Nelson Mandela’s death reminds me of all the great men and women who put their lives on the line for peace and justice, especial those of my childhood.
As a kid in Catholic grade school in the 1960s I was very aware of what the “reason for the season” really was. It was something more powerful than Santas kneeling before a manger, a fish on a bumper sticker, or a fight in a mall parking lot over being wished the wrong happiness.
We were taught that the message of the first Christmas was the longed-for good news of the coming of peace and justice to those who needed it most: the poor, the war-torn, the oppressed, and to ourselves when we recognize our humble role in the story. The great messengers of my childhood were not just from MY church or MY country, but from all over OUR world, and these men and women literally risked their lives for it.
I remember how, in grade school art classes at this time of year, we made faux-batik Christmas cards, by covering a bright rainbow of crayon colors with a thick layer of solid black crayon, and then carving words and patterns through the black down in to reveal the colors. The waxy messages were mostly of peace, as we listened to the words of JFK, MLK, RFK, Gandhi, John XXIII, Dorothy Day, and the Berrigans. We learned that Peace, with a capital “P” was not a silent night or a snowy nativity scene, but something radical, that stood in the face of the predominant culture, that often told us, even Christians, something we might not want to hear, but sounded more like “glad tidings of great joy” than any other words being preached.
May Nelson Mandela rest in the peace he championed, and may we all continue his work to bring it to the world.