Three Anecdotes from the Life of Nelson Mandela

RUGBY-WC-FINAL 95-ZAF-NZEveryone is sharing memories about Nelson Mandela, so I thought I should do the same.  No, I never met him.  These are stories from famous people you may have heard of who knew him personally.  As I ate my breakfast this morning reading Time (Dec. 23, 2013, the Pope Francis Man of the Year, issue) these three stories affected me powerfully.

1) From Bono (if you haven’t heard of him, he sings).  Mandela “could charm the birds off the trees–and cash right out of wallets.” He told me once how Margret Thatcher had personally donated £20,000 to his foundation. ‘How did you do that?’ I gasped. The Iron Lady, who was famously frugal, kept a tight grip on her purse. ‘I asked,’ he said with a laugh. ‘You’ll never get what you want if you don’t ask.” Then he lowered conspiratorially and said her donations had nauseated some of his cohort. ‘Didn’t she try to squash our movement?’ they complained. His response, ‘Didn’t De Klerk crush our people like flies? And I’m having tea with him next week…He’ll be getting the bill.'”

2) From Morgan Freeman (if you haven’t heard of him, he acts). Mandela initially suggested that Freeman play him in a film. “Nearly 20 years after our first meeting, my company Revelations had the unique pleasure of developing and producing the film Invictus (see #3), with me in the role of Mandela. Consistent with his true character, his only comment after we first screened the movie for him was a humble, ‘Now perhaps people will remember me…'”

3) From Francois Pienaar (if you haven’t heard of him he plays rugby, watch Invictus, pictured with Mandela). “In Pollsmoor Prison, a warden told me a story. On Monday night, it was his job to show movies to the four prisoners, including Mandela. Once, he complained about not having a fresh cup of coffee. So the next Monday night, Madiba (Mandela’s Xhosa clan name) walks over to him with a fresh cup and two biscuits, gives them to him, walks back and watches the movie. The warden was, I would say, very conservative. Yet when he told his story, he was charged. He was shaking.”

This last one moved me to tears.

What have been your favorite Mandela stories you’ve heard in the past few weeks?

Why a month for Christmas and a week for Easter?

Easter Bunny at Christmas cartoon 1This year the official Christmas season is the shortest it ever gets. My wife Shannon says it begins immediately after Thanksgiving, although many stores seem to think Christmas begins right after Labor Day.

Since Thanksgiving was on November 28 this year (the 4th Thursday of November), the period between the two holidays is a short as it gets this year.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas.  But a question comes to mind even in the midst of this abridged holiday season.

Why do we celebrate Christmas for a month and Easter for a week? Is Jesus’ birth four times more important than his death?  I could be wrong here, but theologically, I think his death is more fundamental to my faith. Yes, I realize Jesus couldn’t die unless he was first born, but it wasn’t his birth that paid the price for our sins. That would be his death.

To be precise, for Easter, we don’t just celebrate his death, we also celebrating his resurrection. So, Easter celebrations essentially commemorate the two most important events in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

(Another question, how do we go from Friday afternoon (cross) to Sunday morning (empty grave) and come up with three days? That sounds like a day and half to me. I may need to revisit this question in 3 months.)

So, perhaps we should make Christmas not just a celebration of his birth, but also a celebration of his life? Just as we celebrate two things for Easter, we could celebrate two things for Christmas. Personally, Jesus’ life is more important to my faith that his birth. (Although, it is pretty amazing that Baby Jesus didn’t cry.)  During his life he healed, he taught, he forgave, he prayed, he provided food and wine, he showed compassion. Those are impressive. Celebration-worthy.

As a baby he was given gifts by the five wise men (Scripture never says there were three guys, just three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh-I think five guys went in for 3 gifts, which would make more sense in their communal culture), but receiving gifts isn’t that impressive. Even I can do that. (Yes, I haven’t forgotten about Baby Jesus’ lack of crying, which is still impressive.) Everyone says I’m better at receiving gifts than giving gifts.

If Jesus’ birth is so important, why do Mark and John skip it? Half the Gospels omit his birth narrative completely. They don’t skip his life, but go into great detail talking about what he did during his ministry here on earth. But we decide to devote a month of our holiday calendar to celebrate his birth. Doesn’t that seem a bit off to you? So, let’s just expand our Christmas celebrations to include recollections of Jesus’ life on earth as he was God-incarnate, word-made flesh, Immanuel, God-with-us.

Review of History’s Bible Secrets Revealed

John WycliffeOn Wed Nov 13 (2013), The History Channel began a six part series of 1-hour shows entitled Bible Secrets Revealed, with the first episode focused on Translation (click here to watch).

I finally watched my taped version yesterday.

I’ll start with the positive.

The historical section (2nd hour was the best part of the show) was great.  They told the story of John Wycliffe (pictured on left) and William Tyndale, two radical English men who thought the Bible should be available, not just in Latin, but in English, so everyone could read it (assuming they could read English, that is).  Spoiler alert: both were killed for doing something so radical. I will never take for granted the fact that I have easy access to the English Bible. Thanks, John and William.

It was good that the episode pointed up some of the textual problems that often get ignored. The end of Mark’s gospel (Mk. 16:9-20) and the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) aren’t in some of the oldest manuscripts (as your Bible should tell you in a footnote, if you’re Bible doesn’t, get a new one).

There are differing biblical perspectives on who killed Goliath (see 1 Sam. 17:51; 2 Sam. 21:19; 1 Chron. 20:5).  Although, in their attempt to heighten the conflict, one scholar made a point about a supposed textual conflict with Goliath’s sword that was totally unconvincing.

So, it was good to observe those problems, but I had serious problems with how they interpreted the problems.

First, they made it seem like their conclusions are clear-cut, when they are not.  Often these textual issues are highly complicated.  I can understand The History Channel not wanting to go into all the complexity in a 60 minute episode for popular audiences, but what they did bordered on deception.

Second, the narrator frequently said “Scholars say…” (Wikipedia calls this using “weasel words“), and then they would quote one scholar who supposedly represented the academic perspective on that subject. But they didn’t include diverse opinions, just the ones who had the most un-traditional views on the Bible–the scholars who were trying to expose on those hidden secrets.

Third, I don’t know everyone who was interviewed, but when it came to the Bible, there weren’t any who were clearly arguing for an Evangelical perspective.  I can think of dozens of solid, highly respected Old Testament scholars who could have done a great job of being articulate, but perhaps not as shockingly provocative.

Overall, I’m glad I watched and will continue watching, but as I tell my students, be critical.

If you watched it, what did you think? 

The Bible’s Secrets Revealed

Bible Secrets RevealedThe History Channel is about to start a 6-part series entitled:

Bible Secrets Revealed, starting tonight (Wed, Nov. 13, 2013) at 10:00 ET.  Program your DVR’s.

You can watch a preview here.

Although, I haven’t seen it, I know I have a few friends in it.  (I’m hurt they didn’t invite me to participate.)

I’m sure parts of it will be great, much of it will be interesting, and some of it I won’t agree with, but I think it’s still good to listen to people I disagree with.  Biblical scholars often disagree, which gives us something to argue about.

And for a series like this to seem new, or novel, they’ll need to sensationalize the newest “findings”.

We’ll see.  I’ll watch and comment as I can (although, this is busy teaching period for me until mid-Dec).

I’d love to hear your thoughts if you watch it.