The Red Couch: God Has A Dream Discussion

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Feb-BookTo learn more about God Has A Dream, read the introductory post.  Don’t forget to peruse The Nightstand, which contains resources for those wanting to read more on the topic.

In God Has A Dream the beloved South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu talks about transformation in ways that are fresh and challenging. He describes suffering as long-term, redemptive and purifying. He sees freedom as inevitable in God’s world, which is being restored to wholeness day by day. His metaphor of choice, transfiguration, ignites my imagination and somehow deepens my sense of the potential of earthly transformation.

I appreciate most how Tutu articulates a spirituality of transformation in this tiny volume. For those of us working to see transformation, be it global or local, he sketches out a structure for our soul amid the hard work of activating change. His words offer wisdom to mothers, writers, pastors, artists, activists and disciples laboring every day for real change in their homes and communities.

What is the spirituality of transformation that sustains us from beginning to glorious end? The spirituality of transformation has a redemptive understanding of suffering.

I’m not at all surprised that an African elder would make this connection between suffering and spirituality. When suffering colors a continent, you must address it. Tutu doesn’t diminish the pain, but he places it within a larger context to demonstrate that evil is not the final word.

He says suffering can either embitter us or ennoble us, and we get to choose what it will be in our own experience. Mandela left Robben Island a noble man after 27 years of loss. I’ve listened to Brian McLaren reflect on harsh and hateful critics over the years; I’ve watched the pain of it shape him into a more gentle person because he opted to see it as an opportunity for spiritual formation. Just recently I saw Rachel Held Evans take hate mail and make it into origami, an echo of swords into plowshares. We can be formed by our suffering, whatever variety it is, according to Tutu. Our own Michaela Evanow holds her sweet Florence, living with a terminal disease; she finds words of grief and hope to serve us. She’s luminous with transfiguration—and this is the mystery of it, Tutu confesses.

We cannot escape suffering; we must endure and embrace it. In the end, it will transform us in ways beyond the power of our vocabulary.

The spirituality of transformation has ubuntu as the foundational understanding of persons.

“We are set in a delicate network of interdependence with our fellow human beings and all of creation,” he says. This is a foundational understanding of our shared humanity; we are connected to one another in irrevocable ways. When she is humiliated, I am humiliated. When you are brokenhearted, my joy cannot be complete. When I’m left out, your table isn’t complete.

The most challenging part of ubuntu, how we are “persons through other persons,” comes when we confront our enemies. Jesus makes clear that enemy love is part of neighbor love. Tutu reminds us that as much as God loves us, He also loves our enemies. In some way, the state of our enemy is linked to our own welfare.

When we see everyone as a part of us, each human condition bearing down on us, it will shape us into better neighbors. But it is very hard.

The spirituality of transformation has a contemplative posture toward God.

When we consider the work of transformation, action verbs come to mind. Go and do, cook and clean, plant and harvest, preach and pastor—change requires movement. But Tutu reminds us that our work will not be sustainable without a contemplative posture toward God. Everyone is meant to cultivate that space inside where they can hear God’s voice or sense the Spirit’s abiding presence. This requires stillness, quiet and time alone. As Richard Rohr also reminds us, action must be married to contemplation for long-term health.

For all our well-intended activity in our homes and neighborhoods, we must honor Sabbath and stillness to be sustainable partners with the Spirit.

So much of Tutu’s words remind me about the importance of how I steward my energy toward my circumstances, my neighbors (and enemies) and God. Reading Tutu recalibrates my frame of reference and even injects a bit of whimsy—I love his humor. But he also keeps pointing to the big picture, the redemptive arc and the steady but slow pace it takes to be transfigured.

Questions to Consider

  • Do you agree with Tutu that “nothing, no one and no situation is untransfigurable?”
  • What do you feel when you consider his statement that God loves your enemy with the same love He has for you?
  • Has suffering embittered or ennobled you?
  • Do you hold contemplation and action together in your own discipleship?
  • What parts challenged you? What are your takeaways?

Reminder

Our March book is Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. Come back Wednesday, March 5 for the introduction to the book. The discussion, led by D.L. Mayfield, will be Wednesday, March 26.

We’ll be announcing our Second Quarter selections Wednesday March 12. We cannot wait to tell you about them!

* Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

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Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley is co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. She is also the author of Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World (Eerdmans).
Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley Nikondeha

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Kelley Nikondeha
  • Kels, you write about this book so beautifully. Like I said, You make this SING!

    “We cannot escape suffering; we must endure and embrace it. In the end, it will transform us in ways beyond the power of our vocabulary.” HELLO!

  • This book came at the right moment for me. Coupled with a book club reading of Christena Cleveland’s “Disunity in Christ,” I have had to examine my feelings of my “enemy,” the other, especially among my fellow Christians. I can get so discouraged with the (often hateful) politics of Christianity and Tutu reminded me of the grace and humility I need in praying for them, walking alongside them, engaging them….

    Thank you for picking such a thought-provoking, soul-embedding book. It has stayed with me this month.

    • I cannot wait to read Christena’s book! Love hearing about the way her book intersects with Tutu’s message. “Thought-provoking, soul-embedding book” is a perfect description.

  • Sherry Naron

    I remember all those years ago when you first taught me about Ubuntu, it has never left me. I love the concept of, “we are persons through other persons,” so very much! I love the beauty of it, but also the challenge of it…to do better and to be better.

  • Dorathea Maynard

    I love the way you write about it, too. Beautiful and fluid. I haven’t gotten very far, only a few chapters in, but I’m going to be sure to finish.

    I
    think one of the most compelling parts for me is how Tutu describes the
    world as a moral world, and as it is such “despite all the evidence
    that seems to be to the contrary, there is no way that evil and
    injustice and oppression and lies can have the last word” (p 2). And
    inviting the president of South Africa to join the winning side, which
    had already won…wow. I love that, and it’s not sardonic or smarting
    off, it’s just genuine love and grace.

    And I’m definitely
    challenged personally with thinking about how one of my broken friendship could possibly be
    transfigured into something beautiful. If I choose to pursue a restoration rather
    than dismissing it as the past, which is so tempting, there will be a lot of work
    and suffering involved in the process. That and it being a moral world and trying to wrap my mind around ubuntu, wow. I lose words and just ache in my heart. I don’t know the right answers. I have a long way to go to be transfigured myself.

  • Heather

    There was loads to take away from this book, but one of my favourites is, “Perhaps only when we care about each other’s dead can we truly learn to live in the same world together…” Not to be morbid, but I hope one day this will be true – that we will see and acknowledge and grieve for those who have died, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, ‘worthiness’, etc.

    • That line really stuck out to me, too. To have that kind of compassion for one another would transform the world.

  • Karen Wondercheck

    When I first read a little about this book on this site, I honestly wasn’t that interested in reading it. Lo and behold today I came across it at Goodwill and it was tagged the color that was a dollar so I bought it. I got to my sons class early and started reading it. Wow, was I encouraged and inspired by this mans writings and life! And I’m only on Chapter 1! Just what I read in that chapter stayed with me all day. After picking up my son from class we ended up having a flat tire on the way home and a crummy rest-of-day, but he reminded me God is with me in this. We were able to make the best of our circumstances in the end and that’s so important that I model to my son. Thanks for having this book as the book club book. I am new to She Loves, but love it and am so encouraged by it. I’m pretty sure I would not be reading this wonderful book without it!

    • That is such an awesome story, Karen! I’m so glad the book found you and met you where you were at. Literally. We’re glad to have you be a part of the She Loves community!

    • Kelley Nikondeha

      Karen, so glad we could introduce you to this great book by Tutu! Thanks for trusting us and reading along with us this month. I hope you are challenged and encouraged, in equal measure, with each chapter!

  • sandyhay

    My 6 year old grandson asked my why I was underlining my book. So I explained how important Desmond Tutu’s word were to me and that I wanted to be able to remember them.

    “Nothing, no one and so situation is untransfigurable.”I look at life through the eyes of an American who has not lived in the circumstances of South Africa or Europe during WWII or Rwanda. So my experienced in limited. Yet, to read the words of Desmond Tutu who lived through these horrors or Corrie TenBoon or the South African friends i made during my visit in 2012, then I cannot not agree.

    God wouldn’t be our God if He doesn’t love our enemies the same as He loves you and me.

    The biggest challenge for me is contemplation with action, starting right within my own home.

    • Love that you had that interaction with your grandson, Sandy! He might like reading the children’s version of this book called God’s Dream.

    • Kelley Nikondeha

      Sandy, Tutu challenges us on so many fronts from cover to cover, maybe that’s why I re-read it often! I think his reminder abut enemy love as part of neighbor love and God’s love continues to challenge me. And to see with redemptive eyes. But then he reminds us to be still before God – and I’m challenged again by my own sabbath-less motion. So I’m with you in the need to enact more contemplative habits in my home – it’s part of transfiguration, right?