A Memory & Hope Upon the Death of Nelson Mandela

901_10151869544736985_1828902241_nIt wasn’t our daughter’s first protest or maybe it was. (Around the same time we’d protested at the Federal Courthouse in solidarity with native American activist Leonard Peltier, who is still in prison after 37 years.)

We gathered in the church parking lot of Memorial Boulevard Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Louis after worship. We shared sandwiches and cookies out of plasticware before walking the two blocks to the Shell station on the corner where our march from Shell to Shell to Shell would begin. Our goal as people of faith was to shame Shell Oil out of South Africa and to build awareness for the boycott of the company until they did so. As my wife and I pushed our infant daughter in her stroller, we chanted “Free Mandela” and “End Apartheid! Boycott Shell!”

We were young and believed in the impossible. We believed that our action in north St. Louis could change the abhorrent conditions under which Africans lived thousands of miles away. Years have passed. Decades have come and gone. More times than I’d like to admit I have doubted that real change is coming.

As my baby girl nears thirty, I wonder whether hope is justified in a world in which food programs for children and adults are cut and banks get bail-outs. I am discouraged by a lack of empathy for the poor. I wonder if justice will ever come when our prisons are filled with black men and Leonard Peltier remains in prison.  I wonder if peace will ever come after more than a decade of military action in Afghanistan. I weep when the first reaction to conflict in the world is to use military force.

I wonder if love can overcome death, as the Christian narrative tells me, when it doesn’t seem like we can even love one another.

And then I look at the life of Nelson Mandela. An imperfect man in a far from perfect world, his life is testament to love overcoming death. The extravagant love of the One will overcome the impossible as it did in Mr. Mandela’s life.

Though love doesn’t overcome at the speed I’d like it to come. It does come. In the words of  Nelson Mandela,  “…People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” 

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