One of the things that I like about biographies of political figures is that you get a more personal view of the times they lived in. Here one gets twOne of the things that I like about biographies of political figures is that you get a more personal view of the times they lived in. Here one gets two for the price of one -- Walter and Albertina Sisulu were a married couple forced to live much of their life apart, and for several decades it was rare that there would be a time when there wasn't at least one member of the Sisulu family in jail or banned.
Walter Sisulu was Secretary Gerneral of the African National Congress (ANC) at the time it was banned in 1960, and resumed his organising activities when he emerged from prison and it was unbanned 30 years later. Albertina was a leader of the ANC Women's League, and was in jail, detained without trial, and banned for many years.
They belonged to my parents' generation, but the second half of their life story was about times that I myself have lived through, and so casts new light on those times for me. It was written by their daughter-in-law, Elinor Sisulu, who knew them personally, and so they come alive in a way that is not possible in biographies written by impersonal outsiders. And perhaps because Walter was a political prisoner, the securocrats kept much of his correspondence from jail, and so, even though what he wrote was censored, there is something very warm and human that comes across in his letters to family and friends.
On reading the story of the Sisulus, I am acutely aware of how the leadership of the ANC, and of the country, has deteriorated since then. We will not see the likes of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu again, more's the pity. The time that Albertina Sisulu was a Member of Parliament, from 1994-1999, was a high point in our country's history, though we did not realise it at the time. It is sad to see how much things have declined.
But the Sisulus would be the last to claim the credit for that. They believed in party discipline, and collective leadership. They believed that leaders must be responsible to the community, and this comes out in the sharp contrast between the disciplined and humble Albertina Sisulu and the publicity-seeking loose cannon Winnie Mandela. There were events involving Winnie Mandela that received a great deal of publicity at the time, such as her notorious football club. One did not know what to believe in the media reports, so I held my own counsel at the time, because judgements based on incomplete reports are usually wrong. Albertina Sisulu held her own counsel too, but now the story can be told.
One of the things that struck me was that in a sense people like Nelson Mandela, the Sisulus and the Tambos were larger than life, and this seemed to contrast with the idea of collective leadership and being responsible to the community, in fact collective leadership works best with people who stand out from the crowd, yet see themselves as part of it.
One small point that shows how far the ANC has fallen is that when Walter Sisulu was invited to visit the People's Republic of China, and the latter asked him not to visit Taiwan, he refused, saying that he went where he was sent by the ANC, and not by the hosts of one of the places he was visiting. The contrast between that and the present ANC givernment's refusal to give visas to the Dalai Lama could not be more stark.
In some ways the book is also a family history, and here there is a shortcoming. There are pedigree charts showing the ancestry of Walter and Albertina Sisulu (though not of Walter's father, who played little part in his life), but there is no chart of their descendants, and as they had numerous grandchildren a family tree chart (or even several) showing them and their relationships would also have been useful.
It is also a love story. One of the lasting effects of apartheid was to destroy family life, especially for black people. But in spite of having to live almost half of their married life apart, Walter and Albertina Sisulu were an outstanding example of family life, and life as a married couple.
It is, however, a readable and well-researched book, and for anyone interested in South African history from 1940-2000, it's a must read. ...more
In May 1844 Frank Bassingthwaighte, a blacksmith turned sailor, was at St Helena Island when Thomas Lawton a trader from Walvis Bay came aboard his shIn May 1844 Frank Bassingthwaighte, a blacksmith turned sailor, was at St Helena Island when Thomas Lawton a trader from Walvis Bay came aboard his ship, and recruited him to work for him and and his partners, so he transferred to the Susan and went back to Walvis Bay with Lawton, whose partners, Ben Dixon and James Morris (erroneously referred to as Thomas Morris in the book), had a contract to supply meat to the British garrison on St Helena.
This book is the story of Frank Bassingthwaightte and his eldest son James, several of whose descendants still live in Namibia today.
Frank Bassingthwaighte married the boss's daughter -- Rebecca Dixon -- which did little to advance his career, since they lost the contract a few years later, and the partnership broke up. The Dixon family moved to the Northern Cape, where they had a farm, and the Bassingthwaightes also lived there for part of the time, and young James stayed with his grandparents until he was 9 years old, and then went back to Namibia to join his parents, and found himself kept busy working as a herdboy, wagon driver and various other jobs.
The Bassignthwaightes were sometimkes farmers, sometimes traders, and sometimes hunters, but their hard work did not make them rich, and they had long thirsty treks through the semi-desert country of the Northern Cape and Namibia with little to show for it except dead oxen and horses that had died of thirst.
Towards the end of his life Frank was infirm and could not do much, but he still travelled around with his son, apparently loving the wandering nomadic life.
James Bassingthwaighte married Philipina Von Schlicht -- according to her father she was marrying beneath her -- and they had several children. She died young, and James brought up his family as a single parent. The Germans took over Namibia, and the Bassingthwaightes lost the family farm at Neuheusis because they lived in such remote areas that they did not hear of the regulation requiring them to register it until it was too late.
In the First World War the South Africans invaded and took over from the Germans, and threatened to intern James Bassingthwaighte as an enemy alien. They asked his nationality and he replied, "I am the son of an Englishman, born in this country. During my life I have lived under the rule of Hottentots, Hereros and Germans. I don't know what I am, but perhaps you bcan tell me."
It's an interesting story of hard lives, well told.
Axel Wilhelm Eriksson (1846-1901) was a nineteenth-century Swedish hunter and trader in south-west Africa, and this "life and letters" book gives a piAxel Wilhelm Eriksson (1846-1901) was a nineteenth-century Swedish hunter and trader in south-west Africa, and this "life and letters" book gives a picture of his life, and what life was like for others there at that time.
All agree that everyone who knew him liked A.W. Eriksson, and he was well-known and widely-respected in what are now Namibia and Angola. That did not stop them from abusing his hospitality, taking advantage of his kind and generous nature, and cheating him on every possible occasion.
It took me nearly three months to read this book, mainly because I interrupted it by reading some of the sources on which it was based.
Axel Wilhelm was born in Vänersborg, Sweden (then spelt Wenersborg) on 24 August 1846, and in 1865, at the age of 18, he travelled to Damaraland (Hereroland), now part of Namibia to help his fellow-Swede, Charles John Andersson, to collect and mount specimens of the animals and birds of southern Africa for Swedish museums. Within 18 months of Eriksson's arrival Andersson had died and Eriksson buried him in what is now southern Angola.
Eriksson then carried on hunting and trading on his own account, and became the biggest businessman in Damaraland, though he had to face setbacks caused by wars, droughts and, in 1897, the Rinderpest, the cattle plague that killed off most of the cattle in sub-Saharan Aftica.
My interest in him is twofold: having lived in Namibia for a couple of years I am interested in its history, and Axel Wilhelm Eriksson married a relative of my wife, Frances (Fanny) Stewardson, so their children are related. You can see more about that on our blig here: Elusive Namibian families.
The marriage was not a happy one, and ended i n divorce ten years later, when Axel Eriksson found that Fanny had committed adultery with his clerk, Clement Stephen Stonier. In one of his letters he described his marriage as "ten years of hell". After the divorce, in 1883, he took his three oldest children, Sara (nearly 10), Andrew (6) and Axel (nearly 5) to Sweden to go to school there, and to be cared for by his elder sister Mathilda Olsen, who had herself been deserted by her husband. The youngest daughter, Maud, was brought up by cousins in Cape Town, where she married James Kirby, and later lived in England.
Axel Wilhelm Eriksson was joined in Damaraland by several of his brothers and a number of other Swedes, some of whom also became related by marriage by marrying into the Stewardson family, namely Oskar Theodore Lindholm and Charles Reinhold Carlsson. ...more
Reviewing a book is always a subjective exercise, but even more so when you know the author. I first met Michael Lapsley in 1974, when he came with anReviewing a book is always a subjective exercise, but even more so when you know the author. I first met Michael Lapsley in 1974, when he came with another member of the Society of the Sacred Mission to speak to our youth group in an Anglican parish in Durban North. He had only recently arrived in South Africa from New Zealand.
Our paths have crossed at fairly long intervals since then, partly because he was deported from South Africa and for long periods I did not have a passport, so when he was deported I did not expect that I would ever see him again. In 1977 I had a passport for a brief period, and we went to Swaziland on holiday, and he happened to be there too, also on holiday. But when he returned to South Africa he was in Cape Town and we were in Gauteng.
Nevertheless, we lived through the same period of South African history and so even though our paths crossed rarely, they were sometimes parallel. So there were several parts of the book where I felt as though I was reading something that I could have written. I cannot discuss all the thoughts that the book provoked in me in a single review, so I'll probably write a couple of blog posts about some aspects of it later. For now I'll concentrate on the core of the book, which is the healing of memories.
The book begins with the bomb that maimed Michael Lapsley in April 1990, which became the defining moment of his life, and changed the course of his life to a new ministry of healing of memories. And that is where our paths diverged, because I never experienced anything like that.
About 2/3 of the book is taken up with the healing of memories, and it made me think about it more, which no doubt is what was intended.
I had heard of the notion of the "healing of memories" before. When I was at college in Durham there was a book on Clinical theology by Frank Lake, which dealt with the topic, and became very popular. We had a fundi on the subject, Michael Hare-Duke, come to the college and tell us about it. It included the idea that the memories that needed to be healed went back to one's birth and beyond. It all seemed somewhat remote to me.
At about the same time there was a Roman Catholic priest, Francis MacNutt, who became involved in the charismatic renewal, and taught about the healing of memories. But I never read his book and it still seemed remote from me.
And now Michael Lapsley comes with this book and tells how we have all been wounded by apartheid and the struggle against it, and especially by what we have done, what we have failed to do, and what has been done to us.
And that made me think a bit more about it. It was a lot closer to home than Frank Lake or Francis MacNutt. I can think of many things I have done that I wish I had not done, usually because they have hurt other people. Perhaps those are memories that need to be healed, but most of them have little to do with apartheid or the struggle against it; they are more the result of my own captivity to the passions: anger, pride, lust, greed, impatience, the need for self-justification etc. I find it harder to think of things I have failed to do, because those are things that do not exist and have never existed. In what circumstances would it have made a difference if I had done something different? I'm not sure; it becomes speculative.
What has been done to me?
Well no one has ever sent me a parcel bomb, or if they did, it must have gone astray in the post.
I did once have a phone call from a guy who said, "Hayes, you bloody commie, I'm going to slit your throat." I said "Thank you," brightly and cheerily, and he hung up.
I've been banned, I've been deported from Namibia, and I've been sacked from a few jobs, and had my passport confiscated or applications for a passport refused, I've been forced to leave my home more than once. But none of those caused direct physical injury, like Michael's parcel bomb, or like many of the people described in the book as having been tortured, assassinated etc. So in all those things I haven't had the kind of resentment about ill-treatment that would make me feel a need to be reconciled to anyone in particular.
The evil of apartheid, as Michael Lapsley points out in his book, was systemic. No one person was responsible for it. Our struggle was not against blood and flesh, but against the principalities, the authorities, the world powers of this present darkness.
Well, I did discover one thing. Mr Vorster signed a banning order for me on 11 January 1966. I never received it because I skipped the country before it could be delivered, and I only discovered it a few years ago, in my Department of Justice file in the archives, and discovered that it had Mr Vorster's personal animosity behind it. But at the time I was not aware of the banning order, nor of the animus that lay behind it.
And a few months before, when talking to a friend who was preparing for baptism and had all sorts of questions about the Christian faith, she said, "We are supposed to thank God for everything, but how can you give thanks to God for Mr Vorster?" And I said, without thinking, "You can thank God for giving you Mr Vorster to love." And then wondered where that had come from, and if I had really said it. I concluded that it must have been one of those things that the Holy Spirit does.
The Security Police used to follow us around in those days, and we got to know some of them by sight, and we were on speaking terms with some of them. One in particular was Warrant Officer van Rensburg. I found his home address and when I was overseas I used to send him Christmas cards. Once they followed us to a meeting in a rural area, and when crossing a stream water got into the car's distributor, and we were stuck in the middle of the stream. A couple of us went on to the meeting on foot while the rest stayed and we took our time about cleaning the distributor, and the SB could not get past, and were furious with us, as they never made it to the meeting.
On their way back, however, their car got stuck on a ridge of rock, so that it was rocking with either the front or back wheels touching the ground, but not both. It also holed their petrol tank. We waved at them as we passed, and some of our party were gloating from schadenfreude, but I thought it was inappropriate, and said so. If we hadn't been late for the next meeting, I'd even have stopped to help them. They were victims of the system too, and were just doing their job. I don't think the ones I met were the ones who actually tortured anyone. They just watched people, tapped their phones, opened their mail, and interpreted what they saw and heard in terms of the demonic ideology that held them captive, and sent off reports coloured by that view to Kompol in Pretoria. And compol would in turn report to the Minister of Justice and say "Ban this one, remove that one's passport, detain that one, and charge that one with high treason." If I encountered any torturers, I didn't know it. I did know people who did encounter torturers, of course, on both sides of the conflict. But I got the feeling that the "healing of memories" part of the book was for them, not for me; for the tortured and the torturers, the bombers and the bombed. The closest it came to me was the sackers and the sacked.
Later, in 1972, a banning order did catch up with me. But I thought of it rather as a badge of honour than as something bad. The worst thing about it was a telegram I received from a Methodist minister friend, "Deep shock and anger at arbitrary action against you." It would have been more appropriate, it seemed to me, if he had said something like, "Congratulations! You've made it." Great is your reward in heaven, we are told (Matt 5:11-12). Why should a reward in heaven cause deep shock and anger?
So in all this, I could not think of anyone that I needed to be reconciled with, anyone who had caused a festering memory that needed healing -- at least not in relation to apartheid and the struggle against it.
But as I read the book more things came to mind. Some names came to mind. And I thought, yes, with those people there may still be some unfinished business. Interestingly enough, the names were all German. One was Jürgen Meinert, who in 1971 fired me from the Windhoek Advertiser, which he owned, along with the Allgemeine Zeitung. He hadn't hired me -- the editor had done that -- and I'd never met him and didn't even know who he was. I met him for the first time the day he fired me. On the same day he fired my friend Toni Halberstadt who was also involved with the Anglican Church in those days.
There was also Kurt Dahlmann, the editor of the Allgemeine Zeitung, who, some of my colleagues on the Windhoek Advertiser told me, had been gunning for me, and also wrote a lying editorial about me. He it was, they said, who asked Jürgen Meinert to fire us. But then in 1978 Kurt Dahlmann got a taste of his own medicine when he himself was fired by a new bnoss who was even more right-wing than he was. Perhaps it was Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid.
The third one was a Mr Klingenberg, a farmer of Commondale, near Piet Retief. He was the absentee landlord of a farm in the Utrecht district, on which there was a small Anglican Church, and one day, just as we were about to start a service, he came and closed the church at gunpoint. We thought that the SB had probably put him up to it.
So perhaps I do have some memories that need to be healed after all. And Michael Lapsley's book has made me think of them.
But then I think about it again, and think no, that is too trivial. I can say yes, I've suffered human rights abuses, but they weren't too gross; perhaps they were God's way of teaching me to sympathise with those for whom they were gross, like Michael Lapsley himself. Whatever human rights abuses I suffered were merely temporary inconveniences, for him they were permanent disabilities. When South Africa became free in 1994, my temporary inconveniences ceased; but Michael Lapsley's disability will last for the rest of his life. ____
Kerouac and Ginsberg admired him tremendously, and he influenced their writing in several ways. He was the protagonist of Kerouac's On the road, thus providing the subject matter, but he also influenced Kerouac in his style of writing.
But reading the biography makes it difficult to see what others found to admire about Cassady. He doesn't really seem to live up to the epithet "holy". The "holy goof" has echoes of the saints called "holy fools", whose sometimes bizarre behaviour shocked respectable people. But this biography is perhaps a more sober one than Plummer's, and Cassady comes across as above all selfish and manipulative, and it is difficult to see how he managed to inspire such devotion and admiration in his friends. Perhaps the biography fails to capture some essential element of Cassady's character, or perhaps his friends failed to see what he was really like. ...more
On the road is not my favourite book by Jack Kerouac so I might not have bought this book if it had not been going cheap on a sale. I'm glad I did buyOn the road is not my favourite book by Jack Kerouac so I might not have bought this book if it had not been going cheap on a sale. I'm glad I did buy it, though, because I found it more interesting than On the road, and it explains how that book was written.
I recently read Neal Cassady: the fast life of a beat hero (review here), and found several details in this book that three more light on Cassady's character and behaviour than his biography did. Perhaps Paul Maher had access to more sources. After reading the biography, I was at a loss to know why people like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were attracted to Cassady, though in Ginsberg's case the initial attraction was sexual. Maher manages to explain it better, though he still does not portray Cassady as a particularly attractive character.
That still doesn't explain why I liked this book better than On the road itself. Perhaps it is because the real life of authors is often more interesting than the characters they write about. My favourite among Kerouac's books is still The Dharma bums, and perhaps that is because it is more about the influence of Gary Snyder than that of Neal Cassady, and Snyder is a more sympathetic character.
One thing that almost put me off reading the book was odd errors in language. I suppose having been an editor makes me rather intolerant of slip-ups (even though I make plenty of my own). One of the more egregious ones was on page 133, "Carolyn Cassady received a letter from her husband, postmarked January 11. In it he promised her regular installments of cash from working two jobs in New York, neither of which he had yet to procure." I presume the author intended to say either "both of which he had yet to procure" or "neither of which he had yet procured", but as it stands it is a strange piece of nonsense. There are other similar errors, writing "principal" where "principle" was meant and so on. But I'm glad that these didn't put me off, because the book is worth reading, at least to anyone who has enjoyed reading any of Kerouac's books.
Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) is known for his short stories and plays. I have not usuallly been a fan of short stories, except possibly in the science-fiAnton Chekhov (1860-1904) is known for his short stories and plays. I have not usuallly been a fan of short stories, except possibly in the science-fiction and horror genres, so I did not come across Chekhov's works until about ten years ago.
Father Athanasius Akunda had just arrived in South Africa as a young deacon to help with mission work in the Orthodox Church. There were many people who wanted to become Orthodox, and some who might have potential to study at a seminary, but few who actually had the educational requirementss necessary for entering a seminary. So we discussed the possibility of having a bridging course, and Father Athanasius suggested that we have a kind of theology in literature course. He had himself taught English literature in high schools before he was ordained.
We wrote to various people we knew to recommend suitable reading material, which would help to improve people's reading skills, and also help to introduce them to cultures shaped by Orthodoxy, which was quite unfamiliar to most people in South Africa. Father Thomas Hopko, of St Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, New York, recommended the short stories of Anton Chekhov, and in particular Bishop, Student, Nightmare, Easter Eve (On holy night), Murder, Princess, Letter, Cossack, Panikhida (Requiem), Uprooted, In Exile, On the Road, In Passion Week, Dreams.
So I took a couple of volumes of Chechov's short stories out of the library, and was hooked.
I didn't just read the ones that Fr Tom Hopko recommended, but I read them all.
A couple of years later we had the opportunity to put Fr Athanasius's idea into practice, as a Catechetical School had been started in Yeoville, Johannesburg.
It was something that Father Athanasius and I had been discussing for a long time. He had taught literature in high school classes, but I had never taught such a thing. Would it work? Should we be trying it? Against all the principles of modern education, this had no specific outcomes, no specified assessment criteria. There was no hope that we could get accredited on this, but we were feeling our way. Where to?
The class was supposed to be the previous week, but that was cancelled in mourning for the death of the Pope and Patriarch and the three bishops and others with him. So the students had two weeks to read the two short texts.
The texts were The martyrdom of Polycarp and Chekhov's short story, The bishop. We told them nothing other than that they were about two bishops, at different times and places, and both were about their deaths and the events immediately leading up to their deaths.
We had four students, for all of whom English was a second or third language. Each had a different home language from the other three. One, from Zimbabwe, spoke Shona; he had attended a Roman Catholic seminary, and was the intellectual of the group. Another was a refugee from Congo; English was his third language, his second language was French. The third, whose home language was North Sotho, really wanted to be a carpenter and was not academically inclined, but perhaps he had a poetic ear. And the fourth spoke Zulu; he was a political organiser, the leader of a youth choir, a go getter.
But the stories left the students in darkness. One said he could not penetrate the meaning. The Chekhov one took place in Holy Week, but that was about it.
So I asked them to read a few paragraphs aloud. The bishop goes home to the monastery where he lives. He is told his mother had called to see him. He is overjoyed to learn this, but it is too late to see her now. He begins to feel ill (the illness that will lead to his death (but we, the readers, and he, do not know this yet). He says his prayers, scrupulously and attentively, and at the same time thinks of his mother and his childhood, which seems happier in retrospect than it did at the time.
How does this compare with Polycarp? Polycarp too has a journey, but unlike Bishop Pyotr in Chekhov's tale, he is on the run from the police, but eventually decides to give himself up. He too rides in a coach, but it isn't his, but the police commissioner's. He barks his shins as he gets down.
But there are other things too -- Polycarp feeds the arresting officers, and I was reminded of Beyers Naude, who had died last week. When he was banned, the Security Police often used to watch his house, noting details of any visitors. And his wife, Tannie Ilse, would take them coffee and biscuits out to the car. As St Paul says, when your enemy is hungry, feed him. I'm supposed to be the teacher here, but I'm learning a great deal from reading these stories.
Are the students learning anything, I wonder? And, like Bishop Pyotr, my mind goes back to my youth, to English I tutorials with Christina van Heyningen and Glen Culpepper on the lawn in front of the Arts Block at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg. Did they too wonder if they were getting anything of their enthusiasm across to these rather dull students? When I was 23 I was remarkably dull and unresponsive to literature and writing. Perhaps I should have done something else, and waited till I was 63 before doing English literature classes at university. I'd certainly have appreciated them better then. As they say, youth is wasted on the young.
And then I remembered that in discussing this Father Athanasius and I did have specific outcomes in mind after all. Ambitious, unrealistic, and certainly not likely to be accepted as a Level 4 unit standard with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). We wanted the students to write literature -- in Shona, North Sotho, Zulu, and whatever language the Congolese student spoke at home. Perhaps, who knows, one of them may be the new Chekhov for that language. So we gave them an assignment: write your own story about a bishop. It can be fact or fiction, real or imaginary. How long? How many words? How many pages? As long as it takes to say what you have to say, no more and no less.
They had until the end of the semester to write them. Perhaps some might be worthy of publication. Yes, that's an outcome. And it's quite specific.
But the outcome was never achieved. None of the students wrote a story.
So I was glad that I had come to Chekhov's stories at the age of 63, rather than the age of 23. I'd probably not have appreciated them at the younger age. And I learned from this biography that Chekhov was only halfway between those ages when he died. I learned that The Bishop was one of his mature stories, written at a time when he was looking forward to his own death, from TB. And I learned that it differed a great deal from the stories he wrote in his youth.
I also learned that Chekhov had largely lost his faith when he wrote most of his stories, and he said that the only thing that was left was that he loved the sound of church bells. I was reminded of Fyodor Dostoevsky's book The brothers Karamazov, in which there is a dog called Perezvon. which means "peal of bells". In stories like "The bishop" one can see something of why and how the Orthodox Christian faith had so permeated Russian culture that the Bolsheviks were not able to eradicate it, even after 70 years, and I suspect that in such stories Chekhov passed on the seeds of faith, even though it was a faith he himself had lost. ...more
Bill Bendyshe Burnett (1917-1994) was an Anglican bishop in South Africa, and was Archbishop of Cape Town from 1974-1981. He was also Bishop of BloemfBill Bendyshe Burnett (1917-1994) was an Anglican bishop in South Africa, and was Archbishop of Cape Town from 1974-1981. He was also Bishop of Bloemfontein and of Grahamstown, and General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC). After his experience of "baptism in the Holy Spirit" he became influential in charismatic renewal circles, not only among other denominations in South Africa, but all over the world. Yet the nearest we have to a biographical source is his autobiography, The Rock that is higher than I, edited privately and published after his death by his wife Sheila.
After reading it, I doubt that he intended to have it published in its present form. It reads like a very rough first draft, which seems to indicate that he was still working on it when he died, and his family had to publish it in an unfinished form.
Fully half the book is taken up with Burnett's early life, and his experiences in the Second World War, especially as a prisoner of war in Italy. This is generally well written, and forms a coherent narrative. It looks as though it may have originally been written for his family, for children who asked him "Daddy, what did you do in the War?" I wish my father-in-law had written such an account -- he too was captured at Tobruk, and escaped from an Italian POW camp.
The second half of the book, which covers his time at St Paul's Theological College in Grahamstown and his ministry as an Anglican priest and bishop, is much more sketchy, consisting of a series of disconnected anecdotes, many of which raise more questions than they answer. This is a pity, since this is the part of the book that would be of most interest to most readers.
I first met Bill Burnett in 1960, when he was Bishop of Bloemfonein. It was the inaugural conference of the Anglican Students Federation (ASF), held at Modderpoort in the Free State snd I attended as a student. Since the conference was being held in his diocese, Bishop Burnett was the celebrant at the first Mass of the conference, in the priory of the Society of the Sacred Mission (an Anglican religious order), and he also read the first paper, on "The theological roots of Anglicanism".
In the afternoon he read a second paper, on "The Church of the Future". He said that people are generally unsuccessful in relating the rapid advance in technical knowledge to what really matters. The Church must bring a theological basis back to the centre of our lives. Intellectuals are out of touch with modern theologians. People must become more aware of the theological purpose of what they do in everyday life. Many church buildings in this country are mock-Gothic and out of touch with reality. This could be rectified if architects knew what a church is for. The church should use modern skill, knowledge and materials to build more functional buildings. In music we wallow in Victorian slush -- as far as art is concerned, the church is wearing clothes which are out of date. Modern art is symbolic, and ideally adapted to the use of the church. In the experimental liturgy there is no blessing -- the congregation is told to go out into the world and "be the church." The Church of the future must be reunited, and the Ceylon scheme of reunion is a good pointer in this direction. Denominational apartheid is an evil which must be remedied. The Ceylon scheme will keep the ancient scheme of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. The Church must become indigenous in each locality, but this must not be paramount, as the word "Anglican" seems to suggest. The emphasis is often too much on "Anglican" and too little on "Communion". The church over the whole world is too "Anglican" -- too "English". How can we be indigenous and yet remain Catholic? Nationalism must not cause us to lose our Catholic principles. We must really BE the people of God. The Church must be built around the altar, font and pulpit as the buildings are. We must live as if we really are in the dying and rising community which is the Church. You do not become a Christian and then join the Church. We are baptised into a body, a community - the Church, which is the Body of Christ. We must become what we are by virtue of our baptism. The altar and pulpit enable us to do this. We are Christians, and we must become what we are. We neglect the Holy Spirit too much. One cannot see God and live - our preaching must say this, but because we are dying with Christ, we must also rise with him. Worship is not merely one of the things the Church does - the Church is a worshipping community. We place our lives and all that we have on the altar, and receive all this back to become the Body of Christ. The perfect union with Christ will come at the Last Day - at the consummation. At every Mass we are waiting for the bridegroom.
As an impressionable teenager this made a great impression on me, which is why I made extensive notes, and included them in my diary. I also later discovered that much of what he described and was advocating as part of Anglican faith and practice was already there in the Orthodox Church, and had been all along, but that is part of my story, not his.
One thing that has puzzled me a little was that when they prayed for the bishop in the Diocese of Bloemfontein, they used his middle name, and prayed for "Bendyshe our Bishop", yet in Grahamstown and Cape Town it was his first name that was used, "Bill our Bishop". A minor point, perhaps, but one that one hopes to find explained in an autobiography, and it is things like this that make the book seem like a published first draft rather than a finished work.
In the chapter dealing with his time at St Paul's Theological College in Grahamstown, in the immediate postwar period, Burnett notes that he and the other students were influenced by the theology that had begun to emerge from the resistance to Nazism in Germany, and says that he was more impressed with Paul Schneider than with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, though he does not compare their theology or give reasons for his preference.
Perhaps he intended to expand on this later, and this too gives the impression of a rough draft. But then he says (p. 123), "If I were to write about every parish or diocese in which I have ministered I would have to write many books. I give notice that I have no intention of doing so."
And so his ministry as assistant curate at St Thomas's Church in Durban and as school chaplain at Michaelhouse is covered in less than a page, which contrasts sharply with the amount of detail in his account of his life as an escaped POW. His time as Vicar of Ladysmith is similarly sketchy, dealing only with a description of some of the tramps who came to the vicarage asking for help. This is supplemented by a letter in an appendix; the letter, from John Henderson, a parishioner in Ladysmith, describes how Bill Burnett influenced him and others to train to become Anglican priests. The sketchiness, however, leaves one with the impression that Bill Burnett did not value parish ministry very highly.
The same applies to his description of his ministry as Bishop of Bloemfontein. There are a few disconnected anecdotes, but nothing of substance. When Burnett was nominated as a possible candidate for Archbishop of Cape Town one priest in the Diocese of Bloemfontein commented, "Very few of the people here with whom I have discussed the matter want Bishop Burnett. As you know he was bishop here and I have yet to find any clergy or laity who look back with much pleasure to the time of his episcopate. The CSM and AA sisters found it a traumatic experience to coin an Americanism. No doubt he has gained in maturity and judgement since then: but his present ? enthusiasm for Pentecostalism continues to make him a dubious character in the eyes of some."
In the light of that, it is interesting that Burnett has only positive things to say about the Community of St Michael and All Angels -- that they ran "a splendid little school" and made a great contribution to the development of the nursing profession in South Africa. So one is left wondering what the "traumatic experience" could have been.
In this chapter, too, however, an element of bitchiness appears, which grows stronger as the book proceeds. He describes the way in which English-spealing Anglicans and some Afrikaners distanced themselves from the policy of apartheid, and says "These people and their friends of whom Miss Louisa Marquard was one, distanced themselves completely from the apartheid philosophy and practice, and, in some cases, this meant leaving the Church as well. Their predicament and sufferings were unknown to people such as Archbishop Joost de Blank, and Bishops Trevor Huddleston and Ambrose Reeves, who did not have the opportunity given to us and for which we thank God as we remember the courage and integrity of these friends."
This again raises more questions than it answers. Why did their distancing themselves from the apartheid philosophy and practice mean "leaving the Church"? And what is the significance of their predicament and sufferings being unknown to the bishops mentioned, none of whom was ever Bishop of Bloemfontein, nor did they ever have any pastoral ministry there? It just comes across as a very nasty piece of innuendo. Trevor Huddleston (who was not a bishop during Bendyshe Burnett's time as Bishop of Bloemfontein, but was responsible for training the novices at the Community of the Resurrection's mother house in Mirfield, England), wrote a book, Naught for your comfort, in which he criticised the philosophy and practice of apartheid, and described the effects of the practice as he observed them as a pastor in Sophiatown, and the ethnic cleansing which took place there in the mid-1950s. The implication seems to be that if he had known of the way in which Burnett's Free State friends had distanced themselves from apartheid, Huddleston would not himself have criticised it. That doesn't make any sense, so why mention Huddleston's name at all at this point? This kind of bitchiness does not seem to be evidence of the fruit of the Spirit, but rather of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-23). I know this because I myself have often fallen into the same temptation.
At this point Burnett owes it to his readers to say what it is that these bishops said or did to cause him to mention their names here. Perhaps he might have done so if he had lived long enough to prepare the book for publication, but as it is the reader is left hanging, wondering what is going on.
The following chapter deals with Burnett's time as General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, which is again marred by bitchiness, as he describes the arrest and trial of Dean ffrench-Beytagh, and concludes by saying that he went to England "where he was able to bask in the glory of his anti-apartheid stance".
It was when Bill Burnett was at the South African Council of Churches that it collaborated with the Christian Institute in drafting the "Message to the people of South Africa", which was a theological critique of the ideology of apartheid, and described it not merely as a heresy, but as a pseudogospel. He quotes part of a summary of it in his book, and says, "This is simply a small taste of our 'Barmen Declaration'. It angered the National Party Government and, I suspect, bored the English-speaking people, and it changed nothing."
I don't think the last statement is true. Black Christians who read it said it was nothing new, it was something that most black Christians knew. It was the whites who needed to read it, they said. And for whites who read it seriously, it posed a choice: choose this day whom you will serve, the false god of apartheid, or the Lord. Even those who denied that there was such a choice did not remain unaffected. For some, even some in high positions in the National Party, a seed of doubt was planted.
Bill Burnett was elected Bishop of Grahamstown, and in 1972, soon after he moved there, he experienced "baptism in the Holy Spirit", which revitalised his ministry. While in Grahamstown he introduced the Human Relations and Reconciliation Programme, to challenge racism in the church, and this involved setting up "challenge groups" that would challenge instances of racism.
The charismatic renewal movement in the Anglican Diocese of Grahamstown started with a priest in Queenstown, Peter Campbell, and once the bishop himself had been "zapped" it spread rapidly in the diocese, and Burnett tells of instances where clergy who were initially sceptical were drawn in. He was asked to give a testimony at the South African Congress on Mission and Evangelism in Durban in 1973. The Congress, organised by the South African Council of Churches and African Enterprise, an interdenominational evangelistic organisation, marked the first large meeting of "evangelical" and "ecumenical" Christian bodies in South Africa, but the Pentecostals and Roman Catholics were not really included. Bill Burnett and David du Plessis, however, introduced a Pentecostal element.
Bill Burnett was elected Archbishop of Cape Town in 1974, and clergy from Grahamstown who were asked about it were generally more positive than those of Bloemfontein, cited earlier. They thought his pentecostal experience had made him a better pastor.
In Cape Town the Archbishop's residence, Bishopscourt, became a centre of renewal, and developed a community. Several young men who thought they might be called to ordained ministry went to stay there to test their vocations. Burnett describes how dying parishes were revitalised, and people were healed. But when the synod of the big and unwieldy Diocese of Cape Town refused to divide it into smaller and more easily manageable ones, Bill Burnett resigned, and devoted himself to the Support Ministries Trust, which he founded to promote charismatic renewal in parishes, and internationally in a simialr organisation called Sharing of Ministries Abroad (SOMA). In some places the book appears to muddle these two. He travelled widely, attending renewal conferences, and conducting retreats and seminars. Much of this part of the story is told in short pericopes, lacking details, especially of dates and people involved. Even where people's names are mentioned, we are told little about them or their background.
The book ends with a kind of polemic against "liberation theology", which Burnett seems to have equated with the "Kairos Document", which was produced in late 1985, and signed by a number of clergy and lay leaders of various denominations, and then circulated. Burnett does not quote from the "Kairos Document", nor does he even describe its content, but criticise it, leaving the reader to guess what exactly he is criticising. I would say that many of his criticisms are valid, but what he is criticising is not "liberation theology", and so his criticisms in effect create a caricature of liberation theology. He is doing, by implication, what he implies that Bishops de Blank, Huddleston and Reeves were implying against his friends in the Free State. This implied cricisms of implied views for implied criticisms of other views becomes far too nebulous, and by the end of the book it appears that Bill Burnett had lost the plot, and so the charismatic renewal ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper, running into the sand and leaving little to show for itself.
I don't think this book does justice to Bill Burnett, or to his role in South African Christianity. The first part is well told, but, apart from some formative experiences, does not relate to the second. The second, describing his ministry as a priest and bishop, is scrappy and badly told, though it is evident that his ministry had three phases: the first, developing theological convictions expressed in the "Message to the people of South Africa"; the second, receiving the power of the Holy Spirit to live according to those convictions in joyful freedom; and the third, a kind of withdrawal into embitterment and carping criticism, with the joy apparently dissipated, which also seems to affect the way the rest of the story is told.
There really needs to be a full biography that will look at both the good and the bad points to do justice to Bill Burnett and his ministry, and the way it influenced the church and society or failed to do so.
All is grace is a revised and updated version of Love is the measure, based on more sources, including Dorothy Day's letters and diaries. I have little to add to my original review, other than to say that this one is bigger and better and even more worth reading. Dorothy Day, and anarchist, pacifist and communitarian, was one of the outstanding Christians of the 20th century and in 1998 the process of having her declared a saint in the Roman Catholic Church was started.
Jim Forest was himself a member of the Catholic Worker community in the 1960s, and editor of the Catholic Worker paper, and is now the bosser-up of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship.
I generally enjoy reading biographies, but Michael Cardo's biography of Peter Brown is the the first one I have read that is about someone I knew fairI generally enjoy reading biographies, but Michael Cardo's biography of Peter Brown is the the first one I have read that is about someone I knew fairly well, so I read it with more than usual interest, and perhaps more critically than usual. I read it to discover more about someone I had known, but also to discover whether the person described in the biography was the same as the person that I knew. And on the whole, I have to say yes -- the character of Peter Brown that Michael Cardo captures is indeed the Peter Brown that I knew.
Peter Brown was one of the founders and leaders of the Liberal Party of South Africa, which, in the 1950s and 1960s, stood for the principle of a non-racial democracy in South Africa, and Peter Brown was one of its most principled and consistent exponents.
His background made it seem unlikely that he would be such a thing. He came from a fairly wealthy and privileged white farming and merchant family, and white farmers in South Africa were not generally known for their liberal political ideas. The Liberal Party did manage to attract a few, some of whom, like Roy Coventry in northern Natal and Jean van Riet in the Free State, are mentioned by Cardo.
It was largely due to Peter Brown, though, that the Liberal Party was not merely non-racial in its aims and ideals, but also in its membership. Cardo (2010:89) notes that in 1953 Brown was elected Natal Provincial Secretary of the party, though not yet 30 years old, and that he "traversed the province from the Midlands to the northern parts of Zululand, south towards the Transkei, and along the coastal regions and communicated the Party's message to voters."
He communicated the party's message to non-voters as well, to blacks, coloureds and Indians, so that "by 1956 Natal had the largest membership, the highest proportion of black members and a significant sway over the national leadership".
Randolph Vigne wrote a history of the Liberal Party, published in 1997, Liberals against apartheid, but Vigne was in the Western Cape, and his history is rather skimpy on Natal. Unfortunately, this is also a weakness in Cardo's book.
One thing that struck me was that Cardo gives an extraordinary smount of detail in the section on Church Agricultural Projects (CAP) and Neil Alcock, and very scanty detail on the Liberal Party in the 1960-65 period. While Brown was involved in CAP, most of the initiative and the actual work was done by Neil Alcock, with Peter Brown as an onlooker and adviser. But Brown was far more closely involved with the Liberal Party, and much of the initiative, planning and action was his. Even after he was banned in 1964, he continued to take a close interest in the rural branches of the party, and at one point complained that the Midlands branches that he had founded were being neglected, while those established by Enock Mnguni were getting more attention (especially before Mnguni himself was banned). Yet virtually nothing is said about these branches.
After Peter Brown was banned, those from Pietermaritzburg who attended rural branch meetings on Saturday afternoons would usually call on the Browns on the Saturday evening or the Sunday to let Peter know what had happened, as a kind of debriefing. He would often ask questions that we were unable to answer, about the people who were at the meeting, and what had happened to them. He would ask whether such and such a person was there, and then would tell us something about the person and their family.
Some 10-15 years later, when I was involved in rural ministry in the Anglican Church in Zululand, I was struck by the similarity between rural church congregations and the rural branches of the Liberal Party. And then in retrospect Peter Brown seemed like a kind of secular pastor or a bishop. He knew his sheep, he shepherded his flock and they heard his voice -- not in a paternalistic way, but rather in a caring way. He knew the people and cared for them, and they knew him and cared for him. And indeed, the Zulu name for the Liberal Party -- IBandla leNkululeko -- could be translated back into English as "Church of Redemption".
The Liberal Party was not the first non-racial political party in South Africa; that honour belongs to the Communist Party. But the Communist Party was not always non-racial, and at one time was associated with the slogan "workers of the world unite and fight for a white South Africa". It was when the party line from Moscow changed that the Communist Party became non-racial. And perhaps the fact that the Communist Party was the first to become non-racial was what led the Nationalist government to identify non-racialism with communism, and to regard liberalism and communism as the same thing.
After the Communist Party was banned in 1950 white communists and leftists formed the Congress of Democrats, and formed part of the Congress Alliance. And though the ANC was willing to cooperate with the Liberals, and quite a number of Liberals, like Selby Msimang, were dual members of both the Liberal Party and the ANC, the Congress of Democrats wanted nothing to do with the Liberal Party, and their hostility persists to this day. Only last August Rica Hodgson (formerly of the COD) repeated in a radio interview the tired old communist canard that the Liberal Party did not allow blacks to join.
So Michael Cardo's biography of Peter Brown does a great deal to set the record straight, and he covers the relations between the Liberals and the Congress of Democrats fairly well. It's just a pity that it wasn't about 10-15 pages longer, giving more detail about the Liberal Party in Natal between about 1962 and 1965. If that would have made the book too long, then something could have been cut from the story of Church Agricultural Projects, which, though it deserves to be recorded in its own right, was less central to Peter Brown's concerns.
I read Henry Rider Haggard's novels as a child at school, and mine was probably the last generation to do so. He wrote fantasy/adventure novels, whichI read Henry Rider Haggard's novels as a child at school, and mine was probably the last generation to do so. He wrote fantasy/adventure novels, which he called, probably more accurately, "romances". His was probably the last generation in which such books could be written about our world, and the next generation of fantasy writers moved them off-planet in science fiction.
H. Rider Haggard (1856-1825) was born in Norfolk in England, and came to Natal in 1875 at the age of 19 as an aide to Sir Henry Bulwer, the Lieutenant Governor. The Conservative government in Britain believed in big government, and had plans to create a confederate south Africa along the lines of the Canadian confederation in 1867. Bulwer was preceded by Sir Garnet Wolseley, who prepared the ground, softening up the British colonists in Natal by "drowning their liberties in sherry and champagne" to ensure that control was kept firmly in the hands of London. To Bulwer it fell to take over the independent Boer republic in the Transvaal, and the independent kingdom of Zululand under Cetshwayo. The former proved easier than the latter, and Rider Haggard accompanied the military expedition, and in May 1877 raised the Union Jack over Pretoria in honour of Queen Victoria's birthday, though the annexation had been proclaimed a month previously.
In January 1879 combined British and Natal forces invaded Zululand, but met with more resistance, being repulsed at Isandlwana and besieged at Eshowe. Many of those who were killed in the campaign were known personally to Rider Haggard. Perhaps encouraged by the Zulu resistance, insurgents in the Transvaal began to demand that the British leave.
By this time Rider Haggard had gone back to Britain, got married, and returned to Natal to try his hand at ostrich farming. His farm was near Newcastle and the Transvaal border, and when Britsh reinforcements passed through on their way to the Transvaal the Haggard family could hear the guns from their home. The Transvaal Boers had their Isandlwana at Majuba mountain, and the new Liberal government in Britain had no taste for ruling the world, and some of the peace negotiations took place in the Haggards' house.
A few months later the Haggard family returned to Britain, with Rider Haggard feeling that there was no future in south Africa, and that the retrocession of the Transvaal was a big mistake. He decided to study law, but took to writing novels instead.
His early novels were based on his experiences in South Africa, and they ended up being the most popular ones, far more popular than his later ones. The best-selling ones were King Solomon's mines and She.
I read both of those as a child and others that I read were Nada the Lily and Allan Quatermain. The last I re-read quite recently. The main thing I liked about it was its description of a journey down an underground river into an unknown country -- a device that has been used by other novelists since, such as Enid Blyton in The secret of Killimooin.
Like many of his generation, Rider Haggard was a convinced British imperialist, as was his close friend and fellow author Rudyard Kipling. He did not lose his imperialist ideals even when he encountered the dark side of imperialism, as Ellis describes on page 198, when Haggard returned to South Africa in 1914 as part of an official commission.
Rider was invited to a dinner party at which he met Sir Abe Bailey and other wealthy financiers, many of whom had recently made their fortunes in diamonds and gold in the former Boer territories. Here, for a moment, Rider came face to face with the grim reality of imperialism. Empire was made and ruled by financiers and was not created by the 'civilizing mission' of one nation. When Rider expressed is ideals he was soon told 'You are old fashioned.' In speaking particularly about the Jameson Raid, Sir Abe disagreed with Rider's estimate that it was a failure. 'On the contrary it was a great success as it led to the war and all that has followed from the war.' When Rider pointed out the cost to England in lives, Bailey, with a frankness unusual for a financier, merely replied: 'What matters; lives are cheap.' Rider was shocked. This was not his empire, an empire beneficial, spreading peace throughout the various warring nations of the world. But had his empire ever existed, or was empire merely the sordid business empire envisaged by the financiers?
And I think back to 2003, in the lead-up to the American-led invasion of Iraq, and how much it seemed to parallel British imperialism in the Anglo-Boer Wars, and how the outcome of the Iraq invasion was predictable, and predicted, and came to pass as predicted, and it was indeed clear that the one lesson we learn from history is that we don't learn any lessons from history.
Rider Haggard (1856-1925) was almost an exact contemporary of my great-grandfather, Richard Wyatt Vause (1854-1926), who, like Rider Haggard, was known by his middle name. His father, Richard Vause, was mayor of Durban when Sir Garnet Wolseley was drowning their liberties in sherry and champagne, and Sir Garnet, in his diary, described Richard Vause as "an active, shrewd man" and "an offensive snob" and noted that he, like so many others he had met in Natal, was weak in his h's.
The son, Wyatt Vause, fought in the battle of Isandlwana while Rider Haggard was holding the fort in Pretoria as a member of the Pretoria Horse, and perhaps they had met and knew each other. Haggard certainly mentions knowing Colonel Durnford, Lieutenant Vause's commanding officer, who died at Isandlwana.
Wyatt Vause survived, and married Maggie Cottam, and their daughter Lily Vause married my grandfather, Percy Hayes, in Doornfontein, Johannesburg, in 1904. I still have a copy of Allan Quatermain given to my father as a Christmas present when he was 11, inscribed in my grandfather Percy's hand: "Frank Hayes Xmas 1918".
I suspect that my grandfather read Rider Haggard's books as a child, growing up in Axbridge, Somerset. Perhaps they even influenced him to seek his fortune in South Africa. He gave one to his son as a Christmas present. And when I was at school, one headmaster, Wally Meears, who was roughly the same generation as my grandfather, made sure that the school library was well-stocked with Rider Haggard books. I suspect that it may partly have been because though Rider Haggard had little time for the Boers, he had quite a lot of sympathy for the "natives", especially the Zulus.
Another headmaster, Henry Nathaniel Beckwith, who was the same age as my father, was also a believer in the rightness of the British Empire, and also stocked the school library with books by Rider Haggard and also with magazines like the Illustrated London News and Sphere, which, in between the numerous photos of ancient Greek pottery unearthed at archaeological digs, occasionally had pictures of more exciting events like John Derry, test pilot, crashing his DH 110 at the 1952 Farnborough Air Show.
But, apart from the imperialist sub-text, Haggard was a pretty good story teller, and his description of the end of She still gives Stephen King a run for his money.
On 13 May 1963 I opened my post, and there was a thin tabloid newspaper called the Catholic Worker. That evening I read it all, and the following dayOn 13 May 1963 I opened my post, and there was a thin tabloid newspaper called the Catholic Worker. That evening I read it all, and the following day wrote to the editor, one Dorothy Day, and sent off a subscription to it. It impressed me greatly as a publication produced by people who seemed to take the Christian faith seriously. It was clearly not a Sundays-only hobby for them, but something for every day and every hour.
I was then a student at the University of Natal, and it had been sent to me by Brother Roger, of the Anglican religious order, the Community of the Resurrection, who had recently returned to the mother house at Mirfield in England after serving in South Africa for several years. I had met Brother Roger four years previously, and had got to know him fairly well. He encouraged me to publish a series of tracts to try to stir up people in the church, and one of the tracts, which he himself wrote, can be read here, as well as more about him.
He sent me the Catholic Worker with a note saying that they were doing the kind of thing that we had been trying to with our tracts, only it seemed that they had succeeded in actually doing things that we were only talking about.
It had articles about poor and exploited workers in the USA. It had articles by and about radical bishops in South America, like Helder Camara of Brazil, who saw it as part of his ministry ot conscientizar the matters, a word that was explained in the Catholic Worker, and later Anglicissed as "conscientise".
One article described a young man, dressed like many youth gang members who was picked up by the New York police, who questioned him about the rather large crucifix he was wearing, and asked him why he was wearing it, and his reply was a long the lines of "I wear it because I kind of like identify with |Jesus." Back then there were no laws against the wearing and disoplaying of religious symbols in most Western countries, though many are now beginning to introduce such laws.
And behind the newspaper was a community that fed the hungry, and lived in community on farms and in the cities. Nowadays there is much talk of new monasticism or urban monasticism, but the people at the Catholic Worker were already doing it in the 1930s.
Eventually my subscription to the Catholic Worker and I did not renew it because I was moving around too much, but I always remembered it, and wished I could have met the editor Dorothy Day, who was also the inspiration of the whole movement.
It was finally Glenn Beck who prompted me to read Dorothy Day's biography. He provoked a response from Jim Forest, who wrote the biography, and I discovered a copy in our university library, and hastened to read it.
I've known Jim as a cyberfriend for some years. We've never met in the flesh, but we've corresponded for some time, and I read Jim's blog. He coordinates the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, and is webmaster of their web page In Communion. I wish I could get to know him better too. His biography of Dorothy Day helped me to join the dots, and see how her vision developed, and it still continues today.
Dorothy Day was born in 1897, and grew up in New York, San Francisco (where her family lost most of their possessions in the 1906 earthquake) and Chicago. Her father was a journalist, and she became one too, working for left-wing papers, and becoming a radical anarcho-pacifist.
She did not have much of a Christian background, though she had been sent to an Episcopalian Sunday School when she was younger, and had learnt something about prayer. Eventually her praying led her to the Roman Catholic Church, and she was baptised, and turned to producing a radical Christian newspaper. She was helped by Peter Maurin, whose more theoretical vision was for a simplification of life, and going back to the land, and he would have preferred the Catholic Worker to be filled with theoretical essays, rather than with actual news that was of interest to the working-class poor.
The Catholic Worker gave me a vision of a new monasticism and community living, but when we actually tried it, in Windhoek 1969-1971, it did not seem to work so well. So the Catholic Worker communities seemed to me to be a kind of unattainable ideal, until I read the biography, and found that they had similar difficulties to the ones we had.
Community life at Mary Farm, as it was named, proved often difficult and sometimes grim, "Eat what you raise and raise what you eat," said Peter Maurin, who came to live at Mary Farm. Unfortunately there were always more people interested in eating food than in raising it, who preferred a discussion of theology or politics to care of the fields or repair of a hinge (p. 68).
It was somehow both disappointing and reassuring to learn that something I had looked on an idea and often dreamed of emulating turned out to have the same weaknesses as our own real-life attempts. It was the death of many a hippie commune that dreamed of a "back to the land" movement: the cows need to be milked twice a day, whether you are grooving on that or not.
Another thing that I found interesting was to read more about Dorothy Day's own faith. The Catholicism to which she was converted was pre-Vatican II, and in many ways she preferred older form s of devotion and prayer, yet she welcomed the increased concern with social justice after Vatican II, even though they were often compromises that did not go far enough.
That was something one could not learn from reading the Catholic Worker and confirmed a theory of mine -- that liberal theology often goes hand in hand with conservative politics and vice versa.
Dorothy Day believed in obeying bishops, even when she thought they made wrong decisions, and there were sometimes agonising discussions about what they would do if the Archbishop of New York banned the Catholic Worker, which at some points seemed a real possibility. Fortunately he never did, though he was strongly anti-communist, and did not really approve of Dorothy Day and other Catholic Worker people continuing to associate with communists and other radical leftists right through the McCarthy era. Her way of peace and non-violence and love of enemies was very different from that of Cardinal Spellman, who told American soldiers in Vietnam that they were fighting a war for civilisation.
Going by the example of America and the pietistic basis of the 'gospel of wealth' that took shape there, one might venture to make a further assertion. The whole of mankind lives today in the trap of a lethal threat created by the polarization of two provenly immoral moralistic systems, and the constant expectation of a confrontation between them in war, perhaps nuclear war. On the one side is the pietistic individualism of the capitalist camp, and on the other the moralistic collectivism of the marxist dreams of 'universal happiness.' At least the latter refuses to cloak its aims under the forged title of Christian, while the name of Christianity continues to be blackened in the sloganizing of even the foulest dictatorships which support the workings of the capitalist system, upholding the pietistic ideal of individual 'merit'.
Two modes of life can be seen nowadays, 'individualism', in which the individual holds a central position, and in this case there is no real communion, and 'collectivism', in which man becomes a part of a mass and loses his freedom. In the first mode, individualism, the person is abolished in the name of freedom. In the second, collectivism, man becomes part of a mass in the name of the unity of society, and so the freedom of the person is abolished... St Gregory the Theologian makes some excellent observations on the subject. Man, being in the image and likeness of God, can neither be considered a numeric unit nor can become part of a mass. Thus, in the Orthodox Church, as preserved in parishes and monasteries that securely move within the Orthodox framework, both the person and communion among men is vouchsafed, in which case man can neither be enclosed in a barren individualism nor be transformed into part of a mass.
Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement built their philosophy of communitarianism on the basis of this Christian anthropology, a view that is summed up in the Zulu proverb "umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu" (a person is a person because of people). As the web site of the Dorothy Day Center notes:
The Nazis, the Fascists, and the Bolshevists are Totalitarians. The Catholic Worker is Communitarian. The principles of Communitarianism are expounded every month in the French magazine Esprit (The Spirit).
So I'm grateful to Jim Forest for writing this biography, which helped me to see Dorothy Day in her setting. Jim also tells me that he is planning a revised version, as new material has become available since he wrote this one. So there is more to look forward to. But don't wait for the new edition -- learn about this marvellous Christian woman now.
I'd only read one Mitford book before I began reading this joint biography of the Mitford sisters, and that was The American way of death by Jessica MI'd only read one Mitford book before I began reading this joint biography of the Mitford sisters, and that was The American way of death by Jessica Mitford. But I often like literary biographies better than the works of the authors themselves. Perhaps that is because the lives of the authoers are sometimes more interesting than the subjects they write about, though it seems that the Mitford sisters took a lot of their material from their own lives, writing semi-fictionalised biography.
Though I have not read any of her fiction, the eldest sister, Nancy, also edited Noblesse oblige, with essays about class markers in English speech some 50 years ago, which popularised the linguistic theory of U and Non-U speech, some of which found its way into a new edition of Fowler's Modern English usage, where one learns, for example, that the English upper classes say "napkin" and it's terribly non-U (i.e. middle class) to say "serviette" -- or at least it was 50 years ago.
So before reading this book I knew the Mitfords mainly through their writing about social customs: speech customs and funeral customs, specifically.
The book also brings out the wide political divergence in the family. Two of the sisters, Diana and Unity, had far-right views, being admirers, and in Unity's case personal friends, of Adolf Hitler. Diana left her husband and married Oswald Mosley, the British Fascist leader. Jessica, on the other hand, was for a time a Communist activist, and eloped with her boyfriend to Spain during the civil war. As a result she and Diana did not speak to each other for years.
One of the things that struck me most about it was the changes in values in different generations, and especially the huge change following the First World War. The Mitford parents belonged to the Victorian-Edwardian age, and brought up their daughters with a view to marrying into an upper-class family, where they would stay at home and manage a household with lots of servants. They regarded school as unnecessary for girls, and university was unthinkable. For some of them, therefore, the only creative thing to do was to rebel against their upbringing. And perhaps it was this very thing that made them creative in a literary sense. If they had had a more permissive upbringing, and been allowed to go to school and university, they might not have rebelled, and might therefore have been less interesting people.
Of all the sisters, I found myself most in sympathy with Jessica, who did not have a society wedding. Her elopement caused great distress to her parents, and she never saw her father again. It seemed to cause even more distress than the society divorces and extramarital affairs of some of her sisters. Yet in marrying for love rather than money and social position, she seems to have had more inner stability than some of her siblings.
Another interesting thing for me was that it brought out the extent to which the countries fighting Fascism in the Second World War were infected by fascist tendencies themselves. Diana and her husband, Oswald Mosley were interned without trial during the war. And Jessica and her husband in the USA were persecuted by the FBI duing the McCarthy witchhunt period in a manner reminiscant of the South African security police during the apartheid era. Perhaps Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's craving for 90-day detention is not so unusual after all. ...more
A biography of Captain Allen Gardiner, RN, who retired from the navy to become an Anglican missionary, first in Zululand, where he was unsuccessful, aA biography of Captain Allen Gardiner, RN, who retired from the navy to become an Anglican missionary, first in Zululand, where he was unsuccessful, and then in Durban, where he settled on the ridge he named Berea. He later went to Argentina, and eventually died of starvation on Tierra del Fuego.
The books is a fairly straightforward biography, but told as a tale of missionary inspiration rather than historically or missiologically. ...more