"...I will not forget,
your love for me and yet,
my heart's forever wandering...
...Nothing will I fear,
as long as you are near,
please be near me to the end.
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet,
and a light unto my path.
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet
and a light unto my path."
I was listening to Krista Tippett's provocative interview with South Africa's Nobel Prize winning Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, last Sunday, and had one of those "driveway moments" when getting out of the car, to go into church, was like prying a clinging abalone shell from a coral reef...and I was the one doing the prying.
I had to remind myself that the very message that had me clinging to the dashboard like a bi-valve, to hear just one more minute of the interview, was the exact reason I needed to get out of the car...the Bible, the living, breathing, palpating, life-transforming and empowering Word of God.
If you weren't able to catch "Speaking of Faith" last Sunday, I highly recommend listening to the podcast of Krista's interview. But I digress...ever so slightly, but a digression nonetheless.
Just to set the stage. We were well ahead of the game on Sunday morning. I was scheduled to conduct our Sunday service that week, and we were on the road in plenty of time to get to church, lay out my books, write the hymn numbers on the white boards, and settle into my chair so that I could say "howdy" to well-loved friends, while we greeted visitors coming through the door.
But, I made the mistake I make every Sunday. I turned on NPR and I was hooked. When Krista introduced her guest, I knew this would be an especially difficult "driveway moment." As regular readers know, I am smitten by all things related to the spiritual lives, and stories, of those who lived through South Africa's apartheid era of attempted minority rule, racial domination, the suppression of a aboriginal "voice", and the oppression of basic human rights. My relationship to South Africa goes very deep.
For me, the lives of men and women like Steven Biko, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and my dear friend Dorothy Maubane continue to be an inspiration of spiritual poise, unconditional love, a faith that can move mountains of hate, and a sense of forgiveness that has the power to dissolve vengeance.
When I heard Tutu's unmistakable voice I felt a great knot of emotion fill my throat, and knew this was going to be a difficult morning of getting Kate out of the car and into "Sunday School"...
His interview was barely out of the gate, when, in talking about the role of the Bible in his life as an Apartheid era South African he replied:
"If these people had wanted to keep us oppressed,
they shouldn't have given us the Bible."
He went on to relate how the Bible is the quintessential guidebook for emancipation, freedom, and liberty. How the Bible is packed full of stories about "a people" who were oppressed, broken and enslaved, finding freedom through an understanding of their intrinsic worth as the image and likeness of God. He said, "Discovering that the Bible could be such dynamite....The many parts of the Bible that were so germaine, so utterly to the point for us. When you discover that Apartheid sought to mislead people into believing that what gave value to human beings was a biological irrelevance, really, skin color or ethnicity. And you saw how the Scriptures say it is because we are ceated in the image of God, that each one of us is a God-carrier. No matter what our physical circumstances may be, no matter how awful or deprived you may be, it doesn't take away from you this intrinsic worth as the image of God."
He went on to help me see, that the very "apartheid laws" that said one popluation was of less worth...based on race...laws that were the basis for allowing "whites" to exercise dominance over tribal southern Africans, those "laws" of genetic predisposition to racial dominance, are, when exercised spiritually, are the basis for emancipation under the law of God that say that man (all men, women, and children) are "heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ."
He told us, as listeners, about women in his small Soweto congregation...housekeepers, launderers, maids, and cooks...who had been deprived of their given names by their employers, tribal names that were deemed too difficult to pronounce, and had been renamed "Annie," or, in the case of most men, "boy." These women were his parishioners, but they were also women whose very spirits seemed broken, heavy-burdenened, and tired with labor. In his sermons and in private conversations, He would say to them:
"When they ask you 'who are you?' Say, 'Me, I am a God-carrier. I am God's partner. I am created in the image of God."
Tutu went on to say that these women would walk out of church on cloud nine, with their backs slightly straighter. "Each one of us," he said, "is a God-carrier." It was exhilerating to see...it was amazing.
The Bible. The Word. The very thing that the early sub-African British and European missionaries came to disseminate, the very religiously superior reasoning for oppression, the very thing that "Christian Europeans" felt gave them the upper spiritual hand in suppressing the traditions, cultures, lives of native populations...calling them infidels and savages...was the very key to their true, and lasting, authoritative emancipation from oppression.
Amy Grant and Micahel W. Smith sing "The Word is a Lamp unto My Feet" with a new message for me this morning as I write this.
But Sunday morning, when I heard the authority of voice, the confidence of spirit, the inspired cry to rise against oppression, with which Desmond Tutu spoke of the Bible's promise, I could no longer sit in the car.
I felt that moment's calling. The weary bridge-builder, the peace marcher, the human rights advocate, the spiritual "feminist," the environmental activist in me absolutely flew out of that car. Nothing was going to stop me from sharing The Word with anyone who was willing to hear its pure, clear, refreshing, revitalizing, restorative, recuperative, invigorating, rallying cry of spiritual self-governance, emancipation, and freedom from oppression, victimization, or discouragement.
I will repeat what, for me, was Desmond Tutu's gift to a world confused about what to do next. How to respond, spiritually, to a world at war, in financial crisis, afraid of its neighbors, and feeling victimized by natural disasters and corporate greed:
"If 'these people' had wanted to keep us oppressed,
then they should never have given us the Bible."
It's really never about oppressive people, it's about oppressive beliefs, suggestions, concepts that would demoralize, stratify, and separate us into haves and have nots, good and bad, right and wrong...or even, right and left. But when we can rip off the mask of it being about different kinds of people and take up arms against the beliefs that are causing us to take sides against one another's freedom, success, and peace of mind, we are can truly live as "joint heirs with Christ" and eliminate the apartheid, apartness, that is always at the heart of what will steal our freedom and oppress our spiritual right to live as brothers and sisters with one Father-Mother, God.
Mary Baker Eddy writes:
"Citizens of the world, accept the glorious liberty
of the children of God, and be free, this is your divine right."
Today I am singing a new protest song with Michael, and Amy, and anyone else who loves this message of hope and freedom:
"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet,
and a light unto my path..."
And it is. The Bible (which is the Scripture of my faith tradition, but certainly not the only scripture filled with inspiration for anyone longing for a spiritual path to freedom) is full of stories of promise and encouragement. The Israelites at the edge of the Red Sea, Joseph held in Pharoah's prison, Job convicted by opinion, David enslaved by the shackles of regret and remorse, Jesus walking through the angry crowds untouched, Peter finding freedom...through Christ's precious love...from the chains of guilt and self-doubt. Stories of hope and deliverance. It chronicles the accounts of women, and men who, like Jesus, remembered what was "written," and stood on the promise of what "could not God do."
Thank you Krista, Desmond, and all who have knowingly, or perhaps even unwittingly, shared "the Word" through your life, your witness, your mission...you have given someone a window on their God-bestowed and God-defended freedom...the key to their own emancipation.
with loving hope,
Kate Robertson, CS