Thoughts on Invictus: Part 3

Recently my wife Kay and I watched Invictus, the new film from Clint Eastwood starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. The movie tells the story of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black President, and his vision of using the Springboks (South Africa’s rugby team that had functioned as a symbol of apartheid and oppression to the country’s blacks) as a vehicle to unify the severely racially-fractured country in its quest to win the World Cup in 1995. The story itself is historically accurate.  But rather than be a dry description of those happenings nearly fifteen years ago, it brings to life those events in quite an amazing way.  Although some details are added to the story, as is often the case in Hollywood, the story the film tells is nothing short of gripping.

News reporter Alexandra Zavis who was in South Africa during these events writes:

Of all the improbable images I carry in my head from covering those first heady days of South Africa’s new democracy for the Associated Press, this one stands out. The film "Invictus," directed by Clint Eastwood and based on a book by journalist John Carlin called "Playing the Enemy," captures this extraordinary moment when history really was made on a sports field.

LA Times, December 15,2009

As you may know, I love film. In fact I have taught classes in seminary on Theology and Film on several occasions. The power of film is the power of the story to incarnate truth. And Invictus does just that.

Recently I have been studying deeply issues of forgiveness, abuse, injustice reconciliation, and the person of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in the world. As I sat in the darkened theater and watched the images and heard the dialogue I was overwhelmed as these themes wove themselves together as the story unfolded. In a very real sense Invictus became a lens that focused these themes together in sharp relief.  As we walked out of the theatre I turned to Kay and said “I sense the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit are all over that film!”

Coming Up: In my next post I’ll unpack the dynamic truths I’ve been learning as I’ve studied the issues of forgiveness, abuse and injustice.

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January 29, 2010. Tags: , . Food For Thought. Leave a comment.

Thoughts on Invictus: Part 4

Over the past several months I have been heavily involved studying and reflecting anew on the person of God. I became convinced over 20 years ago that our western understanding of the trinity had departed from the understanding articulated by the early church at the Council of Nicea and the explication given by Athanasius and the three great Cappodician theologians: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus. 

It was they who unpacked the implications of the pre-incarnate Son being homoosias (of the same substance/being) as the Father. Contrary to the Greek concept of God as a passionless, detached “unmoved mover,” the early fathers understood that the Trinity stood at the center of any Christian understanding of God and that the three persons, Father, Son and Spirit were in a dynamic relationship of love.  Some of the fathers spoke of this relationship as a magnificent divine dance.  God is fundamentally tri-personal existing in a life of self-giving love.  As the Apostle John flatly states, “God is love.”  And while it may be self-evident, I will say it anyway: “Love, by definition, demands relationship!”

I am heartened by stirrings of the reassertion of this reality within evangelicalism. Within the past couple of months the book The Misunderstood God: The Lies Religion Tells Us About God, by Darrin Hufford was released.  Hufford’s thesis is that if indeed God is love then the apostle Paul’s exposition of the nature of love in 1 Corinthians 13 should give us some profound insight into the nature and being of God. (A corollary of this would seem to be that God in his Trinitarian fullness is the source of love seen in his creation.)  Similarly Andrew Farley’s The Naked Gospel: The Truth You May Never Hear in Church explores related themes from a slightly different perspective. Both of these books are written on a popular level rather than in technical theological jargon.

Coming Up: In my next post I’ll discuss the challenge of our own dishonesty when it comes to the issue of forgiveness in our lives.

January 25, 2010. Tags: , . Food For Thought. Leave a comment.

Thoughts on Invictus: Part 2

In my last post I wrote about Nelson Mandela and his belief that the way to healing was not through revenge, but through forgiveness. This type of forgiveness is not conditional on apology, for an apology would never be offered.  It is an act of free unconditional grace, where revenge is foresworn and the damage is borne by the one who has been hurt.  We say that grace is free and unconditional, but there is also a pain in grace.  In his latest blog entry Baxter Kruger speaks of the “pain of grace.

“To be gracious is to hurt,

for it is not merely to wink at a problem,

but to enter into it and bear it personally,

to endure it, in love and mercy and patience.”

Mandela personified grace, healing and reconciliation.  He practiced what he preached.  As a result of his example and influence South Africa set up the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” in an attempt to heal the abiding wounds of Apartheid.

Witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements about their experiences, and some were selected for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.

The TRC, the first of the nineteen held internationally to stage public hearings, was seen by many as a crucial component of the transition to full and free democracy in South Africa. Despite some flaws, it is generally (although not universally) thought to have been successful. [Wikipedia, s.v. “Truth and Reconciliation Commission (South Africa)”]

Coming Up: When a political leader models grace and reconciliation it is a rare gift to a country. In my next post I will talk about the recent film Invictus and how the story of the movie brings themes of forgiveness to life.

January 20, 2010. Tags: , . Food For Thought. Leave a comment.

Thoughts on Invictus

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison in South Africa labeled as a terrorist for his work in opposing the apartheid system that oppressed not just the blacks but all who were not racially pure with full European ancestry. Early in his career he took Gandhi’s non-violence as an example.

Ecclesiastes 7:7 observes: “Surely oppression drives a wise man crazy, and a bribe drives a person mad.” So it was for Mandela.  As the pushback from the government came bringing more repression, he became convinced that non-violence would not prevail.  He and his group began targeted bombing of critical facilities, being careful to avoid human causalities.  The Government labeled him a terrorist. Arrested and imprisoned, he suffered beatings, boredom, and depravation as he lived in a 6×8 foot cell, and broke rocks for labor.  During this time he also read and thought.

In 1990, with apartheid unraveling Mandela was released from prison and became the leader of the anti-apartheid coalition of groups dedicated to end the hateful system.  It was he who led the negotiations that ended apartheid in South Africa, and he who became the nation’s first democratically elected black president.

As he took the reins of power fear shuddered through the white minority who feared a bloodbath of revenge.  But Mandela had grown over the decades.  He had learned that the way to victory, the way to unification, and the way to healing was not through revenge, but through forgiveness.

Coming up: In my next post I’ll begin to unpack forgiveness and the pain that is present in grace.

January 15, 2010. Tags: , . Food For Thought. Leave a comment.