The Desmond Tutu Center at General Seminary is following all of the recommendations and restrictions put out locally in NYC and internationally that affect our normal activities. These will affect many of our normal activities through the summer and likely into the Fall semester. Updates on individual events, and travel seminars will come out as decisions are made.
In a statement put out by Desmond Tutu, Njongonkulu Ndungane, and Thabo Makgoba, they say that in this moment, we should "take the opportunity to respond by choosing life over death; by choosing knowledge over ignorance; by sharing that knowledge; and by caring about others through taking care of ourselves."
Even though we cannot be together physically, may we continue to be united in Spirit through our prayers and through our solidarity and compassion for one another. Feel free to reach out to the Center at any point if you have questions regarding these next months.
(12 May 2020)
This current pandemic reminds communities of faith how important the concept of holiness remains for a 21st century world. Reflecting on what it means to be holy guards against the confusion in our pandemic crisis around the meanings of “social distance” or “physical distance” or even, “shelter in place”. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is helpful in our being less confused as he cowrites with Anglican Archbishops of Cape Town, “The virus has no boundaries—it cuts across all communities, rich and poor, in north, south, east and west. Only mutual love and care for one another will get us through the crisis.” In the New Testament, to be holy (ἅγιος, hagios) does not mean isolation; rather its meaning of being set apart is more akin to the wisdom quoted above—namely, to be holy is more like mutual love that elicits reverence for life. Isolation is more like the concept of hell or solitary confinement in a prison cell. Such stark reality makes us do well to be less confused about who we are in this pandemic. By sharing God’s image of mutual love, we are reminded that we too elicit reverence—no one is merely an animal. As Tutu approaches his 89th birthday this October, we should even more be less confused in this pandemic. On the one hand, Tutu’s life is a sanitizing light that guards against solitary confinement. On the other hand, his life wakes us up to a lack of mitigation strategies to fight COVID-19. As a black, octogenarian, Tutu’s reverent life points to the miracle of his longevity in that our pandemic disproportionately kills black octogenerians. Tutu’s constant prayers that God better not go missing in action resonates just as much today as in his days as an anti-apartheid leader. The fact of Tutu being a miracle hit home listening to Christopher Brown on National Public Radio (NPR), a nursing assistant in a Chicago nursing home. Brown said that the pandemic did not cause the problems in nursing homes—it simply exposed the problems that were already there. A lack of care for seniors was already there. A lack of support for care givers was already there. In Brown’s interview entitled, Coronavirus Pandemic Exposes Cracks In Nursing Home System, current statistics report that nursing homes account for nearly half of COVID-19 deaths in some states in the US. Why are black people and seniors so vulnerable to the virus, and what can we do to improve senior care in the future? Tutu’s life facilitates a ready answer that he sharpened in his struggle against apartheid. The answer is this—we can never treat any human being as dispensable. Through such a sacred (holy) worldview, habits develop in such a way that seniors and black people live longer. Reverence for all people keeps us focused on a future in which life takes on a substantially higher quality as well as quantity of life span. God encourages us through this pandemic, “With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation” (Psalm 91:16).
Michael Battle’s forthcoming book, Tutu, South African Confessor: A Spiritual Biography of Desmond Tutu, due out soon. that includes what they do, how long they’ve been at it, and what got them to where they are.
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