“One hundred years ago, Madiba was born in the village of M – oh, see there, I always get that – (laughter) – I got to get my Ms right when I’m in South Africa. Mvezo – I got it. (Cheers and applause.) Truthfully, it’s because it’s so cold my lips stuck. (Laughter.) So in his autobiography he describes a happy childhood; he’s looking after cattle, he’s playing with the other boys, eventually attends a school where his teacher gave him the English name Nelson. And as many of you know, he’s quoted saying, “Why she bestowed this particular name upon me, I have no idea.
There was no reason to believe that a young black boy at this time, in this place, could in any way alter history. After all, South Africa was then less than a decade removed from full British control. Already, laws were being codified to implement racial segregation and subjugation, the network of laws that would be known as apartheid. Most of Africa, including my father’s homeland, was under colonial rule. The dominant European powers, having ended a horrific world war just a few months after Madiba’s birth, viewed this continent and its people primarily as spoils in a contest for territory and abundant natural resources and cheap labor. And the inferiority of the black race, an indifference towards black culture and interests and aspirations, was a given In those nations with market-based economies, suddenly union movements developed; and health and safety and commercial regulations were instituted; and access to public education was expanded; and social welfare systems emerged, all with the aim of constraining the excesses of capitalism and enhancing its ability to provide opportunity not just to some but to all people. And the result was unmatched economic growth and a growth of the middle class. And in my own country, the moral force of the civil rights movement not only overthrew Jim Crow laws but it opened up the floodgates for women and historically marginalized groups to reimagine themselves, to find their own voices, to make their own claims to full citizenship. It was in service of this long walk towards freedom and justice and equal opportunity that Nelson Mandela devoted his life. At the outset, his struggle was particular to this place, to his homeland – a fight to end apartheid, a fight to ensure lasting political and social and economic equality for its disenfranchised non-white citizens. But through his sacrifice and unwavering leadership and, perhaps most of all, through his moral example, Mandela and the movement he led would come to signify something larger. He came to embody the universal aspirations of dispossessed people all around the world, their hopes for a better life, the possibility of a moral transformation in the conduct of human affairs. Do you remember that feeling? It seemed as if the forces of progress were on the march, that they were inexorable. Each step he took, you felt this is the moment when the old structures of violence and repression and ancient hatreds that had so long stunted people’s lives and confined the human spirit – that all that was crumbling before our eyes. And then as Madiba guided this nation through negotiation painstakingly, reconciliation, its first fair and free elections; as we all witnessed the grace and the generosity with which he embraced former enemies, the wisdom for him to step away from power once he felt his job was complete, we understood that – (applause) – we understood it was not just the subjugated, the oppressed who were being freed from the shackles of the past. The subjugator was being offered a gift, being given a chance to see in a new way, being given a chance to participate in the work of building a better world. Madiba reminds us that: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart.” Love comes more naturally to the human heart, let’s remember that truth. Let’s see it as our North Star, let’s be joyful in our struggle to make that truth manifest here on earth so that in 100 years from now, future generations will look back and say, “they kept the march going, that’s why we live under new banners of freedom.” Thank you very much, South Africa, thank you”. President Barack Obama
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.
Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
The quotation stems from Niemöller's lectures during the early post-war period. Different versions of the quotation exist. These can be attributed to the fact that Niemöller spoke extemporaneously and in a number of settings. Much controversy surrounds the content of the poem as it has been printed in varying forms, referring to diverse groups such as Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, Trade Unionists, or Communists depending upon the version. Nonetheless his point was that Germans—in particular, he believed, the leaders of both Catholic and Protestant churches—had been complicit through their silence in the Nazi imprisonment, persecution, and murder of millions of people.
Only in 1963, in a West German television interview, did Niemöller acknowledge and make a statement of regret about his own antisemitism. (hostility or prejudice against the Jews). Antisemitism is generally considered to be a form of racism. Nonetheless, Martin Niemöller was one of the earliest Germans to talk publicly about broader complicity in the Holocaust and guilt for what had happened to the Jews. In his book Über die deutsche Schuld, Not und Hoffnung (published in English as Of Guilt and Hope)—which appeared in January 1946—Niemöller wrote: "Thus, whenever I chance to meet a Jew known to me before, then, as a Christian, I cannot but tell him: 'Dear Friend, I stand in front of you, but we can not get together, for there is guilt between us. I have sinned and my people has sinned against thy people and against thyself.'"
By Russell Pollitt SJ
God’s silence in the midst of life’s chaos is often a haunting reality. How many times do we wonder why God, when we feel at our most vulnerable, seems to shut the heavens and retreat into a disturbing silence? I read something recently which, against the backdrop of tragedy, I want to rehash, as some things need to be said over and over and over again.
We feel the apparent absence of God more acutely when tragedy overwhelms us, death strikes the unexpected, the world around us seems hopeless or when we are confronted with the insignificance of our lives in the greater scheme of things. Guilt may gnaw at us because we know that we have got it horribly wrong and are now powerless to put it right. When these things happen, we feel abandoned by God, and, in the midst of our vulnerability, might even want to blame or curse God.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s diaries (made public after her death) revealed a sobering truth that shocked many people: during the last sixty years of her life, she questioned God’s existence and had no affective experience of either the person or the existence of God. Despite this, everything in her life appeared to be focussed on and committed to God. She was selfless, altruistic and devout. She was a world icon for ‘proof’ that God existed, for faith. She was a quintessential modern saint – few dared dispute that.
Some might accuse Mother Teresa of being dishonest or incongruent. But let’s consider this. Her feeling or sense of God’s absence and the way she chose to live her life are not opposed to each other. Mother Teresa, because she had no affective or personal experience of God, could not manipulate God to fit her needs or vision. She could not control God. She received God on God’s terms, not hers. The initiative was with God. She allowed God to be God.
Often we are led to believe that having a strong sense or feeling of God’s reality and action in our lives indicates robust faith. When confronted with those who struggle with faith and/or belief – especially in our most vulnerable moments – we are always tempted to say things like “this was God’s plan” or “just have faith”. Although, no doubt, said in sincerity, what these very often reveal is an ego or manipulation of God (and religion) for our own benefit. We need to guard against creating God in our own image and likeness and using that image to further our own interests or impose our feelings or worldview on God.
When we are powerless to manipulate our own image or experience of God, or use God for our own benefit, it is then that God can act on God’s terms. We simply don’t like that because we cannot resist manipulating religious experience and faith to make it work for ourselves. Despite convention, God’s seeming absence in the midst of life’s chaos or when we are at our most vulnerable, may just be God putting a stop to our all too arrogant egos. Paradoxically, God’s absence might just be the most pure moment we encounter God: on God’s terms.
My name is Barnabas Sibusiso Nqindi, rector of St Barnabas-Bluff. I enjoy a good debate and I love to see people grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ