The Gospel according to Yellow and Stripe

The Gospel according to Yellow and Stripe

Feb 1, 2015  |  Covenant Sunday, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The Gospel according to Yellow and Stripe

Grace and Peace to you

Hope for the Flowers was one of the first books I remember my mom giving to me. I have never stopped reading it and never stopped trusting in its truth. It could have been called The Gospel according to Yellow and Stripe.

It is about two caterpillars named Yellow and Stripe. Yellow and Stripe were in love with each other. They decided that there was more to life than getting to the top of the caterpillar pile and decided to journey in a new direction. To live for each other instead of themselves and to focus on loving. For caterpillars this meant that they did a lot of hugging – well actually caterpillars don’t hug, they curl. They really are good curlers!

I won’t spoil the whole story for you … but just to say at some point they had to make a big decision. It was full of risk. The decision terrified them both. They had to give up the only life they knew in the hope of a new life they barely thought possible and yet somehow they could not give up the belief that it was possible. They had to die … in order to live more fully — yes even fly.

For me this is the most beautiful and clear picture of the new life that Jesus invites us into when he invites us to walk in his ways. It is a huge risk and it is terrifying. It involves dying to oneself and giving ourselves to each other in love. Just the idea bubbles with promise within my belly — how about yours?

In today’s Covenant Service we are invited to risk giving up our lives for Love’s sake. When we do we die. When we do we are re-born. When we do, we soar like on the wings of eagles … or is it butterflies?

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

“I shall look at the world through tears.
Perhaps I shall see things that dry-eyed I could not see.
The tears streamed down, and I let them flow as freely as they would,
making of them a pillow for my heart. On them it rested.”

– St Augustine

 

 

Why judge?

Why judge?

Jan 25, 2015  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Why judge?

Grace and Peace to you

Jesus said: “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For the judgment you make you will be judged and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” Mathew 7:1-6

I can’t tell you how often I hear people quoting this scripture — well parts of it at least — especially the first three words: “Do not judge…”

I hear it most often used in response to someone who makes their opinion known about some or other matter. The “do not judge” comment tends to silence the objecting opinion as if we should not judge whether something is right or wrong, but this was not Jesus’ intention at all. Sadly this false interpretation can result in us simply copping out from the responsibility to stand up to wrong doing. It can also be used to stop uncomfortable but necessary conversations from happening.

Jesus is not saying that we should stop discerning right from wrong. However, he is saying that we are never in a position to judge ourselves as better human beings than others.

Living with the truth that we are no better than anybody else should humble us but not silence us when we witness abuse or injustice or corruption taking place.

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

O God, who am I now?
Once, I was secure
in familiar territory
in my sense of belonging
unquestioning of the norms of my culture
the assumptions built into my language the values shared
by my society.

But now you have called me out and away from home
and I do not know where you are leading.
I am empty, unsure, uncomfortable.
I have only a beckoning star to follow.

Journeying God,
pitch your tent with mine so that I may not become
deterred by hardship, strangeness, doubt.
Show me the movement I must make
toward a wealth not dependent on possessions
toward a wisdom not based on books
toward a strength not bolstered by might
toward a God not confined to heaven
but scandalously earthed, poor, unrecognised…

Help me to find myself
as I walk in others’ shoes.

~ Kate Compston

 

Recovery of Innocence

Recovery of Innocence

Jan 18, 2015  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Recovery of Innocence
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.  Psalm 139.


Grace and Peace to you

Some weeks leave us feeling a little more frazzled than others. You know that feeling when the thread that you have been meaning to cut gets hooked on the splintered side of the kitchen chair and the entire hem is pulled out before you can stop it? Well it has been one of those unravelling kind of weeks for me. I guess we all have them from time to time.

When I am feeling more threadbare than usual I am often drawn (sometimes it feels like I am being pushed) back to the bare basics of my life and the fundamentals of my faith. I return to what I know I can trust to hold my weight, especially when it feels I can’t.

The most concise summary of what I have come to trust to hold my weight is called the Principle and Foundation from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius which is not too dissimilar to our annual Covenant Service. A number of years ago I had the privilege to be led through the Exercises (which I don’t have space to explain now) suffice to say that the Principle and Foundation is both the root and the fruit of the entire spiritual journey. Each retreat participant is encouraged to express the Principle and Foundation in their own words. So here is what I trust holds the weight of my life … and yours:

  • God has freely created humanity in love, by love and for love, yet also with the freedom not to love, and for this, God is to be joyfully praised and humbly served.
  • God created the entire universe as a good place to experience God’s love and to exercise our own love, all for the purpose of becoming who God has already designed us to be.
  • Hence, we should appreciate and make use of everything that sets us free from the fear to grow in love and rid ourselves of everything that is a hindrance to this.
  • Therefore, we must hold all things loosely and with open hands. Consequently, as far as we are concerned we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honour to dishonour, a long life to a short life, but rather rejoice in all things.
  • From now on, our one desire and choice should be to love Christ and know the power of his resurrection and share his sufferings, whether by life or by death.

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

O God, who am I now?
Once, I was secure
in familiar territory
in my sense of belonging
unquestioning of the norms of my culture
the assumptions built into my language the values shared by my society.

But now you have called me out and away from home
and I do not know where you are leading.
I am empty, unsure, uncomfortable.
I have only a beckoning star to follow

Journeying God,
pitch your tent with mine so that I may not become
deterred by hardship, strangeness, doubt.
Show me the movement I must make
toward a wealth not dependent on possessions
toward a wisdom not based on books
toward a strength not bolstered by might
toward a God not confined to heaven
but scandalously earthed, poor, unrecognised…

Help me to find myself
as I walk in others’ shoes.

~ Kate Compston

 

Fear casts out love

Fear casts out love

Jan 11, 2015  |  Epiphany, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Fear casts out love

Grace and Peace to you

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear;..” from 1 John 4:18. This insightful verse of Scripture warrants a lifetime of pondering.

If true, it allows us to make two further statements:

[1] Perfect fear casts out love.
[2] The opposite of love is not hate, but fear.

This then helps us to understand something of the loveless acts of terror that we witnessed in Paris this week.

Acts of terror are not rooted in a religion or a sacred text. They are not even rooted in hate. They rest in fear. Fear first! Only when a person or group of people feel fear-full will they be prepared to commit an act of terror. Feeling under threat justifies the need to “defend” ourselves, which is the second step towards terror. It is not long before “any means” is acceptable to defend ourselves, including pre-emptive measures which is step three and close to the final step which is to seek out a “blessing” for these measures from an accepted source of authority. This fourth step is where religion often comes into the picture. The aim is to find a sacred text that can be used to justify the decisions already made. This transforms (at least for those involved) hideous acts into holy deeds.

Fear is the motivating factor and religion or an ideology of sorts is the justifying factor. With these two factors in place terror is unleashed and the innocent casualties will be put down to the accepted arithmetic of war.

If we want to reduce terror in the world we must ask who is terrified and why, and seek to address the causes of that fear. We can start by refusing to live in fear ourselves as the Bible continually commands us to “Fear not!”

Gandhi knew this, he said: “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is fear.”

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

O God, who am I now?
Once, I was secure
in familiar territory
in my sense of belonging
unquestioning of the norms of my culture
the assumptions built into my language the values shared by my society.

But now you have called me out and away from home
and I do not know where you are leading.
I am empty, unsure, uncomfortable.
I have only a beckoning star to follow.

Journeying God,
pitch your tent with mine so that I may not become deterred by hardship, strangeness, doubt.
Show me the movement I must make
toward a wealth not dependent on possessions
toward a wisdom not based on books
toward a strength not bolstered by might
toward a God not confined to heaven
but scandalously earthed, poor, unrecognised…

Help me to find myself
as I walk in others’ shoes.

~ Kate Compston

Images:
Break one, a thousand will rise: Lucille Clerc
A call to arms: Francisco J. Olea

 
Justice, mercy and humility

Justice, mercy and humility

Dec 28, 2014  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Justice, mercy and humility

CMM’s latest Yellow Banner mounted on the steeple!


Grace and Peace to you

Every Sunday newsletter carries the words from Micah 6:8 “What the Lord requires of us: To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God”. The prophet Micah sums up the purpose of life perfectly. It really is as simple and as difficult as that.

Jesus certainly took this to heart. If we look at Jesus’ living and teaching — it all fits into these three ways of being. If we are not sure about this “God stuff”, do as Micah says and God will smile. If we question what we should be doing with our one little life or find our living meaningless then following Micah’s advice should do the trick.

As 2014 turns to 2015 we are given another opportunity to pause and reflect on what we are doing with our time and our life. To explore how we can act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God more faithfully in the coming year is at the core of the being a follower of Jesus.

To act justly is to learn and name the ways that social, political, economic and religious systems oppress; to work to transform them, refusing to give in to apathy or cynicism. It is to believe that “unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word” – MLK.

To love mercy is to live in solidarity with those who are marginalised, despised, forgotten and ignored. Those that society considers to be the least. To offer relief and healing for those suffering and who carry upon themselves the sin of the world. To live out the truth that we are all family.

To walk humbly with God is to embrace practices of prayer, meditation, fasting, confession, Bible study, spiritual direction, recovery and therapy; to be sustained by the God made known in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

O God, who am I now?
Once, I was secure
in familiar territory
in my sense of belonging
unquestioning of the norms of my culture
the assumptions built into my language the values shared by my society.

But now you have called me out and away from home
and I do not know where you are leading.
I am empty, unsure, uncomfortable.
I have only a beckoning star to follow.

Journeying God,
pitch your tent with mine so that I may not become deterred by hardship, strangeness, doubt.
Show me the movement I must make
toward a wealth not dependent on possessions
toward a wisdom not based on books
toward a strength not bolstered by might
toward a God not confined to heaven
but scandalously earthed, poor, unrecognised…

Help me to find myself
as I walk in others’ shoes.

Kate Compston

Jesus is human and divine

Jesus is human and divine

Dec 21, 2014  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Jesus is human and divine

Art as Resistance: By Molly Crabapple


Grace and Peace to you

If the incarnation teaches us anything, it is that we will see Jesus’ divinity through his humanity or not at all. Only as we take the human hand of Jesus will we discover by grace that we have been holding the hand of the Divine. To approach Jesus as the Divine without first engaging his humanity will cause us to miss both his humanity and divinity.

Similarly, I am convinced that we would understand the Gospels more fully (or at least differently) if we read scripture as if it were not scripture. I say this because the minute we relate to it as “Holy Scripture” we read with a certain “spiritual” lens. This more often than not tames the passage by uprooting it from its original context. Often it catapults it into a “heavenly” future leaving the earth untouched and untransformed, which is quite the opposite of how the original audience would have received it.

Take for example the psalm equivalent for this Sunday — what is known as The Magnificat from Luke’s Gospel. If we were to come across this in say the Mail and Guardian, surely the words would sound different to reading them in Luke 1:46-55. In the Mail and Guardian the words sound like the radical freedom song it is intended to be.

‘And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant [South Africa], in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

This passage engages with issues which include: the awesome dignity of women; the corrupting quality of wealth and power; the hoped-for liberation of the oppressed and marginalised. These were the themes of Jesus’ childhood instruction from his mom.

Grace, Alan


Advent Prayer of Preparation

We lighted the first candle of Advent,
To signal our watch for the coming of Christ, who will expel the spirit of discontent and bring healing for the nations.

We lighted the second candle of Advent,
To signal our hope for the renewal of creation, which will reveal the image of God and restore harmony with nature.

We lighted the third candle of Advent,
To signal our faith in the triumph of justice, which will expose the folly of pride and magnify purity of heart.

Today we have lighted the last candle of Advent,
To signal our trust in the promise of God, who will establish the reign of love on earth and uphold it with justice and mercy for evermore.

So be it.

What gives you hope?

What gives you hope?

Dec 14, 2014  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on What gives you hope?

Grace and Peace to you

One of the questions that I am often asked — especially after I have given my assessment on the state of our nation and world — is “Alan what gives you hope?” My answer: “The young social activists of our country.”

On Wednesday I had the privilege of attending a function hosted by the Open Society Foundation (OSF). The OSF is, among other things, a funder organisation of many different civil society movements. They brought together a number of the organisations that they fund for a round table discussion, facilitated by Justice Malala.

Organisations involved in: gender justice, HIV Aids, sanitation, safety, service delivery at local government level, environmental justice, access to information, education, health and corruption were represented.

I was inspired by their courage and creativity. I was given hope by their own hope for change. Something Justice Malala picked up on from the panel discussion (picture alongside) was that everyone spoke of the crucial importance of holding those in power to account. Accountability was the key word. As one of the older anti-Apartheid activists said: “In the last 20 years since democracy we have been let down by human conduct.” Well as sad as that is, it should not surprise us. We read in the Scriptures of a people who needed to be constantly set free — sometimes from outside enemies but most of the time from themselves. And this is where my hope ultimately returns — the great grace of God who offers Divine pardon over and over, empowering us to begin over to reconstruct society for the common good.

Grace, Alan


Advent Prayer of Preparation

Drain us now of distractions, O God, and free us from all that diverts out attentions, so that all our senses can focus on the Christ child’s coming.

Show us again, in the most notable, yet most humble of births, the mingling of divine and human we call incarnation.

In the coming birth of your child and ours, teach us the dimensions of holy mystery, deliver us from preoccupation with trivial things, and focus our hearts, with reverent diligence, on things eternal.

Journey to healing

Journey to healing

Dec 7, 2014  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Journey to healing

Today is the second Sunday of Advent which is the beginning of the Christian Calendar. We begin a new year by preparing our lives and world for the coming of Christ among us. For the next three Sundays we will light an Advent candle reminding us of the coming of Christ, the light of the world, and inviting us to be the light.

To be light in the world is not to be reduced to “believing the right beliefs” in our head. Rather it is about doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God.  It is about camping out for social justice.  #Umbrella-movement Hong K.


Grace and Peace to you

You remember the first two steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous [AA] 12 step programme? The first step: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable. The second step: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

And so what AA teaches us is that a journey to healing — indeed a journey to sanity (clear lucid living and loving) — begins with two crucial ingredients or it doesn’t begin at all. The first is humility (admit there are aspects of our life that are unmanageable). The second is hope (trust that there is a greater Power that can take over management).

Both of these ingredients were found in last week’s readings that marked the first week of Advent which is nothing else than a journey to healing and sanity for the world.

We heard the humble cry from the Advent prophet Isaiah: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down….” [Isaiah 64]. We can feel the powerlessness of the prophet to overcome the unbridgeable distance that is felt to exist between himself and God. We hear his desire for visitation and his longing for company yet he is unable to secure it for himself. The prophet has run out of rope. He has no more tricks up his sleeve. If there is going to be a reunion with the Lord it is going to have to happen because the Lord has decided to act and act in no less a dramatic way than to rip the heavens apart.

We also heard the recurring refrain from the Advent Psalmist: “Restore us O God of hosts. Let your face shine that we may be saved.” [Ps 80]. There is hope! Yes, there is hope. Our inadequacy will not have the last word. By grace our inadequacy will lead us to the last word. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

At the risk of being ridiculously over simplistic (St. Paul would say ‘foolish’) I suggest that there are areas of our living that never find sanity for the simple reason that we refuse to admit our powerlessness and trust the Lord’s power. To hand over the captain’s armband of our life and to bring in new management.

Try it and see, Grace, Alan


Advent Prayer of Preparation

What is Hope?
It is a presentiment that imagination is more real
and reality less real than it looks.

It is a hunch
that the overwhelming brutality of facts
that oppress and repress is not the last word.

It is a suspicion
that reality is more complex
than realism wants us to believe
and that the frontiers of the possible
are not determined by the limits of the actual
and that in a miraculous and unexpected way
life is preparing the creative events
which will open the way to freedom and resurrection….

The two, suffering and hope, live from each other.
Suffering without hope
produces resentment and despair,
hope without suffering
creates illusions, naiveté, and drunkenness….

Let us plant dates
even though those who plant them will never eat them.
We must live by the love of what we will never see.
This is the secret discipline.
It is a refusal to let the creative act
be dissolved in immediate sense experience
and a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren.

Such disciplined love
is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints
the courage to die for the future they envisaged.
They make their own bodies
the seed of their highest hope.

Rubem Alves – Brazilian Theologian

Taste the sacred

Taste the sacred

Nov 30, 2014  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Taste the sacred

Today is the first Sunday of Advent which is the beginning of the Christian Calendar. We begin a new year by preparing our lives and world for the coming of Christ among us. For the next four Sundays we will light an Advent candle reminding us of the coming of Christ the light of the world and inviting us to be the light.

To be light in the world is not to be reduced to “believing the right beliefs” in our head. Rather it is about doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God.


Grace and Peace to you

I love Wednesdays. Actually I love what I get to do on Wednesdays. Well actually I love who I get to meet when I get to do what I do on Wednesdays. I meet a group of young men who are enrolled in a 10 week woodwork and life-skills programme at the Carpenter’s Shop.

The group is diverse. Over the weeks we get to hear a little about each person’s life. Some have been sponsored by friends or employers or family members to attend, hoping that they can pick up a skill that may make them a little more employable. Some are part of the Ceasefire Gang Intervention programme from Hanover Park who are either recently ex-gang members or who are still connected. Others are from other parts of Africa hoping to get some South African qualification to boost their opportunities of getting “in” somewhere. All are trying to better their life. All battling multitudes of challenges.

I am proud of each participant who gets up every morning to make it to class. Just showing up is a huge achievement for most, and to see through a 10 week course is a record commitment for some. There are days when a couple of the guys will share how they are craving to start using again. I watch as they restlessly move this way and that on the wooden benches. I notice how their classmates sensitively support them — giving them both space and encouragement but also realising that they cannot rescue or “save” the guy who is craving. It is his journey and only he can walk that path — no one can walk it for him. There is no denial of the situation but most importantly there is no judgement either. I experience this “no denial and no judgement” space as very healing. In fact it tastes sacred.

Along a similar track, because it was also on Wednesday and gang related, I had the privilege of connecting with a community activist in Manenberg. She told me that her daughter was shot earlier in the year. She then went on to share with me how she went to the related gang’s “den”. In her words: “I told them that my daughter had been shot. I assured them that I would not press charges, but that I wanted to know who was responsible and why. A 17 year old owned up. I asked him to take me to his parents, which he then did and I offered to help the family …” Her story of truth and grace tasted sacred to me.

Oh to live that others taste the sacred!

Grace, Alan


 Advent Prayer of Preparation

O God, in times past we looked for you in heavenly eclipses. We listened for you in howling winds. We learned of you in quaking mountains. But now we know that you will be found among us.

And you will be seen not in the glitter of a mall but in a shelter for the homeless. You will be heard not in the pitch of a commercial but in the whimper of a child. You will come, not clothed in the comforts of the privileged but swaddled in the needs of the neglected. You will come, not in the decisions (more like denials) of a grand jury, but in the purifying fires of justice for innocent life taken by being shot down.

Open our eyes that we might witness the appearance of your messengers. Open our ears that we might hear the testimony of those on the margins. Open our hearts that we might ponder the secrets of those who birth Jesus. And open our mouths that we might shout the good news of your presence among us. Amen.

                                                [Adapted from Litanies and other Prayers]

Context gives meaning

Context gives meaning

Nov 23, 2014  |  Christ the King Sunday, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Context gives meaning

Grace and Peace to you

I have included the full article (including image) by columnist Tom Eaton from The Times 12 November 2014. The reason I include his column is to illustrate two very important points. The one about context and the other about co-option: Context gives meaning. To deny or forget the context is to disturb and falsify the meaning. When we read scripture our first task is to honour the original context and thereafter to make sure that our interpretation of the text honours that context or in the very least does not betray it. Last week’s sermon: “Viva the Whistle Blowers Viva” (available on the web at www.cmm.org.za or click on the link) is an example of how the context can radically alter the meaning of the text. Eaton also shows how a subversive message is often co-opted by the “powers-that-be” (commercial or political power). Recent sermons have shown how this has also happened to the Gospels.


The spectacles are enormous. Steel-rimmed and impervious to the summer wind, they lie on the grass of the Sea Point promenade as if left behind by a myopic titan after a picnic. But their placement is not arbitrary. The vast lenses, many inches thick, are fixed on Robben Island out in the bay.

A nearby plaque explains. The sculpture is entitled Perceiving Freedom, and encourages us to contemplate how Nelson Mandela saw the world. The artwork is, it says, a “testament to the power of the mind”.

I know very little about the power of the mind but the sculpture certainly seems to be a testament to the power of corporate sponsors: Ray-Ban, the famous brand of sunglasses, is prominently named on the plaque, causing one’s {expletive} detectors to start pinging. But only for a moment. If artists didn’t take the money of merchants there would be very little art in the world. Besides, they have some grand precedents, like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, an advertisement for the biggest corporation of the Renaissance, the Catholic Church.

And yet my unease remains and soon I realise why. It is not the sponsored spectacles that worry me. It is the picture on the plaque, a cropped portion of a famous photograph taken on April 25 1977.

On that day a group of South African journalists was given a guided tour of Robben Island by Major-General Jannie Roux, a psychiatrist and deputy commissioner of prisons. They were shown sporting facilities, tidied cells, neatly swept and weeded paths, all carefully curated to show the outside world a picture of a humane regime. And it was on this walkabout, according to the blurb on the plaque, that “the journalists encountered a tall, thin man dressed neatly in prison clothes and leaning on a spade. The man was Nelson Mandela, in his 13th year of incarceration on Robben Island.”

The words are factually correct but they have completely excised the human tensions of that moment. Handed a spade and told to look gardener-ish, Mandela was disgusted at being forced to be part of the charade, and, according to biographer Anthony Sampson, retreated behind a large bush as the journalists approached. Roux seems to have been slightly embarrassed.

“We have located him for you,” he told the group, “but he doesn’t want to see you, and we won’t drag him.” But the photographers kept coming, and so Prisoner 46664 stood his ground, making a point of not doing the work he was supposed to be doing, his rage and disdain barely hidden behind the dark glasses. The resulting photograph does not show Madiba the reconciler contemplating forgiveness. It shows a proud, intelligent man trapped, exploited and angry.

By removing this context, the photograph (and the artwork it speaks to) do us a disservice in that they subtly rewrite our collective history and therefore skew our collective present. Over the last three decades Mandela has been transformed from a man into a concept and finally into a kind of sentimental pulp, used to plaster over the widening cracks in our national psyche; but this doesn’t help us get any closer to his – and therefore our – humanity. We need to know that Mandela could be proud and angry, that his beautiful smile could become a tight, disapproving scowl. It is healthy for us to know these things.

In the last few weeks the white Right has eagerly been rewriting history. One very famous country singer even wrote an article explaining that whites have been reading “for millions of years”, a startling revelation given that vaguely whitish people have been around for only about 10000 years, and that Sumerians (not white people) invented reading only about 5000 years ago. In this climate of history being up for grabs, determined not by the brightest minds but by the loudest tweeter, it is important that we get our facts straight.

Even more important is to allow expressions of anger to remain unexpurgated in our history. Group hugs are lovely but if we airbrush over expressions of anger we deny the cause and legitimacy of that anger, and lose the opportunity to discuss it in any meaningful way. Once we begin to cherry-pick the warm, affirming bits, leaving out the complex, fractious, often ugly parts, we begin to convince ourselves that it is never acceptable to show anger, and that injustice must be suffered with a sigh and shrug.

We can begin to persuade ourselves that those who burn tyres and municipal buildings are just being thuggish; that they are concepts rather than furious human beings. And once that happens, we have lost forever any hope we ever had of seeing the world through the eyes of Nelson Mandela.

By: Tom Eaton in The Times