Sunday, 15 February 2015

Holding Captivity Captive

When he ascended up on high
he led captivity captive
and gave gifts unto men

- St Paul quoting Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4:8

I have always liked the irony of this phrase – captivity being led captive.  God is great, and he can even capture the captivities that hold us captive.  Death of course is the ultimate captivity that he now holds captive through resurrection.

But before death come a variety of lesser captivities - possibly alcoholism or other addictions?  In the developing world, poverty is popularly seen as the last frontier of captivity.

Perhaps for others it could be psychological – paranoia or bipolarity?

It could also be attitudes – like stigma or racism – that hold people in the captivity of prejudice.  This is at the root of many disparities, including gender inequities.

Even marriage can be seen in this light.  DH Lawrence wrote:

Wild things in captivity
    while they keep their own wild purity
    Won’t breed, they mope, they die.

    All men are in captivity,
    Active with captive activity,
    And the best won’t breed, though they don’t know why.

Liberation often means victory, overthrowing an enemy.  In ancient military imagery, the defeated captivity has to be led by the conqueror through the arch of triumph and all the way up to the citadel.  In this case, when God carried off those captivities to his place “on high”, he gave gifts unto men.  This is the story of empowerment and delegation.  St. Paul goes on to describe different kinds of leadership gifts that are bestowed on the regents that he left behind.

This is the work of C4L – “equipping the saints”.  But first, he had to clear away captivity.  For some people in living memory this may have been the Civil Rights movement… I saw them weeping tears of joy the day that Barack Obama was inaugurated.  Captivity held captive indeed.

For others, it was seeing the Berlin Wall come down and the “Second World” of communism all but disappear, leaving only vestiges like North Korea and Cuba behind.

In Africa, it was seeing the end of apartheid.  Most other countries had become independent by then, freed from colonialism.  But the end of apartheid was truly the end of an era.

The release of Nelson Mandela from prison meant that racial supremacy was finally taken captive.  It is no longer free to circulate – captivity is held captive.  (In South Africa, at least, because it appears to be on the loose again in Sudan…)

In his state-of-the-nation address last week, South Africa’s new president declared July 18 will become Mandela Day.  You can visit the Mandela Day website which aspires to get other countries on board.  Could it become a global holiday?  It challenges people to get involved in fighting social injustice – including on that very day.

The interesting thing to me is that by toughing it out relentlessly in prison, Mandela came to the point where captivity was led captive away, when he emerged a free man.  Just as the Treason Trials which convicted him and others were cleverly handled by the defense in a way that really put apartheid on trial, not the activists who opposed it.  They used the media coverage of the trials to make the whole world aware of the structural injustice.  These kinds of insights and ironies are among the gifts that God gave to men as he ascended on high.

Leadership is what we commonly call it today.  St. Paul spoke of apostles, evangelists, pastors, prophets and teachers – in other words, not just leaders but the leadership.  Many of them in the Early Church were martyred and others courageously resisted captivity and eventually took it captive, tribe by tribe.

The focus of Mandela Day is community service.  For 67 years, Mandela has been fighting injustice, so people are being encouraged to do 67 minutes of volunteer service on that date.  Leadership is essentially about inspiration and influence.

We have had an American volunteer from the USA Peace Corps at C4L for 2 years and she is on her way home this week.  We still have another volunteer from Europe with us, thanks to the German Development Service.  We have a team of 14 young Canadian volunteers arriving later in the week.  Meanwhile, there is a family in Winnipeg planning to come for 4 months as volunteers in early 2010.

Not everyone can come out to Africa and work for a voluntary organization like C4L.  But there are always opportunities nearer to home.  So in the spirit of this new impetus to encourage volunteering, we recognize an opportunity to take people’s eyes off of profits, career, benefits and gain for at least 67 minutes, and to connect them with nonprofits – sharing, being downwardly mobile and even sacrificial.

Ghandi said: “The planet contains adequate resources to meet everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greeds.”  Among the gifts that God gave to men, and to the leaders among them in particular, are generosity, altruism, and philanthropy.   C4L encourages you to get involved, one way or another, in the fight against social injustice.  Too many people are still in captivity – let us rise up and take it captive!