Archbishop Desmond Tutu On Board!
Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu
(November 8, 2002 aboard the SS Universe Explorer)
Welcome, welcome to a crazy country. Welcome to a country many had thought would be destroyed by racial conflict.
Do you know the story of the traveler who was walking in the countryside and he came across a farmer who was standing by the fence of his fields, and the farmer was puffing away and looking at a wonderful field with the corn waving and moving beautifully in the breeze? And the traveler comes and stands next to the farmer and says, “Gee, what a good job you and God have done!” (looking at the garden and the fields) and the farmer puffs away quietly and then he says, “Well, you should have seen what it looked like when God had it to himself!” Isn’t that in a way true?
You look ’round the world today, and you could almost want to give up – Berlin, Moscow, D.C… Almost everywhere you look, there’s conflict, the Middle East suicide bombers, destruction of homes in collective punishment, Chechnya, Bosnia… You almost want to say, “Stop the world, I want to get off!” You wonder what God is about – for it all looks really like a wilderness if God is left to God’s doings alone. And God says, “You know, I wait for you, my partner, I wait for you to help me turn this wilderness so that it becomes a gorgeous garden.” For it is only human beings who seem to be able to make other human beings turn.
See, here in this country, I started out by saying people had thought we’re going to be overwhelmed by a bloodbath, a racial bloodbath. And then many said, “Well, it didn’t happen when the transition occurred in 1994.” They said, “Wait, we’ll see when a black-led government takes control. There’s absolutely no doubt at all there’s going to be an orgy of revenge and retribution!” It didn’t happen. And in large measure it was because we had an outstanding person in Nelson Mandela. But it wasn’t only he when he was a spectacular inspiration. Because, you see, if any one said, “Ah, you talk about a forgiveness and reconciliation. You talk glibly. You talk lightly. You don’t know anything about suffering. You’d say 27 years you know. I spent 27 years in jail.” Perhaps some of you will go to Robbens Island, if you have time, and you will see where these people were incarcerated. Where he had to work in a quarry – breaking rocks in blistering sunshine which affected his eyesight. So that now often if you are going to meet him, then they say, “Please don’t have flash (photography) because his eyes can’t take it.” They used to sleep on cement floors with just a very thin blanket. And you think well someone like that would come out of that experience consumed by bitterness and hatred and anger. That’s what should have happened. It didn’t. He comes out and the world is awed by the spectacle of magnanimity, generosity of spirit. But as I say, it was not just he. So many people in the thing that we dealt with here in South Africa called the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was fantastic, fantastic.
But it’s also that you look and you see a small little woman – not macho – she is so small you would put her in your back pocket and no one would miss her. But she goes and she expends herself prodigally on behalf of the poor – Mother Teresa. And isn’t that a fantastic thing how in a world where we seem to be hag-ridden by a desire to succeed, we are so competitive that stomach ulcers become status symbols! We don’t just want to succeed, but you’ve got to succeed and rub the opposition in the dust.
We’re so eager to succeed that very wealthy people still want to be more wealthy and so you get Enron. It’s not just in America. It just happens. It was such a huge thing. Billions! And why? Just so that you can be better. And even when you are, you seem to have a greed that is uncontrollable, and you see it’s in that kind of world where people (you’d have thought the ones we must admire most) would be the ones who are macho, who are aggressive, who are highly successful. And yet, no.
Who is the most admired guy in the world today? (When he walks in here everyone’s knees go wonky!) It’s a Nelson Mandela and you say, “Why is he revered?” Not because he was president of a hugely successful country. Anything but. Not because his country was the strongest militarily. No. It’s because he’s good. Why do people hold Mother Teresa in such high regard? And in a sense, she didn’t succeed! Because she was working to try and turn away the tide of poverty. She has not succeeded. And yet many regarded her as a saint in her lifetime! And you say why? Because she’s good.
That somewhere in us we have antennae that home in on goodness because, despite all appearances to the contrary, we are in fact made for goodness. We’re made for love. We’re made for laughter. We’re made for gentleness. And a number of you who come usually from quite well-to-do families are all so wonderful. I used to meet in places like Honduras and other poverty-stricken places, I used to meet young Americans in the Peace Corps (who needn’t be there) but who go and work often in the most remote hidden places. No one gets to hear about them, but they are there. But yet they are committed to working with and for the poorest of the poor. There’s a great deal of beauty in the world
You know, when we were in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and you heard many of the revelations about atrocities and so forth. Some of the most ghastly things that people did, the ghastly things we do to one another. You realize that each one of us has extraordinary capacity for evil. The people who committed the Holocaust didn’t have horns. They didn’t have tails. Many of them went to church on Sundays, every Sunday. Because many of the most of them were Christians and yet they were able to have endorsed Hitler’s genocide. Many of those who were involved in the genocide in Rwanda were Christians. People that went to church every Sunday. So none of us can ever say “I would never do that. I’m sure I’d never do that.” No one can say that. No one of us can ever predict that if we had been under the same circumstances as these other people that we wouldn’t have turned out bad. So, each one of us has to say “Thank God, there but for the grace of God, go I.” That we have an incredible capacity for evil.
Ah, wonderfully that is not the end of the story. Nor is it the most important part of the story. The exhilarating, exciting part is yeah, we have an incredible capacity for evil, but more wonderfully, we have an incredible capacity for good. That we’re made for laughter. We are made for transcendence. We’re made for beauty, for truth, for love, for caring. And God says, “I have no one except you, except you, except you, except you, except you, to help me turn this wilderness into a beautiful garden. I have no one but you to help me turn the hatred in Northern Ireland into peace and loving. I have no one except you to turn all the war mongering in the United States into saying, “We want to export, not bombs, we want to export goodness, food. We want to export the things that will make people not become so desperate so that they make September 11th always possible.”
And God says, “Will you help me? Will you help me as that farmer helped me? Will you? Will you? And you and you and you and you?” For God has no one, and if you fail, extraordinarily, God has failed.