Monday, December 21, 2009

Inctivus, Advent, Incarnation...

I wonder who among you has seen the recent film entitled, "Invictus"? Starring Morgan Freeman, as the newly-released-from-prison/ newly-elected-to-office President Nelson Mandela, alongside Matt Damon, playing South African Springbok Rugby captain, Francois Pienaar, the film places us squarely inside South Africa's transition from Apartheid rule to a free, Democratic nation. The time and period in our world's recent history is not without incredible charge, strife, and division among people. It's a time and period that calls us all to deeper reflection and contemplation of what it means to be united in the face of incredible adversity, diversity, conviction.

Enter Mandela. Enter a leader who exemplifies a radically new kind of authority and governance: one that is deeply acquainted with the victim, with the experience of the oppressed and marginalized, and yet is one who leads from a transcended space of love, compassion, and forgiveness. Enter Pienaar, another leader of sorts, who is called into this space to inspire his peers beyond their comfort and convictions into a place of equally transcended and transported action. Mandela and Pienaar are two starkly contrasted men who this film centers around in the name of delivering a narrative of hope and promise, of victory over fear and ignorance; it's a tale about the unity of people in spirit, mind, body.

On one hand, Invictus is an American film examining the post-Apartheid times and circumstances of our South African brothers and sisters. As a Clint Eastwood Production, it comes to the American public in this package and presentation that, for me as viewer, invites me to receive it within this lens. The Dirty-Harry-Unforgiven-Gran-Torino Eastwood delivers this story in a way that I must embrace as gift, as he - and the film's creators - present us with these larger questions around leadership and unity in the midst of deep divide. (How are the film's themes applicable to the American public? The larger world? It's rich!)

On another hand, Invictus is a David and Goliath sports flick, giving us an underdog team in the Springboks that strives to defeat the giant opponent in New Zealand's All Blacks. It is Hollywood flexing its American muscles inside a biblical metaphor. It's a film that culminates in sweet victory, a virtual miracle of sorts unfolding before our eyes when we all consider the human odds of Black and White camps and convictions, experience and athleticism, going into battle.

And now, a week after seeing the film, still reviewing a number of its moving scenes in my mind, I hold the fullness of the film's lessons about transcendent leadership and possibilities, inside of this Advent season. Invictus comes to me this day in a much larger light, one where its characters are considered inside of a faith perspective; that where a divine presence enters our midst and is seen in the most obscure places. Mandela as a President emerging from South Africa's apartheid prison. Pienaar as post-Apartheid athlete unifier. The uncanny, unfathomable, seemingly impossible, becomes possible, tanglible, quite real in this tale. There is an incarnation witnessed in this film as the should-be-conquered and conquerable reveal themselves to be as the movie title states: Invictus, Unconquerable.

I can see a Christ-figure born in each of these men: Mandela as compassionate intellectual posing questions of unity and leadership, inviting the black majority of South Africa to reconsider its battles with the former white majority rule. ("Why overturn the Springbok green and gold?) Pienaar, as athletic leader who wrestles with his privilege, his comfort, and ventures to see inspiration and possibility through the "other's" perspective. The rugby captain actually traveling to the new president's former prison cell at Robben Island, and contemplating what captivity has taught him about the human spirit, about compassion, about the invincibility of an unjustly accused and condemned man.

Whatever lens you choose to view this film through, I invite you to simply view it! Consider how its characters and circumstances speak to your heart. Consider these questions:
What does it mean to lead? What is at the center of your beliefs and actions? What inspires nations and its citizens? What creates hope and optimism in your own home? What is possible in the face of great odds? What is trying to get born in you today, in your work, on your field, in your lab, in your mind, within your family or community? How are you called to respond? Do you see yourself as unconquerable? Do you know that beauty and the divine dwell within and all around? Do you recognize your own capacity to forgive, to transcend those who have caused you the greatest grief or injury?

This season, I invite you all to see this film and meditate on its themes and many questions.

In peace and contemplation,

No comments: