I count hearing Bishop Desmond Tutu discuss peace and justice one of the most powerful moments of my life. It was in 1999. I was just wrapping my college career [yes, on the 38-year plan 😉 ] at Regis University here in Denver. He had just come from being a witness in the South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. Not “witness” in the usual sense of having personally seen a wrong and sharing that information at trial, but “witness” as in I hear, with all of me, what you are saying and know your peace cannot come until it is said. As Tutu stated with quiet passion, people came to the hearings knowing there were no reparations. No money for their losses or damages. No jail terms for those who had abused them and killed their loved ones. “All we could give them was our listening.”
Despite his having announced his retirement recently, I can hear that pragmatic compassion at work in his new book. Personally, I love the title: God Is Not A Christian: And Other Provocations. http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/God-Is-Not-a-Christian.aspx My hope is that those troubled by the name–and there are many, I’m learning–will take a few minutes to read just a few paragraphs of his proposition. One that caught my attention is this:
“My first point seems overwhelmingly simple: that the accidents of birth and geography determine to a very large extent to what faith we belong. The chances are very great that if you were born in Pakistan you are a Muslim, or a Hindu if you happened to be born in India, or a Shintoist if it is Japan, and a Christian if you were born in Italy. I don’t know what significant fact can be drawn from this — perhaps that we should not succumb too easily to the temptation to exclusiveness and dogmatic claims to a monopoly of the truth of our particular faith. You could so easily have been an adherent of the faith that you are now denigrating, but for the fact that you were born here rather than there.”
Tutu’s humor is clearly still working, as well. He writes: “They tell the story of a drunk who crossed the street and accosted a pedestrian, asking him, ‘I shay, which ish the other shide of the shtreet?’ The pedestrian, somewhat nonplussed, replied, ‘That side, of course!’ The drunk said, ‘Shtrange. When I wash on that shide, they shaid it wash thish shide.’ Where the other side of the street is depends on where we are. Our perspective differs with our context, the things that have helped to form us; and religion is one of the most potent of these formative influences, helping to determine how and what we apprehend of reality and how we operate in our own specific context.”
Nothing like a good provocation to go with one’s Saturday morning coffee.
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