And so, it is we begin 2022 without one of the greatest religious leaders of modern times. We remember the life & mourn the loss of Archbishop Desmond Tutu whose funeral is on the first day of the New Year. Small in stature with an infectious, strange laugh & the South African man-shuffle when he danced, he was of course a giant! A giant campaigner & activist against the hideous apartheid regime of South Africa. A giant participant & chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission among South Africa’s new leadership; a commission housed in the Constitutional Court, built from the bricks of the Johannesburg prison (which had held women & men political prisoners, in segregated cells, (non-white prisoners in dormitories) as well anti-apartheid activists including Nelson Mandela & at one stage Gandhi.
About Desmon Tutu the president of South Africa President Ramaphosa said. “From the pavements of resistance in South Africa to the pulpits of the world’s great cathedrals & places of worship, & the prestigious setting of the Nobel peace prize ceremony, the Arch distinguished himself as a non-sectarian, inclusive champion of universal human rights.”
Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1984 & his ministry as an Anglican cleric & influence was world-wide. I like to think of an association with the bishop in my own theological studies in Oxford. When asked my degree mark I say I achieved a “Desmond” - that is a 2:2! But more importantly it was here I read his book The Rainbow People of God. Tutu’s writings & speeches culled from historic moments of the South African peoples struggle he speaks of a celebration of all Gods diversity; “ALL” being God’s people, regardless of skin colour of course, but also background & culture, wealth, sexuality, religion, or gender. A recent newspaper article following his death stated that he did not live to see his rainbow people fulfilled. Not strictly true. God’s people are already a rainbow people of difference. Tutu’s call was for us live as a rainbow people of God, a celebration of Gods difference, all redeemed by Christ. In this sense it is an ongoing living movement.
And so it is, an angel visits a room in a small insignificant town, Nazareth where God is proclaimed to be with us; in a brave very young girl; in a hesitant impending step-father; in the welcome of poor shepherds & strange far away visitors; in a lesser known little village Bethlehem; in a grubby smelly animal shed; in two aged folk in a synagogue; in the escape of a refugee family; in their return to live as a working carpenter family in the insignificant town where it is soon to be said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth? (John 1;46).
Whist in South Africa, Gillian & I visited the Number Four prison in Johannesburg & the constitutional on the same site. We also walked down Vilakazi Street in Soweto, the South African township (now a tourist attraction). These districts were the underdeveloped segregated areas reserved for non-white communities. Even in the years since the ending of apartheid in 1994 such areas are far from described as economically thriving. But during the struggles theses townships lacked basic amenities. Both the quality of life as well as social conditions were abysmal. “Can anything good come from Soweto”?
Not only Nelson Mandela but also Archbishop Desmond Tutu lived in Vilakazi Street. And so, Vilakazi Street in Soweto Township is the only street in the world that has been home to two Nobel Peace prize winners.
“Can anything good come from Soweto”? “Can anything good come from Nazareth? (John 1;46).
In our small places; streets & homes; churches & prayers; efforts & failures; dancing & shuffling; God is present as God was present in the child Christ. May we live as the Rainbow People of God & discover God with us again in & throughout 2022.
God bless, Roger.
The Constitutional Court of South Africa’s logo.
The Court’s logo reflects the central theme of its design, that is, Justice under a Tree. This is a nod to the traditional cultural practices of village elders sitting under a tree debating & deciding on the issues brought to them by community members. The sheltering branches of a tree also represent the protection of rights.