A blog conversation between Robert V. Taylor and Mpho Tutu about her new book Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes All the Difference co-authored with her father, Desmond M. Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town. Mpho Tutu is the Executive Director of The Tutu Institute for Prayer and Pilgrimage.
RVT: So many people feel overwhelmed by daily life. What was it that prompted you and your father to write about your belief that we are Made For Goodness?
MT: We wrote with two thoughts in mind: my father is often asked,given his life, what accounts for his joy? In our ministries each of us has encountered people who struggle to make sense of their lives; we wanted to tell the source of my father’s joy. We wanted to share what we have learned of how to make some sense of life, how to hold on to hope, how to be incurably infected with joy.
RVT: I know that individuals often test my core beliefs and practices for daily life. You write that each day brings an opportunity to practice goodness. Is there a defining moment for you when you thought, “Yikes! Is goodness possible here?”
MT: No. I never wonder “is goodness possible?” I do wonder “how is goodness possible? What am I not seeing? How can I learn to see rightly that I may act aright.
RVT: Since reading the book I’ve found myself imagining new ways in which goodness can change the world and our daily lives. Is there an experience which transformed your life choices about goodness?
MT: I would love to be ale to say “one miraculous day I got it and ever after I have been able to live solely out of the best that is in me” But, for me, goodness, like prayer, is a practice. I must turn often and again to rediscover my best self. There are still days when I argue with my husband, still moments when I snap at my children, still times when I am thoughtless or unkind. I take no joy in those experiences and the joylessness does its own work of transformation.
RVT: Someone recently asked me if it was possible to be good and not have the ability to forgive someone. What wisdom would you offer that person?
MT: Forgiveness is a gift we give to those who have harmed us. But forgiveness is,first, a gift we give ourselves. It is a gift of healing. We can refuse healing, picking at the wounds to ensure that they fester and grow; we can refuse to forgive, deliberately reanimating the hurt whenever it shows signs of ebbing. We can wish ourselves healed, we can do all the things that promote healing but, ultimately, healing takes grace and time. It is not a matter of goodness or deserving.
RVT: I work with groups exploring the truth of each person being made in the imagination of the Creator. Is there a way that this imagination infuses the truth that we are made for goodness?
MT: We are made, so scripture says, in the image and likeness of God. God is the very definition of goodness. God engenders goodness. Goodness is the whole imagination of God. We cannot compass or fathom God. Yet each of us contains God, holds God in the center of our being. This Godfulness, this goodness is our defining characteristic.
RVT: When someone lives with negative energy, anger or discrimination directed towards them, what would you say to them?
MT: I do not want to sound flippant. I know that many, many people live in the firing line. They are the targets of violence, oppression, abuse, anger and discrimination. None of us can choose the circumstances of our life. Each of us can choose how to respond to those circumstances. Each of can choose to be a victim or a survivor. Each person makes the choice with each challenge that faces them. For some people the challenges are daily and grinding. For some the challenges are intermittent. But none of us must face any challenge alone. There is a God who stands with us in the fieriest of the furnaces that we face
RVT: Concepts of goodness, kindness and compassion are consistent themes in many traditions, inviting us into living lives of integrity and wholeness. Has your own experience been enriched by the wisdom that several traditions speak to?
MT: I have friends of many faiths. They teach me from the wisdom of their traditions. Practices of prayer and fasting and meditation that I have learned from Christian teachers have been enriched by teachings on those subjects by friends of other faiths. The Buddhist practices of mindfulness, the Jewish concept of shalom that encompasses more than peace and reaches out to include wholeness, the Muslim understanding of Halaal right relationship rather than only dietary purity these things and more deepen my understanding of my own faith. They send me home to Christianity with sharpened vision.
RVT: What was your most surprising “wake up” experience of goodness?
MT: In January I co-lead a group on a pilgrimage to South Africa. On one of our first days there we visited a community center in the informal settlement of Kliptown. SKY is a non-profit youth center in the middle of a squalid township. There was an old woman there, a retired nurse, who came each day to prepare breakfast and lunch for children who might not otherwise have a meal. Her face was creased with smile lines. She was leaky with joy. Her warmth spilled over onto anyone within hailing distance. She had found her vocation and standing near her one was infected with the sense of possibility. That is the surprise of goodness, finding and living from our goodness can help other people to find and touch their own goodness.
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