In a moving tribute during Desmond Tutu’s funeral service last Saturday, Bishop Michael Nuttall said that this nickname became his when he worked as deputy to Tutu in the early 90s. The partnership between Tutu - the dynamic black Archbishop of Capetown - and Bishop Michael Nuttall, his deputy, a white man, ‘struck a chord in the hearts and minds of many people in the dying years of apartheid,’ said Nuttall. ‘We were a foretaste,’ he said, ‘of what could be in our wayward, divided nation.’ A taste too, of how the world can be when people are unthreatened and fearless, when they work together for peace and reconciliation with others who are different from themselves.
What a contrast with the man being celebrated in some parts of the US for inspiring the violent events on Capitol Hill a year ago this week. Donald Trump had taken his country to the brink a good many times in his term as president but this was by far the worst case of his exercise of brute power. He showed no interest in or no aptitude for either truth or reconciliation. And worst of all he still shows no evidence that he is losing his appetite for power and every evidence that he will make another bid for the presidency.
These men demonstrate different kinds of approach in the face of threatening situations – very similar to the masculinities demonstrated in the Epiphany story of the Magi and Herod celebrated this week at the end of the 12 days of Christmas. The Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz Weber, pointed out several years ago that both Herod and the Wise Men experienced fear. The Bible account actually says that it was his fear which inspired the Massacre of the Innocents – the murder ordered by King Herod of boys under two in Bethlehem. Probably the same fear which led him later to murder his own sons. The Magi also experienced fear – fear which led them to avoid the evil Herod not by confrontation but by spiritual insight which led them to ‘go home a different way’. Acting with wisdom and shrewdness, they lived up to the title by which they are so often known, ‘the Wise Men’.
2022 has begun with fears of all kinds swirling around in our world – still there are fears of those of different race, religion, political or sexual orientation, fear of disease, illness and death, fear of the tension between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, fears about the upshot of tensions between the East and the West, and above all, fears of environmental deterioration and destruction. Currently, values which have shaped the best in our common life seem everywhere threatened.
A hunger for truth with humility and a courageous aptitude for reconciliation will be the marks of wise men and wise women in the public square and everywhere else! The mutual skills of successfully being ‘number one’ and the wisdoms of sharing power with ‘number two’ are crucial!
Happy New Year!