Tag Archives: religion

Revelations

Revelation Bible Religion - Free photo on PixabayNow that the lockdown allows inter-provincial travel and family visits, Gertruida was happy to hear that a distant niece, Mathilda Grove, wanted to pay a visit.

‘Mathilda is the epitome of the classic Old Maid Syndrome. Last time I heard, she was working at an old-age home in Paarl, where she took care of some old and infirm patients. A heart of gold, she has. A real gem.’ When Gertruida told the group in Boggel’s Place about the upcoming visit, old Servaas brightened a bit. It’s been years since Siena died and the dearth of possible replacements contributed to his constant grumpy state. Gertruida says old men get that way due to a chronic psychological massaging deficiency. She says PMD is far worse than PMS.

***

Rolbos shares some realities with other towns. One of these is the fact that nothing ever turns out exactly the way one anticipates it would be. When the large 4X4 bakkie (in America they call it a ‘truck’) slowed down to a  stop in front of Boggel’s Place, the Rolbossers crowded the small window.

‘Look at that caravan,’ Vetfaan whispered.

‘Shees – look at that bakkie, man! And those tyres!’ Kleinpiet lets out a low whistle.

‘Who, in heaven’s name, is that?’ Gertruida points at the gentleman who scoots around the vehicle to open the passenger side door.

***

The gentleman turns out to be Albertus Visser, a one-time inhabitant of Sunset House in Paarl.

‘He used to sit beneath the old tree in the corner of the lawn. All by himself, see?’ Mathilda smiles as she strokes Albertus’s back. After all the introductions have been done, they are enjoying a cold beer on Gertruida’s tab. ‘Every day he sat there, morning till night, reading the Bible. We all thought he was a bit strange, you know? But in an old-age home you get all sorts of people and we nursing staff just let them be.’

‘Harrumph!’ Albertus clears his throat. In a voice that is strangely high-pitched, he continues: ‘An old-age home is the last stop. That’s where it all ends. So it makes sense to do a bit of reading in the Book, see? You know where you’ve been; but do you know where you’re going? So I was just familiarising myself…’

‘Yes he was afraid he’d never get through all the books in the Bible, poor man.’ Mathilda interrupts with a wink at her beau. ‘And I didn’t know his problem until he called me Mithald.’ Mathilda lets out a shriek of laughter. ‘Mithald! At first I thought he was stupid.’

‘Most people did. You weren’t the only one,’ Albertus smiled. ‘As far back as I can remember it’s been like that. And oh! The experiences I’ve had with teachers! Can’t even remember how many hidings I got.’

‘You see, Albertus tried to go to church in his younger days, but it just didn’t work out, did it, dear?’ The way she looks at Albertus makes him blush.

‘Thise little pamphlets were horrible. You had to fill in stuff on some of them. Others apparently told you what to expect in the next week. And then the dominee would tell you where to read in the Bible and finally, which songs to look up to sing. I nearly died.’

‘Now, now, dear, don’t get worked up all over again.’ Mathilda pats the old man’s arm. ‘It’s okay now.’

‘The problem was that that dominee once preached about going to heaven. He said nobody can make it without reading the Bible from cover to cover. So I was deep into Matthew when Mithald, er, Ma-thil-da,  got involved.’

‘Ja, shame, the poor thing. When he looked at my name tag and called me Mithald, I realised what his problem was. Can you imagine how hard it is to progress right through the Good Book if you’ve got dyslexia? That’s why he struggled all those years – figuring out one word at a time.

‘Well, I took pity on the poor man. So I started doing the reading for him. Every day a few chapters. Took us four months, it did, but we got through it all in the end. It was our own lockdown blessing! By the time we finished Revelations, we got to know each other rather well..’

***

Gertruida says Mathilda is no longer the epitome of an old maid. Once Albertus made it to the end of Revelations (with Mathilda’s help), he didn’t have to isolate himself every day to try to make sense of the words.  In fact, he realised that living love was better than reading about it. That, Gertruida says (because she knows so much) is the biggest revelation of all.

Old Servaas is still grumpy. He says Mathilda isn’t his type at all. He’s read the Bible already all by himself, so  what’s the point?

 

 

Hapy Wind #18

Cactus Jack Bubblegum Tequila Sours (1 x 750 ml) | Tequila ...Whenever Gertruida gets near the end of one of her lo-o-o-ng stories, she’ll order a round of Cactus Jack, like she does now. That usually serves as a sort of warning for the audience to steel themselves – the climax is near. And that could be happy…or sad. Whichever way it goes, it helps to be prepared.

‘You know, the young doctor simply sat down, took her hand very gently, and shared in her grief. The church was full of people – Francina had been a very much-loved member of the community – but the petite Susan suddenly felt alone – with him. It was a comfortable feeling. They shared one of those moments in which words would have spoiled everything. Just being felt so good.

Page 2 of Daisy pictures | Curated Photography on EyeEm‘And then Susan had the strangest dream. Or vision. Or Imaginary moment. Whatever you call it, doesn’t matter. What matters is that she saw, or felt and heard, her mother. Francina was smiling, waving as she walked away from her. She blew a kiss and whispered goodbye. She was dressed in white and held a twig of Namaqua daisies in her hand. Susan saw her mother disappearing as if in a thin mist, and just before she was completely gone, she dropped the flowers.’

***

Susan Bothma listened to the last Amen . So, that was the end of her journey with dear Francina, the mother who loved her so much? How sweet and short and cruel the voyage through the stormy waters of Life! Why so fleeting the passage, why so inevitably final the end? But she remembered the words old Andries spoke when they returned from Upington with her terminally ill mother…

‘Look at the animals of our veld, Miss Susan. They are there season after season. Sometimes you see the same animals as last year, sometimes you see the next generation. And, Miss, they continue to feed on the short grass in our desert and they continue to be content – they never move away to places with more water and more grass. When it rains, they rejoice. When it’s dry, they endure, We must learn from them

Oryx photos, royalty-free images, graphics, vectors & videos ... ‘You mother is dying, Miss Susan. Soon, she’ll know the world is on the other side. But we’ll stay behind for a while. We’ll join her when the time comes. But now, in this time, we must endure. Think about it: do we have a choice? Can the Gemsbok wish for more grass when the drought has withered the veld? No, they know how to endure – and that is what we must do now. Yes, we must grieve, but we must grieve with gratitude. Be happy for the past and look forward to the future. The rain will come again. The season will change. And we’ll be together again when the time is right.’

She glanced at the two men next to her:  CJ, the big brother who worked in faraway Natal, and the young doctor – a man she hardly knew but felt strangely comfortable with. Her father was in the aisle, in his wheelchair, stone-faced and grey. Three men. Three pillars.

When they trooped out of the church, sniffing and silent as is customary under such circumstances, she noticed Andries waiting for her next to the steps of the building.

He was holding some flowers in his hands. It wasn’t much. Just a little green branch with some daisies at the end.

Die Perskebloeisel.

Peach Blossom, Spring Flowers | PikrepoRolbos isn’t just about the Kalahari and the delightful people we find there. Sometimes something else crops up. Something current and important. Like what happens in an Intensive Care Unit during the Covid Pandemic.

It is a South African story. In order to emphasise the local situation,  this one is in Afrikaans.

***

‘Dis my verjaarsdag.’ Haar stem is skaars hoorbaar bo die onreëlmatige biep-biep van die skerm langs haar bed. Ek sit my pen neer – ek sal die voorskrif later voltooi. Ek het hope werk wat wag nadat ek van die kongres af teruggekom het en sukkel om al die pasiënte in die saal te leer ken.

‘Veels geluk.’ Ek klink seker nie entoesiasties genoeg nie en wend ʼn poging aan om te glimlag. Wat kan ek haar toewens? Goeie gesondheid is iets van die verlede. ʼn Lang lewe is buite die kwessie. ʼn Mooi jaar? Met gevorderde Covid-geassosieerde nierversaking soos hare? Gmf! ‘Ek hoop dis ʼn beter dag as gister, um, mevrou … ‘

‘Turganev, Dokter. En dis Juffrou.’ ʼn Bleek handjie fladder verskonend onder die deken uit. ‘Mense sukkel maar met die van. Dis Russies.’

Die van herinner aan die tyd toe ons familie nog normaal kon gesels oor wat daagliks interessant was. ‘Was daar nie ʼn Russiese skrywer…?’

Daar is nuwe lig in die vrou se oë. ‘Ja, Ivan Turgenev. Die Dagboek van ʼn Oortollige Man – miskien weet jy dat hy tronk toe gestuur is oor sy skryfwerk.’

‘Ek ken nie sy werk nie, Juffrou.’ Die vraagtekens in haar oë dwing my om te verduidelik. ‘My dogter is ʼn dosent – sy’s die letterkundige in die familie. Sy is dol oor die ou Russiese skrywers – Chekhov, Nabokov, Pasternak…’  Ek is haastig – die intensiewe eenheid is vol en dokter Schutte soek ʼn bed vir een van sy pasiënte.

‘En my naam is ook histories – Valentina.’ Sy sukkel met die suurstoftekort en moet eers ‘n paar keer diep asemhaal voor sy kan aangaan. ‘Ek is gebore op die 13e Junie 1963 toe Valentina Tereshkova die eerste vrou in die ruimte geword het. My ouers het gevlug uit Rusland toe hulle die muur begin bou het, maar die ruimteresies van die vyftigs en sestigs het hule verbeelding aangegryp. Sputnik, Gagarin…’

Ek het werklik nie nou tyd om hieroor te gesels nie! Ek stryk die groot vloeikaart by die voetenent plat, klik die balpuntpen en gaan aan met haar voorskrif. Uit die hoek van my oog sien ek hoe die fladderhand weer onder die deken verdwyn – die onsuksesvolle antenna word teruggetrek. Die duif keer boodskaploos terug na die Ark.

Dankie tog…

Ek kon twee minder siekes oorplaas na die algemene saal en en is op pad deur toe, maar suster Willemse keer my voor.

‘Dokter moet probeer om ʼn bietjie meer tyd by tannie Turgenev te spandeer.’ Suster Willemse se stemtoon laat – soos altyd – geen argument toe nie. ‘Kyk, sy weet sy gaan sterf en sy aanvaar dit. Sy is eensaam en sy het geen familie nie. Niemand kan vir haar kom kuier nie. Medisyne gaan nie vir haar help nie, maar ʼn simpatieke oor sal darem troos.’ Dan, onverwags, is daar ʼn ongewone pleit in haar stem. ‘Probeer, toe?’

Met my aand rondte slaap juffrou Turganev en suster Willemse rapporteer dat sy ʼn onrustige dag gehad het. ‘Laat haar rus terwyl sy kan, maar probeer om môre vyf minute vroeër te kom. Luister na haar. Hou haar hand vas. Lyk asof jy belangstel.’

Op pad huis toe eggo daardie laaste sin in my gemoed. Lyk as of jy belangstel. Sjoe! Ek spandeer my lewe in die hospitaal. My familie word afgeskeep. My werk is my lewe…en my lewe is my werk. Hoe kan iemand insinueer dat ek nie belangstel nie!

Daar is nog lig in die sitkamervenster – Estelle, my vrou, kyk seker weer ʼn sepie. As ek die voordeur toe maak, hoor ek sy lag. Dan tref dit my: die universiteit het gesluit weens die pandemie. Natuurlik. My dogter is mos tuis. Afstandsonderrig.  Skoon vergeet…

Ons groet mekaar soos dit hoort – met spontane vals glimlaggies. Estelle se oë is koud en afsydig, soos altyd, maar ons het lankal besluit om die skyn van ʼn gelukkige huwelik te bewaar. Sonja, my dogter, was nog altyd aan haar ma se kant maar haar groet is miskien darem een graad warmer as Estelle sʼn.  Ek gaan eet in die kombuis (koue bobotie en rys) en na die tyd gaan sit ek op ʼn gepaste afstand by die twee vroue. My bydrae tot die gesprek is die af-en-toe ‘O’ of ‘Mmmm…’, bloot omdat ek hulle sal verveel met my stories van siekes en sterwendes.

Dan, tydens ʼn paar oomblikke van stilte, probeer ek om deel te wees van hul lewens.

‘Um, daardie Russiese skrywer – Turgenev? Jy’t mos al van hom gepraat, Sonja?’

Sy kyk verbaas na my, as of sy vir die eerste keer hierdie aand my raaksien.  ‘Sjoe! Het Pa nou begin om ordentlike literatuur te lees? Impressive…

‘Moenie sarkasties wees nie, Sonja, dit pas jou nie.’ Ek het glad nie bedoel om so kortaf te wees nie. Hemel, wat het van ons geword? Ek haal diep asem en dwing my stemtoon terug na normaal. ‘Ek het ʼn dame in die saal, haar van is Turgenev. Sy sê sy’s familie van die skrywer. En sy het iets gesê van ʼn oortollige man…’

Turgenev Dissed Russia but Is Still Lionized as Literary Star by ...‘Ivan Turgenev. Nou toe nou! Dnevnik Lishnego Cheloveka, The Diary of a Superfluous Man.’ Ek moet, ten spyte van die atmosfeer, glimlag oor haar poging om die Russiese woorde te vorm. ‘Daardie verhaal, asook sy eerste boek, Rudin, gaan oor ʼn belangrike onderwerp – die onmag van ‘n willose intelligentsia. Daar was ʼn hele generasie opgeleide, intelligente, slim Russe, manne van insig en integriteit, maar hulle was nie in staat om die outoritêre regeringstyl van Tsar Nikolaas l te beïnvloed nie. Die gevolg?’ Dit lyk as of sy ʼn antwoord verwag en ek word gedwing om my kop te skud. Wanneer het hierdie kind, hierdie klein dogtertjie, vrou geword? Wanneer het sy verander van ʼn hulpelose telg tot ʼn selfstandige wese, ʼn akademikus, iemand met vaste opinies? Sy antwoord self: ‘Die mans is hierdie verhale het die inherente vermoë om omstandighede te verander, maar hulle word passief. Toeskouers. Die gehoor van ʼn tragedie wat reg voor hul oë afspeel.’ Sy sug. ‘Dis die verhaal van baie gesinne, baie samelewings in hierdie dae. Selfs ons.’

Ons? Ons die land of ons die gesin?

Ek slaap sleg en is voor my gewone opstaantyd aangetrek vir werk. Estelle slaap nog vas as ek by haar kamer inloer.

Die verwese, grys kop op die skoon wit linne lyk nog méér broos as gister. Sy hou my dop vandat ek die intensiewesorg saal se deur oopstoot tot ek by haar bed kom staan. Het suster Willemse met haar gepraat? Vertel dat sy my aangespreek het oor my belangelose houding? Haar oë is moeg, gedaan.

‘Dis tyd,’ sê sy.

Ek weet nie wat om te sê nie en probeer die gesprek by gister se besoek aanhaak.

‘Die onmag van die intelligentsia, Juffrou, is ʼn siekte van die mensdom. Soms wil mens omstandighede aanspreek, maar daar is geen manier nie. Jou voorvader was reg, nie waar nie? Hy was bekommerd oor wat van Rusland gaan word, en vandag moet ons erken dat hy reg was.’

‘Ja, hy skryf êrens … dat ons baie herinneringe koester, maar … so min het om te onthou. Of so iets.’ Die inspanning om te praat is pynlik duidelik

‘Ek is jammer, Mevrou, as ek soms oorhaastig is. Die werk…’ Dit klink lam. ‘Die verantwoordelikhede…’

Die kreukels en plooie rangskik hulself in iets wat ʼn glimlag mag wees. ‘Genoeg hiervan.” Sy haal diep asem. ‘Mag ek … iets vra?’

Suster Willemse kom staan langs my. Sy moes gewag het vir hierdie oomblik.

‘Ek het al vir Suster gevra en … sy’t gesê dis reg met haar.’ Die handjie kom bewend onder die deken uit en vou om my voorarm. Suster Willemse sit haar hand bo-op neer. Ons drie is verbind deur die band van tas. Hoekom voel dit so vreemd? ‘Buite, in die vierkant … net anderkant die venster, staan ʼn … boom. ʼn Perskeboom. Dit sou wonderlik gewees het … as dit ʼn kersieboom kon wees…’ Haar stem raak weg. Die oë dwaal hemelwaarts. ‘Maar dit sal nou maar moet doen.’ Nou kom daar ʼn definitiewe smeking in haar stem. ‘Kan ek…mag ek…vir ʼn oomblik onder daardie boom gaan lê? Net ʼn oomblik. Suster het gesê … sy sal help.’

Hulle het my later geroep om haar afsterwe te bevestig, daar onder die ou perskeboom in die vierkant, tussen die baksteenmure van die hospitaal. Sy het mooi gelyk, ontspanne, selfs gelukkig.

The First Woman in Space: Valentina Tereshkova | AnOther‘Sy wou soos Valentina Tereshkova wees, Dokter. Sy’t my vertel. Daardie eerste vrou in die ruimte was ʼn eenvoudige Russiese fabriekswerker, iemand met ʼn droom. En haar ruimteloopbaan het begin toe sy kind was, toe sy in die kersieboom agter hul huis geklim het om aan die hemel te probeer raak. Wys jou net: as mens braaf genoeg is om te droom, is niks onmoontlik nie. Al vereiste, het sy gesê, is dat jy regtig moet glo in jou droom. Anders word jou droom oorbodig – superfluous, is die woord wat sy gebruik het. Dis hoekom sy hier onder die boom wou kom lê, vir oulaas, sodat sy kortpad hemel toe kon kies. Sy het só uitgesien daarna…’

Daardie aand het ek huis toe gegaan en met my vrou en dogter gaan praat. ʼn Lang gesprek oor Russiese skrywers, vroulike ruimtevaarders, ons klein familietjie, en drome waarin mens moet glo. Oor ‘n gesonde wêreld sonder virusse. Die volgende oggend het Estelle vir my koffie en beskuit in die bed bedien. En op die klein skinkbordjie, langs die beker, was ʼn perskebloeisel.

Politics, religion, media: who trumps who?

download (10).jpg

Credit: Mail & Guardian

“So the land of the free is going to get their own version of a modern-day dictator?” Servaas throws out the bait – it’s been a quiet day in Boggel’s Place again.

“Not if you listened to some religious leaders, Servaas. They paint him as The Recsuer – the man who’ll bring back proper values and some pride in being an American.” Vetfaan doesn’t sound overly optimistic though. “And, whatever one’s opinion, one must agree that the world needs a bit of a shake-up. Look at us: we’ve become spectators and not participants any longer. We listen to the news, cluck our tongues and promptly distance ourselves from the unfolding tragedies around us.”

“That may be true, Vetfaan, but whose fault is that? The churches insist on preaching good news every Sunday, saying God will fix everything in the end. The politicians say we mustn’t worry, everything is fine. The newspapers contain so much bad news, we skip over the articles. So…the church, the politicians and the media are completely out of sync. Who to believe? In the end, none of the above.”

Vetfaan nods. “We’ve become so self-absorbed that old-fashioned charity, good manners and compassion have flown out of the window. The nett result? We’re ostriches – head in the sand and please pass me by.”

“Well, we can’t say much about the US of A; not with the mess we’ve got in governance…and in our churches. First gays are sinners, then they’re not. Now they’re again.  And some pastors prescribe Doom insecticide and petrol as tests for your belief in God, while the  ANC  says it’ll rule until Jesus comes again. Zuma claims God is on his side…”

“And then his tent gets blown away by a freak storm?” Vetfaan can’t help interrupting. “Some say it was an act of God. Doesn’t sound like He’s amused by Zuma’s antics.”

“Well.” Servaas puckers his lis like he does when somebody oversteps the religion line. “People seem to think they understand God and His ways. This, my friend, is true for any religion you care to think about. So you get radical lefts and conservative rights, and they all claim to be preaching the word of The Creator. In the old days, a preacher would be very careful – even humble -with his interpretation of certain verses. Now, however, it is he brash and the outspoken pastors who fill megachurches … or start wars.

“It’s almost funny, Vetfaan. The more we advance in technology, the more naive society becomes. I think advanced societies get so clever that they don’t think any more. They gain knowledge but lose wisdom…which is terribly sad and stupid. Ponzi schemes, religious radicalism, crazy politics – you’d think that an intelligent community would be aware enough to sniff out the fraudsters…but they don’t.” Servaas sighs. “Well, I’m glad I live in Rolbos. The drought is real The sand between my toes is real. Boggel’ Place is real.

“And that’s good enough for me. Zuma, Trump and a whole lot of modern-day social structures can pass me by. As long as they are only virtual realities, they can stay other side of the Orange River…please and thank you.”

A Flower for Paris

eiffel-tower_edited-1Even though Rolbos is so far away from the capitol of France, the group in Boggel’s Place gathers for a moment of silence to pray for the victims, the families and friends of the people who died there last night. Oudoom leads them in prayer – breaking the sombre silence – before sitting down slowly.

“The world is at war,” Gertruida eventually says, “but not like the wars in the past. The world is at war with itself.”

Servaas nods. “Yes, that’s true. Something horrible happened to the human race. I don’t know when, where, and how it started, but suddenly we have become a brutal mass of beings, intent on destruction.  It’s happening all over. I just don’t understand.”

“Well, over here it’s simple. The thousands of protests we have every year; all too often accompanied by the burning of busses, buildings, and such – not to mention the loss of lives; are  the result of an incompetent government.” Gertruida is lecturing again. It’s her way of rationalising – of escaping the reality of the horrors we live with every day. “We are, however, only experiencing the initial symptoms of social unrest. In it’s most advanced state,  this unrest turns into terrorism. Incompetence has nothing to do with that; it’s pure fanaticism.”

“But what happened to democracy and diplomacy? Why can’t people talk to each other any longer; you know, discuss problems and find an amicable solution?”

“You solve mathematical problems, Servaas. You can’t solve ideology.” When she sees him knitting his brows together, she explains. “Look, both democracy and ideology are forms of brainwashing. Almost the same animal, vastly different outcomes. In democracy the will of the majority is supreme. If you’re in the minority, you’re forced to accept whatever drew the most votes. So you stare at the TV every night, shake your head at the antics of politicians….but you remain a loyal citizen.

“But ideology? The backbone of ideology has nothing to do with minorities or majorities. The will of the people doesn’t count. If you dare disagree, your life is at risk. The brainwashing here is more brutal, stark in its reality and doesn’t respect the individual. Ideology demands absolute ownership of your life, your soul and even your spirit. That’s the danger.”

“But why Paris? It’s the capitol of Love, isn’t it?”

“Exactly, Servaas. Love and ideology doesn’t mix. Oh, there will be other reasons as well – France is fighting against ISIS, after all – but in the end, the attack on Paris was a cowardly expression of hate. Shooting innocent people – unarmed individuals enjoying an evening out with friends –  at random can never be seen as an act of heroism. You don’t kill people you love; you shoot those you hate. And why would a gunman open fire on a crowd? I’ll tell you: it’s because some twisted person propagated lethal violence as the means to an end. That’s ideology, be it political or religious in principle.”

“Ja, I agree.” Oudoom’s voice is tinged with emotion. “Religion is far more dangerous than all the nuclear arsenals of the world combined. Forget about an atomic war ending life on this planet. Religion will do it long before some idiot pushes the red button on the console.”

Oudoom…?” Servaas can’t believe his ears.

“It’s true, Servaas, and sadly so. Look, all the religions believe that Man was created by a Supreme Being, the ruler of the universe. That’s faith and so far, so good. But then we lose the plot by insisting we know all about Him…or Her…or It. We attribute all kinds of human characteristics to our gods, assume certain attributes and preach about God’s will – as if we have an intimate knowledge of the mind of God. That, my friend, is called religion. We have corrupted faith into various religions that suit our ways of thinking. And then…in the extreme form of this…we create an ideology, throw reality out of the window, and start hating people who differ from us. When logic fails, my friends, we use God to justify our actions. That’s fanatical ideology, the fundamental flaw of the human race that’ll be our downfall.”

“And that’s why they shot those poor people in Paris?”

“That’s my take, Servaas. I simply cannot think that God – whatever different religions might call Him – would sanction such acts. Religion can. and people seem blind to the fact.”

“So, what can we do?”

“Do what your faith tells you: that God created us all. That we have but one life on this one earth. That all life is precious. And that there is no power strong enough to destroy Love. What god would like to see his creation destroying itself? Killing others won’t get you to heaven,Servaas, it’s a sin.”

“Well, my heart goes out to all those in France.” Gertruida sighs. “Faith, religion, ideology…I don’t care how those terrorists justified it – what they’ve done is wrong. It’s sad. It’s pathetic to think somebody is so warped as to strap explosives to himself before opening fire on innocents. It is, in the end, not the action of somebody who stands up for anything. It’s the action of somebody stupid enough to die for nothing except the tears of those left behind.”

cederberg sandpoort vygiesKleinpiet walks in to the bar with a small flower in his hand. It’s a vygie, the hardy little plant that survives in the harsh climate of the Kalahari.

“I brought this,” he says, “for the people of Paris.”

Boggel places the flower in a glass of water. “That’s the religion I believe in, Kleinpiet. Thank you.”

(Read also the prediction in the fable posted in September.)

The man from HI (Inc).

The_Bible_and_moneyWhenever you talk about a dominee in Rolbos, the group in the bar will imagine somebody like Oudoom: kind, honest and blessed with a dry sense of humor. Now – us folks that have travelled beyond the greater towns like Prieska and Pofadder – we know there is no template for the perfect clergyman. The Americans like popular preachers telling them that all sins are forgiven and that prayer will make you amazingly rich. In Africa, it is not unusual for congregations to expect a sermon which marries superstition and gospel. Conservative Afrikaners go for fire and brimstone, while more liberal folk lean over to an everything-goes philosophy. As one would expect, preachers (usually rather intelligent men) pick up on the needs of their local flock and tell them what the want to hear. In this way they not only fill the pews on Sundays, but (more importantly) they also keep the financial side of the business ticking over.

But not so in Rolbos. Oudoom sticks to the truth, which is sometimes most unwelcome and will lead to lengthy debates in the bar. Last Sunday Oudoom reminded his small congregation that Christianity is a way of life, and that simply talking about religion isn’t enough. “Look,” he said, “at the way you carried on when Fourie du Preez scored that try? When last did you feel that way about your Salvation?” After church, the Rolbossers retired to Boggel’s Place in a gloomy silence – something which they shattered when Craig Joubert awarded that penalty to the Wallabies.

And so, when a brand new Mercedes purred down Voortrekker Weg on Tuesday and a tall, willowy man stepped from the air-conditioned interior, they tried to follow Oudoom’s teachings by inviting the stranger in to the bar.

“How kind of you all,” the man boomed, patting his white tie into it’s correct place between the lapels of his jacket, “I can see you folks are real Christians.”

This pleased the group tremendously as Boggel pushed a complimentary beer over the counter.

“I am Pastor Victor, but you can call me Vic. I’m here with an important message. Would you care to hear it?”

A message for Rolbos? Of course they were curious.

“See, the Rapture is near. Over the last few weeks you would have heard the repeated warnings that the world is on it’s last legs.” The group in the bar had never heard of such a thing, but they listened respectfully in any case. “The rapture is near!”  This was said in a whispered shout.

Of course, the rapture is something Oudoom never neglects, so the group nodded as one.

“Money won’t help you any longer. You’ll be called before the throne as you are – stripped of all worldly possessions. Do not for one moment think your bank account will help you Up There, my friends. Fancy cars and fancy clothing makes no impression in Paradise!” Pastor Vic warmed to his subject as he expounded on the vast difference between Heaven and Earth. “But,” he continued, “I have a solution.”

Several questioning eyebrows went up.

“You see, I represent Heavenly Investments Incorporated. We’ll relieve you of your earthly burdens – which will be useless soon – so you can help the poor and the downtrodden. This, my friends,” said in a conspiratorial tone, “will help you enter Paradise.” He went on to explain – in many words and with considerable passion – how the Bible taught them to look after those less fortunate than them. He spoke for a full hour, finishing with: “Get rid of your worldly riches! Now is the time and here is the opportunity! Heavenly Investments is here, ready to accept your earthly burden of soon-to-be useless money. Act now! Salvation is at hand!”

People often think about the inhabitants of places like Rolbos tend to be naive – and sometimes they’re right. But Pastor Vic had never been to Rolbos, so one may excuse him for not understanding their way of having fun.

“Is it true,” Vetfaan asked innocently, “that Paradise is a wonderful place? Pearly gates and streets of gold? Choirs singing all day long? With many mansions for believers?”

“Of course,” Pastor Vic said, “and you can all be there by giving away the anchors that bind you to this world. The more ye shall give, the more ye shall receive. That’s what’s written and that’s what you believe.”

“But…” Gertruida held up a hand. “with all those pearls and golden highways…the property tax must be astronomical?”

“And,” Vetfaan added timidly, “the municipal accounts can’t be free. Who does the garbage collecting and sweeps the sidewalks? I mean: it’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it?”

“What about dog licences? We can’t go without Vrede, after all. We don’t want him expelled simply because he transgresses some laws.” Servaas leant over to pat Vrede’s head, knowing how upsetting the conversation must be for his doggy mind. “Without money to pay for his licence, our poor dog is doomed.”

“Well, there is an upside. With all the criminals downstairs, the police force would only have to direct the traffic. And can you believe the savings when you don’t need burglar bars, alarm systems and security guards everywhere?” Kleinpiet’s nephew lived in Johannesburg and had phoned him about the student unrests. “At least everybody will know everything, so no students either. Stiil, without our savings we’d never be able to afford the occasional beer – not with our own brewery being sold to the Belgians. The prices are sure to increase…”

The Rolbossers had been worried about this ever since they heard the news. Kleinpiet’s last sentence made them all pat their wallets: no matter what the price might be, beer was an essential part of living – even in heaven.

Pastor Victor stared at the group in total unbelief. Were they poking fun at him?

“Let me put it this way,” Oudoom finally said, “Heavenly Investments Inc. may be on the right track – albeit for all the wrong reasons. I propose we do the right thing and run the gentleman out of town. I think it’s our heavenly duty to do it with grace and kindness – and if that doesn’t work, we’ll trade an eye for an eye and steal his car.”

It is, indeed, said that it is more blessed to give than to receive.This is especially true when imparting good advice. And Pastor Vic, it must be said, was a good receiver.

Gertruida summed it up as they watched the trail of dust disappearing toward Grootdrink. “And that, Oudoom, is the Christian way of living: to discern the truth from stupidity. You’ve preached so often from Proverbs, telling us about wisdom and foolishness. I think you can begin to relax now – we’re almost there.”

The Rolbossers trudged back to the counter, feeling they had done well that morning. But Oudoom knew it was only a passing phase. Come Saturday, and they’d be shouting at the ref once more – just like all good believers do when they remember to be normal once in a while.

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Dove behind the Grid. (A short, short story)

Once upon a time (long, long ago) people lived in harmony. Kindness was considered more important than conflict. And the white dove – the sacred sign of peace – flew over the expanse of Earth, bringing a message of quiet humility to all.

d1Then Man started arguing about religion…

The end.

When Pointing Religious Fingers becomes Dangerous

Credit: spiegel.de

Credit: spiegel.de

“Look at this,” Gertruida says as she points to her laptop screen. She’s just acquired a dongle – upsetting Servaas very much. However, once the term was explained to him, he did relax a bit. As an astute guardian of the town’s morals, he takes no chances. “They’re saying that Germanwings crash is Germany’s own 9/11.”

She reads the report stating that the copilot was a recent convert to Islam and that he deliberately ploughed into the mountain, killing all on board. “Apparently this man, Andreas Lubitz, locked the captain out of the cockpit and flew the plane to destruction on purpose. If the suggestion that there is a link between his religion and the crash is true, it is a sad day for people of all faiths. I mean, would God command such a thing? No matter what you believe Him to be, surely killing innocent people, including babies, should be regarded as a sin. All life, after all, is sacred.”

“Ja, you’ll get two responses from government agencies in the next few days.” Kleinpiet loves urban legends – he says living in South Africa provides fertile ground for far-fetched ideas to grow. Lately he’s said a lot about how the officials remain silent about the 4000 jobs they’re cutting at PetroSa, the state refinery. He says the most dangerous tactic of any government is to say nothing. “Either they’ll do it the old-fashioned way and blame it on human error. You know: the co-pilot had a blackout, fell asleep or was mentally unstable. There must be a thousand ways to blame the crash on something unforeseen happening to the poor man. And the public would have no choice but to accept the official findings, because who can prove anything else? The only people to know what really happened, were those on board.

“Or, they’ll remain tight-lipped, feeding the public only enough to confuse the situation. Can you imagine the backlash in Germany – and the world – if Islam gets blamed? No government would encourage such instability within its borders.”

Facebook-page-in-support-of-Andreas-Lubitz“That may be true, Kleinpiet. But it also says here that the Islamic State is lauding Lubitz as a hero. That is enough to incite hatred already. I certainly hope it’s not true.”

“Ja,” Oudoom sighs, “beheading people and kidnapping westerners aren’t clever ways to promote the values of faith. If that crash has religious undertones, it could spark a lot of negativism towards Muslims who are sincere in their faith. Religious intolerance is a horrible thing. It’s caused wars in the past.”

“True, Oudoom. Most wars seem to have a religious or ideological basis. The Arab Conquests (632-732), the Crusades (1097-1291), the  Reformation Wars of the 16th century, Hitler’s stance against Jews…the list goes on. But…” and here Gertruida pauses dramatically, “the cause of war isn’t religion. It’s people. Neither the Quran nor the Bible commands us to kill each other. We may differ in our views, but in both doctrines there are more than enough to promote tolerance.

“The problem arises when some individuals start interpreting certain passages in a way to promote their own goals. That’s where the danger lies. It’s a matter of opinion – skewed as it might be – as opposed to religion, which directs us to harmony, not destruction.”

Vetfaan stares dolefully at the counter. “I like our isolation, Gertruida. Ever since you brought that dongle into our lives, we’ve been fed on a diet of bad news and conflict. I don’t want to be reminded of religious fanatics, social unrest and rising petrol prices. I want to talk about the drought and sheep. So, please, would you mind terribly much to keep that laptop at home?”

“Keeping the laptop at home won’t change what’s happening in the world, Vetfaan.” Her tone is soft, almost apologetic. “Events in the Alps do have an influence on us, even if it is indirectly. We can’t play ostrich all our lives.”

Oudoom holds up a hand. “Let’s not argue about the necessity of news – or not. Let’s think about the families and friends of the passengers who boarded that flight. We can’t change the world and neither can our arguments in this bar solve the question of why the plane crashed. But we can sympathise with the people who are directly involved.

“Blaming religion won’t solve the problem. The question to ask ourselves is: why would a normal, rational man be led astray to such an extent that he starts killing others? Why did radicalism seem so preferable? And the answer is simple: because people stopped caring about each other. Personal gain and personal glory are the matches to light that fire. If, in your quest, you happen to step on others, then that’s just too bad.

“So, a finger points back at the rest of humanity, as well. What are we doing to reflect the virtues of a kind and loving religion? Or has the world become so egocentric, so uncaring, that religion is something we fall back to only when we need something? What, my friends, do we do to live our faith?”

They fall silent after that. Copilot Lubitz may have crashed the plane on purpose, but – they realise – he might be only a symptom. If that is true, the disease is far too frightening to contemplate.

They’re Killing the Wrong Past

Credit: ibtimes.com

Credit: ibtimes.com

“It’s a disgrace,” Gertruida says as she folds the newspaper, “an absolute tragedy. Imagine destroying those old artifacts? What on earth will that tell the world about Isis?”

“Not much more than we already know, Gertruida.” The bushy brows knit together as Servaas sits down with a sigh. “I’m not opposed to Islam, but this makes them really look bad. Would God really command the beheading of people and the destruction of statues? No, I don’t think so – not in the way I think of a loving God, at least.”

“You can’t blame Islam, Servaas. It’s not the religion – it’s the people who interpret the Quran in a certain way.”

“Oh, and now you’re an expert?” The remark sounds more aggressive than he intended, so Servaas hastens to add: “No offence, Gertruida, but you know we don’t know much about the Quran as such. Few Christians read it, after all.”

“I’ll have you know that the Quran does have a lot to say about how believers should conduct themselves. It says: ‘They enjoin good conduct and forbid wrongdoing, and they hasten to do good works.  These are among the righteous.’  And it says something about religious tolerance, too. ‘Certainly, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Sabians, and the Christians, whoever acknowledges God and the Last Day and does good, will have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.’.  The problem isn’t the Quran or Islam – it’s far more complex than that. It’s about the Sunni and Shia groups that simply won’t let the sun shine on each other.”

Servaas is silent for a while, impressed by Gertruida’s knowledge. “But why? Why can’t they live together?”

“It goes back to the death of the Prophet, Servaas, in the year 632 AD. a Caliph or successor was chosen – a man named Abu Bakr. Some thought he was the wrong choice and under the leadership of Ali, the Shia movement started. Well, Abu Bakr was assassinated and eventually Ali became the fourth caliph in 656. Again there was revolt over this choice, and the Sunni’s gathered against him. Ali was assassinated in 661 – and since then the fighting never really stopped.

“Today the Sunnis claim – as part of their perceived rightful heritage – portions of Iraq and Syria as land that belongs to them. The fact that there’s a lot of oil underground, is  – according to them – of no consequence. But you and I know: logic whispers, money shouts. And sometimes, it shouts louder than religion, too.”

“So…you’re telling me they simply can’t let go of the past? And have been killing each other for 1500 years for that and the wealth under the ground?” He gets a nod from Gertruida. “Then, Gertruida, we’re in big trouble.”

“How so, Servaas?”

“Look at us, Gertruida. Look at what’s happening in the country. Poor old Jan van Riebeeck gets blamed for all the problems in the country – much like this chap…what did you call him?…Abu Bakr. And now the fight is on for land reform, just like in Zimbabwe. Or Iraq and Syria, if you like.  Here, they change names of towns and streets to reflect only a certain heritage, to emphasise the history of just one portion of society – while over there they destroy statues that are ‘foreign idols’. What’s the difference? It’s the same thing.”

1502574_689750454457656_4131447609257149473_n“You’re right, of course. But it’s not ‘them’, or ‘they’…it is the leaders of the organisations that keep on festering hate and intolerance. Do you think the average man in the street wants xenophobia or racism or violence and abuse…in any form? Of course not. Mister Average wants a job, a loving wife and obedient kids. Two out of three isn’t bad. Hell, one out of three will do. But then the so-called leaders; the ones people perceive to be on their side; start considering other issues – like money and status and more wives and grand homes. The foot soldiers get lost in the less important matters of the day while Mister Big thinks out clever things to say to impress voters”

john“But why do people bother listening to such leaders, Gertruida? That John fellow didn’t behead people on his own accord – he belongs to a movement and that movement has a leader. Once he was an innocent-looking schoolboy, now he’s turned into a monster. Why did he allow himself to be turned into a despicable being? Surely even the superficial grasp of religion teaches us that all life is sacred, coming from God?”

“Ignorance, Servaas, is the pillow on which the uninformed head rests. Listen to what the Prophet said: ‘O you who acknowledge, one people should not deride another, for it may be that they are better than them; nor should some women deride others, for it may be that they are better than them; and do not insult each other or ridicule each other with nicknames.’ He warns against false leaders: ‘And if you obey most of those in the earth, they will lead you astray from Allah’s way; they follow but conjecture and they do but guess.’ And the Prophet writes: ‘Surely the worst of beasts in God’s sight are those that are deaf and dumb and do not reason.’. 

“But, my friend, people have forgotten how to think. They follow blindly and do not listen to all sides of the argument before making up their own minds. They’ve become, just like the Quran says, deaf and blind.”

“And destroying statues help to promote the goals of a few leaders?”

“They’re killing the past, Servaas, in an effort to establish a new future. What they don’t realise is that they’re keeping the wrong past alive by alienating the rest of humanity. Just like the continuous accentuation of the wrongs in any history will keep on dividing people, so the beauty of coexistence will make people want to forget about the atrocities of Huns and the Nazis and all the horrors of the past – every nation’s history is riddled with wrongs, after all. And I don’t mean forgetting like in totally wiping out the memory – we have to learn from history, after all. What I really mean is that we must take note – and not make it the basis of an ongoing, neverending struggle.”

Servaas sighs and sinks back in his chair. “Sometimes – just sometimes – I wish that all the energy going into evil could go into something positive. What a world it’d be! But then I realise how many people rely on the past to justify their present, and then I know: people will use scriptures to promote the most weird ideas. From fighting wars to beheading people – if you want to justify evil, you can quote verses completely out of context – and some fools will believe you. Evil, sadly, is part of everybody. If you feed it, it will grow.”

They fall silent after that – there really isn’t much more to say. Mankind has been created with both evil and good lurking inside every heart – and for some reason, evil will always – like love sometimes – find a way.

That’s why the Wrong Past will continue to spawn Evil next to the hearth of Greed, while love and friendship will huddle outside, shivering in the cold reality of a world where care is just another four-letter word.

The So Religious Bar of Soap

images (1)Oudoom’s sermon on pride  and ambition caused a lot of talk amongst his flock. They did have their feet on the ground and (mostly) an eye on heaven…but the scathing remarks about the country they belong to, causes more debate in Boggel’s Place than the beautiful message of humility and kindness.

“We used to be a Christian nation,” Vetfaan says while they wait for Boggel to fetch the cold beer from the cooler. “Well, if not Christian, then at least we tried to be civil. Nowadays, everything goes. Farmers get murdered, the prisons are overfull, crime is a booming industry, rape and assault are  everyday occurrences. Corruption is rife.  And yet our government insists they subscribe to biblical guidelines.”

“Ja, remember when Jacob Zuma returned from Jordan in 2003? He said he had been to the river where Jesus was baptised – and that if he looked at someone, that person would be blessed.” Gertruida goes harrumph! adding that some of his family members can confirm that. “But he also said that God was with the ANC from its inception and that they’d rule until Jesus returns. In 2009 he said: ‘People who love God must not play with their votes, they must vote for the ANC…We in the ANC know God.’ And my favourite in 2011: ‘When you vote for the ANC, you are also choosing to go to heaven… When you get up there, there are different cards used but when you have an ANC card you will be let through to go to heaven … the holy ones belong to the ANC.'”

“Don’t forget Ramaphosa.” Servaas loosens his tie and unbuttons his collar, like he always does when he’s angry, “He declared South Africa is a ‘a God-fearing country‘ and that the government ‘recognises the importance of the Lord‘. In the same speech he said the ANC always makes certain that they ‘stay close to God’s light.‘ and they conduct themselves ‘in accordance with what God prescribes’.

“What about the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court? He said he got a ‘signal from God’ that he had to be appointed to that position.”

They fall silent as Boggel returns with a crate of beer, causing the bent little barman to look up in surprise.

“You guys been gossiping about me?”

“No Boggel. Not gossiping and not about you.” Precilla leans over to pat him on the shoulder. “We’re lamenting, like the old Israelites did. Our leaders are no longer thinking about the words of Nkosi Sikele’ i-Afrika when they sing the national anthem. The blessing they ask for has more to do with bank accounts than with compassion. So we were talking about the way they use religion to achieve their goals.”

Hunter S Thompson

Hunter S Thompson

“So what’s new? The old Nationalists had the church in their collective pocket as well. Remember how the Synod told everybody that Apartheid was right? And how many of our Prime Ministers had degrees in theology? South African politicians simply love telling the people how religious they are – especially when elections are just around the corner.” Boggel pauses as he slides the beers over the counter. “I read a wonderful book a while ago. The Rum diary, by Hunter S Thompson….”

“We’re discussing the political hijacking of religion in the country, Boggel, not the writings of an author I’ve never heard about!” His voice tinged with exasperation, Servaas knits his brows together in an angry scowl. “Don’t change the subject!”

“Wait,” Gertruida smiles as she holds up a restraining hand. “I think I know where Boggel is going to with this one.”

“An interesting book, to say the least. Thompson saw the way greed destroyed the lives of ordinary men and women and set about writing the novel in the early sixties. It was rejected by the publishers and only found its way to the shelves in 1998. I believe Johnny Depp discovered the manuscript amongst Thompson’s papers. The movie was made in 2011.”

“Tell them about the quote, Boggel. Go on…it’s so apt.”

Boggel blushes slightly at the encouragement, takes a deep breath while concentrating hard, and manages to recall the words Gertruida is hoping for. The words had stuck to his mind ever since he heard it first, simply because it was so absurdly true.

“It’s in the movie, Gertruida. Hunter didn’t write those words, Bruce Robinson did when he directed the film. Still, it is a fine way to reflect Hunter’s anger at the way the politicians corrupted the country.”

Afterwards, they all agree that Thompson might as well have written The Rum Diary  about South Africa. And that Robinson’s words were as true today as when the script was written.

‘This country was built on genocide and slavery, and then we brought in Jesus like a bar of soap.’

E volavo volavo felice
più in alto del sole ed ancora più su
mentre il mondo pian piano spariva

And I flew, flew happy
Higher the sun and even higher
While the world disappeared slowly’

In the movie Paul Kemp (Thompson in real life and played by Depp) has this to say about religion in a voiced-over scene:  “I wonder what it is you might think about our different worlds. He looked at me kinda sideways and said, “Human beings are the only creatures on Earth who claim a God, and the only living thing that behaves like it hasn’t got one. Does the world belong to no one but you?” And when he said it, I was taken aback. Not because of who was doing the talking. Because I finally understood the connection between children scavenging for food, and shiny brass plates on the front doors of banks.”

Today he might have replaced ‘banks‘ with ‘Nkandla‘.