24 October 2014
Grace, forgiveness and the Tutu legacy
In April 2012, Rev Mpho Tutu returned to her home to find the body of her domestic worker lying in her daughter's bedroom. Angela was 40 years old and had been strangled and stabbed to death. How do you ever get over such a sight? And further still, is there any hope that you might be able to forgive the killer? It's forgiveness that punctuates so much of the words, message and life of Mpho –an Episcopal priest who is the founder and executive director of the Tutu Institute for Prayer and Pilgrimage.
As Christians we are called to forgive. It's an act that lies at the heart of our faith. But as incarnational, fallen humans, it can so often be one of the hardest things to do. When someone has wronged us, everything in us wants to cry injustice;to hold the other to account;to not let people get away with it. But through the Holy Spirit at work in us, this counter-cultural act can be a beautiful demonstration of God's radical grace in our lives.
Forgiveness has become the thing that the Tutu family is known for. Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu is one of the most recognisable Christian faces in our world. A man of reconciliation and peace, he is known for his opposition to apartheid in South
Africa. And now his daughter Mpho is continuing her father's work. The two have recently penned The Book of Forgiving together –offering a deeply personal guide to the forgiveness process.
I meet Mpho in a nomadic yurt. She emanates grace and serenity, bringing a sense of calm in the middle of a bustling Greenbelt Festival in August. Softly spoken, she pauses and thinks deeply before giving me her answers.
The daughter-and-father-penned book follows Archbishop Tutu's previous book
No Future Without Forgiveness, in which he details his upbringing in South Africa and reflects on the part he played as head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
"My father wrote No Future Without Forgiveness and that really explained the why of forgiveness –why we need to forgive. And this new book is the how-to manual. What is the process we engage in in order to be able to forgive?" Mpho tells me.
"It really is written as a companion to the forgiveness journey. The journey of forgiveness is a journey of four steps: first you need to tell the story, then you need to name a hurt, then at that point you can actually forgive and let go of the injury. Then you decide whether you want to renew the relationship, to create a new relationship. You don't continue the relationship under the same terms. Or you need to release the relationship –you may need to do this because a person that harmed you is dead, or because the person is abusive and is not going to change."
But is forgiveness more about the forgiver or the person being forgiven?
Mpho says: "Ultimately it benefits the forgiver most. It's the forgiver who gets freed to move in their own journey and to find themselves." The world had felt like a particularly dark place in the weeks before we met. Every day, news headlines brought more doom and gloom and horrors: the downing of flight MH17, bloody conflict in Gaza and Israel, and rising tensions in Iraq. Mpho has previously spoken out about the need to not let evil triumph. Is there any hope amid this darkness? "I think that evil is the absence of love –and the best thing to combat evil is to be the most loving person you can be," she says.
"And to do the most loving thing you know to do. Injustice is injustice and it harms people and our planet in so many ways. So whether it's war or abuse or racism, it is wrong.
"What gives me hope is people. In any situation of injustice, there is –if you look –always someone who can see through to where the love lies, and who can hold onto that vision of where the love is. I think when I look around the world, I see really that all of the wrongs of the world are interwoven in a way, and really touch all of us –because every injustice deprives all of us of the ability to live our best life."
But Mpho sometimes despairs about the Church;the Church that is supposed to bring God's hope and grace into a broken world. "The evangel is to share good news to everyone. Jesus came to bring good Grace, forgiveness and the Tutu legacy news. And so our question as Christians must always be –is what I am doing, is what I am saying, representative of the good news of Christ?"
With a father like Desmond Tutu, it's no surprise that Mpho has turned out to be the person she is. "I think the biggest lesson that I've learnt from my dad is: to love and to pray. Everything else can get caught up in those two lessons. His presence, the spirit that he not only carries but shares, is a spirit of love. And it is undergirded by a practice of prayer."
Join the forgiveness challenge
The Tutu Global Forgiveness Challenge will help you discover how the act of forgiving can bring more love and peace to your life. When enough of us forgive –we can change the world! Sign up, and you'll receive a daily inspirational email from the Archbishop and Mpho Tutu, with a link to join their online forgiveness community. The 30-day Challenge starts whenever you do.
Image: Mpho Tutu leading communion at Greenbelt Festival (credit Greenbelt Official)