Tutu, Desmond, and Douglas Abrams. God Has a Dream : A Vision of Hope for Our Time. 1st ed. New York: Doubleday, 2004.
Themes and Images from the Book
Transfiguration, or transmuting, is a central image for Tutu. He explains the centrality of this image on pages 2-3. He tells the story of sitting in the priory garden after having looked at a “Calvary” (“a large wooden cross without corpus, but with protruding nails and a crown of thorns”). He began to realize that the God he served could transfiguration even the ugliness of the cross into a symbol of redemption.
“The principle of transfiguration says nothing, no on and no situation is, ‘untransfigurable,’ that the whole of creation, nature, waits expectantly for its transfiguration, when it will be released from its bondage and share in the glorious liberty of the children of God, when it will not be just dry inert matter but will be translucent with divine glory” (p. 3).
Our role in Transfiguration
“If God is transfiguring the world, you may ask, why does He need our help? The answer is quite simple: we are the agents of transformation that God uses to transfigure His world” (p. 15).
Transfiguration Question–What transfigurations do you most long for?
Justice Frees Everyone—Tutu expresses a common theme in social justice discussions: that injustice diminishes the oppressor as much as it diminishes the oppressed–both loose their humanity. Justice creates freedom, restoration and wholeness for everyone. `Freedom grounded in God“Our freedom does not come from any human being–our freedom comes from God.” (p. 14)
Hope––Tutu frequently relates the importance of transfigured attitudes and transfiguration of the mind. Hope is not a pie-in-the-sky in the by-and-by. Hope is rooted in a knowledge of what God has done, what God can do and what God intends to do.
Miracles–Taking note of miracles: “Just because there is more to be done, we should not forget the miracles that have taken place in our lifetime” (p. 8).
Hope in the Face of Evil–“If we are capable of such acts [acts of cruelty and brutality], how can there be any hope for us, how can we have faith in goodness? There very well may be times when God has regretted creating us, but I am convinced that there are many more times that God feels vindicated by our kindness, our magnanimity, our nobility of spirit. I have also seen incredible forgiveness and compassion, like the man who after being beaten and spending more than a hundred days in solitary confinement said to me we must not become bitter, or the American couple who established a foundation in South Africa to help the children of a black township where their daughter had been brutally murdered” (p. 12)
Anthropology of Hope–“It is only because we believe that people should be good that we despair when they are not” (p. 13).
Hope in this world–“The religion I believe in is not what Marx castigated as the opiate of the people. A church that tries to pacify us, telling us not to concentrate on the things of this world but of the other, the next world, needs to be treated with withering scorn and contempt as being not only wholly irrelevant but actually blasphemous. It deals with pie in the sky when you die–and I am not interested, nobody is interested, in postmortem pies. People around the world want their pies here and now” p. 65.
Longing for more–On page 117, Tutu tells a story of students who rebelled against the educational system that consigned them to an education that focused only on their labor capabilities. “There is something incredible in us that knows we are made for more, something in us that thirsts for knowledge and for discovering the truth. even these students who had never knowing it, in the depths of their soul yearned for it.”
God’s Presence in Suffering
“A story from the Holocaust makes a similar point. A Nazi guard was taunting his Jewish prisoner, who had been given the filthiest job, cleaning the toilets. The guard was standing above him looking down at him and said: ‘Where is your God now?’ The prisoner replied: ‘Right here with me in the muck.’ And the tremendous thing that has come to me more and more is this recognition of God as Emmanuel, God with us, who does not give good advice from the sidelines. The God who is there with us in the muck.
God does not take our suffering away but he bears it with us and strengthens us to bear it” (p. 17).
Embitter or ennoble–“It seems to be part and parcel of the human condition, but suffering can either embitter or ennoble” (p. 71). Love is what determines whether suffering embitters or ennobles. Tutu names several things we can do to create this: we can learn to celebrate other’s giftedness, act first and allow forgiveness to follow (behavioralist approach), seen yourself as a potential for blessing (p. 79), and asking for forgiveness (81).
Partnership—Another image that Tutu uses continually through the book (beginning at page 19) is that of partnership. We are God’s partners in the work God does in the world.
Partnership with God is Partnership with one another
“Only together, hand in hand, as God’s family and not as one another’s enemy, can we ever hope to end the vicious cycle of revenge and retribution. This is the only hope for us and for making God’s dream a reality. Because God truly only has us” (p. 58).
Andy’s thought: Joining in God’s partnership requires some of us to radically transform our understanding of faith. I observe that many of us live with an understanding of faith as a transfer of goods: We meet God’s expectations (either of morality/purity or service or both) and in response God rewards us with the promises of the Gospel: heaven, happiness, freedom from guilty and shame. We cannot disdain this notion as it is the reason many of us came to faith to begin with. It is an embedded theology to which we return and it is not without biblical warrant. At the same time, it is one that gets in the way in the partnership with God. As ultimately we keep asking what children often ask when doing ‘chores’–haven’t I done enough yet? As we mature in our faith, we need to release our grip on the faith as exchange of good model and embrace more and more faith as love of God. When love of God becomes our modus operandi we engage in partnership with God for the sheer joy of being with God and not with the hopes of any reward.
Genuflecting one another–“We should really genuflect before one another. Buddhist are more correct, since they bow profoundly as they greet one another, saying the God in me acknowledges the God in you.” (p. 63). How do we find a way to convey this?
Partnership with God–“Our partnership with God comes from the fact that we are made in God’s image. Each and every human being is created in this divine image. That is an incredible, a staggering assertion about human beings. It might seem to be an innocuous religious truth, until you say it in a situation of injustice and oppression and exploitation. When I was rector of a small parish in Soweto, I would tell and old lady whose white employer called her ‘Annie’ because here name was too difficult: ‘Mama, as you walk the dust streets of Soweto and they ask you who you are, you can say, ‘I am God’s partner, God’s representative, God’s viceroy–that’s who I am–because I am created in God’s image'” (p. 62)
Family-–Tutu uses the image of family to describe the relationship we have with one another throughout the world. Two characteristics of family are: (1) our ability to disagree and remain in unity and love; (2) a willingness to share.
Ubuntu––“A person with ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole. They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than they are. The quality of ubuntu gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them” (p. 26).
Importance of Self Love—
Tutu concludes chapter 2 and devotes chapter 3 to the line of reasoning that understanding God’s love for me enables me to love myself. The ability to love myself enables me to love others. Michael Card has a line from a song in which he sings, “He cannot love more and will not love less.”
Accepting Frailty–“The West has paid a high price for its disdain for human frailty. I have seen a great deal of poverty and squalor in my time, having traveled to a few places on the globe. I have seen people, rags of humanity, scavenging on rubbish dumps in Calcutta. And yet I was never more shocked by poverty as when I saw someone searching for food in an overflowing dustbin in New York” (p. 37).
Disdain for weakness heart of Nazism–Tutu gives a lengthy quotation on pp. 38-39 from “Our Contempt for Weakness” by Harald Ofstad. The argument of the book is that that the primary difference between Nazis and the rest of us is the lengths to which they were willing to go to enact their ideology. This ideology regarded weakness as needing to be destroyed.
Loving the Enemy—“But if you are to be true partners with God in the transfiguration of his world and help bring this triumph of love over hatred, of good over evil, you must begin by understanding that as much as God love you, God equally loves your enemies.” (p. 41).
Love of enemies does not excuse evil deeds–“True reconciliation is based on forgiveness, and forgiveness is based on true confession, and confession is based on penitence, on contrition, on sorrow for what you have done” (p. 53).
Not turning a blind eye
“Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones is not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the pain, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end dealing with the real situation helps to bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.” (p. 56)
From Tim’s Sermon
From Tim Schomp‘s sermon July 27, 2008 at First Christian Church, Big Sandy, Texas.—Three years ago this month, four young men – one a teacher, another an athlete, the third a father of a small child with another on the way, and the fourth a teenager – left their homes in the suburbs and traveled to the city where they blew themselves up in London’s subway system and on a tourist bus – killing more than 50 people – wounding hundreds of others.
This past week, an English Imam – a Muslim cleric – looking back on that horrible event, asked a reasonable question, “Why would four children of God do something like this to other children of God?” Then he asked another question, how can injured children ever forgive their attackers?
Among the seriously injured were Katie and Emily Benton – two young tourists from Tennessee. In an interview – immediately after the incident – Katie, from her hospital bed, said she was praying for the victims – and – for the bombers. That second statement surprised me, so I turned up the volume on the truck radio and listened carefully to her reasoning.
Katie and Emily, even in the wake of such a horrible act, can’t feel anything but pity for these four young men – faithful people – so mislead they came to believe they would actually accomplish some kind of justice for themselves and their cause by doing such a terrible deed.
Remarkable insight from remarkable young women – violence, even when inspired by a perceived injustice – only begets more violence, more injustice and ultimately – hopelessness.
Katie and Emily – you and I – folks of all stripes – live in a world with a prevailing mindset: justice is usually achieved by inflicting greater injury on the perpetrator- lasting peace can be won by waging temporary wars – happiness is attained through public insult, litigation or vigilante justice – communities are strengthened by ostracizing and demonizing those who scare us – the best way to get back what you’ve lost is by getting even with the one you believe took it from you.
Guilt—“So often when people hear about the suffering in our world, they feel guilty, but rarely does guilt actually motivate action like empathy or compassion. Guilt paralyzes and causes us to deny and avoid what is making us feel guilty. The goal is to replace our guilt with generosity. We all have a natural desire to help and to care, and we simply need to allow ourselves to give from our love without self-reproach. We each must do what we can. This is all God asks of us
Peace—“Peace is not a goal to be reached but a way of life to be lived” (p. 120).