May 22, 2023

Contemplative Chapel Service

Dr. Lee H. Butler, Jr., President of the Iliff School of Theology

Dear Iliff Students,
Today, I am drawn in many directions resulting from the activities of days and weeks of struggle (even years) across this nation.  Resistance and protest are not new to our declarations of American freedom.  Struggles against injustice continue because the will to dominate or to eliminate those who refuse to be dominated also continue.  We, here at Iliff, are active participants in the struggle for freedom, in the struggle to end the dominating powers that crush lives in the name of justice and peace.

Today, I am drawn to two people as I reflect on the meaning of struggle.  One person is the great American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass; the other is my Zulu South African brother, the Rev. Sipho J. Mtetwa.
First, Douglass wrote in a speech delivered August 4, 1857,

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the roar of its mighty waters.  The struggle may be a moral one or it may be a physical one, or it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle.[i]

This often-quoted reflection from Douglass insists that struggle is the nature of life.  But while people regularly focus on “If there is no struggle, there is no progress,” at this moment I am drawn to his point that struggle may be a moral one or a physical one or both.  To reframe this thought, spiritual resistance is as important as spirited resistance.

Second, to contextualize Douglass’ statement and its possible implications, I share a story about my brother, Sipho.  He was a young adult during the days of apartheid.  His story includes being arrested and tortured for information.  Once he was released, he had it in his mind to go to the mountains to be trained in armed resistance.  There was, however, another voice that spoke to him, a voice that persuaded his heart.  He was encouraged to become a spiritual leader for the cause of freedom.  He is, today, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa.

Why do I tell Sipho’s story?  During his first visit to the US, we were in worship together.  The congregational selection was, “We Shall Overcome.”  Sipho sang the song, but he inserted an additional phrase.  He sang, “We shall overcome, after the struggle.  We shall overcome, after the struggle.”  This spiritual that is a favorite song to recall the protest and resistance of the US Civil Rights Movement was transformed by one who combined his spirited and spiritual resistance.

During my Installation Address, I raised the question, “Who will stand up and declare, ‘Freedom for some results in freedom for none’?”  My answer was, Iliff will.  As a part of declaring our moral and spiritual resistance to the dehumanizing and life denying forces at work here and abroad, I invite all Iliffians, who are able, to join me in the chapel today from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM.  For those who are not able to be present, I invite you to set that time aside to be reflective as we are gathered in reflection.

With head, heart, and soul,