Mandela and The Prince of Peace – by Jennifer Palin
Spirited Reflection – Sunday, February 16
Rev. Jennifer Palin has been an ordained minister in The United Church of Canada for twenty years. She currently serves at The Donway Covenant United Church in Toronto.
Jesus said, “I will tell you a story about a parent and their two children. One day the parent said to the elder child, ‘Go work in the vineyard!’ The child answered, ‘No!’ But later, repented, and went to work. Then the parent told the younger one to go to work. That child said, ‘OK’; but never went.” Jesus asked, “Which one obeyed?” “The older one,” the priests replied. Then Jesus said, “You can be sure prostitutes will get into God’s Commonwealth before you ever will! John told you to repent, but you would not, and even when prostitutes showed you what to do, you would not change your minds.”
I write this reflection the day after Mandela’s death. Media commentary is showing the marks of professional spin all around the world, and in the “intellectual” internet forums of Christian academic discussion, predictable disputes about whether Mandela was, or was not “Christian”, and was, or was not “Pacifist”, have broken out. Thank God Mandela’s eternal rest and peace do not depend on us.
So, who was the “true” Mandela? Which few words among the many millions he spoke in 95 years of life should be considered authentic and which were aberrant?
For me a living faith does not depend on accurate theology, correct political analysis, nor parsed words spoken or written nearly as much as the actions undertaken in praxis with the signs of the times. At a kairos moment in world history, Mandela had the skill and determination to be able to inspire millions of brutally oppressed people to choose a peaceful process of Truth & Reconciliation rather than civil war; he chose to make a partner of his jailer, rather than wreak revenge when he had the chance; he did not create a “ruling family dynasty/tyranny”, but served only one term as President. For me, his actions spoke far louder than any of his words, compelling though his words could be.
Did he “believe in peace”? Did he “believe in violent revolution”? Did he “believe in Marxism”? Debating these things interminably for fun and profit may draw admiration in some places, but these debates will not serve the creation of “right relationships” with “all our relations” living in a very incarnate, living, breathing, rapidly changing world. What is interesting to me is that he engaged with the world as he found it from day to day, “repented” of obsolete ideologies, and was willing to act for justice and accept responsibility for his actions rather than try to win points for political correctness. If we must judge him, I prefer to judge his actions, rather than debate his words. But I’d rather not judge, actually. Instead, let the dead bury the dead, and may those of us alive to the pain of the world engage in the kairos of our lives.