Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Forgiveness Challenge

As I wrote about in my previous blog article, Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa on April 27, 1994. He was the first black president in that country that had long been dominated by the white minority.
At the time of Mandela’s election, there was still considerable anger and resentment among the blacks because of the decades of abuse and mistreatment under the cruel system known as apartheid.
There was also considerable fear and anxiety among the whites, who were no longer in control of political power. They had every reason to fear violent reaction by those who for so long had been victims of injustice. And there was unrest that did result in some violence.
However, President Mandela took a conciliatory attitude and led in the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1995. Mandela chose Desmond Tutu to be the head of the TRC, and he was an excellent choice.
Tutu (b. 1931) was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1960. He served three years as the Bishop of Lesotho in the late 1970s and then as Bishop of Johannesburg in 1985-86. Tutu was then installed as the Archbishop of Cape Town (one of the three capitals of South Africa) in 1986, a post he held until 1996, the year he turned 65.
Tutu’s work for peace, justice, and reconciliation began long before 1995. In fact, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, while Mandela was still in prison and the majority population of South Africa was still under oppressive white rule.
But in his tireless opposition to apartheid, Tutu advocated only nonviolent means for change.
Tutu’s new book “The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World” was published just last month. It was co-authored with his daughter Mpho. She is also an Anglican priest who now lives in Virginia.
Having just read their splendid book, I highly recommend it—especially if you have any lingering feelings of anger or resentment toward people who have hurt you in the past.
The Tutus’ “fourfold path” to forgiveness includes (1) telling the story, (2) naming the hurt, (3) granting forgiveness, and (4) renewing or releasing the relationship.
I am not sure what all it is going to involve, but beginning on May 4, the Tutus are leading the “Tutu Global Forgiveness Challenge” on the Internet. I have signed up—along with people from more than 120 other countries—to receive the daily emails and other information about forgiveness.
If you are interested, the address for learning more about the Forgiveness Challenge, as well as for signing up, is And while you will probably be encouraged to buy their book, that is not required and signing up for the online activity is free of charge.
In promoting the challenge, their website declares, “The Forgiveness Challenge will help you discover how the act of forgiving can bring more love and peace to your life. When enough of us forgive–we can change the world!”
I think that is quite true. That is the reason I am writing about this—and encouraging you to respond to the forgiveness challenge.
Although Desmond and Mpho Tutu are Anglican priests, their book is not explicitly religious. It is based on a deep understanding of human psychology and verified by the experiences they have had, especially his experience with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
And it is by no means just about South Africa. It is for all who need to forgive—and to be forgiven by others.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Freedom Day

It's a long way from Kansas City to Johannesburg, South Africa!
It would take about 17 hours flying time from Kansas City International Airport and cost about $1,675 for a round trip ticket. I have no plans, or desire, to make such a long, expensive trip.
But two of the greatest men of my lifetime have lived and worked in and around Johannesburg, which is about the same size as Kansas City. Those two men are Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.
Since most of us don’t have any contact with, and maybe not much knowledge of, South Africa, we tend not to be as interested in it as, say, European or even Asian countries.
But most of us have heard quite a lot about Mandela, who died this past December at the age of 95. And maybe some of you have seen the splendid biographical film "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," which was issued about the time of his death.
The most incredible thing about Mandela is that after being in prison for 27 years, he was elected as the first black president of the Republic of South Africa, which was established in 1961. That election took place twenty years ago this coming Sunday, on April 27, 1994.
That was the first democratic and non-racial national election to be held in the country, and everyone 18 and over of any race (even non-citizens) was allowed to vote. The African National Congress (ANC) was voted into power.
Even though there were three candidates, Mandela was elected president with nearly 63 percent of the votes. He assumed office on May 10 and served the five year term that ended in June 1999, about a month before his 81st birthday.
Since 1994, the 27th of April has been celebrated every year in South Africa as Freedom Day, a public holiday. On Sunday there will be big 20th anniversary celebrations in Johannesburg, Pretoria, and all across the country of South Africa.
Even though the vast majority of the people were of course black, for a very long time South Africa was ruled by minority whites who lived there.
In 1912, the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) was formed with the purpose of increasing the rights of the black population. That organization became the ANC in 1923, and in 1961 it formed a military wing.
Mandela joined the ANC in the early 1940s and began the ANC Youth League in 1944. In 1961 he became involved with the military wing. So, yes, Mandala was involved in violent resistance against the oppressive government. (I seem to remember, though, that in the 1770s, colonialists in what is now the U.S. also used violence against England.)
I seem to remember, though, that in the 1770s, colonists in what is now the U.S. also used violence against England. - See more at:
I seem to remember, though, that in the 1770s, colonists in what is now the U.S. also used violence against England. - See more at:
Mandala was arrested in August 1962, tried and sentenced to prison, where he remained until he was finally released in February 1990, after 27½ years.
Remarkably, though, rather than harboring bitterness and seeking revenge, Mandela took a forgiving and conciliatory approach toward the white government. In the book I will introduce next week, Desmond Tutu writes that Mandela’s long years in prison transformed him “from an angry, unforgiving young radical into an icon of reconciliation, forgiveness, and honor.”
Fittingly, Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
Please join me in commemorating the outstanding life and achievements of Nelson Mandela and in wishing the people of South Africa well on their 20th Freedom Day.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Celebrating Hope

Today is Easter Sunday, and it has different meanings to different people. The practice of coloring, hiding, and finding Easter eggs seems to be an ongoing custom that is likely to be observed, and enjoyed, today in most homes with small children.
Some other Easter activities, though, definitely seem to be a thing of the past. Easter Sunday used to be a time for wearing new clothes and even a time for women to wear new hats.
Remember the Irving Berlin song “Easter Parade”? In the 1948 musical by the same name, Fred Astaire sings, “Oh, I could write a sonnet about your Easter bonnet / And of the girl, I'm taking to the Easter Parade.”
I wonder how long it has been since any of you ladies reading this has worn an Easter bonnet—and how long it has been, if ever, that any of you has been to an Easter Parade.
I am currently reading “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?” (2011) by Martin Thielen, a Methodist pastor in Tennessee: In spite of its tongue-in-cheek title, it is quite a good book. Chapter 17 is titled “Jesus’ Resurrection: Is There Hope?” and I found it quite thought-provoking.
From time to time (like on 4/10), I write about movies I have seen. The chapter just mentioned begins with the author talking about a significant movie he had seen: “Cast Away” (2000). June and I just watched for the first time this month after reading about it in Rev. Thielen’s book. Perhaps many of you have seen that intriguing film starring Tom Hanks.
In the movie, Hanks is Chuck Noland, a FedEx employee stranded on an uninhabited island after the airplane he was on crashed in the South Pacific. Alone there on the island he opened many of the FedEx packages that washed up on shore. But he keeps one unopened.
He even takes the unopened package with him on the raft when he leaves the island after four long years there by himself—and still has it when he is finally rescued.
At the end of the movie, he takes the unopened FedEx package to return it to its sender. But no one is at home. So he leaves the package at the door with a note saying that the package saved his life.
There is no reason given in the movie why Chuck would write that on the package. Thielen’s interpretation is that the package represented hope.
Thielen goes on to write about “The Shawshank Redemption,” another meaningful movie I have seen a couple of times. It, too, is about hope. But one of the inmates in the brutal state penitentiary is quite negative about it. He exclaims, “Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”
Those words remind me of a paragraph in State of Wonder (2011), an excellent novel by Ann Patchett. A wife whose husband is presumably dead, exclaims,
Hope is a horrible thing, you know. I don’t know who decided to package hope as a virtue because it’s not. It’s a plague. Hope is like walking around with a fishhook in your mouth and somebody just keeps pulling it and pulling it (p. 43).
There is such a thing as false hope. And people don’t always get what they hope for. Nevertheless, there is also well-grounded and well-founded hope. That’s what we have in Easter.
Thielen is correct when he contends that “hope is what the resurrection of Jesus Christ is all about.”
Happy Easter! And may today be, truly, a celebration of hope.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In Admiration of John Dear

Years ago when I first heard the name John Dear, being a farm boy I immediately thought of John Deere tractors. But as I quipped in my 4/5 blog article, John Dear is not a tractor but detractor of the nation’s weapons of war. 
For many years I have admired the man whose name really is John Dear, and I was very happy to meet him and hear him talk earlier this month. And what a talk it was! 
Dear’s newest book is “The Nonviolent Life” (2013), and his passionate talk was based upon it. He contends that the life of nonviolence requires three simultaneous attributes: being nonviolent toward ourselves; being nonviolent to all people, all creatures, and all creation; and joining the global grassroots movement of nonviolence.
Dear (b. 1959) is an American Catholic priest (a former Jesuit), a Christian pacifist, and an author & lecturer. He has been highly involved in nonviolent action for three decades, having been greatly influenced by Daniel Berrigan, whom he joined in the Plowshares movement.
Remarkably, Dear has been arrested over 75 times for his acts of nonviolent civil disobedience against war, injustice and nuclear weapons. The first time he was arrested was at the Pentagon 30 years ago, on April 17, 1984.
In 1994 he spent eight months in jail for his Plowshares action of civil disobedience. That followed his arrest, along with three others, in December 1993 for hammering on an F-15 nuclear-capable fighter bomber at an Air Force base in North Carolina—symbolically beating swords into plowshares.
I have just purchased and begun to read Dear’s 2011 book “Lazarus, Come Forth!: How Jesus Confronts the Culture of Death and Invites Us into the New Life of Peace.”
Since this is Passion Week, I’ve just read “Washing Each Other’s Feet” in the book just mentioned. As one might expect from Dear, he says the biblical account of Jesus’ activity on the night before his crucifixion has generally been misunderstood.
“The episode is not meant to inspire us to service. It is not meant to urge us toward self-humiliation. Rather it is a ritual of preparing our feet to walk Jesus’ road of nonviolence” (p. 162).
Dear ends the chapter contending that Jesus “calls us out of our addiction to violence. He calls us into the freedom of resurrection, into the new life of peace and nonviolence” (p. 166).
In his 2007 book “Transformation” Dear declared: 
One day when the people of the United States finally wake up; dismantle their nuclear weapons; spend their billions of dollars to eradicate hunger, disease, homelessness, illiteracy, and unemployment; clean up the oceans and the earth; and renounce war forever, humanity itself will be transfigured and the light of Christ will shine brightly and lead us to an astonishing breakthrough of global hope and encouragement.
Not only because of what he has written, but especially because he has had the courage over the past 30 years to plead for peace by participating in non-violent protests, many resulting in his being arrested and jailed, I write this with deep admiration for John Dear. He continues to be an inspiring advocate for peace and justice.
In closing, from the very beginning of his 2011 book, here are Dear’s words for us to ponder—and to pray:
Lead me from death to life,
from falsehood to truth
from despair to hope,
from fear to trust,
from hate to love,
from war to peace.
Let peace fill my heart.
Let peace fill my world.
Let peace fill the universe.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

“Lilies of the Field”

The 86th Academy Awards ceremony was held on March 2, 2014. I didn’t watch it, but I was interested in reading the results the next morning.
Fifty years ago, the 36th Academy Awards were presented on April 13, 1964. I’m pretty sure I didn’t watch that ceremony either, but I was especially interested when I learned that Sidney Poitier was awarded the Best Actor Oscar for his role in “Lilies of the Field.” 
That was notable, for it was the first time that award had been given to an African-American.
Back when we were poor students [clarification: we were good students but quite poor financially], we hardly ever went to the movies. But we did see “The Defiant Ones” (1958), starring Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier.
That remarkable black and white film tells the story of two escaped prisoners, one white and one black, who are shackled together and who must co-operate in order to survive. We were quite moved by it, and after seeing it we became fans of Poitier, who was nominated for Best Actor for his role in that film.
So we were happy when Poitier then won the Oscar in 1964.
Poitier was born (prematurely) to Bahamian parents in 1927 while they were visiting in Miami. He was raised in the Bahamas until he was 15, but then lived in the U.S. from that age on.
After various struggles, he debuted in his first film, “No Way Out” (1950), when he was only 23. That was the beginning of his long, successful career as an actor, film director, author, and diplomat.
In 1968, Poitier was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, so he is officially Sir Sidney. Nearly 30 years later, in 1997, Poitier was appointed the Bahamian ambassador to Japan, and he served in that position until 2012 (although some sources say 2007).
Poitier also served as Bahamas’ ambassador to UNESCO from 2002 to 2007. And then in August 2009 Poitier was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor given in the U.S.
A few days before writing this article, June and I watched “Lilies of the Field” again, the first time since we saw it in the 1960s. Little did we know then that the location of the movie would become quite familiar to us. The opening scene of the movie shows the mountains north of Tucson in the background, near to where we spent the nights during the last week of December when we visited our daughter and her family there.
Pointier plays the part of Homer Smith, a vivacious young man who stops by a house of nuns to get some water for his car’s radiator. Headed by Mother Maria, the nuns, escapees from East Germany, latch on to Homer as a man sent by God to help them build a church on their property. (Lilia Skala, who played Maria, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her sterling performance.)
While the movie seems rather unsophisticated compared to most movies now, it was a delight to watch. It depicts well how good-will and friendliness can overcome racial, cultural, linguistic, and religious differences. (Homer was a Baptist.)
The spirit of the movie is captured well by the repeated singing of “Amen,” a joyful gospel song written by Jester Hairston (1901-2000), who also dubbed the singing of it for Poitier, who is said to be tone deaf.
Yes, “Lilies of the Field” is a delightful movie. I highly recommend it—as well as the Bible verse from which the title comes.