Forgiveness

A Tribute to Mandela

Nelson Mandela was “the most important political leader of the 20th century,” writes Jim Wallis in “A Prayer for Mandela” in the February 2014 issue of Sojourners magazine. Following Mandela’s death on December 5, 2013, the world has stopped to reflect on the life of a man who dedicated himself to justice and reconciliation despite decades of imprisonment to a brutal apartheid.

These magazine articles and blog posts published by Sojourners through the years pay tribute to the great South African leader.

Sojourners magazine articles:

  • In the Wake of A Miracle (November-December 2003)
    Linda Martindale writes on “being ‘real Christians' in the post-apartheid era.
  • South Africa: The Spirit of Reconciliation (July 1994)
    Will Winterfield, an international church observer of Nelson Mandela’s presidential election, interviews Beyers Naudé—one of the first leading Afrikaners to oppose apartheid openly.
  • The Miracle of South Africa (July 1994)
    Jim Wallis writes that South Africa’s transformation means “never again can I say that hope is not a concrete reality.”
  • With the Eyes of Christ (January-February 1998)
    Joyce Hollyday writes that, “President Nelson Mandela modeled a rare forgiveness when he invited his jailer of 27 years to sit on the platform with him at his presidential inauguration.”

Blog posts:

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Profiles in Courage

Yousef Bashir: Victim of violence, advocate for nonviolence. Photo courtesy of Northeastern University

THE ULTIMATE BRAVERY might well be the courage to forgive one’s enemies and hold on to hope.

Nelson Mandela famously emerged from 27 years in prison as a reconciler and uniter, somehow free from bitterness and hatred. He was able to put into practice Jesus’ call to love our enemies—and thus became the father of the new South Africa.

Far from the upper echelons of power and fame, forgiving our enemies can be a difficult task, since “enemies,” by their very definition, aren’t easy to love. But in places of oppression, occupation, and routine violence, it’s even harder.

Take, for example, the story of a young man named Yousef Bashir. He grew up in the Gaza Strip, near an Israeli settlement known as Kfar Darom. In 2000, Palestinians rose up in protest against the Israeli occupation in what became known as the Second Intifada. In response, Israeli soldiers came to Yousef’s house and told his family to leave.

His father had dedicated his life to teaching Yousef and his brothers “how to coexist with the Israelis,” Yousef explained over lunch in Philadelphia early this winter, and he insisted on staying in their long-time family home. As a result, Yousef said, Israeli soldiers moved into the Bashir family’s house when he was 11 years old. They occupied the house until he was 15.

“Every night the soldiers would come down, gather the whole family, and put us in the living room,” Yousef said. “Then they locked the door—sometimes for days or weeks. I had to ask the soldiers for permission to go to the bathroom and the kitchen. I was imprisoned in my own living room.”

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A Prayer for Mandela

NELSON MANDELA was the most important political leader of the 20th century. While Roosevelt and Churchill helped protect the West and the world from Hitler’s Nazism, Mandela heroically exemplified the movement against the colonialism and racism that oppressed the global South, shown so dramatically in South Africa’s apartheid. And from a Christian point of view, he combined justice and reconciliation like no other political leader of his time, shaped by the spiritual formation of 27 years in prison.

Shortly after Mandela was released from prison, he came to New York to meet with a small group of Americans who had been involved in the anti-apartheid struggle, and I was blessed to join them. From the start, I felt in Mandela a moral authority I have never experienced with any political leader.

Attending Mandela’s inauguration in 1994 was a highlight of my life. We were picked up at the airport by friends, a couple who had both been in prison and tortured, but now she was about to become a member of the new South African parliament. We saw a group of the infamous South African security police. Having been interrogated by these thugs before, I immediately said, “Let’s get out of here!” To which they replied, “Don’t worry, Jim, they’re ours now.”

At the ceremony, joined by my South African friends, we watched Nelson Mandela announce his vision for a new rainbow nation. More than 100,000 people (and a billion or so more via TV) listened with tears in their eyes and great hope in their hearts.

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The Whos Down in Whoville and Restorative Justice

 Cheriejoyful/Flickr/Creative Commons
Cheriejoyful/Flickr/Creative Commons

Next to biblical nativity stories, How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss is one of my favorite seasonal tales. We read it as a family every Christmas Eve.

While we typically view this vintage Dr. Seuss yarn as a reminder that there is more to Christmas than its trappings, it offers something unexpected too. It shares an example of restorative justice at work.

Grief, Courage, and Perseverance

swatchandsoda / Shutterstock
swatchandsoda / Shutterstock

[Editor's note: This article first appeared in our December 2013 issue to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting.]

IN THE YEAR since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last Dec. 14, thousands more have died by gun violence, and the NRA seems to stymie sane firearm measures at every turn. How do we stave off despair, hold on to hope, and keep moving forward when the odds feel overwhelming? —The Editors

Bigger Than Politics
What do we say to those who are weary?
       

by Brian Doyle

WHAT WOULD I SAY to those who are weary of assault rifles mowing down children of all ages, every few months, for as long as we can remember now? Oregon Colorado Wisconsin Pennsylvania Connecticut Texas Massachusetts Minnesota Virginia do I need to go on? I would say that this is bigger than politics. I would say this is about money. I would say Isn’t it interesting that we are the biggest weapons exporter on the planet? I would say that we lie when we say children are the most important things in our society. I would say that the next time a tall oily smarmy confident beautifully suited beautifully coiffed glowing candidate for office says the words family values, someone tosses an assault rifle on the stage with a small note attached to it that reads Is this more important than a kindergarten kid?

We all are Dawn and Mary in our hearts and why we wait until hell and horror are in front of us to unleash our glorious wild defiant courage is a mystery to me.

I would also say, quietly, that this is bigger than rage and anger and snarling at idiots who pretend to hide behind the Constitution. I would say this is also about poor twisted lonely lost bent young men no one paid attention to, no one really cared about. And I would say that people like Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Scherlach, who ran right at the bent twisted kid with the rifle in Newtown, are the flash of hope and genius here. Those are the people I will celebrate on Dec. 14. There are a lot of people like Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Scherlach, may they rest in peace. We all are Dawn and Mary in our hearts and why we wait until hell and horror are in front of us to unleash our glorious wild defiant courage is a mystery to me. But it’s there. And there are a lot of days when I think the whole essence of Christianity, the actual real no kidding reason the skinny Jewish man sparked the most stunning possible revolution in history, is to gently insistently relentlessly edge us away from our savagely violent past into a future where Dawn and Mary are who we are, and you visit guns in museums, and war is a joke, and defiant peace is what we say to each other all blessed day long.

Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland (Oregon) and the author most recently of The Thorny Grace of It, a collection of spiritual essays.

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An Insanity of Rationality
This spiritual disease thrives on violence and calls it good.
     

by Joan Chittister, OSB

THERE IS A MADNESS abroad in the land, hiding behind the Constitution, brazenly ignoring the suffering of many who, over the years, have died in its defense, and operating under the banner of rationality. It’s a rare form of spiritual disease that thrives on violence and calls it good.

They want a proper response to violence, they tell us, and, most interesting of all, they insist that only violence can control violence. If “the good guys” have guns, this argument goes, “the bad guys” won’t be able to do any harm.

The hope? The hope lies only in those who refuse to feed this addiction to violence.

This particular insanity of rationality argues that violence is an antidote to violence. Then why do we find scant proof of that anywhere? Why, for instance, hasn’t it worked in Syria, we might ask. And where was the good of it in Iraq, the land of our own misadventures, where the weapons of mass destruction we went to disarm did not even exist and the people who died in the crossfire of that insanity had not harbored bin Laden. So how much peace through violencehave all the good guys on all sides really achieved?

The insanity of rationality says it is only reasonable to arm a population to defend itself against itself. And so, day after day, the level of violence rises around us as hunting rifles and small pistols turn into larger and larger weapons of our private little wars.

Clearly this particular piece of childish logic has yet to quell the gang violence in Chicago. It didn’t even work on an army base in Texas where, we must assume, the place was loaded with legal weapons.

What’s more, it does nothing to save the lives of the good guy’s children, who pick up the good guy’s guns at the age of 2 and 3 and 4 years old and turn them on the good guy fathers who own them.

So the mayhem only increases while white men in business suits insist that their civil rights have been impugned, their right to defend themselves has been taken from them, and more guns, larger guns, insanely damaging guns are the answer. Instead of hiring more police officers, they argue that arming students and teachers themselves, nonprofessionals, will do more to maintain calm and control the damage in situations specifically designed to cause chaos than waiting for security personnel would do.

It is that kind of creeping irrationality that threatens us all.

And in the end, it is a sad commentary on our society. We have now become the most violent country in the world while our industries collapse, our educational system declines, women are denied healthcare, our infrastructure is falling apart, and there’s more money to be made selling drugs in this country than in teaching school. No wonder gun pushers fear for their lives and sell the drug that promises the security it cannot possibly give while the country is becoming more desperate for peace and security by the day.

The hope? The hope lies only in those who refuse to feed this addiction to violence. These are they who remember again that we follow the one who said “Peter, put away your sword” when it was his own life that was at stake.

The hope is you and me. Or not.

Joan Chittister, OSB, a Sojourners contributing editor, is executive director of Benetvision, author of 47 books, and co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women.

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Unravelling Grace

robodread / Shutterstock
"I am entangled and grace comes and unravels all of that — whatever 'that' is — and sets me free." robodread / Shutterstock

Autumn in Berkeley is not what lovers of changing seasons might recognize as autumn, but it is upon us no less. Days are are shorter. Television programming has changed. The air is a little crisper. The currents in the Pacific have shifted and that great body of water tinkers with our meteorological hopes somewhat differently every day. The leaves don't change so much as drop. And, as usual, there are flowers in bloom. 

As someone who loves the northeast coast change of seasons, I find it challenging to unravel my expectations from reality. I find the two so intertwined that I may be tempted to try to change my environment to suit my expectations rather than paying attention to what is actually going on in the world around me.

I am reminded of my neighbors who will be spraying fauxsnow on their windows to celebrate the winter holidays. "It's just not Christmas without snow," some will proclaim. This is an obvious example of what it may look like to insist on our expectations being met all the while our world around us is trying to show us something different. We literally paint the windows to the world around us so we see what we want to see. 

We push our environment around and in the process run the risk of missing the grace being offered up in new and rich ways.

A Community of Strangers

When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” —Matthew 22:34-40

FAITHFUL PEOPLE are often stubborn people. Cambodian Buddhists are no exception. Truth-seekers in Cambodia sometimes spend a year living as beggars. They walk from village to village, trying to avoid the millions of remaining land mines. Their only possessions are a bright orange robe and a beggar’s bowl. After the ravages of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime, which dismantled community trust one forced-labor camp at a time, one might think the Buddhists would write off this ancient tradition, for no other reason than that it is grounded in the blind trust of perfect strangers. But faith, as Jesus taught, needn’t be any larger than a mustard seed. No regime, regardless how brutal, can eradicate faith.

This Cambodian Buddhist tradition of giving your entire well-being over to a community of strangers is one that has something to say to those of Christian faith. Giving yourself over to poverty, over to those who don’t know you from Adam, must change a person. After spending a year as an intentional beggar, as theologian Barbara Brown Taylor notes, you’d be hard pressed to differentiate yourself from all those “others” we tend to pity, fear, admire, or despise.

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The Forgiving Corpse: A Parable

Big Lights Big City promotional poster
Big Lights Big City promotional poster

How’s this for an unlikely scenario? One of the characters in Keith Huff’s new crime comedy, Big Lake Big City, is a petty criminal named Stewart who ends up not quite dead after a screwdriver accidently gets embedded in his skull. If the doctors try to remove it, he will die; if they leave it in, he will die. But somehow he isn’t dead yet. For a few days he walks around in a liminal space between life and death, more like a walking corpse than anything else. The sign of his violent demise is there for all to see but he manages to hide it under a Shriner’s cap. A pretty funny sight gag because you have to ignore that fact that the hat is kinda floating off kilter slighter off his head in order not to know something is terribly wrong.

Big Lake Big City is having its world premiere at Lookingglass Theater in Chicago this summer. After seeing the show and interviewing the lead actor Phil Smith for Voices of Peace Talk Radio here at Raven, I couldn’t help but see parallels to another unlikely scenario: a crucified man is resurrected with the marks of his violent death on his body for all to see. I’m pretty sure that Keith Huff did not intend to write a Christian allegory, but the themes of life, death, and resurrection reverberate through the play. Oddly enough, I think Stewart’s story can function as a parable of sorts for understanding the radical shift in the human relationship to death and violence that was made possible by the resurrection. Stay with me, now!

A New Hymn for Lamenting Gun Violence and Racism

Grave marker showing face of sorrow, Hub.-Wilh. Domroese / Shutterstock.com
Grave marker showing face of sorrow, Hub.-Wilh. Domroese / Shutterstock.com

Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, a pastor who is a foster mother to a four year-old African American boy, wrote this hymn after George Zimmerman was found not guilty for his shooting of Trayvon Martin. She had read Jim Wallis’ “Lament from a White Father” and heard the Rev. Otis Moss of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ interviewed for the NPR report, “For The Boys Who See Themselves In Trayvon Martin.”

We Pray for Youth We Dearly Love

O WALY WALY LM  (“Though I May Speak”)

Solo (optional young voice):

“If I should die before I wake,

I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take....

And if I die on violent streets,

I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep."

(Continued at the jump)

The Bible and Movies and Violence – Oh My!

David and Goliath illustration, Milena Moiola / Shutterstock.com
David and Goliath illustration, Milena Moiola / Shutterstock.com

Whenever I hear someone lament that kids these days need to read their Bibles, I tell them that the Bible should be rated R for violence, nudity, rape, drug deals, and even genocide – and that’s just in the first book! Of course, as a youth pastor, I’ve found that the best way to get kids interested in the Bible is to tell them that if someone made it into a movie, it would be rated R.

The Bible and movies tell stories. Gareth points out the importance of stories in his article “It’s the Movies’ Fault/It’s not the Movies’ Fault” in which he brilliantly states that, “we could benefit from recognizing that the relationship between storytelling and the formation of human identity is crucial.” Indeed, the stories we tell are crucial to the formation of human identity, but the Bible and movies tell stories that are permeated with violence. So, the question becomes, how do we make sense of those violent stories in terms of human identity?

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