Thursday, December 31, 2009

God Has a Dream by Desmond Tutu

When I was in high school and living just outside of Washington, D.C., South Africa’s brutal system of racial segregation and oppression—apartheid—was one of the leading social justice issues of the day. The outrageous unfairness and brutality of the situation in South Africa made it a no-brainer. Everyone I knew was against apartheid. Some of us also protested at the South African embassy, signed petitions and boycotted companies that did business in South Africa. During this period, a soft spoken man in a funny clerical outfit attracted attention for his efforts to fight apartheid with nonviolent means. His name was Desmond Tutu. In 1984, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. During this time, I was still a staunch atheist. I admired Desmond Tutu, but conveniently ignored the facts that he was a Christian and his activism was rooted in his faith. I suppose at the time, I thought of it as a freak coincidence.

Over the years, as I embraced and grew in my Christian faith, I’ve come to admire Archbishop Tutu even more. His book God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time is eloquent and beautiful. Each chapter begins with the words “Dear Child of God” and then relays in an intimate tone Archbishop Tutu’s thoughts on a specific religious theme. To illustrate these themes, he writes on personal, historic topics including his own role in helping to bring about the end of apartheid. But he also brings insights from less high-profile experiences such as being a family man and a local church leader. He gives practical advice on living God’s will in a variety of roles and situations, from being a spouse to being a parent to to being a driver stuck in a traffic jam. He does all this with pervasive references to Scripture, and a down-to-Earth sense of humility as well as a little humor. It is a concise, but beautiful book of passionate love and unwavering hope.

The book was published in 2004, at a time when the Christian voices most often heard in the media (and in most churches in the part of Texas where I was living) espoused very rigid interpretations of the Bible, as well as conservative positions on social and political issues. However, in the book, Archbishop Tutu bears witness to a more tolerant, more inclusive Christian viewpoint. He writes in unequivocal terms to denounce the mistake of marginalizing women in society and the church. He also writes with acceptance and love of homosexuals.

One of my favorite parts of the book is at the beginning. Archbishop Tutu writes:

“During the darkest days of apartheid I used to say to P.W. Botha, the president of South Africa, that we had already won, and I invited him and other white South Africans to join the winning side. All the ‘objective’ facts were against us—the pass laws, the imprisonments, the teargassing, the massacres, the murder of political activists—but my confidence was not in the present circumstances but in the laws of God’s universe. This is a moral universe, which means that, despite all the evidence that seems to be to the contrary, there is no way that evil and injustice and oppression and lies can have the last word. God is a God who cares about right and wrong. God cares about justice and injustice. God is in charge. That is what had upheld the morale of our people, to know that in the end good will prevail. It was these higher laws that convinced me that our peaceful struggle would topple the immoral laws of apartheid.

Of course, there were times when you had to whistle in the dark to keep your morale up, and you wanted to whisper in God’s ear: ‘God, we know You are in charge, but can’t You make it a little more obvious?’”

I agree with the archbishop and share is confidence. But of course, I’ve never had that confidence put to the same kind of test that he and other black South Africans endured. I am awed and encouraged by Archbishop Tutu’s faith. I pray that if I am ever put to such a test, mine will remain just as strong.

Deuteronomy 23:5 (Contemporary English Version)

But the LORD your God loves you, so he refused to listen to Balaam and turned Balaam's curse into a blessing.

Psalm 59:16 (Contemporary English Version)

But I will sing about your strength, my God, and I will celebrate because of your love. You are my fortress, my place of protection in times of trouble.

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