Resurrection Writing

Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear.  Let him not love the earth too deeply.  Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire.  Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley.  For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.

Alan Paton began writing one of South Africa's greatest novels while abroad as his heart felt a longing for the mountain ranges of his homeland.  He called the book "a song of love for one's far distant country," but on the pages following his description of a scenic outlook over rural villages is "a story of the beauty and terror of human life."

Plot-wise, Cry, the Beloved Country is the story of an old parson's search for his missing son Absalom in the urban squalor of Johannesburg, South Africa, and the pain he suffers as his life unravels in the city. Thematically though, Paton skillfully dissects the fear that tears human beings apart and the despair of a broken world.  It reminded me a lot of To Kill a Mockingbird for multiple reasons---racial tension and courtroom scenes---but primarily for its encouragement of the hope of reconciliation and the possibility individuals can possess when God "puts His hands on them."

The narrative is gut-wrenchingly painful at times as Rev. Kumalo's heart is battered by the moral decay of his family. Despite the dramatic turn of events in the search for Absalom, Paton uses incredible restraint. This isn't a melodrama; it's just the story of the hurting human race. It's also the story of the gospel---of how one innocent man's death ultimately rescues a people and reconciles them to his father.  It's the story of resurrection. Needless to say, I'm obsessed.

The main power of the novel is Paton's deep rooted faith in what could be.  The book was published just months before the Nationalist Party came to power in South Africa and put in place the horrid apartheid system which Paton fought courageously for much of his life. Cry, the Beloved Country reflects the tensions, many of them racial, between South Africa's many people groups---the Boers, the British, colored people, Indians, "native"Africans, urban dwellers, rural farmers, rich, and poor--and the fear that holds them as bitter captives and robs them of true life.  Despite these realities and the much harsher injustice to come, Paton writes about reconciliation that comes through pain and the grace of God.

Something I struggled with while reading the novel was dealing with the actions of Stephen Kumalo, the African parson and primary protagonist. In the situation which angered me most, he manipulates a young girl into admitting that she would sleep with him just to make the girl ashamed of what she has become while living in the city.  While Kumalo primarily is a good man who the reader empathizes with, he too occasionally dips into the pool of cruelty teeming around him.  In one of Paton's most important and repetitive points, the reader is reminded that the men whom God uses are not saints; they are only distinguished because God has put His hands on them.  God chooses the weak and foolish things of this world to shame the strong and the wise.

The Lord's choice of Kumalo and various other characters around him encouraged me to no end. Those of you who know me know that I am crazy about social justice, and my heart was lifted by God's use of one broken man's prayers to transform an entire community relationally, spiritually, and economically. Another notable and inspiring character never physically walks onto the page---Arthur Jarvis has been murdered before the reader learns much about him. His character carries an incredible amount of presence, though, and his voice comes across strongly as we read his essays on the injustice at the root of black crime in the cities and as we glimpse into his library full of books on Lincoln. Though his life ends tragically with the very crime he seeks to resolve, his noble legacy impacts the lives around him.

In one of my favorite audio clips, N. T. Wright offers the perspective that an artist's mission is to reflect the present and future beauty of God's redemption while also dealing with our ugly present. Paton's novel is one of the few which I have read that is able to offer such hope while properly reflecting our desperation.

Though the final pages of the novel are tinged with the first rays of God's glory and filled with joy, they are also marked by creation's groaning for God's ultimate redemption which is yet to come.  Only when the government rests upon His shoulders will a final peace be established, for South Africa and for our world.

Ndotsheni is still in darkness, but the light will come there also.   For it is the dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing.  But when that dawn will come, of our emancipation, from the fear of bondage and the bondage of fear, why, that is a secret.
Most interesting thing Blogger's stats have told me so far: This month, I've had two page views in Rwanda. Where did those come from?
Funniest thing I've heard today: 
Megan: "What hoodrat things can we do today?"
Anna: "We could pick wildflowers. Or make pancakes!"
Me: "Make pancakes? How is that hoodrat?"
Anna: "Really ugly pancakes."
Megan: "Pancakes in the shape of gang signs."

Other notable contributions to our search for hoodratness---
Galaxy- "Errrrr.... getting necked and dancing to rap at the house." (It just occurred to me that she might have meant naked instead of necked... which takes that to a whole 'nother level of awkward.)
Katherine- "Go through the drive-through backwards."
Adam- "Hunt dead animals."
Me- "Crunch up people's cereal so there's just crumbs at the bottom."
Anna- "Go to Yogurtland and only put one raspberry in your cup."

There you have it, all you hoodrats: activities for the week.

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