It was my privilege on Wednesday, May 11, to share a few words with the UCBC community during a special chapel session remembering our friend, UCBC administrator, pastor, and colleague, Papa Manassé. What follows is the transcript of that talk. My thanks go to the UCBC Chaplaincy for the honor of this opportunity.
Do you recognize these shoes? They were Papa Manassé’s shoes. I love these shoes. They always made me smile. I love their bright orange color. I always found it a bit incongruous that a well-respected pastor, mzee, advisor—someone in a position of leadership and authority—wore such fun and funny shoes. How can you fail to smile when you look at them? They did an important job. They supported the feet of a “God-carrier.”
“God-carrier” is a term from Desmond Tutu, former Archibishop of Cape Town, friend and advisor to Nelson Mandela, and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Desmond Tutu says that each of us is a “God-carrier.” Each of us is “God’s partner.”
We are made in the image of God. In creation, God breathed God’s very breath into us. We each carry within us what the Hasidic Jews call the “spark of the Divine.” What a calling each one of us has! And how do we live out this calling to be a “God-carrier”? I believe it is to extend to each other, on a daily basis, the gift of grace—to do what the man who once wore these shoes did—extend to each other, on a daily basis, the gift of grace, and be a “God-carrier.”
Grace. It is the word that rings loudly when I think of Papa Manassé. Grace—a gift freely given without expectation, without merit. I’d like to share a few examples of what grace looks like and what grace does as Papa Manassé lived it out among us.
Grace listens. Grace does not rush in to advise, correct, judge. Grace seeks first to understand.
There were many occasions when Manassé, in his role here as administrator, had to mediate disagreements, misunderstandings, and conflicts between people. I recall discussing a couple of situations with Manassé, as they touched my life and work here. Manassé’s stance was, “I will go and listen.” He recognized that each person, each party had its perspective on the situation. Each one had needs and expectations, fears and feelings. He knew that the answer to the issue lay somewhere in that mix, and that his responsibility was to listen, and to help each person listen to each other. Grace listens and seeks to understand.
Grace also offers “sacred space” for that listening. When we have sacred space to simply tell our story, we discover the resolution to that story. We find that we already know the answer to our problem. Manassé practiced “sacred listening.” He gave time and space to people and to their stories. He listened without judgment. He maintained confidences.
Grace calls us to live into our better selves. Grace shines the light on each of our inner lives, reveals our fears, our mistakes, our brokenness, and then says, “You are better than this. You are more than this. These fears, and weaknesses, this brokenness, the things you have done that you are ashamed of are NOT who you are at your core. You have the divine spark of God within you.”
American lawyer and advocate for equal justice, Bryan Stevenson, declares, “We are each of us more than the worst thing we have ever done.” Think about that, “We are each of us more than the worst thing we have ever done.” I am more than the betrayals I have committed, the lies I have told. I am more than the worst thing I have ever done. You are more than the worst thing you have ever done. Grace says, “You are better than that behavior. Step out of that and into what God imagined for you ‘when you were in your mother’s womb.’”
I had occasions to share some of my struggles with Manassé—resentments, fears, mistakes. Manassé never judged. He simply listened and reminded me of the gifts that I had, of the good things I was accomplishing. He allowed me to speak of my failures, then he reminded me of my contributions, my gifts and abilities. In so doing, he called out the better part of me.
Manassé recognized the “divine spark” in each person. He had the gift of fanning that divine spark into the flame of truth.
Grace gives freely, not grudgingly. It recognizes and responds to the needs of others.
My colleague, Célé, told me that during the two years he and his wife were in Butembo, Manassé texted regularly to ask how they were doing, to see if there was anything they needed. He not only sent the texts, but he took steps to provide assistance when it was needed. Two weeks ago I met one of Manassé’s former students and mentees who told me the same thing. “He was always sending me texts. ‘How are you?’ “How is it going?’ ‘How can I pray for you?’”
My sister Ann and her husband were here in 2011 for three weeks. Last night Ann sent me a WhatsApp message describing her “lasting image of Manassé” from that time.
Manassé was walking off campus at the end of the work day with his arm around a young man who had spent several hours with him in the library. That was during the time Manassé was working in the library to meet a deadline for his own schoolwork and would go to the library to “get away.” I had noticed he had spent several hours with the young man, meaning he wasn’t getting his own work done. When I mentioned it to him the next day, he told me the young man had been ready to commit suicide, and that this young man’s life was more important than anything he, Manassé, needed to do. He had spent the day praying, counseling, listening to the young man. When I think of Manassé, that is always what flashes into my mind.
I suspect that there are others of us in this room who knocked on Manassé’s door, sent him a text, needed his presence, and found him ready to put aside his own needs and give of himself. That is grace.
I had been asked to “give an exhortation” today. Instead, I’d like to offer you, offer each of us, an invitation—to extend grace toward each other as my brother Manassé extended during his life here among us.
Let us listen to each other—truly listen—listen to understand, to see the other person’s perspective. Let us give sacred space to each other.
Let us see the best and expect the best in each other. Let us fan the divine spark that is God’s very essence in each other and call the very best out of each other.
Let us be alert and respond to the needs of each other and give freely of our love, our gifts, our time.
Let us be God-carriers and God’s partners in grace.
Mbusa Thaluliba Manassé