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Nelson Mandela and the power of grace

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Like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela risked his life and suffered prison and persecution for a cause that most young people today can scarcely believe was ever controversial. They demanded simple human equality for people with black skin. How both men went about it was even more remarkable: Each had a generosity of spirit that embraced the colorblind soul in everyone and the potential for redemption for even those benighted by racial prejudice.

In “Long Walk to Freedom,” his autobiography, Mr. Mandela wrote: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

As president, he made a point of meeting with former apartheid officials and even invited his onetime jailer (he spent 27 years in prison) to his inauguration. He urged South Africans to drop racial thinking.

Like every nation, South Africa faces huge difficulties and lingering tensions. What Mandela gave South Africa – and the world – was a living lesson both in justice and forgiveness. You could call that a life of grace.

John Yemma,

Who should be at Syria peace talks?

The united Nations envoy wants to expand the invitation list.


UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. – The United Nations special envoy for Syria is pressing ahead to organize a peace conference to try to bring the devastating civil war to a close. But even if the invitation list can be worked out in coming days, it is virtually certain that some major players in the conflict won’t be at the table.

That means the fighting in Syria is likely to continue, even if the late-January conference yields a compromise between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and the mainline moderate opposition, who will be in attendance, regional analysts say. Over nearly three years, the civil war has resulted in 125,000 deaths and a humanitarian crisis.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the Syria envoy for both the UN and the Arab League, is urging that Iran and Saudi Arabia be invited to the conference, in realpolitik recognition of the key roles that both are playing – Iran on Mr. Assad’s side, and Saudi Arabia in the opposition’s corner.

But even if Mr. Brahimi can persuade the United States to OK Iran’s participation – the US has long said that Iran should be allowed to attend only if it supports the conference goal of a transition in Syria to a new, democratic government – some crucial players would still be outside the tent.

Under no circumstances will the Islamist extremist groups be part of the negotiations. So the challenge they present to both Syria and to the region will remain, no matter what happens at the conference, regional experts note.

Brahimi plans to hold another round of meetings in Geneva Dec. 20, with the US and Russia, cosponsors of the conference with the UN, and then with other regional powers. At that time, he hopes to be able to announce the invitation list, UN officials say.

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Nelson Mandela: a model statesman

he was unflagging in his commitment to racial reconciliation.


NAIROBI, KENYA – With the passing Thursday of Nelson Mandela, the African continent has lost its most important elder statesman, and someone whose moral stature and leadership were a powerful mover of history for more than five decades.

Mr. Mandela’s crowning achievement was his ability to steer South Africa through a peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy after 27 years in prison. His ability to do the seemingly impossible for his native country fueled high expectations that he could bring the same transformations to other nations, especially in Africa.

Mandela became a model president for other young nations on the continent, and leaders from across Africa and beyond sought his advice and endorsement long after his retirement. But it is further evidence of his political acumen that he was selective and realistic about his ability to crack longstanding African problems, while concentrating on the stability and unity of his own country, still in its democratic infancy.

“As a moral and spiritual leader, Mandela is unparalleled,” says Kenyan author Billy Kahora, who lived in South Africa from 1997 to 2004. “He showed that as a leader, you must be bigger than yourself.”

Despite his role in forming and leading the armed wing of the African National Congress, Mandela proved influential abroad with his commitment to peaceful reconciliation and forgiveness following his release from prison and as South Africa’s first black president, elected in 1994.

Mandela’s presidency – including his leaving after only one term in office – offered a moral example to other leaders on the continent.

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Detroit’s art treasures in jeopardy

Creditors eye impressive collection, but museum pushes back.


CHICAGO – Ever since an emergency management team was dispatched to Detroit to restructure its ailing finances, one major asset has been under threat: hundreds of masterpieces housed at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA).

On Tuesday, a federal bankruptcy judge ruled for Detroit to proceed with a Chapter 9 restructuring, which will be the largest ever for a US municipality. He added, however, that the proceeds from the art museum, which he mentioned by name, may not be enough to satisfy the $18.5 billion in underfunded liabilities that the city must rectify.

The city “must take extreme care that the [museum collection] asset is truly necessary in carrying out its mission,” Judge Steven Rhodes said. Creditors are resolute in saying that selling the art is necessary to shore up cash because the collection, which includes at least 500 masterworks by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Matisse, is not vital to Detroit’s emergency services or the daily churn of city needs, such as lighting, sewers, and water.

The collection is already being appraised by Christie’s auction house in New York under the direction of Kevyn Orr, the emergency financial manager for Detroit. On Tuesday, Mr. Orr estimated that the most valuable pieces in the collection are worth less than $2 billion total – a figure that is one-quarter what was estimated in media reports.

Besides selling the art at auction, the city could monetize the collection by offering naming rights, lending pieces out for special use, and using certain pieces as collateral for loans. Orr is suggesting that monetizing at least $500 million out of the collection might appease creditors during the mediation process. The museum is fighting that, saying it would actually threaten its existence by forcing valuable donors to flee and would jeopardize the tax millage it receives from a tri-county area.

“The DIA remains hopeful that [Orr] will recognize the City’s fiduciary duty to protect the museum art collection for future generations...,” the museum said in a statement released Tuesday.

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Arizona fire report: stinging findings

concludes officials didn’t put enough value on human life.


When battling forest fires in Arizona last June, state forestry officials placed a higher value on the protection of property than on human life, according to a new investigation by state officials.

The Wednesday ruling from the Arizona Industrial Commission came after its investigative agency, the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH), released findings that recommended citations and total penalties of $559,000 (with $25,000 going to the survivors of each firefighter killed) against the Arizona State Forestry Division, The Associated Press reported.

ADOSH’s report rejected the Forestry Division’s September review of the forest fires that killed 19 members of a 20-person team of Granite Mountain Hotshots on June 30 near Yarnell, Ariz., a town northwest of Phoenix. The Hotshots’ deaths led to a national debate about the value of saving homes and rebuilding in fire-prone areas.

The Forestry Division’s review did not assign blame in the deaths and “found no indication of negligence, reckless actions, or violations of policy or protocol.”

In a direct rebuttal, the Industrial Commission report found that the Forestry Division failed to remove firefighters even after it learned that “suppression of extremely active chaparral fuels was ineffective and that wind would push active fire towards non-defensible structures.” While communication problems did play a role in the firefighters’ deaths, those problems arose because key staff members failed to show up for a morning planning meeting and because the Hotshot crew wasn’t provided with adequate maps or a second escape route, the Industrial Commission said.

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Africa’s need for religious harmony

With rare unanimity, the United Nations Security Council voted Thursday to authorize the use of foreign troops in the Central African Republic to restore civil order. While the military intervention may help curb the spreading violence between Christians and Muslims, the larger task will be to restore the country’s moral order.

Under the UN mandate, France and the multination African Union plan to deploy as many as 4,600 soldiers in a country with 4.6 million people. The United States has promised $40 million in support. If the deployment fails to end the violence, the UN will consider sending 9,000 of its peacekeepers. A similar UN force recently helped defeat a rebel group in nearby Congo.

Since a coup in March, the impoverished but mineral-rich Central African Republic has descended into chaos. Muslim rebels have raided villages, pushing Christians, who form a majority, to set up defensive militias. The potential for genocide has escalated with each massacre and other atrocities.

The violence has caused a breakdown in the coexistence long enjoyed between Muslims and Christians. The social and religious compact has been usurped by local warlords trying to plunder the country’s wealth and take control of the capital, Bangui. About 10 percent of the people have now been displaced.

While the UN resolution calls for a commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations, the country needs more than justice. The foreign intervention should also facilitate an interreligious dialogue that will help renew the bonds of each community. Each village needs help in healing the wounds of hatred.

Fortunately, even amid the fighting, many religious leaders – Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim – have worked together in a few communities, not only to calm tensions but to take care of the displaced. This recognition of a common faith in each other’s humanity can be the basis for restoring the country’s civilian government.

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Unstoppable life and love

Recently our family said goodbye to two beloved pets – a dog and a cat – on the same day. They had both been with us for over a decade and had brought many years of affection and delight. In the days immediately following their passing, I struggled with grief and loss. They had been a constant, loving presence in our home for so long, and it seemed natural to miss them.

But I knew that there was more to these pets than their physical presence. Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of this healing system, writes that Christian Science “reverses the false testimony of the physical senses, and by this reversal mortals arrive at the fundamental facts of being” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 120). She states that this Science “shows it to be impossible for aught but Mind to testify truly or to exhibit the real status of man.”

I knew that this statement about the “real status of man” also related to the status of our pets as God’s creation, and that it was important to listen to what Mind, God, was saying about their true being. I understood that an all-knowing God holds all creation in the consciousness of love and in right relationship forever. In this consciousness there is no separation, no basis for lack or for missing anything that has been given to us.

The idea of continuity became an important anchor in my thought and a concept supported by the teaching and healing works of Christ Jesus described in the Bible.

I strove to reverse any sense of loss with an affirmation of the continuity of our dear pets. Our other dog continues to contribute to the joy in our home, and we all feel held in loving relation to one another. We’ve had opportunities to witness this continuity, each one a helpful reminder of God’s presence and enduring love.

– Wendy DesAutels

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