There are many things about the Invictus movie that grabbed my theological attention. They were particularly pertinent to me when I wrote this review as at the time I was preaching preaching from Colossians about the Kingdom versus the Empire.
For those who haven’t seen the movie, it is a historic piece based around the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Nelson Mandela newly elected first black President of South Africa uses a white sport, a symbol of the apartheid regime that has just been overturned, to bring a nation together. Rather than obliterate this last bastion of the white Africaaner, Mandela holds it up as an important part of their identity and uses his support of it to change the perspectives of the white population towards him and the black population towards their white neighbours, former enemies!
Empires are built on military violence and overthrow. The Kingdom of God is built on a humble defeat on a cross of wood. Empire makes people conform and excludes. The Kingdom of God is a loving inclusive world.
Nelson Mandela has always recognised his Methodist schooling as being influential in his worldview. Never has that Christian influence been more powerful than when he started to build a rainbow nation instead of a Black nation that excluded all minorities. No, Mandela’s vision was inclusive. He was working for the good of everyone not just his own colour and race.
In the movie Invictus director Clint Eastwood captures a radically new way to see politics. He puts on the screen a revolutionary culture of love, mutual admiration and esteem of identity. From this he builds a work of deep reconciliation. This approach of Mandela was almost unique in the Twentieth Century and revealed the possibility of Jesus idea to love your neighbour and how that crazy idea, so abhorrent to our natural inclinations brings hope and healing to very hopelessly divided scenarios.
Instead of building his new country by greed, selfishness and revenge for what had been done to him and his people, Mandela chose the way of mercy, grace, reconciliation and peace. It was seeing beyond himself to the needs of others and indeed the needs of everyone that was so alternative. These are some of the issues Jesus went on and on about, worked out before us on the silver screen but even better in that part of history that it explores.
The other thing that the pastor/preacher in me picked up from the Invictus movie was the ways that Nelson Mandela was fuelling his social transformation. The title of the movie takes itself from a Victorian poem that Mandela told Pienaar had got him through the darkest days of his twenty seven years in prison. He wrote it out for the Springboks’ captain as the World Cup progressed. This reveals the power of the written word to strengthen, console and inspire.
Another thread working its way through the plot is the power of the song. The new National Anthem a little despised by the white Africaaner becomes a song that is used to unite not only the nation but the rugby team; it becomes another source of unifying inspiration.
As I preached through Colossians in Fitzroy I saw how Paul was using both the written word and the song to bring Christ’s Kingdom to take over from the Empire. It would be suggested by many that the wonderful description of Jesus in chapter 1 v 15-20 come from an early Church hymn.
Walsh and Keesmat in their provocative book Colossians Remixed; Subverting The Empire see it as subversive poetry. The idea is that as we read and seep our souls in the written word of the Christian story we free ourselves from Empire thinking and find the alternative imagination of God’s narrative.
In chapter 3 Paul mentions psalms, hymns and spiritual songs and worship becomes more than liturgy to fill a family gathering. The reason that the writer to the Hebrews encouraged Christians to carrying on meeting together is that like Mandela he recognised the importance of the written word and the song in the spiritual formation of the follower of Jesus. Go somewhere on Sunday and engage in these potent resources!