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The Year of the Dragon

20 November 2018

My book The Year of the Dragon has now been published in ebook format, and may be ordered from major ebook retailers including Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Scribd and from Smashwords.

ISBN: 9780463733158
Title: The Year of the Dragon
Author: Stephen Hayes
Price: $US 3.99 (about R56.00, £3.10),

The Year of the Dragon

The year is 1988.

For 40 years the world has been in the grip of the Cold War, and South Africa has been in the grip of apartheid. For 71 years Russia has been under Bolshevik tyranny. Though few suspect it, this is about to change for ever.

On a farm in the picturesque southern Drakensberg of South Africa a woman dies, and a young lawyer, Richard Rutherford, and his friend Denis Walters combine business with a pleasure weekend in the mountains. They will visit the farm to take the first steps in settling the estate. They soon discover that others also have an interest in the estate, or at least some items in it, and that they are prepared to kill for them.

The contentious items seem to be some old Russian ikons, but how they got to a remote farm and why others are so anxious to get hold of them is a mystery. The search for answers leads them to a strange hermit and an even stranger priest, and a drive of a thousand miles in search of King Lobengula’s legendary treasure.

The Cover

The cover was designed by my son, Simon Hayes.

Simon studied fine art at Pretoria Technikon and is currently working on computer animation. You can find samples of his current work here.

How did I come to write this book?

As my fellow blogger Brenton Dickieson puts it, C.S. Lewis And J.R.R. Tolkien: The Unpayable Debt of Writing Friends (Throwback Thursday) | A Pilgrim in Narnia:

A now-famous literary pact between Tolkien and Lewis, “Tollers” and “Jack,” confirms how different their approach was. Here Humphrey Carpenter records Tolkien’s recollection of a conversation they had, with Lewis speaking first:

“Tollers, there is too little of what we really like in stories. I am afraid we shall have to try and write some ourselves.” We agreed’ (said Tolkien) ‘that he should try “space-travel”, and I should try “time-travel”. (Humphrey Carpenter, Tolkien, 190).

C.S. Lewis’ space travel story, Out of the Silent Planet, appeared quickly in 1938. We don’t get to see what Tolkien was working on until after he died.

Among the stories I liked, and still like, are those written by Lewis and Tolkien’s fellow Inkling, Charles Williams. He wrote several plays, a lot of poetry and seven novels. I think his stories are much underrated. None of them, for example, appear in The Reader’s Companion to the Twentieth-Century Novel. So if we wanted more of the stories we like, we should have to write them ourselves. And the challenge still stands: I would love to read more stories in the genre of Charles Williams, so please write some!

You can find The Year of the Dragon on GoodReads here.

Reader’s Guide | The Oddest Inkling

14 November 2018

Perhaps you have never read the works of Charles Williams, but you want to give him a try. Where should you start? That depends upon your reading taste. Do you prefer novels, plays, theology, poetr…

Source: Reader’s Guide | The Oddest Inkling

A very good guide to the works of Charles Williams


Halloween and cultural appropriation

30 October 2018

Someone asked this question on the Quora web site: How have Halloween celebrations changed in your country or region in the last 50 years?

And my answer was that 50 years ago they were only done by American expatriates.

Now I have heard that some locals are following the American customs, but I haven’t seen it with my own eyes.

But it’s not quite as simple as that.

Fifty years ago I was Anglican, and celebrated Halloween, if I celebrated it at all, by attending Solemn Evensong. I certainly did so in 1967 in England, as I recorded it in my diary. And I probably did so for a few years on either side of that date both in England, Namibia and South Africa.

Has that changed?

Yes, I’m no longer Anglican but Orthodox, and we celebrate Halloween on the Saturday after Pentecost, which this year (2018). was on 2 June and next year will be on 22 June.

And perhaps the Anglicans have changed too, and no longer celebrate Halloween with a First Evensong. The Roman Catholics stopped celebrating Hallowmas with an octave in 1955.

But the origins of Halloween have been lost in most people’s minds because most are aware of it only as a North American secular cultural observance in which children dress up and beg for sweets from their neighbours.

Halloween in Windhoek, Namibia, 1971, attended mainly by American expatriates.

About 50 years ago I observed that custom for the first and last time in my life, because a group of American expatriates in Windhoek, Namibia gathered so that their children could observe this cultural ritual. They debated whether they should go around the neighbourhood begging for sweets, and decided against it, because they realised that they would be met with either blank incomprehension, or hostility at the cheek of apparently well-fed children begging.

In the USA, and possibly in other parts of North America, people expect this kind of behaviour, and prepare for it by stocking up with sweets beforehand; in Namibia and South Africa 50 years ago it would have been entirely unexpected.

Now, fifty years later, it appears that some South Africans have adopted this American cultural festival. I gather this from things I see on social media, my Facebook feed in particular. It’s not something I’ve seen with my own eyes, and I’m pretty sure that, just as in Windhoek 50 years ago, people in our neighbourhood don’t stock up with sweets in the expectation of being called on by children in fancy dress.

But this American custom does seem to be spreading to other parts of the world, as the cartoon on the right shows. The irony is that the cartoon depicts American cultural icons Batman and Robin — you’re dominated by US cultural imperialism even in resisting it.

Adopting other people’s cultural customs is called cultural appropriation, and it happens all the time. In a multicultural society like South Africa we rub up against people of different cultures almost every day, and some cultural customs spread, while others remain localised. Who invented the expression “Eish!” Does anyone know? But it seems to have become universal in South Africa.

Words used in one dialect sometimes spead internationally, while others remain peculiar to local dialects. In the 1960s “hassle”, which I think originated in the US, spread worldwide. In the 1990s “gobsmacked”, which originated in the UK, seemed to do likewise.

French Skipping, Durban 1973. I believe it’s known in the USA as Japanese Jumprope

Children’s games spread across cultures, seemingly without adult intervention. Ten days ago we saw a group of black children playing French skipping in Mamelodi township. Fifty years ago, at the time of the Halloween party described above, it was popular in Windhoek, Namibia.  A couple of years later, in 1973, I saw children playing it in Durban. South Africa. It isn’t peculiar to southern Africa, either, though children of all southern African cultures play it — and two of the children in this photo are American.

But American Halloween, it seems, is not like this. American children in Windhoek wanted it, and invited a few local friends, but it didn’t catch on. If it’s spread, it’s spread more by adults.

Another American cultural custom that is spreading to South Africa is Black Friday, and there the transmission mechanism is clearer — it’s spread by retailers trying to lure people into their shops to buy stuff they don’t need. In the USA it happens on a day that has some local significance. In South Africa it is a day that has no significance at all. It is a case of inappropriate cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation? Five students at the Anglican Students Federation annual conference at Modderpoort in the Free State, July 1964.

In South Africa we have become more relaxed about cultural mingling since the end of apartheid, but Canadians, in particular, seem to get very twitchy about it, and seem to think that it always a Bad Thing. I think that some forms of cultural appropriation are bad. One of the academic American imports that I think we could well do without is Whiteness Studies, which promotes racism, and falls under the general umbrella of Grievance Studies. It seems to be part of a discipline called Identity Studies, which seems to operate on exactly the same premisses as the apartheid policy of the National Party.

But back to Halloween and the question about it on Quora.

There are lots of other questions about Halloween on Quora, like Do they dress up for Halloween anywhere in Africa? Well, maybe, but not in any parts of Africa I’ve been to on Halloween

And then there’s this one: Since Halloween was originally a pagan holiday, is it cultural appropriation to celebrate it?

And that is based on a false premiss, a factoid.

The very name “Hallowe’en” should indicate that it was originally a Christian festival, which pagans are trying to appropriate. For more details on that, see Who stole Halloween?

I suspect that the question of who is appropriating whose culture will remain a vexed question for many years to come.

Orthodox schism and the clash of civilizations

16 October 2018

Events of the last month or so suggest that there is a real danger of a schism in the Orthodox Church that might affect Orthodox Christians throughout the world.

It began in Ukraine. As my church journalist friend Sergei Chapnin writes Ukraine Is Dangerously Close to a Religious War – Bloomberg:

For several centuries, since the fall of the Byzantine Empire, Moscow has pretended to the role of a “Third Rome” — a political and religious capital that would unite the Orthodox world, or at least its Slavic part. To that end, in the 17th century, the Russian church subsumed its Ukrainian neighbor. Even after the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991, most Orthodox believers in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus remained united under one spiritual leader, the Patriarch of Moscow. In 2016, Putin inaugurated a colossal statue of St. Vladimir, the Grand Prince of Kiev who established Russian Orthodoxy, next to the Kremlin — indicating that Russia aspires to be his true heir.

That said, a rift has long been developing. In 1992, the charismatic former leader of the Russian church in Kiev, Filaret, sought to establish an independent, “autocephalous” church — one that that would answer only to God, not to Moscow. At the time, Russia enjoyed the support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, still considered first among equals in the Orthodox world, in opposing and ultimately excommunicating Filaret. Yet some 6,000 parishes remain loyal to the self-proclaimed patriarch, a threat that the Russian church, to its own detriment, has largely ignored.

Now the Patriarch of Constantinople has decided to recognise the schismatic group in Ukraine as Canonical. At best it would spread the phenomenon of “jurisdictionalism” to Ukraine. At worst, it could split the Orthodox Church throughout the world. Already the Patriarchate of Moscow (the largest of the Orthodox Churches) has broken communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Outside Ukraine itself, the following graphic illustrates what many Orthodox Christians have thought of the Ukrainian schism:

Is it all verifiably true?

I don’t know.

I post this, not to take sides on issues I know too little about, but rather to show non-Orthodox readers how many Orthodox Christians do perceive the issues. And those are the issues that need to be dealt with.

It seems to me that the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Moscow ought to be working together to bring Christians in the Ukraine together to try to heal the schism. Perhaps they are doing so in secret, behind the scenes, but if they are, there is little to show for it.

The problem is exacerbated because the politicians also want to stick their oar in. As Sergei Chapnin points out in the article cited above, Russian President Vladimir Putin sees the Church in Ukraine as part of his Russkiy Mir project. President Poroshenko of Ukraine sees an autocephalous Ukrainian Church, even if divided, as an important boost to his status as an independent ruler.

Concerning this our own African Pope has said Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria and All Africa: One must not yield to pressure on the Church in Ukraine | The Russian Orthodox Church:

The Church should be governed according to sacred canons. Politicians have their own considerations, guidelines and instructions but politicians come and go whereas the Church has existed inviolably for already two thousand years now. In this sense, the Patriarchate of Alexandria agrees with the opinion of the Russian Church that political pressure must not be yielded to. It is wrong that when states are divided and then the Church has to be divided too.

But it goes further than that.

About 25 years ago Professor Samuel Huntington put forward his “clash of civilizations” thesis, in which he suggested in the post-Cold War era conflict would no longer be between the the three “worlds” (First, Second and Third), but between nine civilizations, based mainly on religion. Subsequent events have shown that his thesis is largely correct. He used the geological analogy of tectonic plates, and said that conflicts would tend to originate, like earthquakes, on the fault lines where two or more civilisations meet.

One of these “fault lines” runs through the middle of Ukraine, with Western Civilization to the west of the line and the Orthodox Civilization to the east of it. Western Ukraine was for a long time ruled by Lithuania, which was Roman Catholic, and that was where Uniatism started. And even without the Uniates, Orthodox Christians in Ukraine have been divided as this article points out.

Russia, Ukraine, and the battle for religion | European Council on Foreign Relations:

There are no fewer than three main Orthodox churches in Ukraine. Why so many? One of these, the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC), was set up in 1921 but banned under Stalin in 1930. It survived in the diaspora and returned to Ukraine in 1990. The current trio derives from an unsuccessful attempt in 1992, just after Ukraine’s political independence in 1991, to broker a merger between the UAOC and the existing Orthodox hierarchy in Ukraine. The merger created a new church, dubbed the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kievan Patriarchate (OUC-KP). But there was resistance on both sides: many in the UAOC refused to join, because they saw the existing Orthodox hierarchy as compromised by the KGB. While most of that compromised hierarchy refused to join the Kievan Patriarchate, for additional reasons of ‘canonicity’, traditionalism, and Russian nationalism. They remained under the Russian church, but relabelled it as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (OUC-MP). Just for good measure, there is a fourth church, the Greek Catholic Church – half-Orthodox and half-Catholic – banned in 1946, but revived in 1989, largely based in western Ukraine.

That article comes from a Western source, and therefore exhibits a Western bias — again, part of Huntington’s thesis — that conflicts on the “fault lines” of civilisations would draw in the centres. And as a result the Church in Ukraine has tended to become a political football for forces outside Ukraine., and for secular politicians generally.

According to this article Putin Is the Biggest Loser of Orthodox Schism – Bloomberg:

Moscow’s only hope in this lose-lose situation is that Ukrainians will shoot themselves in the foot, as they’ve often done before. To receive autocephaly from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Ukrainian Christians must unite and select a leader. Whether this will happen depends in part on the two clerics reinstated by the Ecumenical Patriarchate – Filaret, who was excommunicated by the Russian church in 1997 for splitting off the so-called Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate, and Metropolitan Makariy, who runs the relatively small Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

But I suggest that that is not true. The biggest loser is not Putin, but thousands of ordinary Orthodox Christians who are cut off from communion with their fellow Orthodox, especially in “diaspora” countries like Western Europe, the Americas and Australia.

I don’t really care whether the church in Ukraine becomes autocephalous or not, though I do think that unity should precede autocephaly, and that the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Moscow should concentrate (and cooperate) on that rather than trying to force the rest of the Orthodox in the world to take sides on the issue.

As our Pope and Patriarch has said, the Church should not be governed by politicians, neither by Poroshenko nor by Putin, and not by the Trumps and Mays of this world either.

We should take more seriously the words we sing nearly every Sunday at the Divine Liturgy:

Put not your trust in princes, in sons of men
in whom there is no salvation

The Lord will reign forever
Thy God, O Zion, to all generations.



Country of my skull

13 October 2018

Country of my skull

I’m reading this 20 years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa submitted its report to the president, so it’s a bit late. Several people have mentioned this book to me, and I’ve been told it is the definitive book on the TRC, so when I saw it in the library I thought I’d better read it.

I was going to write that this was a journalist’s view and experience of the TRC, but after reading five chapters I’m not so sure. A journalist is supposed to make sense of events for readers, to give an ordered account that helps the reader to see what happened, but this is a disordered jumble.

There are no people here, only victims and perpetrators, commissioners and lawyers, in a confused jumble of fragmented slivers of events. There are perpetrators drinking beer while their victim’s body slowly burns on a fire. There is a father searching for any tiny fragment of his three-year-old son blown up by a landmine. And while I’m reading this other perpetrators are hunting other victims, maybe sitting half a world away from them steering a drone like a teenager playing a video game,

How can one call such a jumble of fragmentary impressions “truth”? And where is reconciliation? Maybe further on perpetrators will come face to face with victims, and there will be reconciliation, but let’s face it, most of the victims are dead, bodies burnt to ash or blown to smithereens. The TRC dealt only with gross human rights violations, which means that most of the victims are dead. The lesser violations that left more survivors who could be reconciled weren’t covered.

But I read on, hoping to see more.

At the end I had to conclude that as a record of the findings of the TRC it is rather disjointed and confusing. There are lots of out-of-context accounts of atrocities that give a vivid picture of the nasty things that people will do to each other in pursuit of a political aim or idea, or perhaps just because of general nastiness and sadism. And the accounts show the effects on those who suffered as a result. But there is not enough context given to give a coherent picture. I would therefore say that it fails as journalism, if the aim was to help people understand the history of what happened, of the events that the TRC was investigating.

It does, however, tell somewhat more about the effects that hearing of these atrocities had on the people who heard about them, including the journalists themselves. In that sense it is rather introspective. So it’s not the story of South Africa, but rather the story of the story. To the extent that the TRC itself is part of the story of South Africa, I suppose it is part of the wider story, but perhaps I was expecting too much.

One of the perpetrators of atrocities says, “When I drove back in the mornings after an operation and people passed me on their way to work, I thought I did it for you and for you… you could sleep safe and sound because I was doing my job.”

The chilling word, for me, is “operation”.

It’s a bit like the “collateral damage” that we were to hear about a few years later.

But what bothers me about this book is that we are told stuff like this, but we are told next nothing about the nature of these “operations”. Yes, we are told that someone was horribly tortured and eventually killed, and and that the people who did it thought that that enabled other people to sleep safe and sound. But who ordered the “operation”? Who planned it? What did they intend to achieve by it? We are told little or nothing about the events leading up to these things.

In one chilling account Krog tells of an ANC death list submitted to the TRC. She reads it with a fellow journalist who finds his brother’s name on the list. Died in Angola. He didn’t know that. The family didn’t know that. The first thing he hears about it is when the ANC applies for amnesty for it. But we are told no more. Where is the truth? What is the truth of his brother’s death? What was he accused of? Was he tried? Was he found guilty? We are not told. Was the “truth” commission told, or did they just grant amnesty on the basis of a lot of names on a list? We catch a brief glimpse of a person, the brother of a name on a list. But the name on the list is just a victim, not a person.

The oldest person to testify to the TRC is William Matidza, born in 1893. He doesn’t care that his house and furniture and livestock were confiscated, but he wants his trees back.

Trees? Trees? What trees?

Krog is a journalist. She reported on the TRC from beginning to end. Surely she must know that the reader wants the story and the journalist must be able to tell it. But she doesn’t. How did he lose his house and furniture? And his trees? Who took them? When? Where? Why? How? What happened to Kipling’s serving men?

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At play in the fields of the Lord

4 October 2018

Back in 1992 a colleague in the faculty of theology at Unisa, Mark Hestenes, recommended that I go and see a film At play in the fields of the Lord. I was then teaching in the missiology department, and he said it made some interesting missiological points. It was set in South America, and another film in that setting, The Mission, made a few years earlier, also had some missiological significance.

I urged my colleagues in the missiology department to come and see it and discuss it afterwards, but none of them did, and I and my family went to see it. We arrived late and missed the beginning, and so went to see it again the next day.

It made more sense with the beginning in. Some of the inconsistencies became more apparent the second time round. They showed a mission station separated from the village of the people they were trying to reach by virtually impassible mountains and valleys, yet they were able to walk there in a few hours. And a half-Indian mercenary from North America who joined the tribe was not really convincing. There were two Protestant missionaries and a Roman Catholic one. The Roman Catholic one had given up after his companion was killed.

One of the Protestant missionaries was culturally sensitive and the other, his superior, was not. In a sense the missionaries were stereotyped, with rather exaggerated characteristics, but not in an unbelievable way. And in a film there is inevitably some stereotyping. It’s not possible to reflect the infinite variety of people in a three-hour film.

One of the things that was good about it was that there were no “good” guys and “bad” guys, and at the end the film presents no solution. In that sense it would be a good starting point for a discussion. I would like to have been able to show it to first-year students and ask them to write an assignment on it.

As the film was based on a book, I tried to get hold of the book, but could not. Eventually I found a copy in a second-hand book shop fourteen years later. By then I was no longer teaching missiology at Unisa, so it was no longer even of academic interest. It was just a story read for entertainment.

At play in the fields of the LordAt play in the fields of the Lord by Peter Matthiessen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now I’ve just read this book for the second time, after 12 years. I re-read I have been asked to write an article on missiological themes in fiction,  and I wanted to remind myself of the way it dealt with the missiological issues.

The motivations of the American mercenaries and the local administrator who hopes to use them to subdue the Indians by force are made a little clearer in the book than in the film.

It is well-written,and though the characters seem in some ways to be caricatures, representative types rather than real people, the dilemmas they face, and the way they face them are real.

In the book the issues can be expressed more clearly than in the film, as the characters’ thoughts can be examined, and not merely through the dialogue and their actions.

I still think that the film would be a good introduction to missiology for first-year students, though the book might be heavy going for some, but could perhaps be useful in the third year.

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The Lacuna

1 October 2018

The LacunaThe Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A historical novel; a long read but a good one.

This is Barbara Kingsolver‘s attempt at an epistolary novel, or at least one made up of the letters and diaries of the protagonist, Harrison William Shepherd, who was born in the USA in 1916 of an American father and a Mexican mother. After an acrimonious divorce his mother takes him to Mexico at the age of 12, where she becomes the paramour of a rich man who lives on an island, and her son learns how to cook from the servants.

Rivera house in Mexico City

When he is older his culinary skills come in handy when he uses them to mix plaster of just the right consistency for the fresco painter Diego Rivera, and eventually he becomes a cook in the Rivera household, where the wife Frida is also an artist, using oil and canvas. The story here meshes with real history, as the Riveras were real artists, and one can find a picture of their Bauhaus-style house, as described in the book, on the Web.

Later still Lev Trotsky comes to stay with the Riveras, fearful of being assassinated by Stalin, and writing about democratic socialism, which he believes Stalin had betrayed. And at this point I must say the book gave me a rather different picture of Trotsky and “the Trots” from the one that had been conveyed to me in my youth by more orthodox communists who had followed the Stalinist line. “Left-wing communism, an infantile disease” as Lenin had described it. Perhaps I need to learn more.

Lev Trotsky

Harrison Shepherd becomes cook and amanuensis to Trotsky as well, and later returns to the USA, where he settles almost by accident in a small town in North Carolina. There he starts to write novels about Mexico, and eventually comes under investigation in the anticommunist witch hunts that started as the Cold War got under way.

Even factual historical writing carried “the burden of the present”, and perhaps fictional writing does even more so. At one point Kingsolver writes, of the inmates of the Rivera house, that with all the security measures to protect Lenin from Stalinists, that they felt like inmates, by which I think she meant that they felt like prisoners, but I’m pretty sure that back in the 1940s no one thought that “inmates” referred exclusively to prisoners, rather than simply to the occupants of the house.

There are, however other things than seem to have echoes in our times too:This was written about the Cold War in 1940, but seems equally applicable to the Russophobia bring promoted by the Western media 70 years later:

“What do you think is frightening them?”
“Hearst news. If the paper says everyone this season will be wearing a Lilly Dache hat that resembles an armadillo, they will purchase the hat. If Hearst tells them to be afraid of Russia, they will buy that too.”

And go back 50 years, and this piece of dialogue, from an FBI man, could just as easily have been spoken by a South African SB man, which makes it read pretty authentically:

“Whenever I hear this kind of thing,” he said, “a person speaking about constitutional rights, free speech, and so forth, I think, ‘How can he be such a sap? Now I can be sure that man is a Red.’ A word to the wise, Mr Shepherd. We just do not hear a real American speaking in that manner.”

So this is a historical novel with a lot of real history thrown in, and one which I think gives a real feel for the times.

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