Orange County Register
By CATHLEEN FALSANI
ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Friday, December 6, 2013
The air feels a little thinner and the light seems a bit dimmer since Nelson Mandela departed this life for the next on Thursday.
When Mandela crossed to the other side of the veil, we lost one of the most extraordinary people to ever walk this earth — a force for good, a voice for justice, a man who embodied the ideals of mercy and forgiveness with boundless grace.
But even more than a political, social justice, or ideological giant, in Madiba’s death I sincerely believe we lost the greatest spiritual leader of my lifetime.
He was neither priest nor preacher. He was never ordained; never donned a cleric’s garb or held The Word in his hand while extolling us about how to live.
Madiba lived his theology. He preached with his life. And his legacy is a scripture we will study for generations to come.
He did justly, loved mercy, and walked humbly with his God and with the world entire — with those who would call him their hero and those who would count him as an enemy.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains,” he said, “but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
Mandela was no “respecter of persons.” Rather he treated all he encountered with dignity, no matter color, creed, status, gender, sexuality, age, nationality or disposition.
His is a resurrection story. Robbed of his freedom, his intimacies, his health, and even his ability to cry tears of pain (or joy), Mandela emerged from 27 years of unjust imprisonment transformed. He might very well have been disfigured by bitterness or hatred.
Instead, Madiba’s metamorphosis, wrought by what Archbishop Desmond Tutu described as “a crucible that burned away the dross,” was a thing of indescribable beauty, strength, and divine grace.
He stared fear in the face and overcame it with perseverance, spiritual strength, faith, and love.
When he walked out of Victor Verster Prison on Feb. 11, 1990, he spoke not of victory or revenge, but rather of humility and service.
“I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all,” Mandela said. “I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.”
And he did just that. He led by example for the rest of his days.
After he was elected South Africa’s first black president, he invited his white jailer as a special guest to his inauguration, and he invited the prosecutor who had put him in jail (and sought his execution) to lunch.
Madiba modeled reconciliation and forgiveness personally, politically, and culturally, leading to one of the most astounding events in world history: South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The commission gave an entire nation the opportunity to confess its sins, confront its victims and tormentors, ask for forgiveness, and be forgiven.
It was not an opportunity squandered, but seized. The healing that followed is unprecedented and serves as a model for the rest of the world.
Mandela did not wear his faith on his sleeve. He was not a particularly “religious” man, but if you read his life it is impossible not to see the heart of a man who knew the God of love.
After his death, I read something I’d never seen before — a message Madiba delivered at the 1994 Easter gathering of the Zionist Christian Church. According to Christianity Today, which posted his comments, Mandela said:
“The Good News borne by our risen Messiah who chose not one race, who chose not one country, who chose not one language, who chose not one tribe, who chose all of humankind!
“Each Easter marks the rebirth of our faith. It marks the victory of our risen Savior over the torture of the cross and the grave,” he said. “Our Messiah, who came to us in the form of a mortal man, but who by his suffering and crucifixion attained immortality.
“Our Messiah, born like an outcast in a stable, and executed like criminal on the cross. Our Messiah, whose life bears testimony to the truth that there is no shame in poverty: Those who should be ashamed are they who impoverish others.
“Whose life testifies to the truth that there is no shame in being persecuted: Those who should be ashamed are they who persecute others. Whose life proclaims the truth that there is no shame in being conquered: Those who should be ashamed are they who conquer others.
“Whose life testifies to the truth that there is no shame in being dispossessed: Those who should be ashamed are they who dispossess others. Whose life testifies to the truth that there is no shame in being oppressed: Those who should be ashamed are they who oppress others.”
Although he did it infrequently, Mandela, in fact, could preach.
But his most powerful eloquence laid not in words, but in his actions. He was imperfect as much as any of us, a fact he acknowledged with characteristic humility when he famously said, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
He was no messiah, but his unfathomable strength and boundless willingness to extend grace to others — perhaps especially to those who don’t deserve it — seems to have been rooted in the One who came to reconcile all of creation.
I will miss his fierce but quiet dignity. I will yearn for his smile, his warmth, his ever-open arms.
And I, like millions of others now and in the future, will try to the best of my ability and for the rest of my days, to live what he taught us: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Go now in peace, Madiba, good and faithful servant. Ndiyakuthanda, Tata.
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Godgrrl
About, oh, NINE months ago, I started a new gig as the Faith & Values columnist for the Orange County Register in Southern California. No, I never expected to return to writing for newspapers. But not unlike Don Corleone, the Register‘s editor made me an offer I simply couldn’t refuse. My first day on the job was the day before Pope Benedict XVI retired and a week or so later, I found myself standing in St. Peter’s Square staring at the same smoke stack on top of the Sistine Chapel that I had spent many hours surveilling for signs of white smoke eight years earlier when they fella who had just ridden off into the sunset (by helicopter and not figuratively this time) had been elected Pontifex Rex.
A few days later, the world met Papa Frank and, well, as some of you have read or heard me say a million times, he had me at Buona Sera. I LOVE HIM.
And then about a month or so later, I went on assignment to Africa – South Africa, Malawi, and Zambia – with the ONE Campaign and brought Vasco (my son) with me. Epic trip resulting in a seven-or-eight-part series in the Register and on ONE.org.
I write a couple of columns a week for the Register and my columns usually appear in Monday’s Faith & Values section, although occasionally elsewhere. Then often, though not always, my ol’ pals at Religion News Service pick up my columns and make them accessible to the rest of the free world. Thanks, Kevin. I love you long time.
As some of you also know, the Register has a PAY WALL. Dun-dun-duhhhhhh. I know. I KNOW. Stop kvetching at me, I KNOW!
But here’s the thing: You can pay $2 and get access to the ENTIRE ARCHIVE – i.e., you can see everything I’ve written for Register since I got there. So that’s option A.
Option B is to wait for the (shorter) version of my column to (usually) move at www.religionnews.com and read it there for free (but you may not post it in full or the RNS clandestine forces will knock down your door and seize your laptop, tablet, and your Bible/Quran/Book of Mormon. So don’t do that.) You can quote 250 words and add a link to read the rest. That’s the common fair use these days for blogging, as I understand it.
I’m about to add a page up above at the top of the blog’s home page with all the links to all my columns at the Register and via RNS since the end of February 2013 and will continue to update them as well as post a wee excerpt and link when each new column moves at the Register and RNS.
Thanks for hanging in with me during this transition. I’m planning on getting back to regular blogging (see new feature @PONTIFEXCELLENT!, which will, insh’allah, be a daily thang, and look for other new stuff, too.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot: I’ve got a new book coming out next fall called DISQUIET TIME: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels, co-edited by Jennifer Grant (my homesizzle) and yours truly (and Eugene Peterson wrote the foreword – SQUEEE!) Learn more about it HERE.
It’s great to be back in my own space. I’ve missed The Dude. And all y’all.
It is with great delight that I share some (personal) breaking news: At the end of the month, I will be joining the staff of the Orange County Register as its Faith & Values Columnist.
I’ll be on sabbatical until then, but I am thrilled to be joining the Register in this new era, with a publisher, Aaron Kushner, who believes in the power and necessity of excellent newspaper journalism. In the last few months, the Register has hired more than 70 new reporters, columnists, editors, and designers.
When I visited the Register offices in Santa Ana late last year, I found something I hadn’t seen in more than a decade and feared I might never see again: a thriving newsroom. Every seat filled. Humming with the sounds of reporters doing their thing. Bubbling with energy and excitement.
I was beyond thrilled to meet astute and creative editors who understand the importance of covering issues of faith, religion, values, morals, ethics, and belief that are a vital part of the fabric, history, and future of Orange County.
During the 3.5 years since my family relocated from Chicago to Orange County, I have fallen head-over-heels in love with this magical place, its lively and diverse community, and the extraordinary people I’m blessed to call my neighbors.
I can’t wait to dig in, discover, and tell their stories.
It’s an unexpected new chapter in my life for which I am deeply grateful.
Thanks to all of you for walking with me these many years and for joining me on this new adventure.