Beliefnet
Excerpted from the 2000 commencement address at Brandeis University

During the time when we were listening to testimony before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, frequently we were quite appalled at the revelations of the depth of depravity of which we were capable as human beings. You could hear someone applying for amnesty say, "Yes, we abducted this young man. We gave him drugged coffee, and we shot him in the head, and then we burned his body. And because it takes seven, eight hours for a human body to burn, we had a barbecue on the side. We were enjoying the air." And you said, "Are we so capable of such extraordinary evil that we aren't shocked that we could be burning two kinds of flesh--animal flesh on the one side and human flesh on the other?" And yes, the fact of the matter is that you and I do, in fact, have an extraordinary capacity for evil. And none of us can ever get away feeling superior [to] the perpetrators of some of those gruesome deeds....

But that's not the whole story, that's not the whole picture about us. Wonderfully, exhilaratingly, the truth is that as we sat there, too, listening to victims who had suffered previously, people who by right ought to have been torn apart by bitterness and a desire for revenge; [we heard] the daughter of one ANC activist--he was part of a group of four who had been ambushed by the police and were killed quite brutally. Then their bodies, mutilated bodies, were found in the burned-out car. She came to tell her story to the TRC, and she spoke about how the police even then were harassing her mother and [herself].

And at the end of her testimony I asked her, "Do you think you would have it in you to forgive people who have done such things to yourself and to your mother?" We are meeting in a huge hall packed to the rafters and you could hear the proverbial pin drop as this young woman, a teenager, responded with incredible dignity for someone so young. "Yes, we would like to forgive. We just want to know who to forgive." How frequently on those occasions you felt that the only appropriate response would have been to act like Moses, to take off our shoes, for we were standing on holy ground....

For, you see, we are in fact made for goodness. We are created by God. You are I are created by God, not by some junior, subordinate God. We are created by the transcendent one, the one who is able to speak and things happen. Let there be light, and light happens. How incredible that each one of us, because we are created in the image of God, are creatures of incredible worth, infinite worth....

And so, we are aware that this is a moral universe, that good and evil matter, that right and wrong matter, that life and truth matter. And, that, yes, there are frequently many, many times when we think that evil is on the rampage, that evil seems to be going to have the last word. It doesn't; it's doesn't. Isn't that exhilarating? It isn't Hitler who has won; it is those he tried to destroy. They have survived and left the world an incredible legacy. It isn't Stalin who has won. Communism, fascism, Nazism have bitten the dust, have bitten the dust ignominiously. It isn't slavery that has won; slavery has been done away with and people are entering into what has been called the glorious liberty of the children of God. It isn't Apartheid that's won. No, no, no. It may take a long time, but goodness in the end is vindicated....

You know the story of the farmer who in his backyard had chickens, and [one] was a little odd-looking. It behaved like a chicken. It was pecking away like other chickens. It didn't know that there was a blue sky overhead and a glorious sunshine until someone who was knowledgeable in these things came along and said to the farmer, "Hey, that's no chicken. That's an eagle."

Then the farmer said, "Um, um, no, no, no, no man. That's a chicken; it behaves like a chicken." And the man said, "No; give it to me please." And he gave it to this knowledgeable man. And this man took this strange-looking chicken and climbed the mountain and waited until sunrise. And then he turned this strange-looking chicken towards the sun and said, "Eagle, fly, eagle." And the strange-looking chicken shook itself, spread out its pinions and lifted off and soared and soared and soared and flew away, away into the distance.

And God says to all of us, you are no chicken; you are an eagle. Fly, eagle, fly. And God wants us to shake ourselves, spread our pinions, and then lift off and soar and rise, and rise toward the confident and the good and the beautiful. Rise towards the compassionate and the gentle and the caring. Rise to become what God intends us to be--eagles, not chickens.

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