It Happened in Nairobi
I landed in Nairobi, Kenya, 35 years ago this summer and I’ve never been the same!
I was a delegate to the World Methodist Conference which connects 80 Wesleyan/Methodist denominations in 138 countries.
A formative experience of that trip was the address by Archbishop Desmond Tutu who turned 90 this week. I hope you’ll watch this brief clip from South African television news.
During some of the darkest days in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, Tutu told the Conference that God enlists us to participate in transforming “the ugliness of this world … into the laughter and joy, the compassion and goodness, the love and peace, the justice and reconciliation … to make the kingdoms of this world to become the kingdom of God and of his Christ.”
With little evidence to support his vision of freedom and justice, the Nobel Peace Prize winner declared,
“Hey, victory is assured! Because the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ declares forever and ever that light has overcome darkness, that joy and laughter and peace and compassion and justice and caring and sharing, all and more have overcome their counterparts … and we are seeing the fulfillment of the wonderful vision in the revelation of St. John the Divine.”
Don’t miss Tutu’s laughter! He continues to confront evil, injustice and oppression with an exuberant joy that explodes out of his profound confidence in the ultimate goodness and love of God.
If you want to know what a real Christian looks like in today’s world, look at Desmond Tutu!
It Happened in Johannesburg
A day later, Peter Storey, the leader of Central Methodist Mission in Johannesburg, called the Conference to celebrate the victory that was yet to be accomplished. “Because Jesus breaks the walls; because Jesus gives a liberty that none can take away; because His Church will be kept faithful to hope … Apartheid is doomed!”
That event began a personal friendship with Peter that continues to encourage and challenge me to this day.
Peter described the large, white candle surrounded by barbed wire that stood on the altar at Central Methodist Mission. They lit the candle as they called the names of people who had been arrested or were in prison.They prayed for freedom and committed themselves again to be the agents of God’s justice and peace in their land.
The candle symbolized the words of the Indian theologian and poet, Samuel Rayan.
A candle-light is a protest at midnight,
It is a non-conformist.
It says to the darkness,
“I beg to differ.”
It became the title of Peter’s autobiography, “I Beg to Differ: Ministry Amid the Teargas.” You can watch a recent tv interview with Peter here.
My experiences in Nairobi led to my first visit to Johannesburg when I had the humbling privilege of lighting that candle in worship. It resulted in ongoing connections with faithful pastors and lay persons who continue to demonstrate a tenacious commitment to the vision of the Kingdom of God becoming a reality on earth as it is already fulfilled in heaven.
Can It Happen Here?
Archbishop Tutu and Peter Storey are among the faithful followers of Christ like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Pope Francis, and the great company of unknown saints who in their own time and their own way dare to stand for Christ “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
According to the Bible, matters of economic inequality, personal and systemic racism and sexism, attempts to prevent people from voting, the rank dishonesty of politicians who twist facts into fiction to preserve their own wealth and power, and the sheer meanness of people who are more committed to their self-serving passions than to the “common good” are personal sin expressed through economic and political systems; sin that “instead of being directed toward the other is now focused oneself. Everything becomes a means to one’s own selfishness.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
I will never be as famous as Tutu or as courageous as Storey, but for 35 years what happened for me in Nairobi and Johannesburg continues to challenge me to find my own way to be a non-conformist who says to the darkness, “I beg to differ.”
How about you?
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain to joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.
So be it.
Grace and peace,
12 thoughts on ““I Beg to Differ…””
Very thought provoking, Jim. Thank you.
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Beautiful persons deservedly admired around the world. By the way, Archbishop Tutu & I share October 7 as our birthdate, and so do Yo Yo Ma & John Cougar Mellencamp. BUT, so do Oliver North & Vladimir Putin! Ah, the humor of God!
You’re in good company…for the most part!
Oh Jim, I love this post! I will be sharing it.
definitely in your top ten of blogs…thank u
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Thanks for being there so faithfully!
Well said Jim – thank you!
Jim, I’m trying to remember whether it was you or Jack that were in the party of 5 that went to supper together one night during the World Methodist Conference in Rio. Peter and Dad had been friends for years, but that’s when Peter and I got to know each other. I rank him among the most towering Christian leaders of our time. Would that we had more like him. The last time we were together was when he came to see Dad at Emory’s Wesley Woods Nursing Home about a year before Dad died. One of my most treasured possessions is the recording I made surreptitiously on my cellphone as Peter knelt by Dad’s wheelchair and these 2 bishops of the Methodist Church held hands and prayer for and with each other. I’m a better person, better pastor, better Christian because of both of them.
Jack and I both might have been there. Wasn’t that the night that we went to see the samba show? I remember it as a great evening.
Thank you for reminding us of “the light in the darkness”
Thanks! God bless you and Martha.
Jim great article.