Tag Archives: Easter

The Judging of Oscar Pistorius

Credit: News24.com

Credit: News24.com

“I’m glad we don’t have TV in Rolbos,” Dabbing an eye, Precilla switches off the radio, “to think your every tear and every sob gets transmitted right around the world. It must be terribly humiliating.”

“Listen. This isn’t a case of who did what. Oscar shot that girl and he deserves to be tried in an open court.” Servaas tugs at his collar – like he always does when he’s angry. “You can’t go around killing people and then say you’re sorry. It doesn’t wash. The law must take it’s course and the crime must be punished.”

Oudoom shakes his head. “I agree with Precilla. No matter how guilty he is, I question the circus the trial has become. I mean – think about the girl’s family, for goodness’ sakes! Can you imagine sitting there, listening to the advocates painting different scenario’s? The one says it was an accident, a case of a cripple frigthened for his life. The other guys says, no, not like that. He says Oscar is a man well acquainted with guns, a man with a short fuse, and he blew her away because he was angry.

“Two pictures on one canvas – the one the truth, the other a lie. The judge must make the call on what she’s heard in court. The public has the right to know the verdict, that I agree. But in the meantime, hours and days worth of TV and radio go into reporting every sniff and every tear. Why? Not because people are interested in the verdict – well, maybe they are, but that isn’t why they tune in to these broadcasts – they want the drama and sensation. They want to speculate and gossip. And I don’t think that’s okay. The bigger wrong may be the killing of Reeva, but I can’t condone the sensationalism that accompanies the case.”

“Yes.” Vetfaan holds up his empty glass for a refill. “Either we should have all high-profile cases on TV, or none at all. I’d like to see old Zum-Zum in the stand, answering to Gerrie Nel or that Le Roux guy.” He drops his voice an octave. “I put it to you, Mister President, that you have been engaged in a serious attempt to lie your way out of trouble. You lied to parliament, didn’t you, because you thought you could get away with everything?” 

Vetfaan turns to address Boggel behind the counter. “Milady, with due respect to the court, this man still has to answer on more than 700 counts of corruption and other issues. His liaison  with the Gupta’s and the Shaiks of this world has tarnished his credibility as a witness. I put it to you that such a man is unfit to lead a country.”

Now he raises his tone slightly, assuming a different persona, to confront the little crowd at the counter. “Oh no Milady. My learned colleague has sketched a terribly skewed picture of one of Africa’s foremost leaders. High trees and much wind and all that, you know? We have to take into consideration the background of our great leader. Was he not a fearless fighter against the scourge of Apartheid? Did he not father 21 (or thereabouts) children by various ladies? Does that not indicate a man of great capacity – a man of high morals, a man of vision, immensely popular amongst his compatriots? And oh, Milady, let us not digress into trivialities like arms deals and a few cents here and there. Look at the greater picture, Milady, and I put it to you that this case is a travesty of justice.”

Gertruida gets up to stare out of the window. It is another hot day in the Kalahari, with a lonely dust devil dancing slowly past the church on the other side of Voortrekker Weg.

Mr and Mrs Bumble

Mr and Mrs Bumble

“The law is an ass,” she quotes, “just like a donkey. The famous phrase is attributed to Charles Dickens, who published Oliver Twist in 1838 – the same year the Great Trek started. It’s something Mr Bumble said when it was put to him that the law supposes he is the boss in the house. The origin of the phrase goes back to the time Jan van Riebeeck landed in the Cape. It was George Chapman who published Revenge for Honour in 1654 and he wrote: ‘Ere he shall lose an eye for such a trifle… For doing deeds of nature! I’m ashamed. The law is such an ass.’

“The point, gentlemen, is that the law is blind. It only sees the letters on the pages, it doesn’t allow for creative thought. So we can frown and grumble about Pistorius, but the law knows only one way to come to a decision. Oscar is guilty and he’ll be punished. Does that mean justice was done?”

Gertruida waits for some response, gets nothing, and sighs before answering her own question.

“No. For justice to be done, you have to reinstate the circumstances and conditions that existed before the crime. Putting Oscar in jail doesn’t do that. Reeva is dead. A family lost a daughter with a bright future. An athlete has lost the respect and adoration of thousands of fans.

“Justice? No. Revenge, maybe. But it won’t fix anything.”

“Ja, Gertruida, you are right.” With the upcoming elections, Kleinpiet is more worried about voting than the court case in Pretoria.  “But what about our president? Why don’t they arrange a debate between him and Gerrie Nel? Wouldn’t that be something?”

Oudoom finishes his beer and gets up to leave.

“You lot! All you did this morning was to cry out for justice and revenge. Law this and law that. Sensation. Drama. Gossip. And this in the time when we remember the events surrounding Easter Time. Should we all not become quiet and contemplate the ultimate sacrifice Jesus brought to free us from such things? What happened to forgiveness?”

“That’s the point, Dominee.” This time, Gertruida uses his official title. “Jesus was crucified because of the law of the time. He was innocent, but that didn’t help Him. And that, Dominee, should tell us something: human judgement is flawed at its core. We choose to apply laws as it suits us. And then, just like in Dickens’ time, we want to hang sinners in public. We want to rant and rave and point fingers. That, unfortunately, is human behaviour. But…we also turn a blind eye to the many wrongs in our society. Maybe such high-profile cases soothe our consciences into thinking that there is still some justice left in the world. We condemn a man who did something terrible, but we manage to ignore the drugs, the crime, the farm murders, the raping of children and women.

“One major court case, and we go crazy. A million less obvious wrongs just get accepted as being part of a normal society. And…I simply don’t think that will ever change.”

“Sister Gertruida,” this time Oudoom, too, uses his sermon voice, “I shall now return to my home. I shall think about Easter. I shall spend time in prayer. And then I’ll try not to spend Easter Weekend as an advocate for the defence or for the state. I’ll want to spend the next few days contemplating kindness and peace and forgiveness and love.”

In the silence that follows the old clergyman’s departure, Boggel polishes some glasses behind the counter.

“You think we should pray for Oscar during Easter? Or for that matter, that our president shall receive the wisdom to tell the truth for a change?”

They all look at Boggel with surprised faces.

“What?” Servaas is the first to respond. “You crazy? Listen, it may be in God’s power to change a man’s thinking – or even the way we follow the Pistorius trial – but in the end we do what we do because we are human. We ignore, condemn, gossip, lie and cheat. And worst of all, we think the law protects us against such things. We pay more respect to our flawed laws than we do to our religion. So, yes, let us pray – but before we do, we must take a step back and ask ourselves if our all own actions are just and fair. If the answer is no, then each of us is – like the law – an ass.”

He, at least, gets a whispered ‘Amen’ from Gertruida.

The Wordless Easter Sermon

download (31)“Oudoom will give the same sermon he delivers every Easter Sunday.  I don’t feel like going.” Vetfaan sips the strong coffee Boggel served, pulls a face and puts down the mug. “He’s always going on about the stone that was rolled away, and the significance it has. Now me? I’ve got enough stones to roll away. I think I’ll sit here and contemplate my life while you guys go.”

The rest of the group sees the determined look on Vetfaans face and decides not to argue. He’s been in a morose mood all week, so picking a fight with him right now isn’t going to help.

Living alone on a farm has many advantages. Vetfaan doesn’t have to get up or go to bed at set times. He usually starts his day when it’s quite dark still, and often flops over into his bed soon after sunset. Meals are simple affairs of bread and whatever else he can find in the fridge. It also allows plenty of time for thinking.

He’s spent a lot of time contemplating life lately. Politics, relationships, the meaning of life, love, hope  and dreams have been foremost in his mind. Somehow, the state of the world and the way we live just doesn’t make much sense to him at this stage. So, under the awning in front of Boggel’s Place, he allows his mind to roam over the events of the year since last Easter. It’s been a good year, a bad year, a happy year, a sad year. He remembers his moments on Springbokkop and the reassurance he got from them.

He’s so engrossed in his thoughts, he doesn’t hear the approaching footsteps. It’s only when Oudoom lays a hand on his shoulder that he wakes up from his reverie with a start.

The whole congregation is there, standing quietly in the sun, in front of Boggels Place.

“They know my sermon by heart,” Oudoom smiles wryly, “but I think they finally got the message. This year I’m not going to repeat it – instead, I thought I’d preach the most important sermon Jesus ever delivered.”

Vetfaan recovers sufficiently to raise an eyebrow. “The Sermon on the Mount? That’s quite something…”

“No,” Oudoom’s smile widens. “The silent one. When He rose from death, He didn’t announce it with a grand speech filled with big words. He left the grave quietly, alive, well. He didn’t need to say it, the Resurrection said it all. His most powerful statement, Vetfaan, didn’t need words.”

“Ja,” Servaas climbs up the stairs to the stoep to sit down next to Vetfaan. “So that’s what we’re doing on Ester Sunday. A sermon of silent love. It’s what our faith should be about, isn’t it?.”

Gertruida  reaches over to pat Vetfaan’s shoulder. “The message Jesus left us with, is to love God and one another, remember? Love, like we all know, needs no speeches. It is. It’s there in how we care for each other, the way we speak and the way we act. St James put it so nicely: faith without action is no faith at all. And St Francis of Assisi taught us to convince people of our faith in any way we can – and only  if we’re really desperate, only then to use words.”

It is a quiet day on Boggel’s stoep. Nobody needs to say anything.

And Vetfaan got all the answers he prayed for so much. Sermons don’t need churches. They don’t need fancy pulpits and long speeches. It’s in the silence of caring, kindness and respect that the message of the Resurrection is most tangible. Anybody can profess to believe, he realises, but it’s absolutely rare for people to live Christ’s most important statement.

Faith, he discovers on the stoep, is like the love of the little congregation holding their morning service in Boggel’s Place. Words aren’t necessary. Words tend to make things superficial, even meaningless. That’s why lawyers make a living by debating laws, politicians believe in their own causes and churches differ. It doesn’t matter what you call your religion, or what ideology holds your truth. It even matters less if words have been the stumbling block in your search for truth.

Trusting that inner voice to guide one’s actions, is what it’s all about. It’s in this wordless sermon we start to mean something to others.,

(Don’t watch this without a box of tissues…)

Pass-over

“Servaas, you are particularly cantankerous these days.”Gertruida sits down next to the old man, rubbing the small of his back with a soft hand. “I think you should talk about it. Something is brewing in that grey head, and I think it must come out. You can’t go on like this.”

Servaas looks up at Gertruida’s face to see the kindness and concern there. Suddenly, tears well up. He sniffs loudly.

“It’s nothing, thank you. Something that happened a long time ago. 30 years ago, to be exact. Long gone, not important any more.”

“You know better than that, Servaas. Sometimes those thoughts are the most dangerous of all. They sit there, festering away below the surface, destroying the little happiness you might still have left in you.” She pauses to do a little mental arithmetic. “Thirty years? That was 1982. The country was at war in Angola…”

“Super.”

“What?”

Operation Super. March 1982.”

Gertruida’s face lights up. “Of course! Servaasie! She lowers her voice as Servaas’ shoulders start shaking, “He was in a support group, wasn’t he? And a landmine got his vehicle?” When Servaas nods, Gertruida tells him she’s so sorry.

“Yeah. He died, and I failed…”

When the telegram arrived to announce the death of his only son, Servaas locked himself in his room. He came out once, to attend the funeral.  For three days and three nights he even ignored Siena’s pleas to come out, saying he was busy struggling with God. That was not true: he was fighting with God, accusing Him of being an unfeeling and unjust deity, unworthy of worship.

“How can you say you failed? You didn’t. You gave the best to Servaasie and the war wasn’t your doing, anyway. You’re being unreasonable, Servaas.”

On the fourth day, he opened the door and told Siena he’d be away for a while. She saw the terrible determination in his eyes and didn’t ask. He took a bag and his old hunting rifle, loaded it into the pickup, and drove off. Now it was Siena’s turn to spend her days on her knees, pleading  God to protect her husband.

He drove up the long, tarred road from Vioolsdrift to Grootfontein, only stopping for petrol and stale meat pies along the way. Three days later he stood on the banks of the Kunene River, gazing at Angola with blood-shot eyes. Camouflaging his vehicle, he stretched out on the back, and slept for a full day. Then, after a meal of bully beef and beans, he took his rifle and started looking for a way to cross the river.

His intention was clear: they took his son. He’d take one of theirs. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. When the evening came, he found a wide, shallow stretch of river where he waded through.

“Servaas? A one-man expedition against a trained army? What were you thinking?”

He lived off the veld, trapping small animals and drinking whenever he found water. The area was rather inhospitable, so he trekked more-or-less up along the river so as not to lose contact with the only reliable source of water.

And then, one night, he heard voices. Clear, singing voices. Voices joined together to sing a hymn – like only the people from Africa can. Multi-tiered singing, combining bass and soprano in alternating verses, praising God.

Servaas never found out who did that singing.

He returned home.

“You did the right thing, Servaas. How can you say you failed?”

“I failed God, for a while. I got angry and turned my back on Him. I was quite prepared to kill anybody I met in Angola: man, woman, child, soldier, civilian. Anybody. Just to feel I took some sort of revenge.”

“Remember the ten plagues, Servaas, and how the first Passover came into being? It was the blood of the lamb that was the sign. Those with the sign, survived. The others didn’t. The same thing happened to you. The hymn was the sign, that’s all. It’s actually a beautiful story.

“You passed them over – whoever they were – just like the plague did the Jews in Egypt all those years ago. And now, with Passover upon us, you should celebrate it, not sit and mope about it.”

“But I never got my revenge, Gertruida!” The old man’s face contorts in a picture of regret. “Now I live with this emptiness inside me. I wanted to fill it, but couldn’t.”

“You know, Servaas, the biggest, worst, most horrible form of revenge is … forgiveness. You cannot fight hate with hate. Hate can only succumb to one force; and that’s the force of love. If we were to be punished for every sinful thought, every sinful action, life on earth would have been impossible. We all may live in hope, because of Passover. It is given to everybody, but it’ll cost you. Not everybody is humble enough to accept it; the proud ones refuse to reach out – and continue hating, continue seeking revenge and justification.”

“Are you telling me I’ve been missing the message of Passover all these years, Gertruida?” A new sorrow has found it’s way to the wrinkled face as the eyebrows shoot up in surprise.

“Passover. Forgiveness. Redemption. And all those rest on Love. They’re all the same, my friend. There’s only one trick: reach out and make it your own.”

Tonight, Servaas will go home with a smile. The empty space inside his mind has been filled. By being passed over, he has been passed up, in a manner of speaking. Up: like in nearer to the wisdom of the Throne, not like in forgotten. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is quite an exhilarating freedom, something quite new to him.

Anyway, like Gertruida says; make sure you’re passed over and passed up before you pass on.

Oudoom’s Easter Sunday Semon – Them Stones

Oudoom gives the same Easter Sunday Sermon every year. He’d read the passage in Mark 16, and remind them of the young man in robes who waited for the disciples in the open cave where they had buried Jesus.

Now, who was this young man, and where did he come from. What was his name? Why was he there?  We dont’t know. Mark doesn’t tell us he was an angel – he describes him as human and gives him a human voice. What is important about Mark’s account – it occurs in the other gospels as well – was that the stone was rolled away for them to see the young man.

Let us consider these events for a while. The young man mentioned by Mark, waited for Mary and Salome. He had a message for them. These women would go down in history as the ones who were the first to be convinced about the Resurrection.

Would it have been accomplished, if the stone in front of the grave was still there; in its place? No! Jesus didn’t need the stone rolled away to get out…we later hear the gospels telling us that He could walk through walls. He needed the stone rolled away so that his Mother and Salome would witness His absence. The very fact that He left had to be retold – like we do today – to convince the world that He had risen from the dead.

The rolled- away stone was the revelation of His Resurrection. Had the stone been in place, they wouldn’t have been any wiser.

So, think about stones for a while. We read about hearts of stone. The Ten Commandments were written on stone. There are accounts of the most important stone being rejected by the builders. A father will not give his child a stone instead of bread. Stones, in the Bible, are stumbling blocks. We stumble over Gods commandments, because we are unfaithful and we want proof. We hesitate when we have to cement in the most important stone in our temple; and when God gives us bread, we often think about it as stone, because we don’t understand the reason for hardship.

But here, we read that the stone has been rolled away, revealing the Resurrection. This is what you all have to experience to understand the grace of God. The Resurrection is the revelation of God’s grace – but we have to remove the obstacles that prevent us from seeing it.

Initially, Gertruida had to spend considerable time on Boggel’s veranda to explain the sermon. Kleinpiet remembered the stone that punctured a wheel. Vetfaan said something about a detour he had to make around a huge rock in the way of his route to the farm. Precilla said not all rocks are bad, because it was a quarry that was responsible for the origin of Rolbos. Boggel reminded them of the rocks they carted in to lay the foundation of the church.

“Yes, that’s all very true and great and all that. But then there is the stone we place on every grave. Maybe it says something about the deceased – that they wanted to take their stoneswith them? That they couldn’t face life – or death – without a stone?” Servaas is always the last to understand.

And every year, after Oudoom spoke, they would talk about stones and how they’ve made them important parts of their lives. When the rooibos tea is finished, they’ll sit quietly as they contemplate the revalation of the absent stone.

And every one of them – without exception – will wish that young man will come and help them move some rocks. Sometimes they think they’ll be scared by what they see, just like Mary and Salome were. And sometimes they’d wish the stone would continue to hide the truth, because they fear the change it’ll bring about. But mostly, when Oudoom walks back to the pastorie, they’ll get up respectfully to thank him for the message.

And, verily, they’d see tears in the eyes of the old man as they shake his hand, because Oudoom knows their stones have been rolled away such a long time ago. They’re just too afraid to go and have a look, that’s all.

That’s why he’ll give that same sermon on every Easter Sunday … until they get it.