Michael Battle with WRAL CBS Team: David Crabtree and Pete James. We’re observing Nelson Mandela’s body “In State” in Pretoria.
Michael Battle witnessing magnificent construction of sacred space on Madiba’s ancestral land in Qunu where funeral occurred. 95 candles for each year of Mandela’s life.
Michael Battle witnessing the body of Nelson Mandela (Sunday, December 15, 2013, Qunu)
Today, I am privileged to attend the funeral of President Nelson Mandela (Madiba, his ancestral name). I am now finishing 24 hours of travel to and from Madiba’s ancestral home in Qunu where the burial occurred. The funeral is over but my reflection has only begun. Being a theologian and Episcopal priest from the Diocese of North Carolina, I feel like a biblical writer trying to record the meaning of an epic life—prisoner to president; stone breaker; freedom fighter; truth teller; reconciler … . Like the loquacious politicians honoring Madiba today, there is extreme difficulty trying to end the wording of his epitaph. Witnessing Madiba’s funeral is like a biblical event. Like the Cecil B Demille biblical movies, I’m expecting some horses and chariots accompanied by bearded men in robes avoiding women weeping. But I discover at Madiba’s funeral a military tank holding his body and men and women wearing military uniforms. The sky splits open with fighter jets and powerful black women sing so hard as if to bring Madiba’s body back to earth. Custodians and celebrities wipe their eyes. No one can fully explain this ineffable life. This will take many years and federal holidays to come.
Michael at Sherigu Women Development Center
Michael at Sherigu Women Development Center
As in human slavery, whenever we treat anyone as a means to an end, we fail to count the cost. There are further lessons to learn. We do not count the cost when we allow poverty which prevents children of God from participating fully in God’s created order. Economic inequity wreaks havoc in which the majority of victims are women and children. The number of those living in poverty is increasing instead of reducing as called for by the UN Millennium Summit. Financing sustainable development must focus sharply on the urgent task of eradicating the conditions that foster poverty. ERD’s Nets for Life is extremely successful in changing such conditions as malaria fostering poverty. Jesus puts it this way: “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (Mark 8.36) Even here, Jesus is teaching about counting the costs of profit and lost. Weighing in on counting the cost and changing ancient ridicule to developmental relief is the genius of ERD. I have learned this first hand in my pilgrimage to Ghana. For those with spiritual understanding such as ERD, there was a great deal to learn from Jesus’ parable concerning human ridicule. We should never build towers in which we expect someone else to labor while we sit back and relax—even more tragic, while we enslave. Work as Christians implies at least bilateral movement. We must never allow the unilateral work of slavery. Even in the greatest of labor, Jesus’ dying for our sins, there is the expectation that we too labor. Jesus says, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple”. Ultimately, I have learned from my pilgrimage to Ghana that our work as Christians is to make integral—what we promise and what actually results. We are to be those in Jesus’ eyes who know how to build a tower, and after counting the costs for building it, are willing to labor among God’s people to help all to benefit from the tower’s vantage point. Such a tower now sits at the tallest point in the city of God—whose revenue is beyond counting.
School Kids Exiting Elmina Castle (Torture Camp for Slaves)
I am indebted to the Presiding Bishop’s Office and ERD for giving me the opportunity to return to my own ancestral land to meditate on the cost to which Jesus refers. Herein, as if teaching to school kids, Jesus teaches that the lesson in building the tower is just as ancient as the ridicule. The lesson is ancient in the following way. The Portuguese (1482), Dutch (1637), British (1837) all intended to build a tower, but never estimated the cost. Of course, the cost is the eternal value of human beings made in the image of God. I mean, how do you pay for that anyway! This is what no one could truly estimate in the Atlantic Slave Trade. As to the ridicule, what I mean is this: We labor in vain if there is no healthy communal outcome. The consequences of the ridicule in not counting the cost in our daily lives have brought street protest throughout the world. Such ridicule causes an outcry of indignation because of the violence inflicted on people by the lack of spiritual, political and socio-economic structures in cities, states, and countries. These protests are motivated by a clear sense that the very fabric of social life unravels when there is nothing on which to base social cohesion. Jesus knew this and warns us to count the cost that no human being can pay.
My Reaching “Point of No Return” Elmina Castle Photo by Sam McDonald
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether one has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when that person has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule that person, saying, `This person began to build and was not able to finish.” Luke 14:28-30 What is haunting in this parable is that Jesus points to the natural ridicule between promises made and promises not kept. Intending to build a tower, a city on a hill, a light to the nations, are images that date far back—probably to when human beings could first speak. What strikes me about Jesus’ use of such an image is how it relates to my pilgrimage to Ghana courtesy of the Presiding Bishop’s Office and Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD). The most impactful “tower”I saw was part of Elmina Castle, famous in17th and 18th century Europe as the most renown tower constructed in tropical Africa. What was not so famous, however, was that Elmina Castle was the largest torture camp for African slaves. “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost …”
Anglican Diocesan Development and Relief Organization (ADDRO) work in Bawku West-Binaba with food security projects such as mango orchards.