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Desmond Tutu's Recipe for Peace
One of the world's heroes believes, 'God works through us and through history to bring about God's dream.'
A Beliefnet interview ( http://beliefnet.com )
Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu is one of the world's most beloved religious figures. A longtime foe of apartheid, he retired as Episcopal archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, and was then named chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the organization charged with bringing to light the atrocities committed during apartheid and achieving reconciliation with the former oppressors. Beliefnet conducted an email interview with him about his latest book, "God Has a Dream."
What is God's dream, and how was it imparted to you?
God's dream is that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion. In God's family, there are no outsiders, no enemies. Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Buddhist—all belong. When we start to live as brothers and sisters and to recognize our interdependence, we become fully human.
Have you had any moments when you yourself doubted that God is just?
[During apartheid] I got angry, very angry with God, but never doubted that the issue would be resolved through the triumph of good. There were, of course, times in South Africa when you had to whistle in the dark to keep your morale up, and you wanted to whisper in God's ear, "God we know You are in charge, but can't You make it a little more obvious?" You see, we are free to be completely human and authentic with God. Jeremiah says, "God, you have deceived me." Sometimes I did get furious with God. I officiated at many funerals.
Of all the things you saw in South Africa, what was the greatest evidence of God's power and love?
During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, when we witnessed the ability of victims to forgive their torturers—and of former torturers to transform their lives.
How would you apply the concept of reconciliation to the situation in the Middle East and the cycle of violence and retaliation? How can the two sides ever achieve peace?
One of the things we learned in South Africa is that there is no true security from the barrel of a gun. The conflict in the Holy Land is one powerful example. I am on the Board of the Shimon Peres Peace Center in Tel Aviv, and I understand the desire Israelis have to live in peace and safety. But as we saw in South Africa, there is no peace without justice, and safety only comes when desperation ends. Inevitably it is when people sit down and talk that desperation ends.
Negotiations happen not between friends but between enemies. And a surprising thing does seem to take place, at least it did in South Africa. Enemies begin to find that they can actually become friends, or at least collaborators for the common good. They come together and then actually they ask themselves, “Why did we take so long to get to this point? Why did so many people have to die?” Of course, you must have leaders who are willing to take risks and not just seek to satisfy the often-extreme feelings of their constituencies. They have to lead by leading and be ready to compromise, to accommodate, and not to be intransigent, not to assert that they have a bottom line. Intransigence and ultimatums only lead to more death.
You lived with constant death threats, yet managed to continue your work. What can you tell us about dealing with fear and anxiety?
People often ask whether I was afraid. You bet. Especially for my family. All of us experience fear, but when we confront and acknowledge it, we are able to turn it into courage. Being courageous does not mean never being scared; it means acting as you know you must, even though you are undeniably afraid. Actually, courage has no meaning unless there are things that threaten, that make you feel scared. Whether we are afraid of physical harm or social shame and embarrassment, when we face our fear instead of denying it, we are able to avoid it paralyzing us.
What do you mean when you say that “God only has us”? Isn't God all-powerful?
I mean that God works through us and through history to bring about God's dream. God actually needs us. We are God's partners. When there is someone who is hungry, God wants to perform the miracle of feeding that person, but it won't any longer be through manna falling from heaven. Normally, God can do nothing until we provide God with the means, the bread and the fish, to feed the hungry. In so many ways, God uses each of us to realize God's dream.
Many of us feel distant from God. How can we feel the kind of intimacy you obviously experience?
Frequently we assume that only a special few can hear the voice of God in their lives but I try to explain that people can “be still” and know that God is God in and through them. This is why prayer and meditation are so important. If I do not spend a reasonable amount of time in meditation early in the morning, then I feel physical discomfort—it is worse than having forgotten to brush my teeth!
You mention the African concept of ubuntu. What is it, and how does it relate to God's dream for us?
Ubuntu is a concept that we have in our Bantu languages at home. Ubuntu is the essence of being a person. It means that we are people through other people. We cannot be fully human alone. We are made for interdependence, we are made for family. When you have ubuntu, you embrace others. You are generous, compassionate. If the world had more ubuntu, we would not have war. We would not have this huge gap between the rich and the poor. You are rich so that you can make up what is lacking for others. You are powerful so that you can help the weak, just as a mother or father helps their children. This is God's dream.