Wednesday, July 10, 2013

On Peter Storey, not getting tired, and needing prayer

Last night, Rev. Dr. Peter Storey spoke at my church. Storey was the Methodist Bishop of Southern Africa during the struggle against apartheid. He was a powerfully prophetic anti-apartheid voice, a pastor of a church in District 6, and served as Mandela's chaplain during his imprisonment at Robben Island. He was on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

He's...uh...he's pretty cool.

His talk was fascinating, consisting of an overview of South African history, an analysis of current South African politics and the need for the church to recover its voice, as well as personal stories of his work in South Africa and his encounters with Nelson Mandela, a man he obviously deeply admires and respects.

At one point during the talk, he mentioned the role of outside economic pressure in challenging apartheid. "Whenever I speak to a crowd of people with gray hair," he said, "I feel the need to thank you. Because it was your economic pressure that made a difference."

Well, if you know me or have read me since my City of... days, you know that this was a bit of an opening for me. After the talk I approached him, thanked him, and asked him what he thought of the role of economic pressure in a just peace for Israel/Palestine. What did he think about the modern day BDS movement?

He had been smiling, and suddenly grew very serious. "Oh yes," he said. "We support that." He went on to tell me how he and others in South Africa recognize their own struggle in the struggle of Palestinians for freedom. "It's about justice and injustice," he said, "and we South Africans have the t-shirt for that. We recognize that. So we support the boycott."

I will not pretend to be a saint: I felt pretty vindicated, particularly after the discouragement of our annual conference resolution on divestment being tabled at the end of May. I left church feeling really good. And I kept feeling really good throughout the evening. And as I reflected on it more and more, I realized that I wasn't feeling good because Peter Storey agrees with me about a contentious political point (though that helps, not gonna lie).

The reason that I felt so good, and feel so good today, is this man, after five decades of struggle for justice and reconciliation in his homeland, is not only not tired of that struggle but isn't tired of standing in solidarity with other people's struggles, either.

He is not tired.

And I get so tired.

Now, Storey himself spoke in his talk about how he believed South Africa needed the Truth and Reconciliation Commisions to happen at the local level, and that it was the church who could have done that. "We didn't," he said, "mainly because we were so tired." So I don't mean to make him or other antiapartheid activists into superhumans. But nevertheless, there he was, after decades of work, emphatically and passionately defending a movement for international justice because he saw it as the right thing to do.

And what I realized listening to him--and the reason I left feeling so good--is that he is only able to do this work out of a deep, deep well of spirituality. That he draws on spiritual resources for this work.

And that what I want is that deep well of spirituality. That why I'm in seminary and why I want to work with churches and why I want to have conversations with people about faith, because I want to be part of the process of pointing the way to that deep well.

And that is a confirmation of what I am doing, here, even if I often forget what I'm doing.

And that made me feel good.

So I think that this summer, while my coursework load is pretty light, I'm going to try a little project. For the next few weeks I'm going to post on here, each day, about something that I've witnessed or experienced that day that, to me, points the way to that deep well of spiritual strength.

I'll never be Peter Storey, or anyone like him, that's for sure. But I hope and pray that I can learn how to draw from that same well.

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