Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Gospel according to 'Invictus'

Yesterday I saw the Clint Eastwood-produced and -directed film "Invictus," which takes its title from the poem that protagonist Nelson Mandela quoted in part.

The immediate (and true) story was Mandela's use of the national rugby team, which was playing in the sport's 1995 World Cup, to create a sense of national unity in South Africa, where he had become president the year before and where the tournament was being held. (Mandela, who retired in 1999 and now is a part of "The Elders" diplomatic group, was awarded an ESPY late last year.)

Anyway, unifying the country over a rugby team was no small matter. The "Springboks" in particular were seen as a remnant of apartheid, which had officially collapsed in 1994; indeed, many blacks disdained the sport in general for that reason.

Mandela, to his everlasting credit, saw the need to move away from such polarization after being inaugurated. His first move was to tell government workers, most of them white, that they would be welcome to stay in his administration, and he also hired white security detail -- because they had the experience. (That irritated some of his black aides.) Later he reached out to the captain of the Springboks, who eventually conducted a clinic in a black township. In time his efforts to get the country behind the rugby team succeeded, and it actually won the championship in a major upset. (And remember, this was a true story.)

However, let's not forget that Mandela spent 27 years in prison, ostensibly on legitimate terrorism charges but basically for opposing apartheid, and that experience shaped his philosophy. He mentioned that all of his jailers were Afrikaners, the descendants of Dutch, German and French Huguenot settlers that came to that part of the world in the 17th Century and were directly responsible for the race-based system of oppression he was fighting; as he got to know them, however, he realized that they had their own history, language and culture that he learned to respect. Any bitterness that he had harbored toward them had apparently subsided by the time he was released.

And that was the primary point of both the poem -- which he said gave him the strength to maintain his dignity -- and the movie.

No one will deny that apartheid was brutal and unjust; that said, at some point attitudes would have had to change lest the blacks who were now in power become just like the whites they resented for their own misrule.

Isn't that what God calls us Christians to do? Because, after all, "All have sinned and fallen short of [His] glory." And the truth be told, had God not forgiven us He would have every right to wipe us out for failing to meet His standards. But He did through Jesus Christ; therefore, we Christians need to repent of any bitterness that we may harbor toward fellow believers who may have legitimately harmed us.

As Mandela said, "Reconciliation [and] forgiveness [start] here."

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