Cliff Buckwalter, Christ Church, Reading
August 23, 2016
Having just watched the video from Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry entitled, “We Don’t Need Another Fairytale,” I was profoundly moved by his beautiful, eloquent depiction of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. As many of you, I’m a sojourner – walking in this world and yet trying not to be too much of this world. Each day seeking our Father, trying to stay salty and yet often growing weary of the abuse and misery I see us causing one another in this world. Mainly because of our differences and the fears those differences evoke within us.
Michael Curry mentions how, consciously or unconsciously, we might marginalize ourselves OR be marginalized by others – told we are naïve or simple minded in our beliefs. It called to mind a conversation I once had with a family member.
In 1992, I returned to Pennsylvania from South Africa to attend the funeral of my mother. An emotional time to be sure. My two children, ex-wife and I had, at that time, been in South Africa for about a year and a half as the initial effort toward creating a church-to-church partnership between the church we were members of in West Chester, PA and Ebenezer Church of Dobsonville, Soweto. With everything happening in the country, it was a difficult but amazing time to be in South Africa. Indeed, although these proved to be the bloodiest years of apartheid - the horrific violence finally gave way to real democracy in 1994.
At the reception following the funeral, my brother, sister and I were moving amongst small groups joined in conversation. Noting the turmoil within South Africa then, Linda, one of my relatives asked me in an exasperated voice, “Cliff, what do you hope to achieve there? It’s not like you and your family are going to cure racism!” True enough though I wished I could. The only thing I could think of to say was, “I just want them to see how I live.”
Then in 1999, I was attending another funeral in Soweto – actually a vigil service – for an extended family member of one of our parishioners. It was our church and another church coming together to remember and celebrate the life of the deceased. I didn’t know the deceased but I was there to represent Ebenezer. During the service, the minister from the other church noticed my presence - an easy thing to do - and said to everyone, “To honor this white man here, we will continue the service in English.” Which was helpful. By this time, I’d picked up enough Sotho to get by conversationally but the vigil, up to this point, had been spoken in Zulu. I was sort of lost.
After the vigil service finished, I offered a lift to as many from my church as could fit in the car. On the way to her home, Oos Kidi turned to me and said, “I have something funny to tell you. When the minister tonight said there was a white man in the service, I began looking around wondering who it could be. I don’t think of you as white anymore!”
Is there power in Christ’s redemption? Is that redemptive power at work in his world? You tell me. Hey, Linda! Here – finally - is the answer to your question.
[A member of Christ Church, Reading, Cliff Buckwalter, email@example.com, is a carpenter and serves as property manager at the church. During the early 1990s he successfully developed a skills-based curriculum for young black people (teens and early 20's) with learning disabilities in Soweto, South Africa.]