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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

On the Death of a World-Famous 95 year old

Today I am burying a 95 year-old woman. She was born on the same day, she died on the same day, and she was buried on the same day as this guy,  Nelson Mandela. Her funeral was a little more low-key than his. While the world celebrated a man who is the iconic image of racial equality for just about everybody on the planet, save for those who see Martin Luther King, Jr in the same way. My woman had a daughter, a few grandchildren, and a sister-in-law at her funeral. We didn't need to rent a soccer stadium for her service.

The world rightly celebrates Nelson Mandela, and even I am amazed what affect he had on me. I remember my roommate and I in college listening to Biko by Peter Gabriel and wondering how someone like Mandela would ever survive? How would apartheid ever be conquered and destroyed? Well, there was Mandela...and over the past thirty years we found a man who provided a vision of a better world.

My woman? She was a cook for a local elementary school, and spent the last 30 years of her life in "retirement" being a mom, grandmother, wife, friend, and trying to help out where she could. All the hundreds of kids she kept fed over the years, most my age or older, might never remember her. She is not going to have her image embossed upon a screen for millions to see and remember; she is not going to be written about and studied for generations as Mandela will be; she is not going to get a President of even a PTA, or of anything for that matter, to use her as an inspiration, much less the President of the United States. She rests quietly in the cold tundra of the Nebraska prairie...miles away from Mandela, and galaxies away from "Mandela," the global icon of justice and peace.

But I believe God is more proud of my woman than of Mandela. 27 years of prison aside, Mandela must have had something in him that made him "Mandela." And that something is what most of us, my woman included, do not have. And that something, in the case of Mandela, is other cases not so much. But most of us just go our lives without that something, without the need to "change the world," or even really "change our own lives." Most of us don't want to change anything...and so we don't.

We might re-arrange some stuff every now and then...and maybe an accident or disease causes us to act or behave differently...but we don't have the something a Mandela had that burns with a flame until reality is lit by it. And so most of us slog through our everyday reality frustrated and content, happy and sad, saint and sinner, tired and energetic just getting on with being the cooks, bus drivers, waitresses, spouses, parents, children, friends, co-workers that we are. And then we die.

And does God find those of us, less "Mandela-like" any less worthy? According to our tradition: no. In fact, Jesus of Nazareth offers that when it comes to God, "The first will be last, and the last will be first." So, imagine that Mandela and my cook both get to the pearly gates at the same time. I have no trouble imagining my cook patiently waiting for Mandela to go through...but I also have no trouble imaging Mandela, his smile radiating in heaven as here on earth, holding the gate open to allow my cook to enter in before him.

Because what made Mandela great is what sustained my cook for their 95 years, and that is this: neither one of them ever thought of themselves as "first." And God smiles on them both. Requiescat in Pace.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

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