Xenophobia, and oneness in Christ

I had only the vaguest notion of what xenophobia even meant when I came across it, decades ago, working on my book about the Mozambican church. An old Swiss missionary, Pierre Loze, drafted an article entitled ‘Why the Xenophobia of the Portuguese People in Relation to Mission Work in the Portuguese East Africa Colonies?’ It was a fascinating manuscript (at least to me), but xenophobia sent me straight to the dictionary.

Xenophobia: ‘fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.’

‘Fear and hatred’ seem a bit strong to me. True, xenophobia reveals itself in extreme ways around the world, and it has certainly made it into the South African vocabulary in recent years, leading to violence, as it has made it into the United States, with all sorts of bizarre expressions that suggest fear and hatred.

'Oneness in Christ' in Botswana: Batswana, Ghanaians, Gambians, Malawians, Zambians, and Americans

But there are certainly degrees of xenophobia. In these lesser degrees it is present in Botswana. When Zimbabweans crossed the border into Botswana during the grave economic and political difficulties there, mixed into a genuine generosity of spirit was a strong degree of resentment. And even for ‘foreigners’ who have placed their roots firmly into Botswana soil, there remains a distance. I wrote a Diary entry back in 2010 about the Callenders, from Guyana, who have served in Francistown for decades. ‘I have spent over half my life here,’ the wife says. She smiles. Then she adds: ‘I am told that it does not matter; I will always be an outsider.’ This is not ‘fear and hatred.’ But it does carry with it a sense of identity that excludes, a rejection of others who are not ‘one of us.’

For us Christians, this is tricky. Back in the nineteenth century – the great missionary century – Henry Venn, the head of the Church Missionary Society (which had such a profound influence upon African Anglicanism), declared that the goal of the missionary enterprise was to create a Church that was ‘self-supporting, self-propagating and self-governing.’ Missionaries ended up taking a long time to get out of the way of what Venn called ‘an indigenous church’ – he was one of the first to use that term – but the vision was there. And what may appear to be xenophobia in some church circles today is actually an assertion of a contextual identity. In that circumstance, Batswana are the ones who are ‘us’ in Botswana, and those of us who come from elsewhere may be partners, and may be welcomed, but we cannot demand that Batswana consider us ‘one of them.’ We are not indigenous. They are. For those on the receiving end, this can be painful.

To me this situation is understandable when we consider that the Anglican Diocese of Botswana has taken a long journey toward becoming ‘self-supporting, self-propagating and self-governing.’ It was only a bit over 40 years ago that it became its own diocese. Previously it fell under the Diocese of Matabeleland in Zimbabwe and the Diocese of Kuruman in South Africa. Until the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Metlhayotlhe Beleme in 2013, its bishops all were ‘foreign,’ even those who spoke Setswana; they came from the United States, Zimbabwe and Zambia. And until the December 2015 ordinations, over half of its active clergy came from somewhere else: Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Britain. What some may call xenophobia today may just be the excitement of finally becoming an ‘indigenous church’ – truly self-governing at last, and on its way to becoming self-supporting and self-propagating.

Add to the ‘indigenization’ theme as a counter to the accusation of xenophobia is the emergence of ‘contextual theology’ in world Christianity, especially in nearby South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle. Thanks to Albert Nolan and the Institute for Contextual Theology, which deeply influenced the crucial Kairos Document in 1985, the idea spread that our identity as Christians is legitimately defined not so much by a universal doctrinal conformity but by the context – culture, nation, and economic and political realities – in which we seek to live out our faith. ‘Adjective theologies’ emerged: African theology, Black theology, Feminist theology, and so on. In that sense the Church in Botswana is asserting an identity wrapped up in simply being Batswana. How do Batswana reveal Christ in their own setting? In what ways is that distinctive? In what ways does that distinctiveness become a witness that the rest of the world needs to hear, rather than an exclusiveness that shuts out people of faith from elsewhere in the world? Contextualization should not be seen as xenophobia.

But then there is that nagging passage in the Gospel of John (17:21), Jesus’ prayer that we all may be one. Should not you or I, wherever we may be, be considered ‘one of us’ by fellow Christians? Well, yes and no. What is our primary identity? Are we first and foremost children of God? Or does our ‘adjective’ define us? It may certainly be argued that many American Christians give primacy to the adjective and even conflate the two, a ‘patriotic American’ and a ‘faithful Christian’ one and the same. That fallacy creates all sorts of problems, but it remains true that our identity is wrapped up both in our context and in our faith. Sorting that out is one of life’s great challenges.

So it is in Botswana. At the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Gaborone, after-church tea is served each week by different groups. One Sunday it may be the West Africans, another the Kenyans, another the Indians. This is clearly a recognition of diversity within the faith community, an acknowledgment of a particular identity. But they, and we, are all part of the ‘one holy catholic and apostolic church,’ the one Body of Christ, and they know that. The great difficulty comes when that local identity works to exclude rather than leads to a celebration of the richness of God’s world and God’s peoples. At that former point we move – church and culture and nation – into the realm of xenophobia.

Botswana needs to be careful. So does the Episcopal Church in the United States. And so does Anglicanism worldwide. One of the challenges at April's Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Lusaka is to try to sort all this out in a manner that recognizes our oneness in Christ. Some of us, determined to claim sole possession of orthodoxy, aren’t very good at that. There is a meeting place where we can be both one in Christ and witnesses to our own context. Finding that place moves us faithfully, and gracefully, away from xenophobia.

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We give gifts for all sorts of reasons. We give gifts to family and others whom we love, well, just because. We give some gifts simply because we ought to, hospitality to hosts and so on. And then, we give gifts expecting something in return. For better or worse, we recognize there are meaningful returns for our generosity.

There is a bit of history of this latter purpose between companion links of Anglican dioceses. Years ago I remember one African bishop even telling me of how wonderfully his diocese hosted some companions, then added, ‘and we got a library for our seminary out of it!’

But that's certainly not always the case in our companion links. Our Diocese of North Carolina recently gives some gifts to our companions in the Diocese of Botswana. We do it for the best of reasons: No one asks us to, we do it because we want to, we do it because we care.

First it is the historically black churches in the Diocese of North Carolina. They give Bibles to all of the ordinands from the St. Augustine Theological School at their December ordinations.

Second it is the deacons in the Diocese of North Carolina. They give clergy shirts to the new priests.

Bishop Metlha, Fr. James Amanze and I try over the last several months to find an occasion to gather the new priests together and present the shirts and affix book plates to their Bibles, indicating the gift. Unfortunately, we never find the occasion. Most of us gather for the funeral of Fr. Jacob Modisenyane in Matsiloje, but that is not the best occasion.

The plan now is for the new priests to receive shirts and book plates for their Bibles when all clergy gather on Maundy Thursday. I will no longer be here, so we arrange for a photo of the presentations with Bishop Metlhayotlhe Beleme, Fr. James Amanze, and me in advance.

These are wonderful gifts, much appreciated here.

This business of gift-giving can be relationship-building or relationship-diminishing. What is just happening with the deacons and the historic black churches is, I think, relationship-building. But when gifts are given by one companion link in a manner that suggests our abundance and their neediness, we undermine the relationship.

Fr. James and I are talking just the other day. We’ve been wrapping up the technology project, in which we hope to enable face-to-face conversations across the ocean, across our boundaries, using Skype and the like. We in North Carolina have just spent a bundle: a laptop, flat screens, camera and speakers and microphones, software, and internet upgrades. All of us – Botswana and North Carolina – have agreed on the plan, and the grant.

I mention to Fr. James that if the St. Augustine Theological School needs some wiring work to get an outlet near the new flat screen, our grant can cover it. Fr. James laughs. ‘When someone brings the main course for dinner,’ he says, ‘we don’t ask him to pay for the salt.’

This is refreshing. Bishop Metlha says much the same when Fr. James and I meet with him. Botswana’s companion link committee has outlined some of Botswana’s church building needs. But: ‘We need to work this out for ourselves,’ the good Bishop says. ‘We need to be able to build our own churches.’

It has not always been this way. We have been through a long history, we Western and African Anglicans. For well over a century Western Anglicans define what the African churches need, then pay for it. Then, for a fairly brief period, African Anglicans define what the African churches need, and Western churches pay for it – penance, perhaps for the long history of paternalism. At long last, we are reaching a point when African churches are defining their own needs, and Western Anglicans consider what it means to be partners, not just check-writers.  Maybe we are actually treating the ‘Ten Principles of Partnership in the Anglican Communion’ seriously. (The 'Ten Principles' are on pp. 16-18 of Toward Dynamic Mission: Final Report of the Mission Issues and Strategy Advisory Group II [1992] but appear on pp. 27-29 on the bar at the bottom of the linked document.)

I love the generosity of our historically black churches and our deacons – true gifts. I also love the fact that we are beginning to cope with the challenge of divergent resources in ways that reflect God’s gift to us, and our gift to one another.

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A liturgy practicum

I have good memories of the liturgical practice we seminarians at Virginia Theological Seminary underwent many years ago now. I try to remember why those good memories, for I am preparing to lead a practicum with our ordinands at the St. Augustine Theological School.

A few weeks ago they baptize a doll, again and again, at a makeshift font in our classroom. This time we go to the Lady Chapel at Holy Cross Cathedral. It is getting dark, but light still shines from the round stained-glass window high above the altar, a window showing the seals of the four dioceses in relationship with one another: Botswana, North Carolina, Newcastle, and West Missouri.

A small group is just finishing Evening Prayer as I arrive, and I busy myself getting things from the sacristy before belatedly joining them.

The ordinands ask earlier if we will vest for the Eucharistic practicum, and I say yes, thinking they mean the celebrant. But they mean all of them, all the time, so as the Evening Prayer folk leave and our ordinands prepare, I go back to the vesting room, find a white cassock short enough to keep me from tripping over it, and I join them, eight of us surrounding the altar looking nicely priestly and reverent.

I have set the practicum up so that they do differing Eucharistic prayers for differing seasons of the year. That keeps them on their toes, sorting out the proper prefaces and staying attuned to the epiclesis and whatnot – all things a new priest (an old one too, for that matter) needs to be attentive to, even though congregations may give them little thought.

The celebrant puts on her stole and begins, and then another, and another. After each I ask the celebrant to comment on what they have done, then I critique it and others add their comments. At the end, I also consecrate the bread and wine, and we share in communion together.

I never am able to answer why I have such good memories of my own practicum at Virginia, maybe it is just that we were discovering what it is actually like to carry out the liturgical ministry to which we feel we have been called. Maybe that is what happens here in Gaborone tonight too. But what is clear is that our ordinands are taking this all very seriously, critical of themselves – ‘it is so different, when you are the one,’ they say apologetically – yet encouraging to others. I think they do well.

‘We need to do it again,’ one tells me the next day. And God willing, they will.

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Therapeutic art at Holy Cross Hospice

The day after Karen joins me in Gaborone we are at the Holy Cross Hospice, located in an area near Old Naledi. She meets with Pearl Ncube, the director, and they (presumably) chat about Karen’s work in the coming fortnight. Son Trevor and I look around as they meet.

The Holy Cross Hospice – emerging out of the ministry of Holy Cross Cathedral – has been at it for several decades. Medical doctor and priest Howard Moffat in particular has had a great passion for it. It remains a day center at present, but two small new buildings have been built to provide residential care for four men and four women. The last of the Ministry of Health hurdles are being addressed.

The idea of developing a therapeutic art program at the hospice is a Batswana idea, not a North Carolinian one. And Mma Pearl seems to understand it quite well. Art therapy is a professional discipline, in which therapists use art as a diagnostic and therapeutic tool. In contrast, therapeutic art recognizes that the very act of ‘doing art’ has therapeutic benefits, and often opens the way for helpful discussions with staff. It’s therapeutic art that is this hospice’s goal.

In coming days Karen does workshops with staff, initiates some art activities with patients, and goes on home visits. I become the ‘art husband’ and chauffeur her around Gaborone, stocking up on art supplies. On a final day a new small building is cleaned out, and Karen squirrels away the supplies she has purchased.

Karen bonds with Lesego, who is the senior social worker, and who guides Karen through cross-cultural pitfalls. She also ‘gets it.’ But not everyone among the patients buys into this. One woman never quite understands why they are even bothering with art, and when folks share something artistic that is supposed to reveal their hopes or their stresses or some such, she turns away. Well, fair enough. We in the Church know well that nothing connects everyone in the same way, and it doesn’t need to.

I arrive early on one of Karen’s last days. I find her in one of the new residential rooms, talking with a caregiver. ‘They talk to her,’ one staff member tells me. I never quite understand how Karen does this so well, but I suspect folks just recognize her natural empathy. Here she simply acknowledges how difficult it can be for caregivers, day after day, and suddenly they sense that they have been given permission to say, ‘yes it is,’ and away they go. ‘It’s not difficult,’ Karen says to me simply. ‘The staff can do this.’

I pray they do. 

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Botswana Pilgrimage

My car has been feeling rather poorly, in fact is in need of a transplant – well, a new air sensor – but Henry, our reliable mechanic, cannot find one in Gaborone, and the Johannesburg suppliers are having no luck either. So this morning Fr. James takes me to a car hire, and I drive away with a car I can trust, heading north toward Mahalapye.

My destination today is Serowe (see my 2013 Diary), an historic village west of Palapye, from where three of Botswana’s presidents, including the current, come from. My purpose is to plan for the Botswana Pilgrimage which our two dioceses – Botswana and North Carolina – are scheduling for September.

Once you’ve made this drive a few times, it becomes rather tedious – long straight stretches, some with absurdly low speed limits, nothing but bush for scenery, the presence of cattle along the roadway all that keeps me alert. That, plus air conditioning.

I reach Serowe early afternoon and settle into my room at the Serowe Hotel. The hotel is nothing fancy, but it is a charming old-fashioned hotel, with attractive gardens and a thatched dining room. I want to check the place out as the possible lodgings for our pilgrimage. I want too to meet with the clergy from St. Augustine Church, and I also have on my agenda a visit to the Khama III Museum and the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, which our pilgrims might enjoy.

The Serowe Hotel

Fr. Ford Gaoganeg comes by the hotel later in the afternoon. He is one of our St. Augustine Theological School students – well, former student – who is ordained to the priesthood only a couple of months ago. We sit back in the hotel lounge, he with a Coca Cola and a glass of red wine, a mix popular here but which I have never seen elsewhere. We review the plans for the pilgrimage, and I ask his advice about things we might arrange with people from the parish. Later I meet with Fr. Moreri Leteemane, the priest-in-charge, and seek his insights about our program. Both are keen.

The next day Fr. Ford and I drive out to the rhino sanctuary. If we take the pilgrims here, it will be for a 6:00 a.m. drive.

A game drive may not seem much like a spiritual pilgrimage. And in one sense, of course, it is not. Our goal for this pilgrimage is neither to do a mission project nor to be a tourist – both good activities but not what we have in mind. Rather we want pilgrims from North Carolina to experience the life of the Church in Botswana. We plan to worship together, to see the ministries of the Diocese of Botswana, to gather together Batswana and North Carolinians for focused conversations about our faith journeys, and… to have fellowship together. That’s where rhinos come in. This rhino sanctuary visit is not, in fact, my idea. It comes from our Batswana partners, who suggest that when Batswana and North Carolinians go together on outings such as this, they build relationships just by enjoying something together. Think parish picnic writ large.

Back in Gaborone, Fr. James and I meet with the Bishop to discuss the pilgrimage plans. It appears we are on the right track, including our proposal that the pilgrims accompany him on a parish visitation outside Gaborone one Sunday. We agree that at some point they should be served seswaa, my favorite dish from Botswana. Worship and food – the important things in life.

I do not know what will come of all of this. We may not even get the numbers (ten) we need to actually have the pilgrimage this September. But I still like the effort: To develop an agenda – a flexible one – that allows pilgrims not to be tourists or even students, but to be people of faith joining, for a brief time (ten days), with people of faith in another part of the world. It can be spiritually uplifting and even transforming, as many who have done such things in the past will attest. It can also be a testimony of our oneness in Christ – not a bad message in itself when we consider difficult church relationships these days.

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A naturalized home

Coming ‘home’ takes all sorts of forms, let alone whether where we are coming to is technically home at all. Back in 2010 I came to Botswana, my first visit since 1989, to work with Fr. James Amanze in envisioning a House of Studies, now the St. Augustine Theological School. There was nothing about ‘home’ then – rather just a curiosity as to whether a ‘foreign land’ where I had been over 20 years earlier had changed much (it had). But when I returned in 2013 to teach at the new school, my first diary entry tried to convey the emotion I felt when Ben Motlhalamme, then the diocesan secretary, simply said ‘welcome home’ as we passed the peace on my first Sunday back. It felt like belonging. The following year my first diary entry only speaks of the intensity of it all – classes and the challenges of settling in and all that. It still felt like belonging, but the focus was on the busy-ness of it all.

Here I am again. 2016. It’s almost ordinary. Susan Mogwera, the Diocese’s executive administrator, meets me at the airport at noon and drives me to my flat, which looks much as I left it (well, no longer in the midst of a major construction site), and where she hands me the keys. We have a bit of lunch and she takes me to the School, where Florence Bogopa, who keeps all working smoothly there, greets me, hands me keys to the School and to my car, which is sitting outside, nicely clean and with a full tank. I sit down and we begin our class at 2:00. Two good sessions, but nothing out of the ordinary. Afterward I boot up my laptop and glide smoothly into the School’s wireless setup. I hear the printer start to whir, and it even remembers that I asked it to print out a couple of documents in 2014, and it spits them out now. Later Fr. James takes me to dinner, and I return to the flat, needing nothing but some groceries to ‘belong’ again.

The Diocese's flat for companion link folk, plus my car

It all seems so routine.

Finding ‘home’ is a great theme, in life as in literature. Sometimes it may touch us deeply, sometimes there’s an intensity to it, sometimes you feel as if you never left. It doesn’t matter. One of our great quests is to discover a place to feel at home, whether in or out of our own culture, whether geographically our ‘technical’ home or not. Sometimes, remarkably, it comes to us in unexpected ways, unexpected places. Sometimes even its ordinariness may be profound.

This morning, at the early (7:30) service at the Holy Cross Cathedral, Bishop Metlha offers me a word of welcome. ‘We will help you become naturalized when you are ready,’ he says with a smile. Some in the congregation follow with a laugh. I smile too, and I thank him. But I remember too that being ‘home’ is multi-directional. The extent to which I feel at home is directly related to the extent to which I am made to feel at home by others whose home this truly is. I remember those who have been in Botswana for decades – even secured citizenship – but are reminded daily that they are not truly ‘home’ here, and never will be. I recall that, despite having grown up in North Carolina, my absence for over 40 years means that I am not, in the eyes of some, as ‘North Carolinian’ as those who never left. I think of the viciousness with which people in leadership, both political and religious, have made it clear that children of God who are distinctive in their ‘otherness’ are not truly ‘home’ in the United States. I see daily – we all do – those caught up in war seeking a new ‘home,’ knowing that what used to be home cannot be again, and what may become home is a foreign land and a foreign tongue.

How do we discover home for ourselves, and affirm home for others who come among us?

This week’s return to Gaborone happens against a backdrop of a meeting of Anglican archbishops, where together in Canterbury they seek to find a way forward after years of contention over the Church and issues of human sexuality. Those issues are important, but for purposes here: Never mind those issues. The issues could have been quite different, but it wouldn’t matter. Behind it all is the question of ‘home.’ Do we belong together? Are we ‘at home’ together? Can we embrace difference – much as families try to do when they get together on holidays – and still belong together? Can we respect the dignity of every human being – which for me means, can we welcome others as being at ‘home’ with us?

Jesus has an answer to this. It’s his prayer that ‘they all may be one’ (John 17:21). We are one together when we find a home together, one which we can embrace despite all that distinguishes us from one another. That’s not easy, as the archbishops sadly demonstrate. But I like to think that in such a small but maybe not such a small way, my being welcomed into a ‘naturalized’ home in Botswana is a small gesture at our oneness, at our sense of home.

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