Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Life and Times of Desmond Tutu

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Born on this day in 1931 in the Transvaal, Desmond Tutu moved with his family to Johannesburg in 1943; although as a child he originally wanted to be a doctor, he couldn't afford the tuition, so became a teacher instead (like his father). He was ordained an Anglican priest in 1960, and between 1962 and 1966 earned both his BA and MA in Theology at London's King's College.

Tutu first rose to prominence in the 1970s when his was among the first of the chorus of voices opposed to South Africa's policy of apartheid to be recognized internationally; as bishop of Lesotho during the Soweto Riots - which event pop culture enthusiasts may recognize from Richard Attenborough's film Cry Freedom - he was instrumental in helping black South Africans turn their destructive rage into constructive activism.

Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his efforts; unbeknownst to everyone except him, he wasn't done yet, not by a long way.

In 1986 he became the first African (as opposed to Afrikaan) to head the Anglican Church in South Africa, a post which he held for a decade. In that time apartheid was abolished and majority rule returned to South Africa; in 1995 he was made chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which sought to avoid the usual pitfall of vengeance and reprisal that generally accompanies regime change.

Despite being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1996, Desmond Tutu has continued to work tirelessly on behalf of the oppressed, which work is necessarily informed by his spirituality. His translation of Christian doctrine is clear, but bears repeating:

"Jesus did not say, 'If I be lifted up I will draw some." Jesus said, 'If I be lifted up I will draw all; all, all, all, all. Black, white, yellow, rich, poor, clever, not so clever, beautiful, not so beautiful. It's one of the most radical things. All, all, all, all, all, all, all, all. All belong. Gay, lesbian, so-called straight. All, all are meant to be held in this incredible embrace that will not let us go. All."

And so say all of us... Amen.

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