Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Tutu's Treacherous Flight*

Maybe it's just me, but it seems that the world has almost forgotten Archbishop Desmund Tutu. In the 90's, when apartheid South Africa was being transformed into the new South Africa, there may not have been a more universally admired human being in all of Africa or all of the world, save Nelson Mandela himself.  The two of them seemed South Africa's truly righteous.  Why stop there--the seemed the world's truly righteous.

In a immensely enriching interview aired last week on On Being, Krista Tippett offers listeners a reprise, another look at a man the world considers to be among it's most amazing and wonderful heroes, a man who, like Mandela, was somehow remarkably able to suffer immense horrors without ever losing the hope that comes by faith alone.  

So much of the uncut interview is memorable that choosing any one chunk does the whole an injustice, but one story Tutu tells goes so deeply to the heart of our sin and sadness that it bears repeating.  He says he was in Nigeria, where he boarded a plane to go back home to Johannesburg.  

When he'd boarded, he says he'd seen, up front, that both of the pilots in the cockpit were black.  Once airborne, turbulence on high made that homeward journey the mother of all apocalyptic flights.  Passengers were sure they were going to die.  In the height of the shaking and rattling and rolling, Tutu says he discovered his own fears when he couldn't help but wonder whether those two pilots, both black, were going to be skilled enough to pull that jet out of mess they were in.  Neither of them, after all, were white.

Desmund Tutu, black African Archbishop of Capetown, freedom fighter, champion of the oppressed, a man who won the Nobel Peace Prize already in 1984, in the middle of the apartheid madness, who was also awarded the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism in 1986, the Ghandhi Peace Prize in 2005, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009--that Desmund Tutu, on a flight home he'll never forget, discovered himself a racist.

Sadly, Archbishop Tutu's turbulence story is not beyond belief.  That he would have those deep prejudices after his people had suffered racial discrimination for centuries is actually perfectly, tragically, understandable.  

What's remarkable about the story--or so it seems to me--is how deeply it reaches into our own human character to reveal unmistakably how each of us--me too--has a a thinly concealed reserve of emotion and attitude that is, and probably forever will be, determinedly racist.  Racism is nothing anyone sheds easily.  Scratch us deep enough, and it's there.

Archbishop Tutu is 81 years old now, retired, he says, but if there was a school for Christians, if there was one huge learning center under whose curriculum everyone who claimed the name of Jesus would enroll, and if I had anything at all to do with the determining course content, I'd make his On Being interview  required listening.  I'm serious.  Just to hear the man's exuberant laugh enriches the soul.

Short on hope these days?  Listen to Desmund Tutu.

*Published March 2, 2012.

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