yesterday i rode the train and went to a market. and while engaging in both of these activities, i was thoroughly engrossed in the sounds...the interactions...the people...the culture that was so evident in both of these things...
so different and yet so similar. and by the end of the day, it was clear that i had been seeing word pictures...flashes of truth...challenge...in both of them. and as has been a familiar trend these days...i was once again reminded of the power of the kingdom of God.
but first...the train.
boarding at fish hoek station onto a crowded train car...i was struck first by our invasion into the all african hue of people. we were, in fact, the only white people in this car...four of probably only a handful on the whole train. most white people don't ride the train...they don't have to...and many are afraid to anyhow. once again...i was reminded of the divide between privilege and necessity...the wide chasm resultant of the still-lingering dust of apartheid.
i sat next to a man dressed in fancy clothes...a buttoned shirt and trousers. he was holding his small daughter...one in a twined pair. he smiled at me as he sat next to me...
the other one's there...he pointed to a woman holding his other daugher, the other half of the twined pair...their twins...he said, smiling again.
they are beautiful little ones...and i tell him so.
the train is community. the train is people...all moving in one direction...if only for a short time. the train is opportunity...realized...and seized by many. as passengers exit...rubbing shoulders with those who will take their place...sit where they just had been...
a blind man with a battery-powered keyboard steps onto the train...led by a man in a white shirt...hand on his shoulder. he acts as the eyes. as the shepherd. as the business manager. he directs the blind man to the back of the car...and they wait for the train to lurch forward again.
we are a captive audience...
and so the blind man begins to play the keys...and sings.
then sings my soul...my savior god to thee...how great thou art
a curious thing begins to happen...the fancy man begins to sing along...quietly at first...then progressively louder. the woman with the hat on sitting across from me does the same.
as his friend sings...the man in white, donation cup in hand, leads the other forward...shoes shuffling under them...until they reach the front of the car and the train reaches the next station. the man stops singing...and as the doors open...they quickly disappear from the car...running to the next car to do the same.
the train squeals and begins to move forward again...new faces replacing once-familiar ones.
we move forward in silence again.
at the next stop...in the midst of the furious transition of passengers...something similar...
a man with a black shirt with colorful embroidery helps another blind passenger onto our car...she is a woman...and her hands are empty...except for a small, white, tin cup. her instrument is her voice...and she begins to sing as the train begins to move.
the blood of jesus...the blood of jesus...the blood of jesus...it will never lose its power.
as she sings, the sound of coins splashing the bottom of that tin cup begins to resonate in the train car...almost on beat with her song. one...two...and then another...and another. woman place their coin in her cup...children...ask their fathers for a coin in order to contribute to the woman's song.
she shuffles her feet and changes her tune...
the name of jesus...the name of jesus...the name of jesus...it will never lose it's power.
and the clanging encourages the song until we reach the next station...and then just like the first man...the woman abruptly ends her song...the doors open...and she disappears.
it is quiet again...and we continue our journey.
a child refuses to sit still by his mother and so the man down the row looks after him...gently tickling him...gaining great joy from the electric laughter that emerges from the boys belly. two woman laugh as they realize they have missed their stop...the old man with one good eye sits quietly across from me...waiting patiently for his stop...lips pursed into a frown...the young man at the front of the car with the kanye west-white sunglasses listens to music on his phone...letting the one he boarded with listen in.
and so this shifting and ever-changing community continues on...all of us moving in the same direction...with the same motion...if not for a stop or two...until we arrive at our stop and we exit into a quiet station and the train moves on...and the community continues on without us.
the four us walked from the station to the market...a clear contrast from our experience on the train...still clearly community...but it takes a very different form...and has a different face...
a white face.
the market...a wonderful...rich...display of organic produce, food and drink, and art smelled of flavorful enjoyment and full stomachs and it rang of care-free laughter, folksy musicianship and joy.
we sat down under a tent with table made of old doors and seats constructed of yellow produce crates and worn planks...strangers intermingling as they enjoyed good food, cold cider, and warm company. i sat next to a boisterous white-haired and wrinkled english woman...her cheeks sunk in and a cigarette clenched between her frail lips. she was here on holiday and she was having a blast.
we talked about everything american...obama...the economic crisis...american philanthropy...
and then she asked me why i was here...and for so long...for i must be living the free-spirited life of sight-seeing, cheap living and drinking and youthful irresponsibility.
so your here until your money runs out, huh?
no? so why then?
we work here in one of the townships. we like to tell people how much Jesus loves them...and we have been able to plant some churches as well as a result of people realizing this love.
you plant churches? i didn't know churches grew.
and then the subject was dropped and we moved on to the AIDS crisis, aparteid and the overall condition of the country she was visiting.
we eventually said goodbye and moved on...she, seemingly unaffected by the conversation we had just had. but it isn't important whether she was convinced by the church-planting movement i've just told her about...or that she wasn't moved to tears by her sinfulness that came streaming out in a series of confessions all in an instance that culminated in a powerful transformation of heart and life causing her to be an evangelist for the rest of her life.
yes, life change is important...and i would have rejoiced had the conversation moved to that point...certainly i would...
but i think for just a second...for just a little while during her lunch at the old biscuit mill market...this brash brit experienced just a bit of what the kingdom of God is about...and in that instance...was met by the name of Jesus...
which is powerful in and of itself.
which leads me to all of the thoughts that have been circulating through my mind over the past couple weeks and which were once again revealed through my experiences in these two very different experiences yesterday...
that these two communities...no matter how different they are from one another...and believe me...they are very different...will always be the same in the simple concept of community. And so because of that...they both stand as birthing places for the kingdom of God. Jesus understood this when he brought the kingdom...understood it because community is part of him...part of the essence of Christ...and so it is part of the kingdom. and so without even realizing it...these people have already started to incorporate themselves into one of the main aspects of the kingdom.
and while the woman at the lunch table was not quite aware of its presence...she in fact was participating in the kingdom by conversing with me over a meal...communion...if you will...
and in her unawareness that the church is grown...planted...nurtured...she may not understand that now...but she might...someday...i pray she will...
and then she will know.
and she has heard the name of jesus spoken to her...and she has heard that he loves her...just like he loves the people in masiphumelele where we work...and loves the people on the train...
which leads me back to the train...and the woman singing with beauty that the blood of jesus will never lose its power...and in the same way...that the name of jesus will never lose its power.
which led me to wonder...does she know this? does she really know what profound truth she was proclaiming as she shuffled through the train car...tin cup extended to her audience?
and if she did know the power that is in that name...and in that blood...whould she sing it differently? would there be passion in her voice? or if she really believed it...would she be afraid to share it...to speak it out with unction in fear that it would no longer be simply business as usual meant to put food on her table...but it would mean that she would really have to make a choice about how she was going to live?
and as i heard her sing about the powerful blood of Jesus and the strong name of Jesus...and thought about how it has changed me...how he has changed me...and how i have seen him...quite visibly actually...change so many now...how should i respond? how do others on the train listening to this song...knowing the change in their hearts...respond?
is my life different? is there passion in my lives? and since i believe it...am i afraid to share it...to speak it out with unction in fear that my life would no longer be simply business as usual meant to put me in good standing with "the man upstairs"? or has it meant that i have had to make a choice about how i am meant to live...how i am meant to speak the name of jesus...how i am meant to understand and live in the kingdom of God?
and so i thought...if i were not the only one on this train thinking these thoughts...and if i were not the only one who wanted to really wanted to show the power of Jesus' name...and if there were others like me who had been ushered into the kingdom of God through the blood of Jesus that will never lose its power...and we realized how it had drastically changed our lives...
what would that train car have looked like? what would it have sounded like? and what would have happened as a result of the community taking place as we all went in the same direction for a short time?
i think it would have looked a lot like the kingdom. perhaps very small...and faint...but i think it would be there...and it would be moving. and it would be going along with people as they got off at their stop...and it would be infecting wherever they went from there...spreading itself beyond what me could imagine.
which is why i told the funny little british woman about me...that i align myself with jesus. he is why i am here in cape town...that is why i told her.
because she will go back to england...having had a simple encounter and seeming meaningless interaction with Jesus...and just might change because of it. and with that change...will carry with her a story...and an authority...wherever she goes.
and they have trains in england...lots of them...and taxis and buses and airplanes...all with people doing simple community...traveling in the same direction...
if only for a short time.
but for some...it might make a lasting difference.