My friend--a pastor in Seattle--told me the story about a remarkable woman in his church. She was licensed by the state to be a foster-care home for children with special needs. This requires fortitude and resilience, not knowing how long the children will be with you (maybe days or perhaps weeks), or how many children you may have at one time (as many as six). One year, at Christmas time, money was short.
I just finished a weekend with 40,000 of my closest friends at the Religious Education Congress, in the Anaheim Convention Center. It’s an annual recharge event. A place to tell stories, give and receive hugs, listen to music, laugh ‘till we cry, and drink wine into the late evening.
I taught them a new word: Sankofa (in the Akan language of Ghana). It is often associated with the proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translates “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” Or to remember. Or to recover. As an affirmation of the very things that make us human and fully alive.
When we practice Sankofa, it is possible to reclaim the fruit of the sacrament of the present moment – light, kindness, compassion, understanding, forgiveness, kindheartedness, tolerance, gratitude, mercy, second chances, hope, dignity, open heart, open mind – that has been buried or lost or dormant.
It is not easy, because we are broken people. We know that to be true. A lot of our brokenness has to do with relationships when life has gone askew. If you ask me what it is that makes us suffer, it is always because someone couldn’t hold onto us, or because someone hurt us. I know each of us can point to a brokenness in our relationships with our husband, with our wife, with our father, with our mother, with our children, with our friends, with our lovers.
Wherever there is love, there is also pain.
Wherever there are people who really care for us, there is also the pain of sometimes not being cared for… enough.
And there is the pain that comes from getting rid of those parts of us that feel inauthentic or false.
Early in the movie, Blood Diamond, a Mende village is plundered by a group of Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels. Many people, including women and children, are murdered. The young boys of the village are taken, to be trained, in order to fight with the rebels. This group includes Dia, twelve-year old son of a fisherman, Solomon Vandy. Solomon’s life is spared, but he is separated from his family and enslaved, to work in the diamond fields under the command of Captain Poison.
The RUF uses the diamonds to fund their war effort, often trading them directly for arms. While working in the RUF diamond fields as a forced laborer, Solomon finds a large diamond of rare pink coloring. Moments before government troops launch an attack, Captain Poison sees Solomon hiding the diamond. Before he can get the stone Captain Poison is injured, and both he and Solomon are taken to prison in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. While in jail, the wounded RUF commandant tells the prisoners about the stone Solomon found.
Hearing this, mercenary smuggler Danny Archer (from Zimbabwe) arranges Solomon’s release and proposes to exchange the diamond to find Solomon’s missing family. After an arduous overnight trek, Danny and Solomon reach the mining camp–still under RUF control–where Solomon discovered and buried the diamond. Here, Solomon is painfully reunited with his son Dia, who refuses to acknowledge him because he has been brainwashed by the rebels.
In a tense scene, at the sight of the buried diamond, still refusing to acknowledge his father, Dia has a gun pointed at Solomon’s head.
Solomon: “I am your father who loves you and you will come home and be my son again.”
Dia’s face reflects the anger and hatred and distrust instilled by the rebel indoctrination.
Solomon: “Dia, what are you doing? Dia! Look at me, look at me. What are you doing? You are Dia Vandy, of the proud Mende tribe. You are a good boy who loves soccer and school. Your mother loves you so much. She waits by the fire making plantains, and red palm oil stew with your sister N’Yanda and the new baby. The cows wait for you. And Babu, the wild dog who minds no one but you. I know they made you do bad things, but you are not a bad boy. I am your father who loves you. And you will come home with me and be my son again.”
With tears streaking his young face, Dia lowers his gun and falls into his Father’s embrace. He knows where he belongs. He knows to whom he belongs.
He is home.
Every time I watch this movie, I need to stop at this scene in order to let my own tears fall. And it’s not because I have a clue about what Dia or Solomon may have faced in their lives. It is because my heart too, longs to be in that embrace and to find home.
Sometimes we are aware of this need for home when we’ve gone away.
Or when we’ve lost our way.
Or when life is too baffling.
We all know of the many things that take us away from home… anger, distraction, self-importance, cruelty, vengeance, unforgiveness, discouragement, despair, disenfranchisement, alienation, heartache.
And what I’ve learned, in my own life at least, is that in every instance this new weight becomes the definition for our identity. It tells us who we are. And it requires that we focus on the periphery issues, on whatever is needed to impress, or manipulate, or achieve, or use, or hurt, or perform. And we are disconnected from our self.
Like Dia, we cannot undo these “bad things”. But we can allow ourselves to fall into the embrace of Grace.
We’re back to Sankofa…
But here’s the deal: We miss one another… I mean that we miss opportunities to connect, or opportunities to love and to touch, or opportunities to fall into the embrace of blessing. I guess that’s the part that befuddles me. So often when we do touch (or are blessed)–and it does happen very often–we don’t even see it. And we have forgotten that we too offer an embrace that becomes Grace and home to others.
Love is the only force powerful enough to prevail against the confusion and darkness of our present age. Love is the only thing that can turn enemies into friends. War can’t do it, violence can’t do it. Jesus said only love can. Only love can bring together people who hate and distrust each other and whose distrust cripples relationships.
Whatever love is in your heart… Nurture it. Develop it. Grow it. Spread it. Spread it to your family but don’t stop there. Spread it beyond. It is the only force that can heal our broken world.
I’m spent tonight. So, it’s downtime for me. I’ll see who wins an Oscar and sip some good wine. And get ready to go home, and savor the garden pageant that is soon to begin.
Quotes for your week…
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20–the parable of the prodigal son)
Home is a place where you can catch a dream and ride it to the end of the line and back. Where you can watch shadow and light doing a tight little tango on a wooden floor or an intoxicated moon rising through an empty window. Home is a place to become yourself. It’s somewhere you can close a door and open your heart. Theo Pelletier
Notes: Story adapted from the IMDB site and bloodiamondaction.
POEMS AND PRAYERS
those who have learned
to love one another
have made their way
to the lasting world
and will not leave,
I am Silent…and Expectant
the wondrous gift is given.
I would be silent now,
that I may receive
the gift I need,
so I may become
the gift others need.
Ted Loder – Guerillas of Grace