Ruins and renaissance:

issue 1 visual language

FOR THIS FIRST ISSUE OF ANNO DOMINI, myself and a small team embarked on a little adventure to the ruins of Hangberg, Hout Bay, to capture in film and photography the mystery of the kingdom of God.

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the visual language behind our first issue

ISSUE 1 | Sesihle Manzini | 22 MAY 2020

There is something horrific and simultaneously nostalgic about ruins - a warning from the past, an unease with modernity, the ominous hint to our own frailty. In ruins we are faced with the blunt truth: no matter how advanced we become as a civilisation, it seems like it all just fades away.

And yet this kingdom will remain.

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My prayer is that this visual essay, along with the friends and scholars I have invited to share their wisdom on this platform, will awaken our spirits with a renewed desire to enter into this mystery.

 

May the words, images and verses which will be printed on these digital pages stir our hearts with a profound sense of the counter-cultural narrative that is at hand, a kingdom so precious to the heart of God that he became God-with-us to make manifest his reign in the present and most mundane of practices - dinner parties, going to work, going hungry, being mugged.

 

May this kingdom, so rooted in the ordinary, invite us to look and act on this world differently. May your spirit be energized to run with hopeful vigor in whatever space, field or sphere you’ve been called to inhabit.

 

 

Rebuild. Revive, and let thy kingdom come.

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Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins

    and will raise up the age-old foundations;

you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,

    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

Isaiah 58:12

THE VISUAL LANGUAGE OF THIS FIRST ISSUE revolves around a passage in Isaiah 58:12.

 

This bleak image of devastation and arridness stirred my imagination back in January. How many of us have felt that way about the world around us; abandoned buildings, the exploitation of nature, and even the slow decay of our own emotional complexities, evidenced in our inability to express ourselves healthily (think toxic cancel culture, us vs them narratives).

But it seems this verse resonates in a much deeper way now, as we figure out how to deal with the devastation of the novel coronavirus.

 

The world we now live in is profoundly different on a personal, social, institutional and geo-political level. COVID-19 has dismantled our fragile social structures, mocked our obsessive and implacable consumerism, and for a time, left our cities hauntingly desolate.

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So, as we survey the remains of what was, sorting through the rubble in a rush to overturn whatever restraints the virus had set upon us, we also have the wonderful opportunity of creating a new world, a new normal.

 

What parts of ‘the old world’ do we want to go back to? Which parts are best left in the heap of the foregone BC era - before corona? Perhaps now is the time to heed the call to “raise up age-old foundations”.

 

Maybe in this new world we lay down the shackles of individualism and realise that we all form a part of this global club, and if our global club suffers, our households do too.

 

What would it look like to make our communities livable again? Livable for who? Who are we extending a seat at the table to? Who belongs, and who is our neighbour?

 

These are the everyday practices in which we are invited to see the kingdom. We need to keep dreaming and asking ourselves these questions, so we aren’t tempted to fall back on the tried and easy solutions, solutions which don't centre people and their welfare at the core.

My initial thoughts concerning the desolation I saw in Isaiah 58:12 also highlighted a kind of seductive fatalism; a grounded pessimism which assumes humanity’s impending doom.

 

Why fight nature and try to reverse the inevitable? Is it not catastrophe and apocalypse which will ultimately usher in the kingdom of God?

It's important to constantly interrogate these ideas and beliefs. These twisted theologies largely shape the way we relate and engage with the world around us.

 

If all I see is collapse and decay, do I value the world around me as an arena where God is truly at work? Are our church buildings and bodies alone the hallowed temples in which God chooses to reside? What about our cities?

 

If Scripture stirs us to rebuild, raise up, repair and restore, explicitly naming walls, streets and dwellings, maybe our cities too, are worth contending for? Maybe place does matter?

 

Maybe these concrete jungles, the engulfing city in constant metamorphosis, and its neighbourhoods and rural hinterlands, are not just the blurry backdrop to the ‘real’ work of God taking place in sanctified sanctuaries and individual hearts, but are places brimming with potential and hope., likewise central in God's redeeming story.


 

And so we venture, deeper still, into the ruins...

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ANOTHER DIMENSION

 

Ruins invite us into another dimension, a sacred parameter where the past, present and future collide.

 

Staring time in the face like this can be intimidating.

 

A picture of the past and our collective memory, and a recognition of our present mortality and the certainty of death, ruins entice us with a hopeful imagination for the future, rendered from history’s cautionary tale.

 

But our culture robs us from such sacred moments.

 

Fast paced, over stimulated and dopamine addicted, we are numbed from exercising the power of remembrance.

 

We scroll our timelines and right after the mental health awareness post or the jarring street protest visual is the next frivolous TikTok trend which will have us in fits, hilariously entertained and easily distracted for hours.

 

In such a loud and invasive culture, how often can we stop and allow ourselves to listen to what the ruins have to say? To critique or justify the present, shaping the future with a rereading of history?

 

How can we live in the active resistance of remembrance in a world that demands us to forget?

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What if we permit ourselves to be still and, like the Xhosa, inquire “lamzi waye’phaya, wayaphi?”, absorbed in the story of the people who have gone before us?

 

Maybe when we do, we question the dominant cultural narratives and expose the myths which shape our ambitions and drive our appetites for more.

FROM THE MACRO TO THE MICRO

When we stop, question and reframe, we challenge the stories that limit us, the overarching narratives that define us based on our consumptive capacity, dubbing my neighbour a rival, and instead enter into a story that subverts the world and its current social and power structures.

 

The story of this kingdom challenges me to die to competition and comparison, to transform my thinking, yielding to this identity of being a transient, of this world but not quite of it.

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Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.

Heb 11:13-16

Transients, navigating the tension of this holy and heavenly calling, to live in the now and not yet. 

 

So we run the race with vigor, lamenting, living and pouring ourselves out to see thy kingdom come - on earth - as it is in heaven. Running, through the desolation, the mounting fatalities and dilapidation, driven by an eternity buried deep in our hearts.

 

Because we still serve a God...who brings the ruins to life.

 

And he is God in the wreck.