by Mary Turck, 4/12/08 • Archbishop Desmond Tutu came to Minnesota this week as part of a youth weekend. The teenagers of Youthrive and PeaceJam were not even born during the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, or when Archbishop Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. After apartheid ended, and after the election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first black president in 1994, Archbishop Tutu directed his country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Archbishop Tutu opened Friday night’s talk with a self-deprecating story about recognition.
“I was in San Francisco a few years ago,” he said, “and a lady came up to me and was very friendly and effusive and she greeted me very warmly, ‘Hello, Archbishop Mandela.’ Sort of getting two for the price of one.”
His topic on Friday night was “Making Friends Out of Enemies.”
“One of the benefits of not being young is that you are permitted to repeat yourself,” he said. “Most of the things that most of us say aren’t exactly brand new.” Perhaps not, but the Nobel laureate’s message bears repeating.
He opened, as good preachers do, with a story.
Adam is in the garden. And there he was having a great time with the animals and gamboling all over the place, but God looked on and said. uh-uh. It’s not good for that guy to be all by his lonesome.
And God said to Adam, “Well Adam –”
Adam said, “Yes?”
“How about choosing a mate for yourself from the animals?”
So God let animals pass in front of Adam in procession and God said, “What about this one?”
“Nope,” said Adam.
“And what about this one?”
“And this one?”
“Not on your life!”
And God say okay, and put Adam to sleep. And as the story goes, out of Adam’s rib, God created this delectable creature.
And when Adam awakes, he looks and says “Wow!” and “This is what the doctor ordered!”
It’s a story that is meant to convey a very profound truth about you and me. That you and I are incomplete, that we can’t, in fact, be human in isolation.
In solitary confinement, as it were.
I wouldn’t know how to be human except by learning it from other human beings. I need you in order for me to be me. I need other human beings in order for me to be human. …
The totally self-sufficient human being is, in fact, subhuman.
One of the sayings in our country is … “A person is a person through other persons.”
We are family.
I thought that, speaking to this friendly audience, Archbishop Tutu was preaching to the choir. When he reminded us that what we spend on defense systems could provide clean water and enough to eat for every person on earth, we agreed. But as he continued, the tough part of his message became clearer.
“We all belong to this incredible thing,” he said, “God’s family, in which there are no outsiders. Every one, every single one, is an insider.”
He continued in a litany of inclusion:
“God will draw all, all, all, all in this extraordinary embrace
“Rich and poor – all. …
“Black and white and yellow and red, all, all, all, all. …
“Clever and not so clever, all. …
“Gay and lesbian and so called straight, all, all, all. …”
“George Bush. [pause] “Yes, all, all, all!”
(Remember–that’s the Archbishop’s message, not mine. I don’t pretend to come anywhere near living his message, but I do think it’s worth hearing.)
The short question-and-answer session confirmed the challenge implicit in the end of his litany. Archbishop Tutu preaches a call to really love our enemies—all of them. He challenges us to look for goodness in each enemy, and to treat them and speak of them with respect.
Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe?
” Zimbabwe used to be our showcase. President Mugabe was really a star. When he won his first election, many people feared there was going to be revenge against the colonists, the white Rhodesians as they then were. One of the most amazing things was that they didn’t have that retribution. Ian Smith remained a member of parliament for donkeys’ years. ….
“Something happened. Something snapped in him, I think. And we have seen this nightmare that has become Zimbabwe. And now …
“I still hope that his peers, the heads of state in Africa, could exert pressure on him to … step down with dignity.”
The legacy of George Bush?
Again, the archbishop sidestepped an opportunity to denounce a person.
“I lunched with Mrs. Bush. She’s quite something else. On Burma, she is fantastic. When I spoke with your secretary of state, on the issue of Burma, the United States is on the side of the angels. And so many people are going to remember Laura Bush and her concern about Burma and Aung San Su Kye. ”
In this dark year, sliding simultaneously into depression and election, the archbishop’s message offers a profound challenge. Without giving an inch on principles and politics, he still calls for a reconciliation and love.
“An enemy is a friend waiting to be made. An enemy is really a member of my family.”