Last week, we mourned the death and celebrated the life of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Undoubtedly, he will, in good time, be added to our calendar of Holy Women and Holy Men and given a feast day in the Anglican / Episcopal tradition (at the very least). I have taken time to reread Tutu’s books, particularly God is not a Christian, and to meditate on his Holy Influence in our time. Likewise, as we approach the celebration of MLK on his Holy Day, I’ve considered the influence of MLK on Bishop Tutu. I have imagined what a conversation between these two Holy Men would have been.

I have had the good fortune to meet several South African spiritual leaders: the Reverend Michael Battle, a chaplain of Bishop Tutu’s, when he visited the Twin Cities about 20 years ago; and, most recently, The Reverend Michael Lapsley. I was Michael Lapsley’s guide, driver, and dinner companion for three days when he visited to provide training on healing. He was very close to Bishop Tutu, and sadly is known by having his hands blown up by a package bomb that was sent through the mail. His story is well told in his book Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer.

Thursday is Epiphany, and we will hear again the challenging prophetic instructions from Isaiah:

Isaiah 60:1-6

1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.

Bishop Tutu, Michael Battle, and Michael Lapsley have given us brilliant examples of responding to that call to arise and shine your light into a darkened world. 

Consider the following passages this week, and the questions following that I am holding in my heart and recommend to you.

  • If there is to be reconciliation, we who are the ambassadors of Christ, we to whom the gospel of reconciliation has been entrusted, surely, we must be Christ’s instruments of peace. We must ourselves be reconciled. The victims of injustice and oppression must be ever ready to forgive. That is a gospel imperative. But those who have wronged must be ready to say, “We have hurt you by this injustice, by uprooting you from your homes, by dumping you in poverty-stricken homeland resettlement camps, by giving your children inferior education, by denying your humanity and trampling down on your human dignity and denying your fundamental rights. We are sorry; forgive us.” And the wronged must forgive. Those who have wronged must be ready to make what amends they can. They must be ready to make restitution and reparation. If I have stolen your pen, I can’t really be contrite when I say, “Please forgive me,” if at the same time I still keep your pen. If I am truly repentant, then I will demonstrate this genuine repentance by returning your pen. Then reconciliation, which is always costly, will happen. Even when a husband and wife quarrel, until one of them can say, “Sorry, forgive me,” they can’t really restore their former relationship. [Tutu, Desmond. God Is Not a Christian: And Other Provocations (pp. 28-29). HarperCollins.]
  • Even though I was still a pacifist and preached nonviolence to people, black and white, I soon saw that when black people picked up arms it was called violence and terrorism, whereas when white people used violence against black people it was called the defense of law and order. The reality was that pacifist though I might be, the police and army would shoot and kill to protect my interests as a white person. Religion too was used as a soporific to keep people of color docile. Everything having to do with the government and apartheid was defined as politics, and priests told religious people, especially black religious people, “Good Christians don’t have anything to do with politics,” which really meant, “Don’t fight injustice.” This planted a contrary seed in my mind that gradually grew into a deep conviction that the gospel and liberation politics were completely intertwined. [Lapsley, Michael. Redeeming the Past: My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer. Orbis Books.]
  • Michael Battle defines Ubuntu as “an African concept of personhood in which the identity of the self is understood to be formed interdependently through community.” This goes against the conventional worldview of Westerners who understand the self as standing apart and in competition with others. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who wrote the foreword to this paperback offers further clarification: “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.” [Battle, Michael. Ubuntu: I in You and You in Me. Seabury Books.]

Reflection Questions:

  • What does it mean for me to be an ambassador of Christ and an instrument of peace?
  • What steps am I called to take, and those that travel with me, to demonstrate genuine repentance by returning what I, or my ancestors, have taken? What are the steps I must take to repent, restore, repair, and reconcile?
  • How might we shine our lights to grow the seed of conviction that the Gospel and Liberation grow from the same tree? How might we be increasingly available and affirming to others through increasingly wider communities?

Blessings and Peace,

Rex