Sunday, January 3, 2010


Furball and I sought refuge from the cold today and went to see Invictus.

It is powerful and hit me square between the eyes and smack dab in the middle of my heart.  No doubt, my impression of it was enhanced by my recent trip to Africa.

My experience in Africa is something I continue to gnash around, wrestle with, and "process." I'm getting sick of that word.  Process.  But, it aptly describes what's going on in my brain as I try to make sense of and discover the deepest meaning of that trip.

First, see the movie.  It is simply incredible.  Bravo Mr. Eastwood.

I found myself continually drawing comparisons between the South Africa depicted in the movie and the Liberia I visited last fall.

There are so many parallels.  Let me say right off that I am not an expert on South Africa or Liberia.  What I am about to say is prefaced with a significant caveat -- I'm speaking off the top of my head as an American middle-class white chick who has spent a little more than a week in post-war Liberia trying to help teachers improve the educational system.

As I watched the movie, and saw the shanty towns where the black South Africans lived, I had flashbacks of Liberia.  The level of poverty I witnessed there was assaultive on many levels.  As I was driven through the streets of Monrovia, it seemed surreal and was hard to take it all in.  It was as though a part of me had to shut it out in order to accommodate to the harsh reality of life there.

It wasn't just the material poverty that was so unsettling.  I was expecting that.  The entire time I was there, I had a strong and disturbing "sense" of atrocities that were committed during the war.  It is very difficult for me to explain or articulate, but I felt as though my soul was aware of it and was absorbing it.  Unpleasant doesn't begin to describe it.

In the film, the animosity and distrust between the Afrikaners and the black South Africans was palpable.  It's easy to minimize the magnitude of enmity that must have existed after having gone through something like Apartheid.  It's easy because I haven't experienced it.

In Liberia, two brutal (and I mean brutal) civil wars raged for 15 years.  It came to a fragile end in 2003. The peace is still a fragile peace.  That was very obvious to me as we spent time in the country.  Painfully obvious.  

Children in first grade and younger are the only ones who did not live through it.   It's not a black-white issue in Liberia. Its a complicated mix of tribes, warlords, factions, and much more than I know. Now the country strives for Truth and Reconciliation.  In order to move ahead, they are trying to "forgive but not forget."

Forgive but don't forget.  

It would probably be easy for me to minimize or somehow compartmentalize the horrific war experiences of the Liberian people.  I certainly can't comprehend it.  But having been there and having witnessed the shambles of the country's infrastructure, I can only imagine the physical, psychic, spiritual, emotional wounds of those who survived.

Well, this isn't intended to be a commentary on oppression and inhumanity.  Quite the opposite.  Where's the beauty in all of this?

In Invictus, Nelson Mandela shows us what qualities it takes in a leader to bring about reconciliation and forgiveness in the aftermath of oppression, inhumanity, and hideous violence.  It would be so easy to continue in the pre-peace mindset, continue to mistrust, to abuse power, to engage in corruption.  That would be a very human thing to do.  But, he called on the South Africans - black and white - to behave and perform according to a higher standard than they expected of themselves.  Higher than the expectations of their "enemies."

The World Cup Rugby match was a marvelous way to demonstrate that concretely and metaphorically to South Africans.  To the world, actually.

In Liberia, I met several people who emulate the same qualities as Mandela.  The Reverend Father comes to mind immediately.  Here was a man, who like Mandela, has a strong sense of what it takes for reconciliation and forgiveness when the circumstances seem so overwhelming and unforgivable.   

Both men are powerfully gentle. By that, I mean there's no Pollyannaish sense of "Can't we all just get along."  But, there's is an acknowledgement and no denial of the pain that has been inflicted.  The wounds are deep, devastating, and very, very real.  And then, there's a strong moral conviction to not continue inflicting pain -- even on those who were your oppressors.  

It is a moral conviction - or a moral authority - that simply must be divinely ordained.
Because it seems beyond what we can expect of human beings who have suffered greatly at the hands of fellow human beings.  It is the best of humanity.  Our world has been blessed by a few leaders over the years who have this insight, this vision, this conviction.

This brand of leadership has to be divinely inspired.  

Because it is like Christ.

He came to reconcile us to God.  We are separated from God through our own actions and we cannot be reconciled by our own means alone.  

I felt the presence of God when I met the Reverend Father.  It manifested itself as love. 

I imagine people experienced the same phenomenon when in Nelson Mandela's presence.
 Love. Not fickle romantic love, but profound, truthful love.  Love when it is the most difficult thing to do.  Love where love is not expected.

Powerfully gentle.  Like Christ.


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