Daniel Buttry: We Are the Socks

Here is the story that is circling the world, by the Rev. Daniel Buttry, a popular author and an international peacemaker for American Baptist Churches. His latest book is Blessed Are the Peacemakers. You’ll also find Dan in our 2012 July 4 series on 13 great Americans.
As he travels and talks about his work, Dan tells about a day that socks—simple socks—changed his awareness of God’s calls in our world.
Here is Dan’s original story …

We Are the Socks


I was packing—as I have packed for trips countless times throughout my life. It’s what I do, like most of us turn off an alarm clock, get dressed and grab a cup of coffee before heading to work. My preparations were automatic, well-honed from decades of circling the world. This time, I was heading to Liberia, where I have worked a number of times—but this time

This time turned out to be different. And, it started with that clear verbal instruction I heard in my mind: “Pack some extra socks.” Now, you know that I am a Baptist minister and I pray regularly, but believe me: I’m not used to hearing such clear verbal instructions. And this one was so odd! Of all the answers to prayer I could have received, come on: Pack extra socks!?! But, the message was so clear. And I noticed that I had a little extra space in my bag. So, I did it. I packed more socks.

In Liberia I conducted a series of conflict transformation workshops. The last workshop was a two-day training at Providence Baptist Church in the center of the capital city of Monrovia. During a break, a young man came up to me to talk more intensely about some of the content in the training. We later had lunch together, and following the lunch we were hanging out in the workshop room. At some point he mentioned that he walked to church—he was a member at Providence as well as attending the workshop. I asked where he lived, and he said “New Georgia.” New Georgia! I knew where that was, a community way outside of town. He walked two hours one way, then two hours back, twice a week. He’d walked two hours to get to my workshop that day!

Then he took off his shoes. In all my travels I’ve never had anyone take off their shoes to show me their feet. In many cultures people take off their shoes or sandals before coming inside a room as a sign of respect, but this young man removed his shoes in the middle of our conversation to show me his feet. They were covered with sores. He had the hard leather dress shoes my parents used to make me wear to church decades ago—and no socks.

The next day was this man’s birthday. Finally, I could see the meaning of that voice in my head! I was able to give him many socks, some anti-biotic cream for his sores, and adhesive bandages to cover the wounds until they healed. I was stunned at the kindness of God to care for this man’s hurting feet, a man who walked two hours to church on wounded feet with hard shoes and no socks. I was brought half-way around the world to meet a need. Just as God cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, God was caring for this man.

But I was haunted by what happened. I was training among people who had been traumatized by a vicious war that left over 100,000 dead and countless people homeless. How could God care about this man getting socks when so many had lost their lives? Thousands who survived the conflict needed far more profound care than socks. Was God straining out a gnat of need and letting a camel of misery go down the drain? My initial celebration of discovering a need for the socks quickly soured under these searing questions and the reality of the overwhelming suffering in Liberia.

Quite a while later, I was in a worship service at my home church—just coming as I was into the presence of the Lord. Like that first silent voice, another message slipped very clearly into my mind: “You are the socks.” God knew about the need of all those traumatized by the war. God had me take the socks to a man who needed them to show that God knows and cares intimately about our pains and our lives. But it was not about socks. It was about my call. God knows the profound scarring and damage from the war, and all the other wars on our planet. There are people in need, and I am called to be socks to cover those wounds, to aid in the healing process. I am the socks.

Of course, it’s not all on me. Many other people are called to help in the conflicts in Liberia, Kenya, India, Burma, Georgia, Lebanon, Mexico, the Philippines and so many other places. Each person in his or her own way can open themselves to such a call, not knowing how or where it may come. Calls may take a multitude of forms. You might hear a voice like I heard about the socks, but that kind of experience is very rare in my own life. A call may come simply in the moment that something mundane suddenly is made clear to you.

A call can come to any one of us—at any time. And, if we are aware of it, then we must respond.

One thing I have learned: We’re all the socks in some way.

Do you know the need God has created you to cover and to ease?


Want more inspiring stories by Daniel Buttry? Dan is the international peace trainer and negotiator for American Baptist Churches. He circles the globe helping to build healthier communities in the midst of dangerous conflicts. Dan’s latest book is Blessed Are the Peacemakers, including stories of dozens of men and women who risked their lives on behalf of peace.

Remembering Walter Wink, peacemaker and teacher

For more than 30 years, Walter Wink preached about the dangers of violence and unchecked powers in our world. He influenced countless men and women in congregations nationwide. Simply mentioning his name in a community—and seeing what response one gets—signals a lot about the culture of peacemaking in that community. Know Wink’s work? Then, this is a group of people seriously steeped in the theology of nonviolence and transformative peacemaking.

But, a prophet is largely unknown in his own hometown. Although he was associated with both Union and Auburn seminaries in New York—and involved in national debates on peacemaking throughout the 1980s and 1990s—the New York Times did not see fit to print an obituary on his May 10 passing.

Walter Wink died on May 10 at age 76 in his Massachusetts home after a long struggle with a form of dementia that is closely associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Fortunately, the Fellowship of Reconciliation—a group that appears prominently in our own Blessed Are the Peacemakers book—published an extensive obituary honoring Wink’s passing.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation obituary includes this passage: “Wink’s breakthrough insights about the contemporary meaning of the principalities and powers, and Jesus’ third way of dealing with the enemy/oppressor—neither fight nor flight but nonviolent resistance—spoke powerfully to the struggle and transformation experienced in the self-giving love of Jesus. This found eager audiences in churches, retreat centers, peace and justice groups, and in many places—East and West Germany; Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England; South Korea; Palestine; Aotearoa New Zealand; Chile, Mexico, and throughout the Americas. Walter’s wife June, dancer and potter, traveled with him and was an integral part of the workshops that integrated mind, body, and spirit in the experience of the participants.”


The Rev. Daniel Buttry, author of Blessed Are the Peacemakers and a full-time global peace activist himself, counted Walter Wink as a major influence in his own ministry. Buttry writes:

Walter Wink had a huge impact on my thinking and training work for peacemaking, especially related to the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. He helped me see some of the passages we think of as so familiar and so passive—“turning the other cheek”—in radically new ways that nonviolently confront evil and transform relationships and situations.
Walter practiced what he preached, taking his academic work in the New Testament and putting it to use at places of great struggle and suffering, such as South Africa in the Apartheid years.
In one sense we will miss him. But in another sense we won’t, for his books, especially about engaging the powers, remain with us to challenge, encourage and provoke us. Though dead he still speaks!

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

Mei-Ling Hopgood: A million ways to raise a happy child!

In Part 1 of our coverage of Mei-Ling Hopgood’s terrific new book on global parenting, we told readers about her life and we shared some surprising examples from her book about parenting ideas, unusual foods and popular toys around the world. TODAY, we introduce Mei-Ling in our weekly author interview with ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm.

Note on photos, today: We asked Mei-Ling to provide us with more than the typical author photos. Since she’s now the author of what critics are calling the kinder-gentler global parenting book, we asked for family snapshots—so we could see her in action. Above, today, Mei-Ling and her husband Monte toted Sofia in a backpack during an Asian trip. Below, you’ll see that, as the family lived in Buenos Aires for a number of years, they regularly cheered on the home team—like families around the world. Sofia wanted her Mom to deck her out in Argentina soccer regalia during a world cup competition. The blue-and-white banner they’re displaying is a headband that Sofia proudly wore around the apartment.


DAVID: Your book appears at a perfect time, because newspapers and magazines nationwide are paying front-page attention to the Tiger Mom and Bebe books. Now, top publications are saying that your book is the kinder-gentler alternative to learning about global parenting. What did you think of the Tiger Mom book?

MEI-LING: I thought it was entertaining and funny. I read it when I was finished writing my own book, so it didn’t affect anything I wrote. I considered writing about it in my book, but then I thought: No, that’s not what I’m doing in my book. Her book reflects some of what I found in Asian parents, too, but she wrote about this in her own memoir-ish voice. Now, I know, people either love her book or hate her book. I think that’s because she took these things that do happen in Asian culture and showed them going to extremes. She was concerned that her own children weren’t right in their own mother culture. I like her book, and I think a lot of people who are debating it probably haven’t read it.

DAVID: How about the Bebe book? Your thoughts?

MEI-LING: The difference between their books and what I’m trying to do is that their focus is on asking: Who is the better parent? What kind of parenting is superior? As a result, those are the headlines that jump out of their books. That doesn’t mean their actual books, if people stop and actually read them, say that the French are the only superior parents or the Chinese are superior. in fact, Amy Chau says that it was the headline, not the book, that touched off this firestorm about what she wrote.

In my book, I tried to look at how parents around the world do these things and my question is: What can we learn from each other? It’s way too short sighted and unhealthy to say that one culture has it nailed when it comes to parenting because we’re talking about a lot of factors that form our styles of parenting—society, culture and history. That’s one reason my book is very different than the other two. In my journeys and investigations, I learned that there are a million ways to raise a happy and healthy child. We don’t have to claim that one culture is superior. We can learn from each other.

DAVID: The Washington Post wrote that parents today face “a minefield of insecurity and doubt.” Your book “should put any uptight mom at ease and convince her once and for all that there is no one right way to raise children.” Your book, in that sense, is the “no guilt” parenting book. Do you agree?


MEI-LING: I was very conscious as I was working on this book that there were people who wanted me to write a book that said: This is the best way to do things. In marketing a parenting book, that makes things easier. A lot of parenting books do say: This is how to put your baby to bed. There’s one way. Or, this is why the French do better. Or, this is how to make your family life better. But I think that’s just too simplified in our complex world. Each family and each culture has a different belief system and environment. Sweeping statements about a single way to do things are not healthy.

DAVID: But your book certainly isn’t just a lot of colorful stories. You do draw some conclusions and share some pointed critiques, right?

MEI-LING: By turning a critical eye on my own parenting and parenting ideas, I’m also turning a critical eye on the larger American dialogue on parenting. I wouldn’t say that my book is all that “kind.” I’m not trying to give us a touchy-feely picture of everyone linking hands and singing: We are the world! I’m arguing that we should put our experiences into a global context. No, I’m not up there at the level of Tiger Mom in the tone of what I’m writing, but you will find a real critique of the American culture of parenting.


Click the book’s cover to visit its Amazon page.DAVID: One of those critical points you raise—and readers will find this conclusion drawn in other press coverage of your new book, as well—is about the dominance of American culture around the world. Readers may think that our culture is somehow on the ropes, especially after the other books have made headlines, but the truth is that American culture and products and parenting assumptions are marching their way all around this planet.

MEI-LING: American voices and ideas and products related to parenting are resonating everywhere, as I say in my book. One of the most striking conclusions I draw after all of my research is that this idea of a globalization in parenting is very, very real. At this point, it’s mostly driven by American voices and Western marketing—and it’s reaching every corner of the globe. Our products, our advice, our diapers—all of it is reaching places you couldn’t imagine. In China, for example, I was struck by how Chinese parents traditionally handle potty training. In the past, they’ve handled all of that differently than American families, but now? Western-style diapers are booming and China is becoming one of the world’s biggest markets for diapers. Strollers now are popular in places that have never had strollers. Little tribes in Africa now have manufactured children’s toys.

DAVID: I recall a reporting trip I made to Bangladesh some years ago. I was part of a group of journalists who went way up the main river to visit a world heritage site—a village that produces a beautiful, traditional fabric on hand-operated looms. This place was a little Eden. But, when we talked informally with parents there, they immediately said that they hope for a day when they can own microwaves and TV sets. And I assume disposable diapers, too.

MEI-LING: That’s it exactly! People around the world still have distinct, traditional views about parenting, but those assumptions and practices are changing. People everywhere are willing to listen to other voices, to try other products.


DAVID: This diversity of parenting styles isn’t simply in remote villages in Africa and Asia. It’s right here in our American communities, right?

MEI-LING: Yes. I was doing a radio interview about the book and they opened the phone lines to listeners. The callers were wonderful and some of those calls came from immigrants to the U.S. and the next-generation sons and daughters of immigrants, too. They shared with us some of the things they do differently in their homes. When we talk about different global perspectives on parenting, we’re talking about millions of families right here in our own country, as well.

DAVID: Our readers know this, if they pause for a moment to think about it. We just published a new story about the Amish, for example. That’s a fairly extreme example of a different culture within the U.S. But, stop to think about all of the religious and ethnic communities across our patchwork quilt of a country.

MEI-LING: Even within a single small city in America, there are so many different populations if we look closely. I’m living in Evanston north of Chicago now, and in my building two Israeli families live above me and an English family lives beneath me. There are people of nearly every ethnicity in my daughter’s preschool. Lots of different languages are spoken. Our country is extremely diverse—more diverse than most of us realize. This new book isn’t just about exploring the world; it’s also about appreciating the diversity all around us.

Read Part 1 of our coverage of Mei-Ling Hopgood’s global parenting book.

Remember: How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and everywhere in between) is on sale now at Amazon.

You’ll also want a free copy of Seth Godin’s new book about revolutionizing education.

Care to read more about worldwide peacemakers?

ReadTheSpirit publishes “Blessed Are the Peacemakers” by Daniel Buttry, a collection of real-life stories about the men, women and children who are taking great risks around the world to counter violence with efforts to promote healthier, peaceful, diverse communities.

Please help us to reach a wider audience

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

How Ash Wednesday Found Us in a Kenyan Village

Beth Miller is an author, educator and a veteran in leading group retreats around the world. This spring, she is writing a book about the many ways people can transform local travel into spiritual pilgrimage. We invited Beth to write about entering the Lenten season …

Ash Wednesday
Found Us in Kenya


My most memorable Ash Wednesday was one I almost missed. That year, I was in a Kenyan village close to the Equator leading a “mission trip” for youth and adults. Consumed with all of the preparations for our complex journey half way around the world, I forgot this crucial date in the Christian calendar. The reminder came when I placed a telephone call to my home.

My clergy husband asked, “What are you doing for Ash Wednesday?”
My heart sank. “Nothing. Is today really Ash Wednesday?”
He insisted that I must prepare a service.
I protested that I wasn’t ordained clergy; this was outside my job description.
But he left me no option. “You can. You must.”

One of the teenagers in our Kenyan group was thrilled with the task of finding a cup of ashes. He pictured burning down something! I reminded him that there was an outdoor fire ring nearby for cooking meals. And, off he went.

What would he find? What would he bring back to us? Since early in my spiritual formation, receiving the sign of the cross as the ashes are pressed onto my forehead is a very sensory experience. Some of the ashes always cling to my eyelashes. I am careful as I brush them away, not wanting to lose the mark of the ashes. The physical act is a visible sign of an invisible grace, important to me as a child and cherished as an adult. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust”—words usually read at a funeral service. Ashes remind us where we have come from and where we are going. Ashes are the result of fire. They are—what’s left. So is Ash Wednesday a day of contemplation and confession, stripping away the extraneous. After that spiritual work, we face what’s left in our lives.

The teenagers and adults around me in Kenya had packed carefully for our long journey to reach the weigh limit for our flights. We carried only the bare essentials on such a challenging trip. And, that’s the spiritual gift of Ash Wednesday: eliminating all that we can do without. Ash Wednesday sets limits that liberate our souls.

That evening in the Kenyan village, we sang songs accompanied by a guitar. I read from Psalm 51:

You desire truth in our inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. …
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.

This particular group of Christians was not used to practicing open confession or testimony during worship. Nevertheless, the young man who had eagerly collected the ashes asked if he could talk. Tears started running down his cheeks. Working with Kenyan youth, those living in acute poverty, made him realize how much he took for granted. In this young man’s words, he confessed, “I am a spoiled brat.”

Rather than trying to make him feel better, I found myself saying, “I think God is speaking to you. Stay with those feelings and find where God is leading you.”

Ash Wednesday had found us. One after another, people spoke from deep places within their hearts and souls. By the time the ashes were pressed on our foreheads that night, we were a forgiven people, restored and full of joy.

We were ready for the journey that now stretched out ahead of us.

Want more inspirational reading for Lent?

Lent is booming across the U.S. as a spiritual practice. Learn why that’s happening—and get a copy of the new book, Our Lent: Things We Carry (2nd Edition).

Please help us to reach a wider audience

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

PBS airs provocative argument: End Black History Month

Have you been following our recommendations in PBS’ special Black History Month series?
: We told you about the heroic Daisy Bates.
Then: We reviewed Black Power Mixtape.
The final PBS documentary is More Than a Month.

Want to check local airtimes?
Here’s the filmmaker’s main website for his film.
Visit that site and click on the Independent Lens logo to check out PBS schedules nationwide.
More Than a Month debuts on Thursday Feb. 16, but many PBS affiliates air shows at other times.

Debuting on PBS, Feb. 16, 2012:
‘More Than a Month’
by Shukree Hassan Tilghman

Young filmmaker Shukree Hassan Tilghman tells us up front that his own parents are uncomfortable with his nationwide campaign to end Black History Month. Never heard of the campaign? Well, this hour-long film is Tilghman’s “campaign.” It’s really a satirical and provocative look at how Americans like to neatly package—and quickly dismiss—African-American history by assigning it to one month each year.

How is it satirical? At one point, for example, Tilghman jokes that his documentary is causing many older black adults so much discomfort that … Ooops! And, there’s a quick cut in the film! Suddenly, a fictious agent dressed like the famous Men In Black characters shows up at his door to demand that he give up his official Black Identity Card. Such brief moments of Saturday-Night-Live-style humor, sprinkled throughout the documentary, keep this argument from becoming an oppressive diatribe. It’s actually a fun film to watch. In another instance, Tilghman borrows a page from Michael Moore’s handbook and crashes a major conference to ambush a famous black educator who has been avoiding him. Will anyone catch him invading this inner sanctum? The scene makes us smile. At other points, we see brief Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert clips on Black History Month. All in all, there’s a real sting to Tilghman’s argument—but he zings us with a sly grin that makes it all easier to take.

Is he nuts? Is he serious? To put it simply, that’s the real question as More Than a Month unfolds. Our own longtime ReadTheSpirit readers generally rank among the champions of cultural diversity in their communities. Tilghman deliberately wants to unsettle our assumptions. And, viewers do realize that this young man is not kidding. In fact, Tilghman is so serious about his critique that he hauls out a giant of African-American culture—the actor Morgan Freeman. Like a trump card played at a strategic moment, Freeman appears on screen to say that he shares this same concern. Talking to 60 Minutes’ Mike Wallace, Freeman says: “You’re going to relegate my history to one month? Which month is white history month?” Wallace doesn’t know quite how to respond to this and says that, hey, he’s Jewish. So, Freeman pushes Wallace further: Does Wallace want a Jewish history month? Wallace replies: Absolutely not. Well, then, Freeman concludes, “I don’t want a black history month. Black history is American history.”

Teachers and small-group leaders: Take note of this film! More Than a Month is a terrific—and entertaining—way to spark serious conversation about America’s future as a diverse nation.

Reviewed by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm.

Please help us to reach a wider audience

We welcome your Emails at [email protected]
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Filmmaker tells why PBS Apartheid series is so inspiring

A DEATH IN SOWETO 1976 THAT SHOCKED THE WORLD.Starting Thursday January 12, PBS debuts “Have You Heard from Johannesburg,” a landmark documentary about the worldwide movement that finally defeated Apartheid.
Email a friend about the series—and our two stories this week—or post a note on your Facebook page.
You won’t want to miss this series, which includes a stirring account of how millions of grassroots anti-Apartheid activists in the U.S. and other countries—actually defeated this evil system.
On Monday:
We published an overview of this remarkable documentary series.
Remember: Even after the series airs on PBS, the online hub for these films is Clarity Films dot org.

Want to spark discussion in your group or congregation?
You’re free to use the following interview with Connie Field—the filmmaker with Clarity Films who spent a decade researching, filming and producing “Johannesburg.” Feel free to repost it, print it, share it, include it in your newsletter. Just include a link to our website, as well: https://readthespirit.com


Documentary filmmaker Connie Field. Image courtesy of Clarity Films.DAVID: This film series is going to be great news for millions of church people, teachers and former students all across the United States. After all those years that people spent in classrooms, church basements, newsletter campaigns and public marches against Apartheid—hey, it actually worked! It mattered! This story  is a huge inspiration that builds as your series unfolds, right?

CONNIE:  Yes, that’s right! That’s the extraordinary nature of this story. For those of us who care about how we act as a world, this series is a portrait of how the world took our morality seriously and marched together toward the end of Apartheid. In this series, you see how this worked on so many levels—from global institutions like the United Nations and World Council of Churches right down to grassroots groups like people meeting in churches or schools. This was a historic grassroots effort.

This was the most globalized human-rights movement we’ve ever seen. This was a tremendous victory that we should understand—and learn from so that we can reuse what we’ve learned. A lot of the tactics used in this anti-Apartheid movement—like pressure on major corporations that would affect economic changes in South Africa—are powerful nonviolent tactics that work and should be reused in other causes.

Another big lesson we learn in this series is that violence, in this day and age, has become predominantly a useless political tactic. When you understand what really changed South Africa, it wasn’t violence.

DAVID: This series took you a decade to produce. These days, it feels like Ken Burns is pumping out another major documentary every time we turn around. Why did it take you 10 years?

CONNIE: There’s a big difference between what Ken and I do as filmmakers. I took on this project before the historians had really gotten to this subject. Ken tends to take on subjects that already have been researched extensively and then he uses historians to tell his stories in his documentaries. That works well for him. But, since I’ve been young, I’ve been influenced by the notion of a people’s history, and oral history, and letting people tell their own stories from their own perspectives.

So, that challenge made this project very difficult for me. I wasn’t rounding up historians and interviewing them about what happened. You won’t find any academics or historians talking about their books in “Johannesburg.” In this series, you see and hear from the people who actually made the history.

That was a huge job! It took me all around the world over and over again. I interviewed 140 people on five continents and then I gathered footage from archives around the world. Everything we collected was transcribed, time coded and entered into a database. I have more than 2,000 hours of footage and more than 15,000 photos.

My framework for assembling this giant story was to basically show the relationship of what was happening in South Africa with what was going on in the outside world, because these two movements inside and outside South Africa were crucial to each other. There were so many solidarity groups worldwide, but I focus mainly on three campaigns: cultural isolation, political isolation and economic isolation.

DAVID: Nostalgic fans of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher are going to have a hard time with this series. Thatcher was just on the cover of Newsweek, as portrayed by Meryl Streep. But in this series, you’ll see them in a very negative light. One person in “Johannesburg” says that the Reagan-Thatcher partnership in opposing sanctions against South Africa “was a godsend for P.W. Botha. It would not have been possible to preserve Apartheid in South Africa without Reagan and Thatcher.” Of course, as you show in the series, Republicans in Congress finally rebelled against Reagan and staged an override on his veto to finally push the anti-Apartheid campaign over the top. But Reagan and Thatcher come away as, at best, sadly mistaken and, at worst—well, as partners in the South African oppression.

CONNIE: As we show in the series, they saw the South African struggle only through their own geopolitical and economic interests. We show how leaders in South Africa deliberately cast themselves as the bulwark of freedom against the Soviet Union in Africa. This was part of the whole Cold War as it was fought by proxy across Africa. That legacy of the Cold War is still horrific throughout Africa. The United States government was choosing the powers they would support in Africa mainly because they were not the powers backed by the Soviet Union.

On this question, Thatcher and Reagan also were listening to the ruling business class during their time in office. They were listening to that famous “1 percent” people are talking about today. They chose not to deal with what really was happening to the people of South Africa.

DAVID: As people watch this series, I know that countless men and women all across the U.S. are going to be thinking: Wow! We’ve got to discuss this in my small group. We’ve got to talk about this at my church. We’ve got to do a project on this in our classroom. So, right now in January 2011, the TV series comes and goes on PBS—but lots of viewers are going to want to do lots more with this. Where do they go? That’s an important question, because—as you point out—there’s not a lot of good post-Apartheid educational material out there. Your series is among the first.

CONNIE: People should be aware of our Clarity Films website and keep coming to that website even after this series airs. We’ve got a really huge timeline of these events online. You can pick out what different religious groups did. You can pick out what political movements did. I also have a great list of resources online so that people can learn more. I have a biographical resource online of more than 100 people and what they did in this struggle. The best place to find a major overview is our website—and, from there, you also can go to other related websites.

DAVID: Well, we’re hoping that millions view this series—and both find inspiration and take steps to carry what they’ve learned into other urgent causes.

CONNIE: We do, too. I know this series will move viewers. If you are concerned about people in other countries who are fighting to be free, this is very valuable to watch so that you can see how to harness the rest of the world to work with you in a nonviolent way.

Want to learn more about Connie Field and her production company? Visit Clarity Films website, which is Field’s company that conducted the worldwide research and production of this film. There are longer versions of the film available and other related documentaries as well.

Want to find peace in your reading—and group discussions—this winter? Consider learning about Daniel Buttry’s Blessed Are the Peacemakers. Click on the cover of Buttry’s book, at right.

Please help us to reach a wider audience

We welcome your Emails at [email protected]
We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. 
You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed.
Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Why you must see PBS’s epic on the defeat of Apartheid

GRASSROOTS MOVEMENT THAT CHANGED THE WORLD! Images of the anti-Apartheid campaign from PBS’s new “Have You Heard from Johannesburg.” From left: Desmond Tutu in his first major anti-Apartheid campaign across the U.S. Then, a Baltimore Catholic protest for divestment, an Arab-American protest and a Hanukkah candle-lighting for an end to Apartheid.

The 5-hour documentary is called “Have You Heard from Johannesburg.”
It debuts nationally on Thursday, January 12, 2012.
And, here is the convenient PBS website for this epic series on the defeat of Apartheid, where you can check for airtimes wherever you live.

Why Everyone Should See ‘Johannesburg’ on PBS

One reason: This series proves that anyone can make a difference in the world’s biggest, toughest struggles for justice. In 5 hours, you will not only see shocking and stirring scenes from the long struggle within South Africa, but you also will circle the globe to see the men, women and youth who worked on campaigns in places like church basements, activists’ apartments and public parks. You’ll see examples of the ordinary people who marched in protests in their home towns, who signed petitions that finally pushed Congress to action—and who actually managed to change the world!

If you are part of a congregation—no matter what your faith tradition—see this series in a small group and discuss it with friends. This series will energize any lethargic folks who feel that they couldn’t possibly make a difference in overcoming the world’s entrenched injustices. As documented in “Johannesburg,” ordinary people ended Apartheid.

One longtime anti-Apartheid activist who lives in Europe tells us that, when the movement finally succeeded after decades of campaigning for justice—he wept in joy. The huge surprise, he tells us, was this: Finally, “You know your life has been very useful. You have not done it for nothing.”

No less than Nelson Mandela expresses this powerful truth: “It is not the kings and generals that make history but the masses of the people.” In 5 hours of “Johannesburg,” you will see step-by-step just how that happened through the force of millions of lives in small towns and big cities around the world.


Come back later this week for our in-depth interview with Connie Field, who spent 10 years circling the globe and coordinating the historical research, new interviews and archival footage that went into this final epic. Today, we are publishing this overview of the series, urging you to jump onto email—or spread the word on Facebook—and get friends ready to watch with you. The Connie Field interviews will enrich your experience—and provide thoughtful ways you can discuss “Johannesburg” with friends.

THE SERIES BEGINS just after World War II, when most global powers were forming the United Nations. The West, in particular, was setting up various post-war structures that would lead through the long struggle of the American civil rights movement—eventually toward greater freedom for diversity. But, as we see in “Johannesburg,” South Africa was moving 180 degrees in the opposite direction toward concepts that were popular in Nazi Germany. In fact, many of the Apartheid architects were fans of the Nazi regime. Soon, South Africa was enforcing a draconian policy of identity papers that minorities must carry everywhere on penalty of torture and imprisonment. Huge numbers of people were forced to live in impoverished ghettos. Strict police supervision controlled the movement and behavior of black people nationwide.

A white official currently serving in the South African government explains this tragic past: “We all became energized by a fellow who today has the reputation of Adolph Hitler, a guy by the name of Hendrik Verwoerd, who devised what he called separate development. It was another softer name for Apartheid.”

Then, the documentary takes us back in time to see black-and-white footage of Verwoerd in his prime, talking to an audience in a friendly soft-spoken way about the “truth” that every white South African should admit: “This is our country. There’s no doubt about it. If, in South Africa, the white man allows any form of partnership to develop, it will mean the gradual giving away of the country he settled for so many years.”


Most American viewers are likely to find this series so moving that they will come away with fresh energy for voluntarism in 2012. Especially members of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim groups who have long campaigned for peace and justice—“Johannesburg” is a potent shot in the arm.

What’s the shocking stuff? In the middle of the series, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher are shown as the chief roadblocks to successfully pushing Western pressure over the top of Apartheid. “Johannesburg” carefully details the long-running economic and political struggle to isolate and cripple the Apartheid regime. In fact, Americans who recall this history accurately won’t be shocked. We know that Reagan’s blindness on this issue became so embarrassing that even Republican leaders in Congress finally joined in overriding Reagan’s policies on South Africa.

Nevertheless, this documentary is likely to come as a jolt for many viewers. For example, in early 2012, millions have watched Meryl Streep revive interest in Mrs. Thatcher in the widely praised, The Iron Lady. Streep as Thatcher recently appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine. And, as the U.S. presidential campaign heats up, many Republican candidates still invoke Reagan’s regime as ideal.

In “Johannesburg,” we see multiple film clips of Reagan relentlessly pushing the U.S. to prop up the white rulers of South Africa. At one point, Reagan says: “The prime minister of Great Britain has denounced punitive sanctions as immoral and utterly repugnant. Well, let me tell you why we believe Mrs. Thatcher is right! We do not believe the way to help the people of South Africa is to cripple the economy on which they and their families depend.”

What “Johannesburg” goes on to document is that this strong economic backing of South Africa was quite the reverse of humanitarian support. This American economic support included importing the latest “shock batons” used by South African forces to savagely beat black protesters—plus other military hardware and high-tech gear used to control the population. A South African government official appears in the film, explaining that the white inner circle regarded Reagan and Thatcher as their bulwark against defeat. Together, they were “standing as strong as anyone could, trying to prevent sanctions.”

Desmond Tutu appears in the documentary stressing how ridiculous—and tragic—Reagan’s and Thatcher’s arguments were in that era of American and British stonewalling. Tutu calls the Reagan-Thatcher policies on South Africa “unChristian.” In the end, of course, even Republicans in Congress agreed with Tutu.


NELSON MANDELA, who spent 28 years in prison before emerging to become South Africa’s first black leader, and Oliver Tambo, who devoted his life to anti-Apartheid activism around the world, were reunited in Sweden in 1990. Photo courtesy of PBS and UWC Robben Island Mayibuye Archives.As the series unfolds—about the time that Desmond Tutu wins the Nobel Peace Prize and full-scale anti-Apartheid activism gets into high gear around the world—viewers will flat out celebrate what they are seeing. You’re likely to feel tears welling up when Tutu, just after the Nobel Prize, says that it proved, “The world had not forgotten us. And the world was saying your cause is just.”

Connie Field, who devoted a decade to this enormous project, pays painstaking attention to getting each sequence in the final film just right. For example, when she talks about grassroots activism across the U.S., she shows us the big stars of the movement, including Jesse Jackson and the Congressional Black Caucus. But, she also shows us a wide range of other scenes. We see a little Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony to protest Apartheid. We see Arab-American leaders protesting. We see Catholics from Baltimore. And that’s just in the American portions of this documentary. Field also details activism in several other nations.

When the documentary shows us the arrests outside the South African embassy in Washington D.C., Field shows us many of the big stars who joined in this “longest-running act of civil disobedience in U.S. history.” We see Paul Newman, Rosa Parks, Harry Belafonte, Stevie Wonder and others. But we also see the ordinary “unknown” activists and we hear some of their stories. This includes one elderly church woman who was arrested in the embassy protest and, as she prepared for the police to lead her away, brought tears to the eyes of longtime activists around her by quietly explaining to them, “This is so hard for me because I’ve spent all my life trying to stay out of jail. But I have to do this. It’s the right thing to do.”

And the “right thing to do” this week? Watch “Have You Heard from Johannesburg.”

Care to Learn More?

Remember: Come back later this week for our in-depth interview with Connie Field, who spent 10 years producing “Johannesburg.” The Connie Field interviews will enrich your experience watching the series—and provide thoughtful ways you can discuss “Johannesburg” with friends.

Want air times for this series where you live? The links at the top of today’s story take you to the PBS website, where it’s easy to check local air times wherever you live.

Want to learn more about Connie Field and her production company? Visit Clarity Films website, which is Field’s company that conducted the worldwide research and production of this film. There are longer versions of the film available and other related documentaries as well.

Want to find peace in your reading—and group discussions—this winter? Consider learning about Daniel Buttry’s Blessed Are the Peacemakers. Click on the cover of Buttry’s book, at right.

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.