Monday, March 02, 2015

Shalom Church--Time Has Come

What's happening to Church?

I’m certain that God is in the future, but wonder if the church has a future.”--Leonard Sweet

"The future of the Church is Shalom for All--the people of God, seeking the shalom of the community to where they have been sent into exile (Jeremiah 29:7)."--Michael J. Christensen

Three Questions:

  • What do we mean by ‘church’?   
  • What is the future of the Church in North America in light of declining church attendance, increasing secularism, growth of the NONES (no religious affiliation), rise of the DONES (I’m done with church), and closing of churches?
  • How can we “do church” differently to help us love God and our neighbor (and even our enemy) as we love ourselves?

Decline in Attendance[i]

  • What researchers forecast for decades now is undeniably true: traditional church attendance continues to decline (Gallup, Pew, Barna)
  • Although more than 40 percent of people “say” they go to church every week, statistics show that fewer than 20 percent actually attend regularly. 
  • In other words, more than 80 percent of Americans are finding more fulfilling things to do on Sundays.
Growth of the Nones[ii]

  • People claiming no religious affiliation rose from 15% in 2007 to 20% in 2012, pointing to the growth of the “Nones” (None of the Above)—who may believe in God, may be spiritual, but not religious (Pew Research 2012). 
  • Nearly two-fifths of the nation’s adult population (38%) now qualifies as post-Christian (as measured by 15 different variables related to people’s identity, beliefs and behaviors) (Barna).[iii]
  • If current trends continue, Christians will become minority in a post-Christian secular culture.
Rise of the “Dones”[iv]

Newly reported Rise of the “Dones” (Done with Church). [Who often are key lay leaders in local churches and national Christian leaders (who are not pastoring churches).  E.g. Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest, wrote about Why I left Church.  Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz, confessed on his blog:  “I don’t go to church very often…and most of the influential Christian leaders I know (who are not pastors) do not attend church…I also believe the church is all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe.”

Christians leaving traditional churches say they’re still spiritual, but church no longer meets their needs. They become unaffiliated believers who may sometimes go to church, but they’re done with church commitments, congregational conflict, and cultural Christianity.[v]
If less than 20 percent actually attend church regularly, where do they go to church?

About 70% attend traditional churches and 30% participate in alternative forms of church today, according to Graham Cooke, author of Permission Granted to Do Church Differently in the 21st Century.  But these percentages will reverse themselves within the next 10-15 years.

“Followers of Jesus in the US who do not attend a local traditional church will grow from 30% to approximately 70%,” says Cooke. One third will still attend traditional churches, one third will meet to worship God in alternative structures (homes, schools, restaurants, pubs, parks, theaters, hotels and shopping malls. “And one third will live out their faith in the fields of media, arts, and culture.”

In other words, increasing numbers of those who follow Jesus are not following him into a classic church building.  And the remaining remnant can’t afford a pastor or sustain an annual church budget.

Close of Classic Churches

So what will happen to classic church buildings in the next 20 years?

Classic church buildings will close their doors. 

  • Hartford Institute estimates there are approximately 350,000 religious congregations in the United States.
  • Only 2,000 or so show signs of steady growth (mostly mega churches)
  • As many as 200,000 will close in the next 20 years, currently at a rate of 4,000-7,000 per year (c.f. approximately 1,000 new church plants annually)
Some classic churches, of course, will remain open, survive and thrive, thank God!

Others will become legacy churches as long as their endowments last.

Sadly, most will close and the property sold to the highest bidder; they will be torn down or converted to condos, community centers, museums, restaurants and even night clubs.

  • Former Roman Catholic Church in Newark is now a Jazz club and restaurant called The Sanctuary.
  • Washington Square United Methodist Church in NYC is now luxury condos
  • Berkeley Church of Nazarene is now a Buddhist Monastery

The Good News

Change is blowing in the wind, creating new opportunities for church redevelopment and fresh expressions of ecclesia. It’s time to ‘do church differently.’

We can watch with cynicism, resist the changing tide…
OR, we can do church differently in the Third Millennium of Christianity. 

Once unsustainable churches close,
new ecclesial life can emerge.

Falling church attendance does not mean a decline in the practice of Christian faith. Rather, the Church is morphing as believers look for alternative ways to worship God and love their neighbor as oneself.

Congregational life is migrating to small groups for intentional community, simple worship and vital mission in the world.

The structures of the local church and perceived boundaries of the traditional parish are shifting and transforming into a more fluid organism and inclusive community of faith.

Church is manifesting in communities, organically, and missionally.

Emerging Alternative Church Structures

Jesus said: “you cannot pour new wine into old wineskins…” (Luke 5:37-38), but you can create new wineskins for new wine. A new old story of “God so loved the world…” has been emerging and the people of God are learning how to tell the old story in new ways.

Essential Elements of Ecclesia

Ecclesia=called out ones.  Out of the world and into community, to worship God and to participate in God’s mission in the world.

  • Acts 2:42-47  ecclesia (gathered), koinonia (fellowship), didache (teaching), eucharist (thanksgiving), diaconia (service)--expressed in mutual dependency, generosity, sharing and numerical growth
  • “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am, right there, among them.” (Matthew 18:20)
  • “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together…” (Hebrews 10:25)
  • Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)
  • “Bear one another’s burdens….” (Galatians 6:2) 
What are some fresh expressions of ecclesia?

       Church Online                                                                                    Missional Church                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Emergent/Emerging
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Organic Church  
Border Church at the California/Mexico Border, San Diego
       House Church                                                                                        Shalom Church

Permission Granted to Do Church Differently
  • Re-think Church. 
  • Re-imagine Faith.  
  • Envision ecclesia as community centers
  • Adapt Shalom strategies of Asset Based Community to re-purposing church buildings for the common good 


Eccesia is essential; structures change.

The Church has a future…if we re-purpose church buildings and re-form eccesia 
  • Time for church as the people of God to leave the temple and be the tabernacle in the world.
  • Time to get out of the church building and into the community.
  • Time to start Shalom Churches.
“Be the Church you want to see in the world.” 


[i] Hartford Institute of Religion Research (2012). Hartford Institute estimates there are roughly 350,000 religious congregations in the United States, mostly Protestant.  Average attendance: 186 (factoring in mega church attendance)
[iii] Barna Group conducted a major study on the U.S. unchurched population in 2014.
[v] Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore by Thom Schultz and Joani Schutz
[vi]Permission Granted to Do Church Differently in the 21st Century by Graham Cooke and Gary Goodell (2010)
[vii]  This estimate relies on the RCMS 2010 religious congregation’s census. Of those, about 314,000 are Protestant and other Christian churches, and 24,000 are Catholic and Orthodox churches.  Non-Christian religious congregations are estimated at about 12,000.
[viii] Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore by Thom Schultz and Joani Schutz
[ix] Mega Churches will continue to increase, absorb smaller churches, start or take over seminaries and replace denominational structures.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Update on Hope Scholarship House Malawi

From Rev. Copeland Nkhata, Mzuzu, Malawi:

Rev Michael,

This is the first team to benefit from revenue of the Hope Scholarship House built by WorldHope Corps and Mzuzu UMC.  

And it’s a great celebration that the house has now began to bear its desired fruit---school fees for our boys and girls for higher education. 

The picture above depict three boys and two girls in an accounting class at the UMC HOPE SCHOLARSHIP CENTRE MZUZU.

The boys are:
1.       Ganizan Nkhambule
2.       Jonathan Nzimah
3.       Joshua Walin-ase Nkhata

The girls are:
4.       Alice Mkandawire
5.       Eness Makamo

Please join me in this holy jubilee. I am proud of the awesome works of God and your untiring support in this regard.

The house now generates MWK 210 000.00 per quarter of a year [approx  $500], and that is what we paid for exam fees for five students to write exams with the Institute Of Chartered Accountants of Malawi for the December 2014 diet. (But we had to raise an extra amount for their registration.)

Pray that the vision grows so that we can educate many more young Malawians for the leadership of the church and for God’s Kingdom.

Love and regards.

Copeland Nkhata, Pastor
Mzuzu Circuit UMC

Sunday, September 14, 2014

ISIS on my mind, Lifting high the Cross

Went to bed last night and woke up this morning with ISIS on my mind. After another beheading, who can doubt that there is real Evil in the world? 

"Our warfare is not against human beings but principalities and powers..." (Ephesians 6:12)

Headed to Church at St Vincent Martyr in Madison, hoping for a prophetic word of peace.  Fr. Jose, who turned 35 this week, after the Processional Hymn--"Lift High the Cross"--announced that today was for Adoration of the Cross. 

The Cross of Christ, he said, "is a symbol of cruel torture, pain and suffering.  But it is also a symbol of Love."  He encouraged us to let the sign of the cross be a daily reminder of our connection to the suffering of Christ and the world, to let it be a feature of our life of prayer, of sacrifice and letting go, and the promise of peace, liberation and victory.

After partaking of the body and blood of Christ, we prayed together this prayer for peace through St Michael, the Archangel: 
" our protection against all evil.  Send your holy angels to protect and guide all those who suffer persecution. Strengthen their faith and enliven their hope.  Deliver them speedily from all danger...inspire world leaders to work effectively for peace in our day.  With your divine assistance, may we overcome violence with compassion, war with peace, and thus establish your law of love and justice on this earth. Amen!"

Liberation Spirituality: Henri Nouwen and Gustavo Gutierrez in Dialogue

Liberation Spirituality: Henri Nouwen and Gustavo Gutierrez in Dialogue

Lecture Notes:

Presented by Michael J. Christensen, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Practice of Spirituality and Ministry, Drew University;  and International Director, Communities of Shalom, The United Methodist Church


“There is a little man in Peru, a man without any power, who lives in a barrio with poor people and who wrote a book.  In this book he simply reclaimed the basic Christian truth that God became human to bring good news to the poor, new light to the blind, and liberty to the captives.  Then years later this book and movement it started is considered a danger by [the USA, or Rome], the greatest power on earth.  When I look at this little man, Gustavo, and think about [the President of the US, or the Pope], I see David standing before Goliath, again with no more weapon than a little stone, a stone called A Theology of Liberation (Henri Nouwen, Gracias!,1983, pp. 174-75)

This seminar draws water and wisdom from Gustavo Gutierrez, the “Father of Liberation Theology”, and one his most famous students, Henri Nouwen, acclaimed writer on the spiritual life, as they engage and reflect together on an emerging “liberation spirituality” for the people of God.  

Here are three Notions of Spirituality:

1.     “’Everyone has to drink from his own well’, observed St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who inspired many monastic orders.  Simply stated, each one of us must find our own well and drink the water of life that is right for us, both inside and outside the Cloister.

.     2. ’Everyone has to drink from his own well’… Yet no one drinks alone,” writes Henri Nouwen. “We all have drunk from wells we did not dig and enjoyed fresh water that is not entirely our own.”  Hence the need for community (Henri Nouwen, Discernment).  Simply stated: spirituality is not essentially personal, private or the product of individual pursuit and practice; rather, authentic spirituality is corporate and connected to all the people of God and practiced in community and compassionate ministry.

3.     “Spirituality is like living water that springs up in the very depths of the experience of faith,” writes Gustavo Gutierrez.  “To drink from your own well is to live your own life in the Spirit of Jesus as you have encountered him in your concrete historical reality.” (Gustavo Gutierrez, We Drink from Our Own Wells).  Simply stated: spirituality is not essentially personal, private, individualistic, or even the expression of community life; rather, authentic spirituality emerges from the struggle of the people of God and from the particular social context of that struggle for liberation.

So, how do we draw water and wisdom from our own personal experience of God, and our community of faith, and from the larger struggle of the people of God in the world as we seek the liberation of all?

Gustavo Gutierrez emerged as a popular theologian in Latin America in the late 1960’s, and represented Christianity as a “preferential option for the poor.” He became known as the “Father of Liberation Theology”--a practical theology and active faith born out of solidarity with common people and their struggles.  His books and courses became prophetic in liberation theology movements in Latin America and around the world.

Henri Nouwen attended one of Gustavo’s popular courses in Lima, Peru, in 1982. “I remember this course as one of the most significant experiences of my six-month stay in Latin America,” Nouwen writes in his journal.  What he learned from Gustavo was that “liberating spirituality” must be rooted in an active and reflective faith, and not a passive, private or privileged contemplative experience.

Although Nouwen remained critical of some aspects of Liberation Theology, what impressed him most was how Gustavo Gutierrez integrated mysticism and activism, the struggle for spiritual growth with the struggle for political freedom.  Although Gustavo remained critical of a purely personal, private, individualistic spirituality, he centered his own activist faith in a deeper spiritual and theological reflection. In the dialectic of Gustavo’s more activist faith and Henri’s more contemplative spirituality and, a new kind of liberationist spirituality was articulated which is reflected in Gustavo’s We Drink from Our Own Wells and Henri’s Foreword to the book.

Together, these two priests offer the world fresh perspectives on the “primordial waters of spiritual experience”–from oral tales and written texts, concrete lives and communities of faith–in the common struggle for freedom. “By dipping deeply into the well of our own lives [as the people of God], we can discern the movements of God’s Spirit in our lives,” writes Nouwen in Discernment (p. 170)

Liberation Spirituality is experienced in the creative tension, the life-giving dialectic, the quest for balance of praxis and theoria, action and contemplation.  
In a nutshell, that’s my seminar!  But it will take more time to crack that walnut.

PRESENTATION: Liberation Spirituality
by Dr. Michael J. Christensen, Ph.D.


Check in

Part One:  We Drink from Our Own Wells

STORY  (Discernment:  pp 171-172)

Social Analysis and Biblical Reflection  (Exo 3)

PPT:  7 Elements of Liberation Spirituality

PART TWO   Discerning Vocation

Vocational Choices
  • What’s your Spiritual Type? 
  • Where are you on your journey?

Rule of One:  Action—Contemplation Continuum

Rule of Two:  Action Or Contemplation Dualism

Rule of Three:  Action-And-Contemplation Dynamic
  • ·      Contemplative Action
  • ·      Committed Contemplation

Conclusion:  Micah 6:8

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Heading to Uganda on Sunday, January 5

Pastor Baaumu Moses of Uganda and the orphans in his care
Happy New Year, my friend!

One week from today, I will be  in Uganda with my friends and colleagues in ministry, Pastor Baaumu Moses, Br. Julius Kasaija, and Dennis Singini (from Malawi). 

We three (along with a mission group of 7 others from my church and community) will be on a two-week mission to help train over 200 coffee farmers, school teachers, seamstresses, and community workers in Shalom principles of economic community development.

We also will visit Fr. Paul and the St George Hope Health Centre which WorldHope Corps has supported for the past five years. 

Together, we will lend a hand to local projects, conduct two ShalomZone Trainings offer professional consultations, and engage in international friendship and cultural exchange.   We hope to give and to receive in a spirit of mutual ministry and "reverse mission." (Reverse mission, according to Henri Nouwen, happens when we offer the gifts we have to others and find that we ourselves have gained much more than we tried to give.)

You have contributed to WorldHope Corps in the past, and I am deeply grateful for your generous support!  Indeed, I could not take on these relief and development projects without you. 

If you will continue your support, WorldHope Corps can continue doing in 2014 what we have been doing since 2007 in Uganda, Malawi, and the Dominican Republic--economic community development projects focused on HIV/AIDS testing, training and care; clean water via Village Wells; community orphan care, educational scholarships; and helping poor farmers who grow good, organic, coffee and chocolate find an international market. 

I'll send you an annual report of our activities and projects at the end of January along with your annual receipt, but in the near term, I hope you will consider making another charitable contribution to WHC for 2013.  (Any online gift or check in the mail that arrives this week will be credited as a tax-deductiable donation for 2013.)

Here's a link to give online:

And here's the link to mission updates on my worldHope Corps blog:

Again, thank you for being a friend and supporter of this mission.


Michael J. Christensen, Ph.D.
Founder and CEO
WorldHope Corps, Inc.
P.O. Box 295
Madison, NJ 07940

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Mandela--the Lion King of Qunu

After 10 days of global attention and national mourning of the death of the 95 year old anti-apartheid revolutionary and first Black President of South Africa, I am still in awe of this royal champion, this Lion-King of a man with mythic dimensions, magical powers, mystical depths of spirit, and feet of clay. I remember how his prophetic witness raised my global consciousness growing up in the 1970’s, and how supporting his call for divestment in the 1980’s added to the controversial issues that got me in trouble with my denomination.  I remember where I was and who I was cheering with on February 11, 1990, when he was finally released from prison after 27 years (it was the same day I decided to leave the church of my birth and become a United Methodist).  I want to remember and give thanks for Nelson Mandela and honor the Source of his Fire and Flame at Christmas time.

Mandela's coffin covered with lion skin for home-coming


Today, December 15, 2014, the South African military handed over his remains to tribal leaders and family members for burial in his ancestral village of Qunu in the East Cape. The national flag that had covered his coffin at the State funeral was replaced with a lion skin, a traditional symbol of the Xhosa people (Mandela’s tribe), symbolizing the return of one of their own.  One of Mandela’s grandsons (a new tribal chief), other family and friends, celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, British royals including the Prince of Wales, and religious leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson, Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu and Methodist Bishop Don Dabula (identified by CNN as the Mandela family chaplain), honored the body, soul and eternal spirit of this Lion King of Qunu named Madiba Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela as he was laid to rest.

Noble Birth

Before he was born on July 18, 1918, to Nonqaphi Nosekeni and Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, a spark of divinity was planted in his soul. (This happens to all babies born to human parents, which is why we all are sacred flames from the One Source, royal offspring of Almighty God, beloved children of the Most High, formed in the image and likeness of our Creator). 

He was born into the Madiba clan in Mvezo, Transkei (South Cape rural province) to parents who served as principal advisors to the Acting King of the Thembu people.  All members of this clan can be called Madiba—the name of their tribal chief in the 19th century —as a name of respect and honorable birth. (South Africans with deep affection often call Mr. Mandela “Madiba” as a way of honoring his tribal roots.)
Rolihlahla was the name his father gave him, a Xhosa name which means, “pulling the branch of a tree.” And it also means “trouble-maker” (prophetic for sure).  After the death of his father, when Mandela was 12 years old, the boy became a ward of the King at the Great Place in Mqhekezweni. (Like Moses as a child in Pharaoh’s palace, he may have grown up with a sense of royal destiny.) 
Christian Baptism

In the news media we hear more about Mandela’s tribal roots and social values than we do about his Christian roots and spiritual values.  However, the Christian Church can rightfully claim one of our own, so I will proudly say it: Nelson Mandela was a baptized Christian from a life-long Methodist family! As the presider at his funeral announced today, “the Methodist Church was the spiritual home of Nelson Mandela.”[i]

The Madiba boy born to be a king became a Christian at his mother’s urgings.   He was baptized at their Methodist Church in Qunu at the age of seven. His primary school teacher, Miss Mdingane, gave him the name Nelson in accordance with the custom to give all school children “Christian” names in baptism.  The name “Nelson” means “son of Nell.“  Nell is of Greek and English origin and it means "light." Nelson means Son of Light.

From age 7 through college, Nelson attended Methodist boarding schools in his Provence, and gained a better education than he would have had by attending Banta Schools--the public schools assigned to native Blacks in segregated South Africa. Certainly the British Methodist mission schools mixed true Christian faith with colonial religion (as any church institution in the early 20th century would), but there was enough light from the divine spark in Nelson’s soul at birth, and enough grace in the sacrament of baptism at age 7 to fan the flame and last a lifetime! 

As Nelson learned Bible stories from missionaries in his Methodist church and classrooms, I imagine that the word of the Lord came to him as a herds boy tending to his family cows, as it did to an earlier prophet, Jeremiah, when he was a boy:

4Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 5“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” 6Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 7But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, 8Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”9Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. 10See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:4-10)    

As Morgan Freeman (the actor who played Mandela in the movie Invictus) said in a 2009 PBS interview: “He was born to do what he's doing. I think Providence sat on his shoulder at an early age, and he was guided…” 

After completing his Junior Certificate, Nelson went on to Healdtown, a Wesleyan Methodist secondary school of good repute, and got in to the University College at Fort Hare.  He was expelled for joining in a student protest in college, but managed to completed his BA through the University of South Africa and then went back to Fort Hare for his official graduation ceremony in 1943.  The following year, Mandela joined the African National Congress and helped form the ANC Youth League in 1944.  He rose through the ranks and became a compelling figure and leader.

Revolutionary Leader

As a political revolutionary and outlaw, Mandela’s vision during the apartheid era in South Africa was for the eradication of the system of racism and injustice in S.A., and the establishment of a constitutional democracy in which all citizens, including the native majority, had equal rights to vote and participate in their government.  In this campaign, he was supported by the Methodist Church: 

Methodist leaders were prominent among the prophets who refused to bow to the false god of apartheid,” he said. “Your ministers also visited us in prison and cared for our families. Some of you were banned. Your Presiding Bishop himself shared imprisonment with us for some years on Robben Island. This you did, not as outsiders to the cause of democracy, but as part of society and eminent prophets of the teachings of your faith.”[ii]

After the African National Congress was outlawed, Mandela continued operating secretly.  Like the Lion King, Aslan, in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, who would come and go, appear and disappear from the land of Narnia, Nelson Mandela became a master of disguise, and would appear at anti-apartheid rallies in South Africa, give a roaring fiery and revolutionary speech, and then suddenly disappear from the scene to the delight of the crowd and the frustration of police who were trying to arrest him for treason.  

After two decades of social protest and stirring up popular demonstrations, and previous arrests and trials for treason, Mandala was put on trial with nine others in 1963 for conspiring to commit violent revolution and acts of sabotage.  Found guilty and facing the death penalty, his words to the court at the end of the trial became immortalized:

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal that I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” (‘Speech from the Dock’ on 20 April 1964)

Like the Lion King Mufasa in Disney’s film, who told his son “Remember who you are!”, Mandela heard the Voice and remembered who is was what he was called to do—to lay down his life if need be, for truth and justice, and to devote his life, as long as he had breath, to fight for the freedom and dignity of his people, and for all people.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. would also say: “If a person hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live.”

Prisoner of Hope

Mandela was sentenced to life in prison.  But it only lasted 27 years!  According to Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaking to PBS, prison was a time of suffering and deep spiritual growth for him: 

“…suffering can do one of two things to a person. It can make you bitter and hard and really resentful of things. Or, as it seems to do with very many people--it is like fires of adversity that toughen someone. They make you strong, but paradoxically, they make you compassionate, and gentle. I think that that is what happened to him.”

The divine spark within that baby boy of the Madiba clan continued to grow into the fire of the Spirit during his 27 years in prison. Through what might be called a “baptism of fire” he grew into the very likeness of the Christ—“a man of sorrows acquainted with grief,” a person of faith committed to truth and reconciliation, a “prince of peace” and champion of justice for all people, and a prisoner of hope.

“I am not an optimist, but a great believer of hope,” Mandela writes in his autobiography. ”Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being [a person of hope] is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” (Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom)

After 27 years in a dark prison cell, he was transformed by the light.  That original spark before birth had become a cross and flame. That spiritual seed planted at his baptism had grown roots and branches, bearing nine beautiful pieces of spiritual fruit:

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, kindness, self-control against which there is no law.” (Gal 2:20) 

Finally, on February 11, 1990, the Lion King of Qunu was released from prison in recognition of his international stature, moral courage, and spiritual authority.

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.” 

I noticed this week all the news commentators asking the same question:  How was Nelson Mandela able to spend 27 years in prison and come out without hatred and bitterness toward his oppressors and enemies?  How did he transform his resentment into a spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness?  

The common answer was that he had must have had righteous anger and justifiable resentment, but he simply choose not to let it master him by repeating his favorite poem, Invictus for years in prison: “I am captain my soul; I am master of my fate…” 

I don’t think that is the answer, as powerful as that poem is when committed to memory.  I choose to believe that Nelson, through the power of the Spirit, let his heart grow large enough to include everyone, even his enemies and oppressors, in its compassionate and forgiving embrace. 

Feet of Clay

“I am not a saint,” Mandela is often quoted as saying, “unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” 

Mandela, like any human, had limitations and made a number of personal and political mistakes.  He had moral failures and harmful associations (including friends like Fidel Castrol and groups leaders in the Community Party). I faulted him at the time (and still do) for his refusal to renounce violent force and armed resistance to oppression, as Gandhi and Dr. King did in favor of active resistance through non-violence. 

And the personal price he paid for the international success of the movement was very high.  As Morgan Freeman said about Mandela in an interview:  …all of this world renown and glory sits on him, on one side of him. Over here, he feels like he's a complete failure because of what his family had to pay.”[iii] That price included two failed marriages and his many children unable to see their father for decades. As Mandela admitted, “my commitment to my people, to the millions of South Africans I would never know or meet, was at the expense of the people I knew best and loved most.”  As one commentator observed: “When one is father to all, he is less a father to his own.”

 President and Elder Statesman

Tata is the Xhosa word for “father” and a term of endearment that many South Africans use for Nelson Mandela who became a father figure to millions and the father of the new South Africa.  Overtime, he took on mythical qualities and mystical dimensions of global significance.  And in his death, Mandela is almost canonized.
Like Jesus, the Lion of Judah, with a genealogy going back 1000 years to King David; Mandela now has a bloodline to the chiefs of the Xhosa tribes.  We noticed that, as Elder Statesman, Mandela had noble stature, royal air of native pride, and carried himself with the authority of a man who would be king.  In one of his inaugural addresses upon becoming the first Black President of South Africa in 1994, Mandela was widely reported to have quoted or paraphrased what Marianne Williamson wrote about remembering who you are: 

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us…. You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone, and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”-- Marianne Williamson, A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles


Let us take heart from the Lion King of Qunu, and learn what we can from the life experience of Madiba Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela.  When we remember who we are, as Nelson did, we can continue to build the beloved community of shalom in the place where we have been sent (Jeremiah 29:7).

"Fountain of wisdom, a pillar of strength, and a beacon of hope for all those fighting for a just and equitable world order. Your long walk to freedom has ended in a physical sense. Our own journey continues. We have to continue working to build the kind of society you worked tirelessly to construct.”  (Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa, at today’s funeral, December 15, 2013)

[i]The Methodist Church, Mandela often acknowledged with gratitude, supported his witness against apartheid South Africa: “The Methodist Church was the only Church to be declared an illegal organization under apartheid, Mandela reminded church leaders in 1994, “and for ten long years you were forbidden to operate in the Transkei Bantustan.”  Address by President Nelson Mandela to the Annual Conference of the Methodist Church,” Sunday, September 18, 1994)

[ii] Address by President Nelson Mandela to the Annual Conference of the Methodist Church,” Sunday, September 18, 1994.