Sunday, December 08, 2013

Remembering Nelson Mandela on Peace Sunday

When churches light the second candle for Lent, we will be called to remember Jesus' mission of peace.  We will pray that peace will spread across the globe, something we've long prayed for but rarely seen.  This year, as we take this step of faith, many will have on their hearts and minds the memory of Nelson Mandela, whose death this past week has gotten much attention.  

Nelson Mandela is being hailed as a man of peace, who led the way to bringing together white and black in South Africa.  We remember his twenty-seven years of imprisonment by a repressive government that had large support in the West.  He is rightfully hailed as a man of peace, but many who now hail him once called him a terrorist.  It is true that he used violence in the pursuit of freedom.    But then so did George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  He turned to violence when nonviolence didn't seem to work.  If we are to remember him, truly, on this day of peace, let us remember the man as he truly was.  He was until his death a revolutionary.  In fact it wasn't until 2008, long after he had left the presidency of South Africa that he and the ANC were removed from America's Terrorist Watch List.  

What changed after his release from prison was his tactics.  He discerned that the way forward after his release, required a new vision that would unite a disparate people for a new day.  He discerned that there was no longer support in the West for apartheid.  It had also become clear among many white South Africans that they were on the wrong side of history.  The time was ripe for a new beginning.  Twenty-seven years of prison had helped form a new vision.

So, we rightfully remember Nelson Mandela as a man of grace and vision, who helped (along with people such as Desmond Tutu) create a new vision.  Racism hasn't disappeared in South Africa, any more than it has disappeared in the United States.  Many who stand firmly against President Obama also view Nelson Mandela as unworthy of praise.  There is much work left to be done, and as a white male who has never experienced the sting of racism, I must always keep in mind my own sense of privilege in this matter.

My friend Saeed Khan shared a post by Musa Okwonga, a poet and activist in Britain on Facebook, that offered us this reminder -- "Mandela will never, ever be your ministrel."  Okwonga writes to those who want to say that Mandela wasn't about race or politics, who want to place him above the realities that he faced in life (much as we try to do with Martin Luther King), to remove the Malcolm X from him:
Nelson Mandela was not a god, floating elegantly above us and saving us. He was utterly, thoroughly human, and he did all he did in spite of people like you. There is no need to name you because you know who you are, we know who you are, and you know we know that too. You didn’t break him in life, and you won’t shape him in death. You will try, wherever you are, and you will fail.
The struggle for justice and peace remains present with us -- in South Africa and in the United States.  Let us pray for peace, but let us also work for peace.  In considering Mandela's work, I went looking for a quote.  This is one that I think is fitting:  "After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb."

As we remember Mandela and the season's call for peace, let us reflect on these words from the Psalmist:

11 Come, children, listen to me.
    Let me teach you how to honor the Lord:
12 Do you love life;
    do you relish the chance to enjoy good things?
13     Then you must keep your tongue from evil
        and keep your lips from speaking lies!
14 Turn away from evil! Do good!
    Seek peace and go after it!
15 The Lord’s eyes watch the righteous,
    his ears listen to their cries for help.
16 But the Lord’s face is set against those who do evil,
    to eliminate even the memory of them from the earth.
17 When the righteous cry out, the Lord listens;
    he delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
    he saves those whose spirits are crushed. (Psalm 34:11-18 CEB)



 

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