“So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn't be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason...” Movie quote by Hugo Cabret in the 2011 movie Hugo directed by Martin Scorsese
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
Romans 12: 3-5 (NIV)
There are ideas that you learn about and ones that you experience. If experience is first, we then try and attach a word or concept to that experience. Looking back at our experiences in Kenya, we felt a deep connectedness to the Tenwek community that is hard to name. When in South Africa visiting the townships, we were introduced to the African concept of “Ubuntu” that has deep roots in that culture.
Shortly after returning, I read the Diana Butler Bass book, Religion after Christianity and again there it was, “Ubuntu” as articulated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Could I put our recent experiences into this big idea of “Ubuntu”? I needed a new voice, a cross-cultural voice, one that knew and lived in both cultures. Enter Rev. Dr. Michael Battle!
What I learned is that “Ubuntu” is an important Christian idea that generally has been missed in our Western culture and Christian theology. How did we miss it? Even when apartheid was being removed by the church that supported it, what did we understand was the theology to replace it? I missed it! Well, probably what really happened is that even though I heard the concepts in the message of Desmond Tutu on January 19, 1986 in Duke Chapel, I had not experienced and named it!
So for slow learners, we need new examples. What maybe is happening is that we are now understanding the concept in other ways... in movies like Hugo, with its message of interdependency and the critical importance of purpose (telos) in our lives. Now, I hear the message of “Ubuntu” in the wonderful songs and rhythms of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the ballads of Paul Simon. Now we have a name for these experiences! Thanks be to God as he continues to work in our hearts and minds.
N’Kosi Sikelel’ lafrica (God Bless Africa),
Bass, Diana Butler Christianity after Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening, HarperOne, 2012
Battle, Michael Ubuntu: I in You and You in Me Seabury Books, New York, 2009