During this season of peace – of comfort and joy – it is good to reflect upon how we can bring those often elusive elements not only to our homes but to the world in which we live.
In the past few weeks, the world lost a man who embodied much of what we celebrate this season. Nelson Mandela – known as Tata (Daddy) Madiba (the name of his clan and a sign of respect) by the millions who loved him. Mandela fought and beat the odds against a racist regime, setting in motion a new way of life for South Africans and modeling for the world what justice looks like. Under the strong arm of apartheid, Mandela served 27 years in prison for his efforts to bring racial equality to South Africa. Once freed, he was the first democratically elected president of his homeland.
There are so many lessons we can learn from Mandela. These are gifts that will enrich our lives and make the world a better place.
You don’t have to look far to realize justice hasn’t come to the entire planet. Mandela continued through his life to speak up about oppression throughout the world. He envisioned a world where race, class, culture and gender didn’t determine freedom. He said, “to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” This is the heart of the social justice movement.
As we become acutely aware of our blessings – our wealth – our access to power and influence – we become more aware of our need to ensure others have every opportunity to reach their potential. Whether it’s in our neighborhoods, our cities, our country or our world – we have a longing to see everyone treated with dignity and respect. We are willing to make sacrifices of time, talents and resources to help others.
In the life of Mandela you see a “Long Walk To Freedom” (the title of his autobiography and the new feature film about his life.) Justice often requires patience and perseverance. To see real change in our world it may require years of service and sacrifice. You may, at times, be discouraged by the lack of progress – but justice, equality and peace are worth the effort. Having worked in areas of global social justice for a decade, I have seen the benefits of determined, tireless workers who will not stand down to oppressors. Whether we’re talking about poverty, human trafficking, illiteracy, homelessness or other injustices in our world – those of us who can, must do and must do without tiring.
Our Small Circle
Perhaps the most difficult place to create peace is in our personal lives. It is easier to keep records of wrongs and harbor, even nurture, bitterness like a sprouted seed. We may carefully tend to offenses and keep them alive. Mandela spoke of being released from prison and said “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.” If you’re being imprisoned by hurt and have a hard time letting go – may this season be one of peace for you internally — a season when you forgive and seek help if you need to.
Give yourself a gift this season. As Mandela said “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Release resentment, bitterness and anger – if not for the other person then for yourself.
In windows around the world, people put an illuminated candle indicating their home is a place of hospitality where all are welcome. It also was a sign of safe harbor for slaves during the Underground Railroad. In the spirit of Mandela and in the spirit of the season – light a candle. Place it in your window. Demonstrate love to someone who may wonder if they deserve it. Offer hope to those who are oppressed. Live in such a way that social justice goes beyond liking a page on Facebook but actually costs you something that will return reward for the world in which we live.
A few ideas for following in Mandela’s footsteps:
Help women and children around the world – two often-oppressed groups:
Image via Mandela Film