larney jou p**s” (Larney, you c*nt), written by the lead singer, Isaac Mutant. According to Mutant, the song is a response to the farm workers’ strike in the Western Cape town of De Doorns. The group denied allegations of encouraging violence and said, “There is a difference between expressing your anger and the instigation of violence. Let’s focus on why people are angry” (Blignaut & Koen, 2014:3). And in an article based on research amongst poor women in semi-urban communities in the Western Cape called “Rage in the belly of mother-hood”, Kruger (2014:36) writes that many women there are intensely angry. These women’s anger then also often turns into aggression, as women in these difficult conditions don’t have ways in which to voice their anger.
Who is the angriest?
According to Friedman (2014:1), Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, South Africa’s angriest people are the black middle class who still face racism in the workplace and for whom higher income did not mean happiness, and contact with whites did not translate into good relations. On the contrary, this contact with whites meant coming up against the still prevailing racial attitudes, which in turn is translated into anger. According to him poor black South Africans have little contact with white South Africans and black blue-collar workers tend to work under a black foreman and thus have limited exposure to whites. The spaces with the most anger, according to Friedman, are the air-conditioned offices of Johannesburg and Cape Town.
There are also some specific categories of angry people regarding our apartheid background. For example, there are those who are unhappy about the fact that they were forced to serve in the National Defence Force some decades ago and even engage in warfare. They are not just unhappy – they are angry. Many feel betrayed for the time they wasted on a so-called good cause and the war that they had to endure. And today they are urgently asking: Why was it necessary? These pressing questions have come to the fore decades after the Angolan war and it is clear that there are now a whole lot of ex-soldiers whose anger has reached boiling point.
Poor people are angry and rich people are angry. Coloured, black and white people are angry. Christians are angry and Muslims are angry, and so are Hindus and atheists.
Another important category of angry people that I would like to mention are those individuals who, as a minority group, have to defend their sexual orientation. The same can be said about the long, uphill struggle towards gender equality. Are we doing enough to listen to these people’s stories? Often these individuals experience more than just pain – they are intensely angry.
Poor people are angry and rich people are angry. Coloured, black and white people are angry. Christians are angry and Muslims are angry, and so are Hindus and atheists. That people are angry in South Africa is a fact and there are too many examples to mention them all. I will thus leave the specific examples for now, but will include more examples at a later stage in the book to better illustrate the South African context. Here I would like to add a poem that a student (Marileen Steyn) wrote after I told the class about the book I was working on and what it entailed:
we are the exhausted generation
fighting a war our fathers chose
our faces the offensive reminder
of what we didn’t do
carrying the cross in silence
to move on
to avoid being brand marked
the ultimate sin
it is unavoidable
it is unrelenting
it is unforgiving
And as much as we are denied the right to say it
it is #unfair
Statistically 84,14% of South Africans are Christians, and good Christian folk are not supposed to become angry.
People are disillusioned about what has happened and what is happening in our country today. To my mind thus people are either still angry or they are busy getting angry because of everything they are now experiencing. So many people are currently angry that it will not suffice to say that there are those who are getting hot under the collar, no – they are indeed reaching boiling point! When blatant discrimination, corruption, injustice, poverty, bad leadership and poor service delivery become endemic, then anger is not an unfamiliar reaction in many South Africans. But statistically 84,14% of South Africans are Christians, and good Christian folk are not supposed to become angry. Or if they do become angry, they should suppress the emotion and not show it. Let us briefly look at our own emotions and specifically our experience of anger.
How do you feel when you open the newspaper and read about Anene Booysen, who was the victim of a gang rape in Bredasdorp in the Western Cape on 2 February 2013? After the rape the gang ripped out her insides and she died a while later in hospital. Two years later, on 2 February 2015, the body of a 5-year-old girl was found murdered close to her home – in the same town; on the same date. Citizens from that town who were interviewed on the television news expressed their deeply felt anger. How do you feel about the stream of reports on child abuse? Or how do you feel when you read about yet another gruesome farm murder. The newspapers are full of articles about crime and corruption. How do you feel when I mention the word “Nkandla”? And then there are those who cannot even afford to buy a newspaper because they are so desperately poor. I don’t even want to think about the emotions of people suffering from this kind of poverty. But I can imagine what I would feel if I were in their shoes and read about some people in this country who earn astronomical salaries. I would definitely feel angry. And I can certainly sympathise with Boetman, who was so furious way back then.
How do the xenophobic (actually Afro-phobic) attacks that occur from time to time fit into this picture, and could there not also be a link to anger? There are so many examples of reasons that could trigger such outbursts of anger: our apartheid history, the consequences of affirmative action, incompetence and discrimination in the work place and, importantly, a feeling that you are not being heard or even seen.
But wait – before I get too worked up at the very start of the book, let us rather turn to the Bible so that we can focus on peace and harmony. After all, the Bible is supposed to calm us down long before we reach boiling point. Meanwhile I will open mine at a book in the Old Testament to which I will return in Chapter 5 to ensure that I will remain calm and rational.
As you read through the book of Judges, you come across countless bodies, abused people, the aftermath of war and other horrors. Eyes are gauged out, a fat king is murdered on the toilet, people are raped, murdered and plundered.
Unlike the story of Abraham, who almost sacrifices his son Isaac in Genesis 22, a dad does sacrifice his daughter in Judges 11. As you read through the book of Judges, you come across countless bodies, abused people, the aftermath of war and other horrors. Eyes are gauged out, a fat king is murdered on the toilet, people are raped, murdered and plundered. In one instance a woman is gang raped and dies, after which her husband has her body mutilated by cutting it up into pieces. Judges is full of horrors; chapter after chapter you read how the blood flows, the chapters varying only in the intensity of the violence. It is almost worse than the South African daily newspapers! And that is no small feat …
How does one deal with stories such as these? What are we to think about such writings? Are Bible stories not meant to calm and soothe? Should the Bible not help me, a believer, to suppress my anger? What should the leaders of church services or Bible studies say about texts such as these? Why would one read this book in the first place? What do these stories tell one about God and are these stories in any way relevant today? Is God not seen as a God of intimacy and love in our postmodern paradigm? Is an angry God not an archaic notion? Nevertheless, the book of Judges is in the Bible, and both the Old and the New Testament speak of an angry God or an angry Jesus. Is it a good thing that these passages in Judges are hardly ever used in preaching, or should they be talked about?
Over the past 16 years only one of the three horror stories from Judges discussed in Chapter 5 of this book (and the mildest one at that) occurs in the popular Communitas reading roster of the University of Stellenbosch. These passages may not have been deliberately ignored; however, they are definitely not the first choice when it comes to choosing passages. These passages will make most of today’s readers feel uncomfortable. Or perhaps uncomfortable is not the right word; much of the behaviour of the characters in the stories will leave you feeling angry. So instead of calming my emotions, reading the book of Judges may have the opposite effect. But perhaps this is exactly how the message of these passages could assist us today. Instead of having a calming effect, these old stories could help me to grapple and deal with my emotions honestly and to embrace them with my body and soul. Too strange an idea? Maybe even blasphemous? Try to hang in there and keep on reading.
When reading the book of Judges different emotions arise in the reader which he or she contemplates and reflects upon. May I become angry when I read these and similar passages? Is it inappropriate to feel the way I do? What do I do with a passage such as Galatians 5:20, which refers to anger as a part of sinful nature? Or is there a loophole in Ephesians 4:26, which says: “When you get angry…”? Is a Christian allowed to become angry or not?
How should a Christian react in a context of crime, poverty, corruption and other injustices?
The reality is that Christians do become angry, but the question remains: What are they meant to do with this anger? Many South Africans have learnt to live with this uncomfortable feeling they experience when reading the horror stories in the book of Judges and elsewhere. But is it healthy to just live with these emotions or to suppress them? How should a Christian react in a context of crime, poverty, corruption and other injustices? May I become angry when I see unfair or abusive behaviour? Perhaps it is acceptable to become angry for the right reasons. Or should a Christian always turn the other cheek? Should a Christian not always forgive unconditionally, or even before the injustice has even run its course? Is it healthy to forgive immediately after a rape or an assault? I think by now you are getting the picture of where my sentiments lie, or at least I hope so.
I would like to grapple with questions such as these in this book, as well as making an explicit argument for anger being a gift from God that should be embraced. This is why I wonder whether a book such as Judges does not offer us some guidelines to deal with these issues. I am choosing the book of Judges because I believe we are no longer in a period in South Africa of wandering in the desert on our way to the promised land. And we are also not on the banks of the Jordan. No, as a nation we are already in the promised land and are trying to live here side by side. This is a time similar to the time of the Judges, a time when – in the recurring refrain that the reader encounters throughout the book – “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” (e.g. Judges 21:25)
This book, however, is not just about a few horror stories or thrillers from the book of Judges; it is actually about the South African landscape of anger, an anger that I currently see expressed in manifold ways. More specifically, this South African landscape is placed within the broader context of an extended period of transition after the era of apartheid and within the era of democracy in which we are all trying to find our feet. We will have a look at the present South African context and speculate as to where we are now in the reconciliation process, or at least where we stand in our transitional time within the context of a young democracy.
If we as a nation were to lie on the bench of our psychologist for an analysis of how we have been faring since 1994, would the diagnosis be positive or would we be certified?
The book will also discuss the so-called processes or phases that are described and also prescribed in textbooks and take a closer look to see whether our nation has managed to work through a few of these phases after more than two decades of democracy. If we as a nation were to lie on the bench of our psychologist for an analysis of how we have been faring since 1994, would the diagnosis be positive or would we be certified? Furthermore, we will have a look at symbolic actions, rituals and forms of expression in the history of South Africa as well as today and explore how we can express our experiences, including anger, in a constructive symbolic way.
In essence this book wants to grapple with the issue of how Christians can accept, embrace and embody anger. Anger manifests itself in different ways and this book wants to explore anger in our citizens and church goers, anger in the Bible, anger in South Africa’s symbolic landscape, as well as touch here and there on an angry God and an angry Jesus.
We are shocked by the stories in the book of Judges, but are they so different from the stories we are faced with daily? Present-day South Africa is fraught with violence and corruption. Yes, of course there are many positive things happening in our young liberal democracy. Growing pains are to be expected, or are they birthing pains? Hopefully it is not a dying process. Or is it a wedding ceremony between the diverse peoples of a Rainbow Nation? Or is it an initiation process where those who have been circumcised are on their way to manhood? Are we at all in such a period of transition? No matter which phase or process we might find ourselves in – birth, transition to adult-hood, marriage, death – all of these are in one way or another a shock to the system. That is why there are so many books that try to offer comfort. But that is not the aim of this book.
The aim is also not to formulate or advocate a Theology of Hope. This book will not necessarily comfort you; in fact you may become angry or even angrier as you read.
Several books have been published recently with titles such as Stories of Hope. The main aim of this book, however, is not to provide comfort. Yes, it is true that we are faced with an abundance of violence, crime, poverty and corruption that go along with a time of transition and Boiling point! would like to reflect on these features in a specific way. The book does not aim to record stories of hope – perhaps just the opposite. The aim is also not to formulate or advocate a Theology of Hope. This book will not necessarily comfort you; in fact you may become angry or even angrier as you read. But hopefully it will assist you in understanding, accepting and even embracing and embodying your anger.
The core question here is: How should Christians react within this given context? What must we do with our anger? This book would like to ask if it is not time that we embrace our emotions as Christians and talk about what is going on in our country by linking the themes of Christianity and anger. Ultimately it is about embracing and embodying your anger rather than suppressing it.
This may seem somewhat crass and contradictory to Christian beliefs. Should we not rather work with themes such as Christianity and forgiveness, or Christianity and reconciliation, or Christianity and restitution? All of these themes are of course important, and have and should continue to receive the utmost attention. It is also a fact, however, that Christianity and its primary source, the Bible, as well as the history of the Christian church, are awash with blood. This book wants to explore the relationship of the gruesome context of some of the Bible passages with our own gruesome context, rather than to deny its existence. Then the book wants to explore certain route markers as a kind of first attempt to foster a discussion regarding the theme “Christianity and anger” – specifically with regard to our South African context. This is indispensable if we want to understand con-cepts such as forgiveness, reconciliation and justice. The theme of anger does thus not oppose reconciliation. On the contrary.
In our context much more is necessary than simply expressing our anger, but not expressing it would be a mistake.
Throughout the book it is suggested that exploration of the theme Christianity and anger is just one aspect of a bigger puzzle, but that it is now precisely time that this tiny piece of the puzzle also receive some attention. In our context much more is necessary than simply expressing our anger, but not expressing it would be a mistake. It deserves attention along with all the other aspects. Hence this book.
Boiling point! thus wants to assist Christians to become angry, in a meaningful way – to acknowledge this anger and to speak, preach, sing and debate it – to encourage the expression of these emotions rather than repudiating them and to embody them in a specific way. A theological reflection on anger is thus part of a theological explora-tion of forgiveness, reconciliation, justice and restitution.
Furthermore, this book has a strong practical-theological emphasis, which means that not only the Bible is studied, but also and importantly also bearing in mind our South African context and specifically also faith practices. There will be a continuous reciprocal movement between the current context and sources that can shed light on a better understanding of the context. We will look at certain Bible passages, as well as the writings of various authors, theologians and also the various ways in which people give symbolic expression to their anger.
This book is aimed at anyone interested in the theme, whether you personally experience anger or not. I hope that the book will, on the one hand, aid those who are angry to deal with it constructively, and on the other hand, assist those who are not angry to understand better and tolerate those who are. Hopefully this book will also help readers to express their experiences in a symbolic way in rituals that address a context of injustice, cruelty, poverty, exploitation, corruption, discrimination and crime.
The themes addressed in this book are not completely new. Some readers may remember similar themes addressed a few decades ago in national as well as international studies. During the apartheid years several South African theologians responded to an oppressive dispensation by assisting people to give a voice to what they were experiencing – also from a more liturgical angle. Think of the book of prayer by John de Gruchy called Cry Justice! as well as Mark Hay’s book Ukubuyisana and the works of Charles Villa-Vicencio. Books from theologians abroad include, amongst many others, Ted Jennings Jnr’s The Liturgy of Liberation and Bill Kellerman’s Seasons of Faith and Conscience. These are just a few works by theologians who back then tried to emphasise a positive practical-theological acknowledgement of the experience of injustice.
There are also more historical works, such as the research by Chris Loff, who writes about the negative impact of the liturgy and specifically the decision of the Dutch Reformed Church synod in the nineteenth century to separate the celebration of the Lord’s Supper according to race. The writer Antjie Krog has also made unique and meaningful contributions, especially in her work on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in the late 1990s. Various master’s and doctoral theses also explored this topic. Some of these sources are revisited in this book and may conjure up recollections of a specific era in our history and associating it with the theme of Christianity and anger. Perhaps this is the right time to revisit these themes – not with reference to the South Africa of a few decades ago, but the South Africa of the twenty-first century, more than two decades after the first de-mocratic election.
With this background in mind, the book will adopt a typically practical-theological approach (as previously mentioned) rather than a dogmatic or biblical scientific reflection; the focus will thus be on both actions and the contexts in which these actions occur.2 I will look at rituals, liturgy and preaching, all common themes within practical theology, as well as the interaction between the context and the praxis of religion.
In the first chapter I look at our current stance on issues such as reconciliation and justice. In Chapter 2 I explore stories (specifically my own) to aid a contextual analysis of our present South African context. The processes pertaining to transition rituals are explored after that and specific questions asked about the role and place of anger within a phase model (Chapter 3). I will look critically at these models/schemes and consider whether these well-meaning models may not become shackles. In the following chapter I look at our so-called ritual landscape of anger in South Africa to illustrate how people are looking for ways to express symbolically what they are experiencing. Chapter 5 takes a look at three horror stories from the book of Judges. The three chosen passages are related to our current context and various prayers, and artists’ interpretations of these passages or genres are given. In the final chapter the discussions in the previous chapters are distilled into various guidelines on the theme of Christianity and anger, in particular also emphasising the fact that anger is an important diagnostic tool. In other words, if we take a minute to answer the question: “Why are we angry?” this will reveal much about the things we love and hold dear.
I have included a bibliography that lists all the sources used and can be used as further references for those interested.
Often the biggest motivation for taking a decision (also in congregations) is “to keep the peace and quiet”, understandably. But often a poem such as the one written by Desmond Tutu, based on a prayer by Francis Drake, is more suited than a prayer “to keep the peace and quiet”.
Disturb us, O Lord
when we are too well-pleased with ourselves
when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,
because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, O Lord
when with the abundance of the things we possess,
we have lost our thirst for the water of life
when, having fallen in love with time,
we have ceased to dream of eternity
and in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision of Heaven to grow dim.
Stir us, O Lord
to dare more boldly, to venture into wider seas
where storms show Thy mastery,
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.
In the name of him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes
and invited the brave to follow.
Whilst working on this manuscript I was encouraged and stimulated by a number of people. I would like to thank all of these friends and colleagues – Hennie Pieterse (also for the prologue), Wilhelm Jordaan, Julian Müller, André van Niekerk (also for referring me to further sources), Maake Masango, Cas Vos, and in particular Andries Visagie and Marthinus Beukes, who pointed my attention to some of the short stories and poems I refer to in the book, my wife Clara for her insight and criticisms, as well as assistance with the translation of several chapters of this book and Prof Edwin Hees for the translation of the rest of the text as well as further editing.3 Many people helped me to shape my thoughts. For example, I spoke on the theme at a conference at the University of Pretoria’s Theological Faculty in October 2014 and received much helpful feedback; I also received insightful commentary after preaching on the theme in our local congregation in 2014 and several of my colleagues at the University of Pretoria such as Jerry Pillay and Maake Masango encouraged me to translate the initial text, Kookpunt!, into English for a wider reader audience in South Africa. However, I take responsibility for what I have written in this book.
Anger can also be viewed as a God-given emotion and the churches should be a safe space where we can voice our anger in meaningful ways, were we can say “damn it” when we need to and not feel guilty..
You as reader may wonder why I, a white male in my early forties (and thus not from the Boetman generation), have the need to speak about anger. I will speak more about this in the next chapter but would like to stress that I am not negative about where we currently are in South Africa as a nation – on the contrary. I am convinced, however, that the theme of anger needs to be aired in our country and that churches and other faith communities in South Africa should not focus only on the negative aspects of anger. Anger can also be viewed as a God-given emotion and the churches should be a safe space where we can voice our anger in meaningful ways, were we can say “damn it” when we need to and not feel guilty about the fact that we have reached boiling point. To feel angry when things are not right is not wrong – it is an expression of the fact that you still care.
2. A lament for liminality
Where do the citizens of South Africa currently find themselves with regard to the transition from apartheid to democracy? Where are we currently as a nation and also individually on this journey? I know that many people would like quick and easy answers to these questions. I do believe, however, that if we were to provide such answers, they would just not be true and in fact quite misleading. We are not all the same and we are not all at the same place in this overarching time of transition, both as individuals and as groups. Every individual and each community of faith in South Africa has its own unique story to tell that shed some light on where they are as well as where we are as a nation. In this chapter I tell more about my own story. It is an attempt to provide at least one subjective description in this regard and thereby illustrate something of the current situation and context as well as its complexity, and for readers to also reflect on their own stories in the light of this.
In Practical Theology one important question is simply: “What is going on?” (cf. Osmer, 2008). I will ask this question consistently throughout this book and I will also partially answer it, but of course with the information I gather while looking at the world through my particular lenses and remaining very conscious of my subjective perspective. In this first round I will explore the question of where we are currently in South Africa with regard to the transition to democracy. This I will do by sticking to my guns as a scholar of ritual and worship, and by making use of especially two sources. Firstly, I will make use of my own experiences as I have participated in worship services and other rituals over the past two decades. And as a travel companion to hopefully keep me on the straight and narrow, I will also concomitantly make use of works by the Afrikaans poet and author Antjie Krog, specifically works which she has written in this period.
Liminality as a concept has had a very important influence on the work of (practical) theologians and via them in the practice of many local communities and congregations.
What I basically want to do in this chapter is to ask whether the concept of liminality is really still the most ideal notion to help us understand what is going on in our country and also in faith communities, and to make sense of what we are currently experiencing. I also ask if liminality can still provide the best clues for the way we should or can act in our own day in South Africa? Liminality as a concept has had a very important influence on the work of (practical) theologians and via them in the practice of many local communities and congregations. The concept is also often used to prescribe whether and how Christians and communities of faith must respond to the prevailing environment.
Not all readers necessarily know what is meant by the concept of liminality. Well, liminality is a concept that comes from the work of the anthropologist Victor Turner, who built his theory on the earlier work of the anthropologist Arnold van Gennep (see also Wepener, 2014:27-29). Both these scholars conducted research on rites of passage and distinguished distinctive phases within these rituals. Basically the following phases are to be found in a rite of passage: 1) separation; 2) the phase of liminality or the in-between phase; and 3) reintegration or reincorporation in which the transition is completed. So, for example, Xhosa boys are separated from their existing social structures and sent to the bush at a certain age. This is then the first phase of separation. They must then remain in the bush for a prescribed period as amaKweta, where they must learn to survive and they also receive instruction from the older men. In this second phase they are neither boys nor men – they are in-between, the phase of so-called liminality, hence the term amaKweta. In the third phase they go back to where they initially came from, their home communities, where they are circumcised which also signals the end of the second phase and the beginning of the third and reintegrated into the community, now not as boys or as in-between beings, but as men with new identities and roles in the social structure. For now I focus only on liminality, the second phase or in-between time.
The word liminality comes from the Latin word limen meaning threshold and signifies this in-between time in a rite of passage. People in a state of liminality are, to use Turner’s language, “betwixt and between, neither here nor there”. In the bigger picture of a transitional time in a society such as South Africa, this concept was very important and helpful in order to assist people to understand their state of being in-between and their experience of disorientation. It was the experience of being on a threshold where we were not any longer in an apartheid system, but also not yet completely initiated into a new democratic dispensation.
Where are we? In Egypt? In Sinai? Or maybe in Canaan?
Various theologians over the past few decades have identified and explained the value of this so-called liminal or threshold time, and it provided good insights for people into their situation. Along with this, it was also important to show how such a liminal time could be a potentially creative time in which much can be learned and new iden-tities can be acquired. The value of the work of these theologians cannot be emphasised enough. The question I want to explore, however, is whether this concept – which was so valuable in 1994 and even still in 2004 – is still as applicable and relevant and useful in 2015, not to mention 2016, 2017 and beyond in South Africa, and whether the time has not come to move beyond understanding our condition as liminal. Are we really still standing on a threshold as a nation, or is it rather academics and their usage of the concept that keep us supposedly on the threshold? Where are we? In Egypt? In Sinai? Or maybe in Canaan?
These are by no means easy questions to answer and also not really testable, but they are nevertheless critical questions to ask and think about in order to respond in a meaningful way within our given con-text. To my mind this is exactly where a book such as this one should start, namely in the current context and ask where we currently find ourselves with regard to ongoing processes such as reconciliation and transformation in South Africa. Then along with that I must explore my own place within this context. And in this chapter I will ask whether liminality, with all the positive connotations it has attracted over time as a creative period and time of learning and acquiring new identities, still is the best way to think about ourselves and where we currently are. In this way I also hope to show that not all people can be forced into one fixed scheme. Is there not perhaps now (again) space for (amongst other things) anger? And if the answer is yes, does this not show that we are indeed already moving beyond liminality? Is such a phase model at all tenable as an overarching explanation for individuals and groups such as faith communities in South Africa? As I tell a bit of my own story in this chapter, readers will hopefully be able to imagine their own stories in relation to the concept of liminality. My own story is just an example and we are all currently in different places as far as this issue is concerned.
In our own day it is no longer an answer, in spite of the fact that there still are authors who are singing the praises of liminality in our current context.
To some extent the theologians and academics writing on this topic, including me, are indeed ourselves the mythmakers. If we still claim that we are today in a liminal phase and that the appropriate rituals are needed, how do we know that? Sometimes it can happen that academics come across interesting material in their reading, suspect that it will be helpful in our context and then they also write about it – an example would be liminality. Fortunately this happens, because very often this approach indeed helps us a lot. Over time, however, such concepts become unchangeable myths and people start to think uncritically that the final answer has been found. Personally, I do think that liminality was indeed an answer and I am grateful to the good academics who brought it into the discourse of theological reflection in the early 1990s. However, in our own day it is no longer an answer, in spite of the fact that there still are authors who are singing the praises of liminality in our current context. And this is precisely what I am trying to argue against and illustrate in this chapter, namely that it is indeed time to move beyond liminality. I will hunt down a myth and try my best to debunk it, although I am well aware that I might be creating a new myth in the process.
In 1995 already the ritual studies expert Ronald Grimes remarked, “This generation’s intellectual task seems to be that of getting beyond Victor Turner.” This was roughly the same time in which Victor Turner’s work was being discovered by various academics, specifically also theologians, in South Africa. They recognised the importance of concepts such as societas, communitas and liminality for faith communities, as well as Turner’s idea of the so-called “social drama” (this will be discussed again in Chapter 3) for the then rapidly changing South African context. Since then various practical theologians, especially in Congregational Studies but also in Liturgical Studies, explored the value of the concept of liminality for faith communities in South Africa. In what follows here I will try to follow the track of the use of the concept of liminality in theology in South Africa over the past two decades. Throughout ritual examples will be employed which are based on my own experiential truth (Deist, 1997). I will thus explore a bit of my own story or journey over the past two decades in order to illustrate this point and, as I have already mentioned, I will take Antjie Krog along to accompany me on the journey. Here is my story.
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– Preface by Prof Hennie Pieterse
1. Introduction and background
2. A lament for liminality
3. A funeral for the dying process and other insightful myths
4. The liturgy of a strike
5. Horror stories from Judges: some guidelines for becoming angry
6. Boiling point! – embodying your anger