Last night, four of us met for a parish book group discussion on Tutu's book/memoir, a response to our Diocesan Bishop's invitation to join in a spring book study involving the whole Diocese. The blog for that online discussion is here.
I confess that though the book did more for me than I originally thought it would. It has the look/feel/heft of the "short books" that I have come to expect from ecclesiastical publishers of late, particularly in the vein of memoir/reflection. I realize the market for hefty theological tomes and deep, long forays into people's lives and histories in the church is not really supported by consumer interest. As well, the work in bringing a book like that into print has to be challenging. It takes a lot of resources from, and I am sure generate little return to, the publishing houses that create this fare.
Still, Tutu's work on this book is impressive. I am not here to review or recommend it...but I do recommend it to people who are struggling to make sense of a life in Christian discernment in the world today. It is easy enough to say, "I follow Jesus." It is not as easy to actually live a life that encompasses a 360-degree submission to the life and kingdom-reign of Jesus Christ, particularly when that life means living across the grain of the post-modern age, its ethics and its materialistic demands.
The main focus of our discussion last night centered on Tutu's main theme that society, and the self in society are continually called to express the transfiguring power of God's love for the world in the person of Jesus Christ. That love, that real power, continually prevails against the principalities and powers that attempt to hold the world hostage from God's redemptive work. That love transfigures the way we use our power in society. It challenges us to reframe our collective roles in suborning violence and the oppression of our fellow human beings. It indicts us, with love, before God as we have too often systematically rejected grace, peace, and reconciliation in favor of conquest, violence and domination of the "other" in our lives.
It's not easy to embrace this reality of embracing our role in God's dream for creation. It means being willing to give up our certainty, our resolve that we can either do things on our own...or assume that what we want does not cost someone, somewhere, something they need to live a good, healthy and holy life.
Tutu's root message? That God loves us, no matter how depraved we show ourselves to be...no matter the how ugly we get with one another. God loves us, even while judging us...and if we are willing to set down the rods of oppression, violence, idolatry...then God is ready to lift us up into new life. The challenge is to turn from the violence (that found in societies in general and that violence we commit daily upon ourselves and others) and embrace love, reconciliation, hope.
Truth is, we are all sinners who just might be able to embrace recovery from that sorry state. All we have to do is give up the arrogant assumption that we know better than our neighbor, or God, what needs to be done. No one, save God, can claim real authority...all power (particularly coercive or manipulative power) is passing.
The invitation is to embrace that kind of faith that transfigures our pain and suffering into a reconciling love that will then extend from us to transform the world.
Why believe that? Because it was through people like Tutu, Mandela, Gandhi, King and others who chose to eschew the use of power as it was being used on them...and to point to a way of being that not only celebrates justice...it also labors for reconciliation. There is no "them vs. us" in how God sees the world...only a nascent "us" that embraces humanity, indeed all of creation, with redemptive love.