Photo Credit: Adrian Steirn
Mandela taught me dignity.
Having followed Mandela’s life for many years I would often hear him use the word dignity. One story Mandela would retell during televised interviews would be about his first day at Robbin Island Prison. At Robbin Mandela demanded that he and his fellow prisoners from the African National Congress be treated with dignity. And it was so – even though he was hated by many.
Dignity went beyond simple respect. Giving people respect is necessary, but respect is sometimes demanded as a consequence of ego. Dignity on the other hand has a divine mark. It’s about recognizing one’s own worth as a child of God, as an image bearer. Therefore we seek to be treated with dignity, as we treat others the same. Sound familiar? “Do unto others…”
When Mandela got out of jail he was angry. And perhaps his being able to forgive had more to do with remembering…that even his enemies needed to be treated with dignity. If we caricaturize people it might just be easier to exact revenge. But when we assign our enemy dignity we’re left to pause, remembering that they too are created in the image of God.
I haven’t actually “learned” dignity as if it were something to be mastered. But I’m glad that it was enfleshed in many ways in the life of Mandela.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
– Nelson Mandela
Robert Glasper’s Black Radio 2 has been in my ear for a couple of weeks now. Glasper is one of the progressive voices of Jazz – a genre that in many ways has not appealed to younger generations on a wider scale. The album is a wonderful fusion of piano Jazz, R&B with elements of Hip Hop.
My favorite track on the album so far is the collaboration with Rapper Common Sense, I Stand Alone. I was running on the treadmill this morning and the following lyrics caught my ear.
I shine, shine like the hour noon
Tune is to stay in step with every day men
And women, the rythym of the realness
Still I’m Legend like Will Smith
In the presence of the fake I am a real gift
Open it, hopin’ it’d be something dope in it
Movement of the people getting motion sick
We ride on the highs and lows of it
On the Southside, we got hosed for it
Love that there is still socially conscious rap out there when Common says, “We ride on the highs and lows of it/On the Southside, we got hosed for it.”
There’s also this part of the track…
Success it is, we blessed to live
Not just my kids, want the best for his
Progression lives where the lessons is
I got my own, God bless the kid…
streets we would battle on
Got the good book in my carry-on
Life is a race I’m the marathon
Man on the moon, give the boy some room
Rose from the concrete, told you I would bloom
Situation brought out the hero
A little black 13 year old
The voice of the Lord in my earlobe
Love the communal phrase that fights against individualism: “Success it is, we blessed to live/Not just my kids, want the best for his. This is the underrepresented voice in Jazz and Hip Hop and I’m thankful for this album’s contribution to both genres.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
-Bishop Oscar Romero
To write and pray the words This is what we are about is no small thing. It’s a commitment. A personal logo. Almost like choosing that tattoo that you love…or regret… And short of branding ourselves, I realize those words carry a lot of hutzpah.
Three weeks ago our church began a sermon series on the book of John: Out of Darkness into Light. And I spoke about Jesus’s invitation to the first disciples to “come and see”. Jesus’s invitation of course was not for fish & chips with some good hot sauce. It wasn’t an invitation to just share a special moment. His hospitality was actually a radical invitation to dwell with him, to journey into an alternative way of being in the world. An invitation into new life. To follow a distinctive path.
Last Sunday Metro Hope Church sensed its collective path to be about two things: presence and reconciliation. A concrete expression of the gospel in our world is about dwelling in spaces, and allowing for bridge-building to take place. This happens across different barriers. And one bridge we’ve been called to build is that of racial reconciliation. If we comb the scriptures we see the integration of people once on the margins into communion with God and others. Time and again this was a concrete expression of the gospel, with very particular fruit. That’s why people could “come and see” and have their eyes opened in new ways.
While churches commit to preaching the gospel, if we admit it, we all emphasize different dimensions of the story. Probably why it’s important to have different churches, good partners, with different speakers. No one church can hone in on every dimensions of the story and tell it well. Some emphasize justification. Some incarnation. Some worship. Some liberation. Still others formation, and I could go on. And yes, I know we can thrive to be “balanced” but who really is?
The good news is this: You can be living what you are about daily yet not even see it. For all of our sight what we are about sometimes needs to be revealed to us by the Great Light Giver. But it takes a commitment to really dwell. To commune with God and others. Because this is where the light shines brightest.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound…I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.