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Tutu’s Legacy Roots Us In the “Precious Gift of Life”

“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” — Desmond Tutu

By Rev. Mary Katherine Morn on December 30, 2021

It is both a sad way to end the year and a gift to be reminded of the remarkable life and legacy of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. His unshakable commitment to human rights for all people and his embodied faith and action in response to what he received as God’s love softened and molded a nation and, more than that, a worldwide vision for justice and reconciliation.

And his laugh…more than anything I hold his laugh and his joy as gifts to carry forward into this new year as we live out our own commitments to human rights for all. In the midst of the most serious work imaginable, Archbishop Tutu would get that mischievous look, call on his affectionate wit, and laugh at/with himself, disarming friends and foes alike.

Many are embracing this transition to a new year as an opportunity to look back for understanding as we consider how to move faithfully toward what is next. The Archbishop did not die satisfied that his vision of justice and reconciliation was fulfilled. And we do not close out another year of UUSC’s work toasting to its completion. If, though, we can find the wells of joy that arise from our affection for each other, we will have what we need to carry on with the most serious work imaginable for another year.

I am reminded of something I learned from the Archbishop’s daughter. Nontombi Naomi Tutu was a program coordinator for the Fisk Race Relations Institute in Nashville, Tennessee when I served as a minister at the Unitarian Universalist congregation there. At a symposium in honor of humanitarian and theologian Albert Schweitzer, she emphasized the specific and important difference between “reverence for life” (Schweitzer’s guiding principle) and “respect for life.”

Reverence requires an understanding of the value of something—that it has within it divinity, she said. Respect is a lesser measure, though not unimportant.

This difference points to one of the vital aspects of UUSC’s history and a force that animates our commitment to and work advancing human rights. We affirm and celebrate the inherent worth, dignity, and power of all people. Grounding our work in this affectionate attitude toward humanity is a source, I believe, of UUSC’s staying power.

Today, as at any point in our history, we might review the impact of this year of work, or the decades of our work, with some disappointment. Likewise, we might look forward with fear, anticipating excruciatingly slow progress toward change. It is not success that holds us in the work for justice; it is affection, joy, and reverence. And these gifts are always a product of relationships.

So again, as we look forward to our work in the new year, may we recommit ourselves to the heart of justice—relationship grounded in affection, joy, and reverence. Remembering Archbishop Tutu’s infectious laugh, cherishing the partnerships we are building, and cultivating a practice of reverence for life will keep us steadfast for another year of work together, building a world worthy of the precious gift of Life.

Photo Credit: iStock—LightLock

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