Kimberly Burge is a Sojourners contributing writer and author of The Born Frees: Writing with the Girls of Gugulethu, about girls growing up in post-apartheid South Africa.
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Remembrance and Repentance
FOR A GOOD SIX MONTHS, I didn’t notice the words carved above the grand sanctuary entrance to Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. The letters stand guard over the doors like sentries: Methodist Episcopal Church, South. The words meant nothing to me.
In February, the General Conference of the UMC voted to strengthen the enforcement of denomination rules against ordaining LGBTQ Christians and performing marriage ceremonies for LGBTQ couples. But Mount Vernon Place (MVP) has long described itself as “young and old, gay and straight, liberal and conservative, housed and unhoused, people filled with faith and people who know doubt.” It struck me as a place I could fit in and be challenged.
On my first visit, I was intrigued by a bulletin notice announcing the launch of a racial-justice book group—especially since the congregation is predominantly white. So I joined.
Book group leader Caroline Anderson-Gray, white and in her 30s, has been a member at MVP for four years. I asked her why she started MVP’s racial justice conversation with a book group.
“In the summer of 2016, as reports of police officers killing black citizens seemed to be at the top of the news every other day, our minister raised the idea of a racial-justice reading group,” said Anderson-Gray. “I believe that to be Christian is to be committed to dismantling structures of hatred and inequality, so a reading group on the subject of racial justice at church made a lot of sense to me. By the time we had our first meeting, the presidential election had occurred, and the need for such a group was more urgent than ever.”
A book group may not seem like much given the rise of social terror. But small discipleship groups are a very Methodist practice—and this one opened a space for transformative conversations. Eight to 12 people, a microcosm of the church, gathered every other month to read and learn. One man, a Canadian expatriate, spoke about his difficulty in understanding his new country considering the experiences of his African-American husband. Una Song, an MVP member for three years, said that reading Patricia Raybon’s My First White Friend helped Song clarify her own experiences of exclusion in a country dominated by white privilege.
Flags Change. Then What?
Flags are only symbols, of course. Chucking one for another does not automatically overhaul a society’s deeply entrenched structural oppression. Lowering a flag and relegating it, belatedly, to a museum does not change people’s hearts and minds. Under South Africa’s new flag, the Born Frees are inheriting a country awash in contradiction. How free can this generation be with one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world? With the rampant violence that especially plagues black townships and is frequently directed against women and girls? With the remnants of a broken school system that was not designed to educate all its citizens equally?
Songs Before the Cataclysm
How a punk-rock drummer came to love ancient Syrian spiritual music.
A Farm Grows in Brookland
Gail Taylor hopes that Three Part Harmony Farm in D.C. Brookland neighborhood becomes the city's first commercial farm since the 1930s.
The Innocence List
There are many reasons to abolish the death penalty. Innocents on death row may be the most compelling.
'You Strike a Woman, You Strike a Rock!': The Daughters of South Africa Speak Out
This creative writing club in Gugulethu, a township 10 miles outside Cape Town, South Africa, drew together nearly two dozen expressive girls, ages 13 through 20, each week for a year. With the help of a prompt -- a phrase or a short piece of writing to get started -- together the girls and I wrote. Like athletes in training, we built up from an initial three minutes of writing to, eventually, 20 minutes and sometimes longer when they asked for more time. Then we would go around the circle where we sat and read aloud what each of us wrote.
One week, the girls collectively wrote their manifesto (below), and staged a reading when the Flip camera came out. Then Sharon added her own contribution, "Proudly South African" (to hear her read, click here). She's now enrolled in her first year studying psychology at the University of Cape Town. I'm secretly hoping she switches to journalism.
'Your Daughters Will Prophesy'
In the new South Africa, the future is speaking in the voices of the girls.
Songs For Hard Times
The Better Angels, by John Francis. Horse and Rider/Dualtone.
Pray the Devil Back to Hell, by Gini Reticker and Abigail E. Disney.
Through the Laughter and the Tears
Uwem Akpan, a Jesuit from Nigeria, tells stories about Africa through its children, creating rich and complex characters that capture the heartbreaking realities of growing up in the midst of war and poverty.
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