Settler or Pilgrim?

Today was a full day, but we shifted from the touring mode of the first two days to our familiar meeting mode (the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program is a bimonthly series of gatherings in which the 17 of us clergy participants and our 2 leaders meet with a series of guests who are leaders in a huge range of fields in Indiana; this trip is about a very similar process in another context), so here’s what today looked like:

We met in the morning with the Catholic Archbishop of Cape Town and the director of the office of the Catholic church in South Africa that interacts with Parliament, then after lunch at a bustling downtown Indian food market, we met with the Executive Director and two staff members from the Institute on Justice and Reconciliation.  The IJR was established after the Truth & Reconciliation Commission shut down after two years, when Desmond Tutu said, “We’ve heard the truth, now we can begin the work of reconciliation.” We had a chance to learn about the work of the IJR, which spans the African continent now, not only working for reconciliation in South Africa, but advising governments in a number of other countries, too, like Kenya, Congo, Zimbabwe, and South Sudan.

The highlight of the day for me came when Dr. du Toit, the director of the IJR (talking in the photo), offered this thought as part of his response to a question about the role of churches in the work of justice and reconciliation:

Church leaders must understand themselves as pilgrims, not as settlers.

(This isn’t just true for church leaders, of course; it’s true for all disciples of Jesus.) When we understand the goal of church like settlers, we’re focused on self-protection, on safety, on walls that keep threats out, on guarding what we’ve got, and on avoiding change (and thus spiritual growth and transformation). But when we see ourselves as pilgrims, we recognize that life is movement, we are open to new voices and new faces, we seek wisdom in others, especially those who are different from what we already know. When we approach the life of the spirit and spiritual community in the mindframe of a pilgrim, we are able to be open to the living Spirit of God, which scripture tells us blows like the wind–unpredictable and dynamic (Jn 3:8). If we are truly seeking to follow God, that doesn’t lead to a place to drive the stakes into the ground and build walls to defend the righteous territory, it leads us to a way of life that is always in motion, seeking a living God who goes ahead of us, leading humanity to the Kingdom of God.

That doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with being a pilgrim. Truthfully, I like being a settler; it allows me much more control over my surroundings. But that’s not a life of discipleship, which is about following a living God. It’s a life of pilgrimage.


…Since I don’t have any photos of particular beauty to share today, here are two more from yesterday.

Cape Town from Robben Island


2 thoughts on “Settler or Pilgrim?

  1. The flower is a beautifu “Bird of Paradise”; and what you had to say today was so appropriate for my Descipleship study today. Yep, that Pilgrim part is really difficult for me too.
    Love you!!


  2. Great reminder for all Christians. In a world filled with so many distractions, remembering that God really has two requests. 1. Tell others of his grace and 2. Love each other. Great reminder that these are actions not just feelings. Just think if all Christians could give themselves permission to put these two actions in the for front of their lives. What a difference we could make in our world and mindset of our children.

    Love ya

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