Now, I don’t normally wade into the blogging arena for potentially-controversial-debates (and I’m actually not going to be really ‘wading’ into it today to be honest), but there’s been some reactionary stuff to the death of Nelson Mandela flying about that’s been making me ask some difficult questions about the way that we engage with world events as Christians.
About the way that I engage with my colleagues and friends and young people.
About how Jesus would engage.
Hear me out, because I don’t have any definite conclusions, I’m really just processing some thoughts out loud. And this isn’t a blog on what we should or shouldn’t think, feel, celebrate or mourn, this is a blog about how we should engage.
Because I think they’re different issues.
I’d say about half of my friends are in some way mourning the death of Nelson Mandela; whether that’s to a minimal extent by remembering some well known impacts and purely commenting on the loss, or whether that’s to a larger extent because they’re from or have lived in South Africa and are naturally finding it a lot more hard hitting. I’d then say there are another chunk who are genuinely not that swayed. They haven’t really thought about it, and probably aren’t going to. Which I guess is ok. Things affect us differently. But then, there are a third group, who are coming from a very different slant. And I’ve been really shocked me to the core, by some of the most ungracious-sounding responses, directed at others. Now, I’m not completely naive in this. Nelson Mandela lived a complex 95 year-long life. If you’ve ever done any wider research or reading into his story or the even more complex history of South-Africa then you will definitely appreciate that we cannot ‘sanitize’ (as one article said) his history or look at the life of this one man without considering the global or national context. Of course we shouldn’t make Mandela (or any human) into a blameless moral icon, there is only one found righteous and that is Jesus alone. Of course we shouldn’t gloss over past atrocities committed in the name of communism or freedom, in the same way that we shouldn’t forget the devasting effects of the apartheid. There is always a lesson to be learned from history, whether that is in our failure or our success.
But I’m talking about how we engage as Christians into this complexity. Into this realness. With those that we are in relationship with. And into what for many, is a genuine time of grief and loss.
I think it’s ok to have some different perspectives going around. To hear each other out. To do so in grace and love and humility, knowing that most of us are probably not in possession of the complete facts of the complete story.
But the problem is that everybody wants a single story. Just one. And they want their single story to be right.
Not just today, or about this issue, but everyday, about every issue.
Chimamanda Adichie did an amazing TED talk back in 2008 called ‘The Danger of a Single Story’. I’ve used this as a resource for a number of years now in a few different settings, so I know it well, and as I was praying this morning about these issues it was actually the thing that came to mind. Because Adichie defines the concept of power as ‘the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it their definitive story’. And so we have to acknowledge that most of our opinions and judgements and facts are based within a web of power-influences, and consider who has them and what they choose to tell us. Adichie also says that ‘the consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of dignity. It makes recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasises how we are different rather than how we are similar.’ Which is an interesting quote considering that at a time where as Christians, we could be using this opportunity to talk about Jesus bringing real freedom and pointing those who are questioning upwards, we can so easily get caught up in arguments that rob others of dignity in order to win a point.
These thoughts challenged me, because it sometimes seems that in moments like this we want to make a definitive black or white judgement on something or somebody, when actually there is a grey scale. A we-can-be-submitted-to-Jesus-and-love-the-Word-fully-yet-still-think-differently-on-this grey scale.
I’ve been seriously asked today whether I’m ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ in my feelings.
And I’m afraid that my answer might sound unsatisifyingly-grey.
Putting it bluntly.
I’m pro-Jesus. And I’m mighty, mighty glad that He’s pro-people. All people.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, I know, I really know, that He’s anti-sin. He went to the cross because it was the only way to enable us to live in the light of repentance, forgiveness and redemption. To ignore sin is to minimise His sacrifice, His love and His grace. Jesus is the only way, the only truth and the only life. I’m not suggesting that we brush societies’ wrongs, injusticies, and darkness under the carpet.
But I also guess, I can’t get away from the thought that if I live to be the age of 95, I wouldn’t want to be either judged purely on the failures of my youth (no matter how severe), nor wrongly idolised as a saint. And I definitely wouldn’t want people to make sweeping generalisations about everything I was, or did, or believed, from a one hour meeting.
Because there are some things that only God will ever know.
And what we do know is that there is a great equalizer called death. We will all one day stand before the eyes of Him to whom we will give full account. And He cannot be fooled. The eyes of He who doesn’t see in the single story, but who sees in the plural stories of motivations and heart’s desire and inner worlds. Of cultural differences and intended outcomes and different understandings. The eyes of He who sees Truth. And the eyes of He who we know will make judgements that are righteous, complete and perfect in understanding.
So seriously, in the aftermath of somebody’s death, is it really the time to criticising those who are genuinely mourning with sincere hearts? Didn’t Jesus ask us to comfort those who grieved? Isn’t our love, demonstrated through gentleness and compassion and humility more important than winning an argument or appearing to know the most up to date information?
Today, I simply pray that over arguments, and winning a point, and criticising those we are meant to love, we would instead use this opportunity to point to the One found Worthy, the hope of the world, and the lover of all people: Jesus Christ.
And that, is that.
On a completely different, and far more amusing topic, I was playing in my first carol service of the year last night. It was actually carol service with a difference as it involved some amazing coffee, cake and carols (sung just a little bit differently). I love church, and I loved this event. So to leave on a lighter mood than my Saturday-evening ponderings… Enjoy some pictures of the evening! My heart is so full of love for these guys. And for Jesus.