The choice to hope and not to despair, represents a courageous alternative
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by Rudi Buys
It’s been Christmas — a time to foreground and bolster encounters of hope, experiences of human togetherness and care.
In fishing villages along our coastline, on farms in our rural districts, in our townships, towns and across the city, church communities gathered to celebrate Christmas and renew a life cycle in faith.
Families spent the day together, friends and neighbours would share a meal, and many who have much to share would visit others less fortunate with gifts.
Moreover, along with celebrating the new year, this time makes for a festive season that nourishes the promise, and fosters an anticipation, of a better day than the harrowing past months.
So pervasive is the festive spirit across all communities and sectors of society, that sceptics of the season often declare that it is, at its worst, no more than an exercise in free market trading, and at its best, a theatrical production designed to have us avoid the troubling realities that confront us daily.
Hope during this time then, the argument goes, is no more than a commodity to bolster trade and a drama with which society escapes reality.
These views arguably hold some merit as ways to problematise aspects of how society behaves during the festive season.
The merits of the arguments lead their proponents to consider their views as legitimate alternatives to the prevailing perspectives that mediate behaviours during this time.
Put in socio-political and cultural terms: they claim an avant-garde position. Originating in military context, “avant-garde” referred to the vanguard of a military force that enters new territories first, so as to report on what lies ahead to the main force that follows.
The term was later appropriated for the arts, firstly to refer to alternative artistic expression, which disrupted the established traditions, and secondly, to the alternative political ideas and societal commentary it conveyed.
To be avant-garde is for the citizen to represent the unpopular in how she gives expression to what she believes is real, but hidden from society.
However, the two arguments fall short of engaging with more fundamental aspects of the days between Christmas and New year as a socio-political dynamic.
On the one hand, sceptics frustrated with yet another rendition of Boney M’s Christmas carol, Little Drummer Boy, underestimate how deeply rooted South Africans are in spirituality and their confessions of faith.
When Christmas carols play in our places of trade, citizens are not firstly sublimely influenced as consumers, but also quietly sing along as an expression of faith, even if not as intimate as a prayer in church.
The songs remind us of hope, rather than despair.
On the other hand, sceptic arguments underestimate a hidden, but major social dynamic at play for societies during the season, namely of a collective and public expression of societal transition from a past to a future moment – it is a time of inbetweenness that presents citizens with the opportunity to encounter hopeful moments, and therefore choose either hope or despair.
Read from this perspective, hope during this time is an expression of rooted identity and a citizen performance for change and renewal – we celebrate our courage in the face of tragedy.
When daily reports of Covid-infections are in the thousands, and deaths in the hundreds, when the second wave of the pandemic envelopes the world, the choice to hope and not to despair, represents a courageous alternative.
Moreover, especially at this time when faith communities are not free to gather at church for encouragement, to see and confess, hope may well represent a vanguard of society – an avant-garde of hope.
* The Rev Dr BR Rudi Buys is Executive Dean and Dean of Humanities of the non-profit higher education institution, Cornerstone Institute, and editor: African Journal of Non-Profit Higher Education, ISSN 2706-669X.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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