Last night Antoinette and I went to see Clint Eastwood’s movie, Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, and Matt Damon as the captain of the South African, Springboks, rugby team. It is a true story of how Mandela used sport to bring his country together after years of apartheid. It stirred many memories for me. I can remember, as a child, going to see the Springboks play when they visited New Zealand. They were great rivals of the All Blacks, our national rugby team. However, at that time, they would not allow any black South Africans play on their team. It was composed solely of white South Africans, mainly Afrikaaners, whereas our teams included Maoris and Pacific Islanders as well as white New Zealanders. In the early 1960’s sanctions upon South Africa for its apartheid policies prohibited their sports teams from competing in the world. I supported and signed petitions to our national rugby authorities in favor of this boycott.
The movie is set in 1995, when sanctions had been lifted and the Springboks were allowed to play again. Their 30 year absence from the international area had affected their ability and morale. President Mandela encouraged the team captain with verses from W.E. Henley’s poem Invictus, which had inspired him during his years of confinement on Robbins Island prison.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not, how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Henley was not a Christian believer. His sentiments are secular. Yet his “unconquerable soul” is testimony to the grace of God in our lives. We can thank God for this kind of courage. St. Paul talks about being “more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) Invictus is Latin for unconquerable.
Black South Africans have now been included in the Springboks. The victory of the team in the World Cup became a national unifier. Of course, I was proud of their opponents, the All Blacks, who don’t lose many games, for personal reasons. My father’s best man, married my mother’s maid of honor, her cousin. Uncle Ron played as an All Black, became captain of the All Black team, then coach and selector. Their performing of the Maori Haka (war challenge) before World Cup final was a stirring reminder that their record was also unconquerable.
As a former rugby player, coach and referee, the spirit of competition, the burning desire to win, to triumph over all odds, is bred in me. My father was also a champion rugby player in his day. This same spirit is found in the Gospel. Jesus’s head was ‘bloody, but unbowed’ on the Cross. He has given us unconquerable souls. We are masters of our own fate and captains of our own souls. That is why our choices and our motivations are so important. Following Jesus as my captain, will find me unafraid, for he will lead me through the final. As Corrie ten Boom used to say: “Jesus is Victor.”