An Incredible Story from Apartheid

I think in our modern time we often confuse the ideas of justice and revenge. Lately I have been reading the latest biography of Desmond Tutu. He has been such an inspiring person to me as someone who truly understands what it means to live a kind of revenge-less justice. The stories that come out of apartheid in South Africa are so often heart-breaking, but with the leadership of people like Bishop Tutu, the ending of the story of Apartheid is much better than one could ever hope. Following the fall of Apartheid, Bishop Tutu began the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that flexed the muscles of restorative justice over and against the oft-used retributive justice.

I wanted to share an incredible story I read about what happened one day at a hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Here it is.

A frail black woman stands slowly to her feet. She is about 70 years of age. Facing her from across the room are several white police officers, one of whom, Mr. van der Broek, has just been tried and found implicated in the murders of both the woman’s son and her husband some years before.

It was indeed Mr. Van der Broek, it has now been established, who had come to the woman’s home a number of years back, taken her son, shot him at point-blank range and then burned the young man’s body on a fire while he and his officers partied nearby.

Several years later, Van der Broek and his security police colleagues had returned to take away her husband as well. For many months she heard nothing of his whereabouts. Then, almost two years after her husband’s disappearance, Van der Broek came back to fetch the woman herself. How vividly she remembers that evening, going to a place beside a river where she was shown her husband, bound and beaten, but still strong in spirit, lying on a pile of wood. The last words she heard from his lips as the officers poured gasoline over his body and set him aflame were, “Father, forgive them.”

And now the woman stands in the courtroom and listens to the confessions offered by Mr. Van derBroek. A member of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission turns to her and asks, “So, what do you want? How should justice be done to this man who has so brutally destroyed your family?” “I want three things,” begins the old woman, calmly but confidently. “I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial.”

She pauses, then continues. “My husband and son were my only family. I want, secondly, therefore, for Mr. Van der Broek to become my son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have remaining within me.”

“And, finally,” she says, “I want a third thing. I would like Mr. Van der Broek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. And so, I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. van der Broek in my arms, embrace him and let him know that he is truly forgiven.”

I think it’s an incredible story that really speaks to what can happen when we put things like forgiveness and justice ahead of revenge. How do you think we can do this? What might this mean for us in our daily interactions? How can we move past our seemingly insatiable need for revenge and into a place that acknowledges, as Tutu says, that there is no future without forgiveness?


In Defense of My Generation

I recently read an article that described the new wave of young adults as the “Peter Pan” generation. It described a generation of kids who refused to grow up. I know I’ve talked a lot about this in a couple recent posts. But this struck me in a different kind of way. It seems incredibly pejorative. Now there is some merit to these claims if we look at specific instances of my generation — Jersey Shore comes to mind. Easy target, I know. But embedded in this “Peter Pan” label is the broad, sweeping implication that we’re all childish, immature, petulant children who are afraid to grow up. I think it’s far more complicated than that. These implications spread much further than simply the church, politics, or education.

With the rise of technology and the internet, we are able to know more than ever before. Because of this, my generation’s view of authority is different than any other generation in history. A general mistrust of societal institutions has become commonplace. One could even make a case-by-case argument that every cultural institution that we have been taught to hold in high esteem has given us ample reason to question their integrity and their motives. Our coming of age has involved a massive re-assessment of the meaning of responsibility and accountability. The fact that we have to employ a fact-checker in our political discourse (and that most of what is said is, at least somewhat, false) is seen as reason enough to submit to the tempting call of apathy.

Our generation has and will continue to struggle to create meaning in a time where there is almost nothing we can be sure of. Every generation is messy, complicated, and has its own obstacles to overcome. In this way, I think we are just like every generation that has come before us.

The course of history — not misplaced apathy or optimism — gives us hope that we will get by. We will welcome the responsibility of adulthood on our terms and in our own time. We grew up with loose ends, inaccurate labels, and exceedingly high expectations. I think we’re going to do just fine.


“Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”

My wife and I worship at the altar of Apple. Well… I worship. She think it’s pretty cool. Between the two of us, we have a MacBook Pro, a regular MacBook, an iPad 2, 2 iPhone 4’s, and 3 iPods. Sure it’s a bit excessive, but what’s an altar without vestments? So needless to say, I took the news yesterday particularly hard. Steve changed the way the world communicates. He was a leader in a field of leaders. He knew what we wanted before we even could dream of wanting it. Now that he has passed, people put him up there with Thomas Edison. Thomas freaking Edison! It blows my mind the kinds of things he was able to think of and actualize.

But I think what stands out to me is the way he kept his drive through making mistakes. In a commencement speech he gave at Stanford in 2005, he wrote this.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thank you all very much.

“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” These are good words to live by. Stay hungry enough that you’re never satisfied with where you are. Stay foolish enough so that you always think the impossible is possible. It’s a good legacy that he leaves behind. As I type this (on my MacBook) I know I’ll sit with this a while longer. But I hope that throughout my life I can stay half as hungry and foolish as Steve was.


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