When I was asked to speak at an interfaith service for Nelson Mandela last week, my first thought was, “What in the world could a white guy raised in a lower middle class family in Sparks, Nevada possibly have to say about this great man that could not be said better by others?
But then I remembered Chuck Connors in the TV show The Rifleman…
When I was a kid, he was my hero. And I… I was going to grow up to be a cowboy. Funny how life doesn’t always turn out like we expect. But because I looked up to Chuck Connors when I was a kid — because he was my hero — I did everything I could to be like him. I had a cap gun I kept in a side holster, and I learned to ride horses… got pretty good at it too!
We all grow up, and we get new heroes. For many of us, Nelson Mandela was one. If someone is your hero… if you look up to him… you try to be like him. But being like Nelson Mandela isn’t as easy as buying a cap gun and learning to ride a horse. So many other folks have talked about different aspects of his life, so I’ll just focus on one… what he thought about poverty.
Mandela said, “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.”
There have been a lot of people eulogizing Nelson Mandela. But if he’s really your hero — in this one area — it’s going to change the way you feel about the poor in your heart.
It’s going to change the way you speak about and to the poor.
It’s going to change the way you see your own finances as not all belonging to you.
It’s going to change the programs you support in this country and the world.
And… it may change the people you vote for.
With Nelson Mandela gone, a great light has been extinguished in our world. But we can all be like him in our own small way. It’s not as easy as becoming a cowboy, but it will change the world.