February 2010


This past Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, signalling the 40 days (minus Sundays) leading up to Easter Saturday.

Here’s an excerpt from Bread & Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter:

“My denial of my sin protects, preserves, perpetuates that sin! Ugliness in me, while I live in illusions, can only grow the uglier. Mirrors that hide nothing hurt me. But this is the heart of purging and precious renewal – and these are the mirrors of dangerous grace…Nevertheless I will not avoid this mirror! No, I will carefully rehearse again this year, the passion of my Jesus – with courage, with clarity and faith; for this is the mirror of dangerous grace, purging more purely than any other. -Walter Wangerin, Lutheran Pastor, p12-13.

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Twenty years ago today, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison a free man, after being locked up for 27 years. As I heard the news reports recalling that day on the BBC this morning, I found myself weeping. Twenty years ago, I was months away from turning 26 and I could scarcely take it in that this man had been imprisoned more than a year longer than I had been alive.  His crime?   A public stance for justice in a nation where black and mixed-race Africans were considered inferior to white South Africans. This system of inferiority/superiority on the basis of  race (see the earlier post about the true life story of Sandra Laing, as depicted in the movie ‘Skin’) was deeply entrenched in multiple laws limiting where non-whites could live and work, who they could marry, where they could attend school and even what language they were required to be taught in (Afrikaans).

What made Mandela’s release that much more remarkable was not that  many, including me, didn’t think he would ever be released, but there was great fear that the hatred entrenched in hearts on all sides of the racial divide would lead to an all out blood bath, if he and the other political prisoners of his generation were eventually freed. 

Instead, Mandela and others came out extending a genuine hand of forgiveness and reconciliation toward the white regime that had mistreated them, and their fellow Africans, for generations.  And the dreaded civil war never came to pass.  Thanks be to God.

If you have any doubts about the staggering power of genuine forgiveness, I urge you to watch the recently released movie, “Invictus”, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, about President Mandela’s relationship with South Africa’s Springbok’s, their national rugby team, who won the world cup in 1995.   And if you don’t want the Hollywood version, then read the John Carlin book, “Playing the Enemy”, on which the movie is based .  I just began reading it this morning and it  is already a page turner.

The epigraph at the start of the book is a quote by Mandela that says, “Don’t address their brains.  Address their hearts.”  You can’t read that and not think of the One who is the perfect example of forgiveness, the One who gave up his glory and his very life – and not  just 27 years – because he was concerned not just about our brains, but  about all of our hearts.