I managed to avoid the mall this season until today. I had to go because that’s where the stuff I needed was being kept (Ginger and Jay were going, too), so, as long as we were going, we decided at least part of the afternoon should be spent at the movies; we saw Invictus.
Put it on your Must See List.
As Jay and I were winding our way, I got a phone call from a religion reporter in Austin who is writing a story about David Gentiles for the newspaper this weekend. As I talked about Davy, I told her he is one of the reasons I trust the veracity of the Incarnation because David incarnated God’s love as well as anyone I know. The movie reminded me that Nelson Mandela falls in that category as well, though I don’t personally know him. As Matt Damon’s character, Francois Pienaar, says of Mandela after visiting the cell at Robben Island where he was imprisoned, “I was thinking how he could spend thirty years in a tiny cell and then come out and forgive the ones who put him there.” Mandela told Francois he had been inspired by poetry (hooray!), particularly “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley. I found it when I got home.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
The question Mandela kept asking was how to inspire people to be more than they imagined they could be. Listening to NPR as we drove home, I couldn’t help but draw a comparison with the imaginative and transformative leadership of Mandela and the partisan bickering and (I don’t even know what to call it) that plagues most every member of Congress, causing them to treat each other with the incivility and immaturity of a grade school playground (my apologies to grade schoolers). I am not inspired. I also didn’t intend to head towards a rant this evening, so I will change my tack.
At the end of the movie, they showed pictures of the people portrayed in the movie. When I came home, I looked for video of the rugby team and found this video of the team singing “Nkosi Sikelele Africa,” the South African national anthem, before the start of a game with England in 2007. The anthem itself is both song and metaphor for South Africa: it has parts in the four languages primarily spoken in the country. The video is amazing to me because the rugby team is primarily Afrikaners and they are singing their hearts out. They are testament to the power of forgiveness and compassion; you can’t beat unity into people, you must lead them.
My friend Gordon Atkinson preached a sermon Sunday calling us to “be the manger.” His wife, Jeanene, is the one who told me about it (she’s my friend, too).
He said that whether we are ready or not, Christ will come. The reality is that we don’t have to be ready, we don’t have to “have it all together,” we just have to receive the Christ child: it’s our job to be the manger.
I love the image. We are called to be a place, a heart, a being, that can receive and hold Christ. Thirty years in a cell that was hardly big enough for him to lay down, and Nelson Mandela was still a manger, still a receptacle of Love, because he refused to be defined by his calling rather than his circumstance. As we gather with shepherds and wise men again this year that Christ might be born again among us, the choice has not changed: will we fight or forgive?