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Mending the Breach
Mending the Breach

Responding to the Gaps

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

One of the most striking examples of mending a breach is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) set up in South Africa to deal with human rights violations during apartheid. The TRC was headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1931–2021) whose leadership embodied forgiveness, love, and justice.

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has drawn enormous attention, and people around the world are seeking to replicate it. But the unique gift of the TRC is not that it unveiled the truth about historic injustices, but that it did so within an atmosphere of mercy and forgiveness. This was possible only because Tutu had already been transformed into a man who could not envision the future without forgiveness. In other words, if a new South Africa is not possible without the unique gifts of its TRC, the TRC was not possible without the forgiveness of Tutu. [1]

Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice describe how leaders like Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela (1918–2013) respond to breaches, which they refer to as “gaps,” and how each of us may respond as well.

Responding to a gap is not about starting everywhere but about starting somewhere. Wherever we find ourselves, there are gaps. The gap can be as small and near as people in our own family, town or congregation. The challenge is for each of us to be faithful to discern and respond to the gap God puts before us….

Leaders respond to a gap without knowing the way. They belong to the gap to such an extent that they share in its suffering. This is as far as some leaders take the journey. But this is not far enough. While many leaders bear the signs of the world’s death and suffering in their body, engaging the world’s suffering does not necessarily lead us into redemption. We are just as likely to be transformed into bitterness as into new life.

There are many casualties in the journey of responding to the gaps of the world. Many leaders end up bitter and angry. They become despairing and sometimes even destructive….

Many warriors for justice become steeped in the skills of protest and resistance. Yet they never learn the equally critical skills of pursuing new life in the gap. One of the distinguishing marks of the gentleness that communion requires is this: leaders are ones who learn to absorb pain without passing it on to others or to themselves.

This is what is so remarkable about the spirit of leaders like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, who are undoubtedly skilled at protest and resistance. While they carried a great burden about gaps of injustice, they radiated conviction and not condemnation, redemption and not final judgment, embrace and not rejection. The truly prophetic nature of their work in South Africa was pursuing justice with a quality of mercy that shaped a quest for communion with enemies and strangers. [2]


[1] Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice, Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2008), 103.

[2] Katongole and Rice, Reconciling All Things, 127, 134, 135.

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Alma Thomas, Snoopy—Early Sun Display on Earth (detail), 1970, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian. Alma Thomas, Snow Reflection on Pond (detail), 1973, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian. Loïs Mailou Jones, Jeune Fille Français (detail), 1951, oil on canvas, Smithsonian. Click here to enlarge image.

We accept the breach as an invitation to repair: piece by piece, thread by thread, we heal together.

Story from Our Community:  

I’d like to share a memory of my mother, who was and is my favorite theologian. When I was about nine years old, I accompanied my mother, a classically trained organist, to the church where she played for worship. She asked me to sit beside her and explained that J.S. Bach composed his fugues in a minor key because we all live, the best we can, in a world that often feels like it takes place in a minor key. Then she began to play. I remember her physical force as she swayed and breathed in a kind of frantic meditation. Breathless and with a sense of accomplishment, she told me to listen how the fugue ended on a major chord. She explained that the major key signaled that in our final moments, our Creator would buoy us into a reunion with all that was, and is, and is to come. —Mark F.

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