THE NELSON MANDELA I KNEW … AND LOVED
I met Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela exactly fifty years ago in his jail cell on Robben Island. I was a newly ordained part-time Chaplain to the prison there. He, together with his fellow Rivonia Trialists, had been flown secretly to the Island after being sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour for the rest of their natural lives. The guards were very edgy about their new prisoners, determined to show these ‘terrorists’ how tough they were. Sunday, when I visited, was their one day off, but it was spent in total lock-down. I was not allowed to gather them for a normal service of worship, but had to walk up and down the hallway between the cells, trying to make eye contact with each occupant as I passed. Apart from Ahmed Kathrada, a Muslim, the rest had all experienced mission-school education and were familiar with Christian worship. Preaching was difficult but I tried to leave each one with a word of encouragement. Singing, on the other hand, was not bound by iron bars and the great hymns of the church, which were well-known to them, echoed powerfully through the hallways, their melodies often taken up by prisoners in other blocks. My memories of Mandela were of a strong, vital character in the prime of his manhood, all strength and contained energy. He had a ready smile and clearly appreciated the dilemma of a young minister trying, under the cold eyes of the guards, to bring a moment of humanity into this desolate place. Only once, on a very cold day, was I able to persuade a guard to let the group out into the prison yard where we gathered in a sunny spot. That day I changed my text to, ‘If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed,’ letting them choose how to spell Son/sun. They enjoyed the joke. The guards did not.
Given these impossible limitations, I have sometimes felt embarrassed being introduced as ‘Mandela’s prison Chaplain.’ Yet, looking back I realize that being confined to sharing nothing other than the healing, strengthening words of Scripture and the songs of the faith, required one to put one’s trust entirely in the power of the Gospel – nothing else. More than one of the Rivonia group, including Madiba, have told me since how that ministry and those who followed me (my security clearance was abruptly withdrawn after a few months) meant to them. Ahmed Kathrada, now the only Rivonia trialist still living – and the Muslim in the group – has also shared how, in those early horror days on Robben Island, that brief moment of humanity helped them all.
It was 20 years later when I next heard from Madiba. Still in prison, he used one of his precious letter-writing privileges (initially one per month and later relaxed to a half dozen) to congratulate me on being elected to lead the Methodist Church in Southern Africa, and to express his appreciation for the care the church had shown to him through its Chaplains and to Winnie his spouse, in her banishment and suffering at the hands of the ‘system.’ It was in that letter that he referred to his first encounter with the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg in the 1940s, when he was struck by the message outside: ‘The greatest glory in living is not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall.’ That message, he wrote with typical understatement, ‘tended to steel a person against the host of traumas he was to experience in later years.’
In the years following his release our paths crossed often. From a personal point of view I guess the most special occasions were when I shared a platform with him in 1993 speaking at the Centenary of Gandhi’s arrival in South Africa and in 1995 on the first anniversary of Freedom Day, presenting him with a sculpture forged out of melted-down guns collected by Gunfree South Africa, which I headed at the time. On both occasions we had some laughs about this proud former commander of the ANC underground army/become peacemaker and these two determinedly non-violent events.
The Mandela I knew became beloved by me, not so much for the grand gestures, although he was a master at political theatre, but for the lesser known acts that revealed a truly human genius for Ubuntu – the awareness that his life was inextricably bound up with the lives of all his fellow human beings, especially his enemies. He was the great includer; nothing was too much trouble if he could cajole or charm another opponent into friendship.
This man who would not bend an inch in his determination to win freedom for his people, nor to be humiliated by the cruelty of his prison guards, yet who said to his comrades as soon as they arrived on the island, ‘Chaps, these Afrikaners may be brutal, but they are human beings. We need to understand them and touch the human being inside them, and win them.’ And did…
This man who, on behalf of the one Muslim among them, badgered the prison authorities literally for years – six, I believe – until they at last yielded and granted permission for Ahmed Kathrada to walk the 50 yards outside the prison entrance to pray in the Kramat (a holy place commemorating a Muslim Imam exiled to the Island by the Dutch in the 1740s). The whole Rivonia group accompanied him…
This man who, when former spouse Winnie shamed the Mandela name by her involvement in the kidnapping of some young men in Soweto and the killing of one of them, struggled to understand the role of his church in the drama and criticized our actions from his prison cell. And who, when we managed to send him a true record of what had happened, sent a personal apology via his lawyer, requesting ‘forgiveness for having misjudged you…’
This man, who in his first Parliamentary speech as President, announced that nursing mothers and children under six would receive free health care, ‘whatever had to be done to pay for it…’
This man, who, when he invited the spouses and widows of former white Presidents/Prime Ministers to tea, received news that Mrs Betsy Verwoerd, widow of the most virulent racist of them all, had ‘diplomatic flu’, decided to surprise her in her whites-only redoubt instead, arriving in his helicopter and knocking on her door, and appearing later with her in a smiling photograph…
This man who, when told by his staff that they were changing the name of the Parliamentary office building named after Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, suggested they hold off until Verword’s widow had passed on. ‘There is no need to hurt her unnecessarily. It can wait…’
This man who, when told that one of his personal armed bodyguards had links with a far right-wing racist group and had been removed, said, ‘I don’t think we should do that. He is young and immature and it will destroy him. Let’s give him another chance …’
This man, who when we presented him with our list of nominated Truth Commissioners for him to make the final cut, asked first, ‘Have we sufficient women on the list? We must have gender equity…’ And when we told him that we had been able to find only one candidate of integrity from strife-torn KwaZulu Natal, he disregarded the process and just went ahead and appointed a Methodist bishop from the region, knowing that unless KZN was better represented, the Truth Commission would not be accepted there…
This man, who when I led a small delegation to meet with him about the crisis of guns and killing going on in 1994, came shuffling into the grand conference room next to his Presidential office in Pretoria wearing an old pair of slippers. He sat down and said, ‘I’m tired Peter. It’s been a hard day, you chair the meeting please,’ and closed his eyes. He wasn’t asleep, however: at some point he looked up from the list of participating religious groups and asked, ‘Where are the Dutch Reformed Churches?’ I said that they had been very difficult to persuade about the gun hand-in campaign. ‘Well, he said, ‘if I’m to be patron of this, you need to get them in…’
This man who asked me to write a speech he was to give to a church conference, and who, wherever I referenced the ‘role of the churches’ in the liberation struggle, or in leading protests or caring for victims, struck out the world ‘churches’ and inserted the words ‘ faith communities,’ in order to be more inclusive of other faiths in the land he now governed…
This man who never tried to hide his feet of clay, lived comfortably in his skin, and never lost an opportunity to deprecate his own accomplishments, lightly deflecting praise to others…
What a very human being!
How blest are those of a gentle spirit …
How blest are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail …
How blest are those who show mercy …
How blest are those whose hearts are pure …
How blest are the peacemakers …
How blest are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of right …
We are so grateful that God made Nelson R Mandela, purified him in suffering and gave him to our divided land to help us become different – the kind of people we were meant to be.
We are so grateful that he now rests. He always said it was in our hands. Now it is.
7 December, 2013
Spring Classes for Religion and Conflict Transformation Program Certificate
STH TS 800 “International Conflict and the Ministry of Reconciliation” Instructor Rodney Peterson 4 credit
STH TS806 “Introduction to Mediation Theory and Practice” Instructor Carol Bohn. 4 credits. Classes will meet at The School of Theology. Mediations will take place on the Cape.
STH TS877 ”Principles and Practices of Restorative Justice” Instructor Tom Porter. 4 credits.
STH TC896 “Toward a Theology of the Streets” Instructor Jed Mannis. 2 credit. This class will meet Tuesdays from 3:30-5:00 p.m.
Please contact RCT if you have questions or seek more information about any of these courses.
You are invited to a special event on Dec. 5 at Boston University School of Theology. Performance -activist Peterson Toscano will present “Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible” in the Oxnam-Hartman room at 7:00p.m. This interactive performance explores several well-known (and not so well-known) Biblical characters who transgress gender-norms and boundaries of their day. Experience characters and stories from a new perspective through this innovative and creative performance! This event is free and open to the public. Pizza is provided prior to the performance!
Join us November 19 in the Oxnam Room of Boston University School of Theology for this rare opportunity. Peter Storey is a South African Methodist clergy and former President of the Methodist Church in South Africa. Dr. Storey’s 40 year ministry in South Africa was defined by sustained opposition to the infamous apartheid government and its oppressive racist policies. Peter Storey served as Chairperson of the Regional Peace Accord combating political violence in the Johannesburg/Soweto area and was appointed by President Nelson Mandela to help select members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Dr. Storey will address “Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: A bridge too far? Has the Truth and Reconciliation Commission failed South Africa, or has South Africa failed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission?” Dr. Storey will preach in Marsh Chapel the following morning at weekly chapel service.
RCT Program Administrator Trelawney Grenfell-Muir recently wrote on an article for the website of the Journal for Inter-Religious Dialogue entitled, “Like the Teeth of the Comb: Leaders in Inter-Religious Tolerance in Lebanon and Syria.”
Click here for the text of the article, which profiles seven religious leaders in the conflicts in Lebanon and Syria, and how they are trying to positively influence their communities to bring about peace.
One of these leaders quotes the Hadith to his students in order to promote theological openness. For example, “‘people are equal (sawâsiyah) like the teeth of the comb: Arabs are not superior to non-Arabs.’ …They belong [like fingers] to a hand. So we are together, but no one is the same as the other.”
Grenfell-Muir concludes: “While it is difficult to quantify the exact effect specific doctrines have in the hands of talented leaders, the situation would surely be worse without the admirable efforts of all who teach and model embracing the ‘other.’ We can only hope that others will learn from their example and continue to build a lasting peace. “
If you are not a regular reader of the Religion section at the Huffington Post, we encourage you to check it regularly.
Click here for the latest from columnist Derek Flood, in which he challenges the idea that grace is about overlooking problems, rather than actually dealing with them. Instead, Flood argues, grace is at the heart of restorative justice.
Peter Berger Lecture and Celebration
Friday, November 11, 2011
The First Annual Peter Berger Lecture in Religion and World Affairs
Sponsored by the School of Theology and The Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs (CURA), Boston University
David Martin, Professor Emeritus in the Sociology of Religion, London School of Economics
David Martin served as president of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion and is an ordained priest in the Church of England. Martin has written extensively on the sociology of religion and secularization, most notably in A General Theory of Secularization (1978), and on the intersection of sociology and theology, with his essays on this topic collected in Reflections on Sociology and Theology (1996). He has examined the expansion of Pentecostal Protestantism in the developing world in his widely cited Tongues of Fire: Conservative Protestantism in Latin America (1990) and Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish (2002), and he has written on religion and violence in Does Christianity Cause War? (1998) and most recently in The Future of Christianity: Reflections on Violence and Democracy, Religion and Secularization (2011).
On June 30, 2009, Dr. Peter L. Berger retired from the directorship of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs, which he had founded in 1985. Peter remains an employee of Boston University on the staff of the Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs, and also regularly participates in the broader life of the Boston University community, not least the School of Theology.
With the joint sponsorship of the School of Theology and CURA, we are proposing to hold the “First Annual Peter Berger Lecture in Religion and World Affairs” on November 11, 2011. The purpose of the event is not to praise Peter as he prepares for retirement – Peter is a still very active citizen in CURA and the University, and we are not in the least interested in rushing him into retirement. The November 11 event will instead serve as the first of a proposed annual lectureship entitled, “The Peter Berger Lecture in Religion and World Affairs.” Dr. David Martin – professor emeritus of sociology the London School of Economics, a widely published theologian, and a long time colleague at CURA and a friend of Peter’s since the 1970s – has kindly agreed to present the first lecture.
The purpose of the named lectureship will be to sponsor a state-of-the-field lecture by a distinguished scholar in some aspect of the fields in which Peter Berger has left a lasting legacy: theology, sociology, anthropology, and religious studies. We feel that it is appropriate that the topics of the lecture remain open. Religious studies in its true interdisciplinary sense is an evolving and wonderfully dynamic enterprise. Nonetheless, we also feel that the topics of the lectures should in some way reflect scholarship in the tradition of “Berger at Boston University.” The lectures might touch, then, on topics as varied as modern secularity and global religious revival; the social constructions of religion in modern times; global Christianity; Christian theology in an age of relativist challenge; the multiplicity of religious modernities; religion and globalization. Again, we emphasize that this list is intended to be illustrative not restrictive. The lecturer and topic for each year’s lecture will be chosen by the CURA director, the Chair of the Department of Sociology, and two faculty appointed by the Dean of the School of Theology. The selection committee will also consult with the Chairs of the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Religion before extending an invitation to each year’s lecturer.
The first annual Peter Berger Lecture will be of special importance because Berger himself will be in attendance. Equally important, in addition to launching the lectureship, we will use the event to celebrate Peter Berger’s contribution to the study of religion and world affairs at Boston University.
Schedule of Events (subject to change)
4:00 pm: Welcome
Brief welcoming comments by Dana Robert and Bob Hefner, explaining the dual purpose of the evening’s event: a celebration of Peter Berger’s contribution to Boston University, and the launching of the first annual Peter Berger Lecture.
4:10 to 4:20: Boston University Administrators’ Welcome
With tributes by:
* Vice President Andrei Ruckenstein, Vice President of Research
* Dean Elizabeth Moore, School of Theology
* Dean Virginia Sapiro, College of Arts and Sciences
4:20-5:45: Lecture: Dr. David Martin, London School of Economics
Location: To be Declared. For up-to-date information, visit the CURA Lecture website.
The RUAH Program of Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries (CMM) Announces an Enlightening Fall Conference:
“Spirituality and Healing: Interfaith Perspectives and Practices for Ourselves and Our Communities”
When: Friday, October 28th 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Where: All Saints Parish, 1773 Beacon Street, Brookline.
A Conference for Clergy & Laity, Medical Professionals, Students, Social Workers, And all who care about healing and wholeness.
Olivia Hoblitzelle taught in the field of Behavioral Medicine where she pioneered how to bring meditation, yoga, and cognitive therapy into the medical domain to treat stress-related and chronic illness. She helped to develop one of the first training programs in Mind/Body medicine in the country with Dr Herbert Benson and the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. She is the author of Ten Thousand Joy sand Ten Thousand Sorrows; A Couple’s Journey through Alzheimer’s.
Rev. Dr. Gloria White-Hammond is the Co-Founder and Co-Pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Boston, Massachusetts, and Founding Co-Chair of the Massachusetts Coalition to Save Darfur. She co-founded My Sister’s Keeper, a women-led humanitarian and human rights initiative, and created the faith-based creative writing/mentoring ministry called “Do the Write Thing” for high risk African-American adolescent females.
Selected Workshops Include:
Dr. Syed Razvi MD- “Islamic Spiritual Practices in Everyday Life! Are They Different During illness?”
Prof. Roger Gottlieb- “Spirituality and Gratitude: based on his forthcoming book, Spirituality: What Is It and why Faith Matters”
Rev. Megan Lynes and Ms.Nazish Riaz- “The Healing Power of Interfaith Friendships”
Dr. Peter Stringham MD and Kathleen Kelly MSW/MA- Title TBD
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-244-3650 or visit our website at www.coopmet.org
BU School of Theology and Partakes’ College Behind Bars are sponsoring a talk by Pippin Ross, entitled “Crash Course: A Reporter’s Journey Into Prison.”
Date and Time: Thursday, November 3 at 7:00 PM
Location: Boston University School of Theology, 745 Commonwealth Avenue, 3rd Floor Room 325
An article about presenter, Pippin Ross.
Pippin Ross, former reporter at WFCR talks about her years at Framingham Prison
Former reporter released from MCI-Framingham
By Dan McDonald/Daily News staff
Posted Sep 06, 2009
Doing time in MCI-Framingham may have landed Pippin Ross, who once ran a public radio station in western Massachusetts before she was jailed for multiple drunken driving charges, the biggest scoop of her career: revealing what she refers to as the “beast of the correction system.”
In July 2006, after facing at least four drunken driving counts, Ross was sentenced to serve 2 to 4 years in the state women’s prison in Framingham.
During her stint inside, Ross, then Inmate # 80554, did what came naturally: She culled stories, taking copious notes, documenting everything from the green Jell-O and mystery soup at chow time to the Zen of mopping and sweeping in the morning.
Ross took note of the large number of inmates given psychotropic drug prescriptions , whether they needed them or not.
“Women get put on the drugs right away,” she said. “It’s what I call chemical restraint.”
At least 60 percent of MCI-Framingham’s inmates have open mental health cases, according to the Department of Correction. Ross suggests the number is actually much higher.
In a typed response to Ross’ statements, DOC spokeswoman Diane Wiffin said licensed psychiatrists, psychologists and clinicians are solely responsible for making clinical decisions.
Ross, the inmate, dug for news.
The DOC’s drug vendor is based out of state, says Ross. That is something Ross’ husband, Phil Austin, says many people in the state don’t know, and it’s something that “should make the average taxpayer livid.”
Wiffin says its medical vendor uses the State Office of Pharmacy Services for all medication, as is statewide policy for all agencies.
While behind bars, Ross ruffled feathers, filing a complaint about access to the law library and holding an interview with The Boston Globe. That move, she says, partially contributed to prison officials unfairly scrutinizing her.
She says her cell was often searched and some notes confiscated.
The Department of Correction declined to comment on those assertions, saying it would need a CORI waiver to get into specifics about Ross’ assertions of retaliatory solitary confinement and room searches.
Ross says legal services for the inmates are hard to come by in MCI-Framingham.
In the correction system, Ross notes there is “an ongoing philosophical civil war between those who are compassionate and those who say ‘Let them break rocks.”‘
Wiffin, in response to that statement, says the DOC is committed to re-entry into society as sound public policy which promotes public safety.
When Ross emerged from the Loring Drive prison in March with a deflated ego, the 53-year-old whose resume includes writing for the Boston Herald and Boston Globe, she knew she had a story to tell.
Ross now lives in a sober house in Malden and is writing a book with Austin, 56, of Nantucket, about her experience in prison and in the judicial system.
It’s an experience she labels “exhausting, demoralizing, and scary.”
Having just finished a cup of chai tea in a Somerville cafe Friday, Ross speaks matter-of-factly about her time inside. She does not break eye contact. She does not get emotional.
She calls prison the “epicenter of post-traumatic stress syndrome” and says nearly every woman she encountered in prison had been sexually abused at some point in their lives.
“Many, many women in prison are there because of a horrible experience that drove them to the edge. All of a sudden … the controls get lifted,” she said.
Prison is almost always the result of a twisted assortment of factors, says Ross, who originally hails from Fitchburg.
“Terrible public education, no affordable housing, and no access to help,” she said.
But Ross appears to buck such a criteria.
Educated at Dana Hall School in Wellesley before attending UMass-Amherst to study broadcast journalism, Ross was the news director for the National Public Radio affiliate in Amherst WFCR from 1986 to 1996.
She continued to be linked to NPR in some form until 2004.
Her decade-plus course in hard knocks began years earlier.
While alcoholism “was always there lurking,” things really fell apart, she says, when she was sexually-assaulted while she was working on an investigative story in the late 1990s.
Ross racked up four charges of driving under the influence of alcohol in a 2-year span, ending in the earlier half of the decade.
In 2004 she was sent to McLean Hospital in Belmont to get sober. Her stint was short-lived. Five days into her stay she shared a vodka nip with a fellow patient and was asked to leave. That development was probably a moot point. She says she couldn’t afford the $450 per day cost her insurance did not cover. Not paying for the stay meant a probation violation and she was sent back to court.
In February 2005, she was sentenced to a year in jail and ultimately landed in the Western Massachusetts Correctional Center on Howard Street in Springfield.
“It was my ashram. My on-the-taxpayer’s Betty Ford clinic ,” said Ross.
Three days before she was scheduled to be released, however, she was indicted for altering a court document by changing the number of drunken driving charges she had on a court document.
Ross says the count would not have affected her jail sentence and that it was a paperwork snafu; she said she had simply tried to make a minor correction to court documents.
The court thought she was trying to fudge documents to get out early.
Her attorney had a blunt assessment of the situation: “You’re smoked,” he told her.
She fought the charge of “before the fact aiding an attempted escape,” for nine months before succumbing to her attorney’s pressure, pleading out in July 2006. She was sent east, to Framingham where she was imprisoned until March.
She married Austin, a novelist with four published books under his belt, last April, two weeks after she was released from prison. The two, who first met as part of a theater production 27 years ago, corresponded while she was in jail starting in January 2007.
Ross, who has a 20-year-old son, is on both parole and probation. She is scheduled to get out of the sober house in December, but might be released sooner.
She has one article due to come out in the September issue of Shambhala Sun Magazine, an upscale meditation magazine, about teaching yoga in prison. She said she also is working on other freelance assignments.
The book project is nearly done and the couple is shopping the manuscript, which has a tentative title of “Crash Test Dummies.”
Reflecting on her prison stint, Ross tries to pull something positive out of her story.
She said, “It showed me how astronomically precious life is.”