Anyone who's had the pleasure of seeing Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu give a public address will appreciate the incredible profundity of my (a) seeing him on a Monday and then (b) going to a public speaking faculty development seminar on Wednesday.
"Look people in the eye," the public speaking people said. "Don't just scan the room."
When Desmond Tutu wanted us to understand something, he would point at our faces. "We need you to change the world," he said. Then, pointing, "You. And you. You-you-you-you-you." All different faces. All people responsible for making change.
It's rare for me to be truly moved by a Christian speaker. I grew up listening to them, feeling left out as a woman, as a sexual being, as a creative dreamer. I found that the "god-breathed" idea was beautiful to me metaphorically, and disturbingly un-intellectual when applied literally to a text. This is and has been a source of grief between myself and my deeply religious, spiritual family.
But we can all agree that Desmond Tutu, including whatever version of God he's chatting with, is pretty damn awesome. To the youth of Boston he said, "People are hungry, but we do not see hamburgers flying down from heaven. God needs us to do it, to make the food, to give the food to the hungry people."
At the end of his special convocation ceremony, Tutu was discussing the God he believes in, who needs human intervention and action to create peace. "God is saying, 'I want peace, I want you to be happy, but I can't do it without your help. Please help me. Please. Please. Please?'"
And that was the end. The END! My public speaking trainers would have had a fit. Ending on a question? Ending in a tiny, sad voice?
But yes. And we erupted into applause. Even the atheists, the agnostics, the Unitarians among us, because we can get behind this idea of human "help," human sacrifice for social justice. Interesting, I thought, to have a theology that incorporates a God who "needs" help, what with the omnipotence and everything. But I didn't care. Tutu was too dynamic, too honest, too hilarious, too filled with grief, too beautiful to challenge on what, ultimately are irrelevant aspects of his life's work. His life's work is change on earth. He's seventy six and still can prance about the stage like a deer. I'd respect him anyway, on principle, but I was in awe.
A highschooler sitting behind me said, "I wish he was my grandfather."