Saturday, August 17, 2013

Keep Shosholoza. Lose the Vuvuzela

I love watching South African sport. Even though the USA is home for us, I remain an ardent supporter  of South Africa's rugby, cricket and soccer teams and keep a close track of their progress. S.A's sports teams  have always been known for their courage and passion. What they sometimes lack in clinical strategy, they make up for with their gutsy, do-or-die attitude and a high view of team over the individual. Often their best wins have been against-all-odds performances when their backs were against a wall.

Their supporters are some of the most passionate, colorful and vocal in the world. I still get chills when I hear them sing the National Anthem, and watch a whole stadium vibrate with the rhythm and tone of the great African folk song, Shosholoza. Simply unmatched, anywhere in the world.

The one phenomena that detracts from the enjoyment of watching South African sports for me though,  is a phenomena called  the Vuvuzela. It's a long plastic trumpet, that when blown by thousands, simply sounds like a swarm of bees. And when the monotonous drone is heard for a whole game through TV speakers, it becomes unbearable. Like nails scraping on a chalk board.

In fact, when South Africa hosted the Soccer World Cup in 2010, there were complaints from all around the world that viewers couldn't get through a whole match with the sound of the Vuvuzelas constantly droning in the background. Millions of people just pressed mute on their TV sets, and so the  festival atmosphere of the South African stadiums; the singing, chanting, cheering, dancing, was lost by the many spectators. Some stadiums banned the infamous Vuvuzela after the World Cup,  but watching the recent Springboks thumping of Argentina, the Vuvuzela is clearly back with a vengeance.

This is not the end of the world of course, but for me it may be a powerful metaphor when it comes to the South African diaspora of the last 20 years. While many 'Saffers may have moved to other nations out of fear or desire for comfort, countless others have moved because of a genuine desire to make a difference. From a Biblical point of view, many of my friends have left the comfort and convenience of home because of The Great Commission, and I've seen God do some remarkable things because of their obedience.

However, I've noticed at times that the best of the South African ethos can be obscured by cultural inflexibility. Kind of like a Vuvuzela drowning out Shosholoza . You may protest, "But that's our heritage." I would simply ask, "Is it helpful or harmful in exporting the essence of who we are?"

Having lived in the USA for 6 years now, I've seen it with numerous South Africans who have come to live here. I've also observed similar phenomena in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Asia  when I've visited there. The pioneering spirit, the gutsy faith, the sacrificial heart and warm hospitality sometimes get obscured by cultural sentiment. Why?

Because of our  unwillingness to give up expressions of Christianity that are culturally nuanced, but that we claim are  biblically universal. Attitudes towards authority, gender, race, conflict, and organization are most often the areas of cultural conflict. Our journey has been one of learning to be culturally flexible while remaining biblically faithful. It's not an exact science and we've made some pretty glaring errors at times. It's vital that we make the effort though.

I believe that for South Africans,  a willingness to add planning to passion, theology to faith,  diplomacy to integrity and humility to authority, are some keys to learning to thrive in 1st world environments. We have such a rich spiritual heritage, and some beautiful cultural customs to go with it. We need God's wisdom as we go though, so that the Vuvuzela doesn't drown out Shosholoza.

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