The start of a New Year and whilst that’s often a time for celebration, there’s also a tinge of sadness as we say goodbye to 2021, with all its highs and lows and all the things that have happened in each of our lives, in the lives of those around us and in the life of our Church and our nation.
Today in St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, the funeral is being held of Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu, who died last Sunday. For those gathered and for all the people of South Africa, there’ll be sadness at the death of the man who for many years was a very passionate and effective leader in the peaceful struggle to end apartheid, but there’ll also be a joyful celebration of his life and what he did for his nation, his family and for the Anglican Church.
Desmond Tutu will always be remembered as the clergyman who won the Nobel Peace Prize, who helped bring down apartheid and who served as a beacon of light in a divided nation, when everything seemed rather bleak. Yet for some reason he always seemed to be joyful and his cackling laugh was infectious. He was also an insightful observer of the human condition and almost always started his sermons with an amusing story, of which he seemed to have an endless supply.
When speaking to audiences around the world, the man who they called ‘Tata’ (father) who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and spoke out against corruption in the post-apartheid government just as he had against the apartheid one, was frequently asked the same questions:
“Why are you so joyful?” “How do you keep your faith in people when you see so much injustice, oppression and cruelty?” “What makes you so certain that the world is going to get better?”.
In the preface of his book “Made for Goodness”, he asks:
“What these questioners want to know is, What do I see that they’re missing? How do I see the world and my role in it? How do I see God? What is the faith that drives me? What are the spiritual practices that uphold me? What do I see in the heart of humanity and the sweep of history that confirms my conviction that goodness will triumph?”“Made for Goodness” Desmond and Mpho Tutu
Questions that might be useful for each one of us to reflect on as we start 2022. Desmond Tutu’s answer is to be found in the stories of the goodness of ordinary people that he and his daughter Mpho have encountered in their lives and ministries and which they share in the book.
In the last couple of years, most of us have faced dark days as the Covid pandemic has waxed and waned repeatedly. But what’s really struck me is the stories of the goodness of ordinary people that I’ve heard from friends, neighbours, relatives and in the news. People who’ve given their time as volunteers in food banks and vaccination centres; people who’ve made sure that their elderly or vulnerable neighbours are kept supplied with the essentials that they need; all those doctors, nurses, pharmacists, workers in care homes and those visiting people at home, who’ve gone much further than just an extra mile and also those who’ve given generously whenever there was need.
Along the way new friendships have been formed, for example between people who’ve lived near each other for years but never really done more than say good morning. Yes there’ve been acts of selfishness and some people who’ve sought to exploit others, but to derive our view of the human condition from these would be to miss what Desmond Tutu calls the inherent goodness of people. He writes:
“As we allow ourselves to accept God’s acceptance, we begin to accept our own goodness and beauty as God does. With each glimpse of our own beauty, we can begin to see the goodness and beauty in others”“Made for Goodness” Desmond and Mpho Tutu
A happy New Year and may you face 2022 with acceptance, joy and laughter and perhaps see more of the inherent goodness in everyone, as both Jesus who called His Father Abba and Archbishop Tutu who South Africans often called ‘Tata’ did.