Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Stories that inspire others
This post originally ran as a column at MWR this month.
Recently I finally saw , the award-winning 2009 film based on events that took place in South Africa in the year leading up to the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
Nelson Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman) has just been elected president after 27 years in prison. Seeking to heal his country, Mandela approaches François Pienaar (Matt Damon), the captain of South Africa’s Springboks rugby team, and the two unite in a vision to use rugby to foster reconciliation among South Africans scarred by apartheid, poverty and violent crime.
Mandela embraced reconciliation and forgiveness in spite of the suffering he’d endured. This is most poignantly clarified in the film by Pienaar who, after visiting the prison cell where Mandela spent almost three decades, wondered “how you spend 30 years in a tiny cell and come out ready to forgive the people who put you there.”
The film challenged me to examine myself and reconsider the power and healing force of forgiveness. “Forgiveness liberates the soul,” Mandela said at one point. “It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.” left me desiring to embrace forgiveness, too.
Stories like give witness to the life of a person who, in spite of their flaws, inspires us to follow their example. Leigh Anne Tuhoy’s fierce love in , Eric Liddell’s joy and faith in , Dith Pran’s strength and forgiveness in — these stories stir and motivate me to be a better person, to love more deeply, to seek God more fervently, to forgive more readily, to work harder to heal the world.
Two thousand years ago, people bore witness to another life — a man who, as Jeff Cook put it in , “went around acting like the Creator, reordering what was unstable, bringing health to dark lives and dysfunctional bodies.” This man “had a unique ability to set right not only the physical world but also systematic injustice and the dark pursuits of the human heart.” He forgave extravagantly, healed lavishly, opposed injustice with sharp words and the end of a whip. He touched, fed, fixed and loved. And when all that got him executed, death lost to life, and his mission to renew and redeem the world bolted toward its inevitable incarnation. “This man,” said Cook, “astonished everyone who heard and saw him.” He embodied all those things that inspire us, and so much more.
And people followed him.
My husband’s father is one of those who followed. Jim died last month after a battle with bone cancer. As people gathered, they shared his story. Some told us he was their only encounter with a good father. Others talked about his endless passion for Jesus, here and abroad. But most of all, people remembered what it was like being loved by him. He forgave, touched, fixed and set right. And as we bore witness to Jim’s life, his story inspired us to be extravagant with our love and walk with God like him.
Stories like challenge us to rethink the way we live. But Jesus’ story is different. Jesus doesn’t simply us to live like him; he invites us to live in him. We humans have great capacity to love, but Jesus gives us even greater power. He frees us to be a people in his image. And when we live like that, our stories, like Jim’s, will inspire others to follow — not us, but the One who makes that life possible.