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Made for Goodness

Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes All the Difference
by Desmond M. Tutu and Mpho A. Tutu
New York, NY: HarperOne, 2010                 
224 pages               
Reviewed by Margaret Bullitt-Jonas

If you have ever seen the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu in the same room, you know what they are like: two serene, insightful men deeply acquainted with suffering and yet animated by a playful, infectious, and apparently inexplicable joy, as if the sheer gift of the present moment were enough to make anyone laugh. As Desmond Tutu comments in this wonderful book, sometimes he has to tell his friend, “Hey…the cameras are on us. Try to behave like a holy man” (22).

Made for Goodness is written for every spiritual seeker who longs for that kind of joy, self-acceptance, and inner freedom—in short, for everyone who longs for true goodness. Written with the disarming simplicity and compassion that mark the writings of Henri Nouwen, Thich Nhat Hanh, and yes, the Dalai Lama, this book may become a classic. 

Of course, it can sound banal and simplistic, even glib, to say, “We are made for goodness. At the core of our being is goodness.” Such a claim deserves attention only if expressed by someone who has faced the reality of human malice. That is what makes this such a remarkable book: its authors, Nobel Peace Prize–winner Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Episcopal priest Mpho Tutu, have witnessed close at hand “the cruelties, hurts, and hatreds” (4) of the world—the oppression of apartheid in South Africa; the anguish in Darfur, Gaza, and Northern Ireland; the agony of rape, racism, and poverty. Yet the Tutus share a deep confidence that our essential nature is good, that we can choose to act out of goodness, and that recognizing this truth can transform our lives.

Made for Goodness explores the theological and biblical bases for the authors’ faith in human goodness, which springs from the goodness of God. In a series of sometimes gripping stories, the authors introduce people they have known whose lives reflect an astonishing capacity for generosity, courage, and forgiveness. The book suggests spiritual disciplines that help “inculcate the habit of choosing good” (70), including, among others, self-examination, thankfulness, and prayer, which Desmond Tutu calls “the staff that supported me during the darkest periods of our history” (77). Every chapter ends with the invitation to “turn with us into the stillness and listen to God speak with the voice of the heart.” This sentence is followed by a prayer-poem. 

The book is more personal and practical than theoretical, and its authors are candid about their own struggles to live into their God-given goodness. Desmond Tutu describes with humility the difficult process of both forgiving his father for his drunken acts of violence and forgiving himself for failing his father on the day before he died. “Compassion,” Tutu writes, “combs the knots of pain out of my memories” (151).

This book does not just persuade you that goodness is possible. It makes you want to be good. As the Tutus say: “Each kindness offered and each word of truth spoken is another key to break you free” (80).

Margaret Bullitt-Jonas is an Episcopal priest and retreat leader and a graduate of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation Spiritual Guidance Program in Bethesda, Maryland, USA. She is working on her third book, Love Every Leaf: The Spiritual Memoir of a Climate Activist.

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