Lessons on community and theology from the Africans…

Following on from earlier posts digging into the issue of community, I have been thinking about Ubuntu.

No, not the open source software package (although it may well be good- anyone using it?)

Ubuntu derives from a Bantu word from Southern Africa, but seems to be regarded as describing a classical African world view. It interested me because of this man

Desmond Tutu- an eccentric, playful, humble statesman whose way of following after Jesus will be remembered in history. For him, the idea of Ubuntu entered into his understanding of theology- in this way-

One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.

We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 2008.

Another quote I liked was this one-

Louw (1998) suggests that the concept of ubuntu defines the individual in their several relationships with others, and stresses the importance of ubuntu as a religious concept. He states that while the Zulu maxim umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (“a person is a person through (other) persons”) may have no apparent religious connotations in the context of Western society, in an African context it suggests that the person one is to become by behaving with humanity is an ancestor worthy of respect or veneration. Those who uphold the principle of ubuntu throughout their lives will, in death, achieve a unity with those still living.

Dirk Louw- from here

Here is the man himself-

Is there a lesson here for us in the west during our ongoing post modern transition into… whatever we will become? Bill Clinton thinks so-

What interests me is not so much the large scale, international challenges of this word- but rather the small scale, individual person to person way of understanding it. Because this seems to me to be of crucial importance to us. As a culture, we value individualism, personal choice, self actualisation, the democratisation of every minute of life. These things may be good, but like many good things, too much of them may well damage our health.

Because the push for these things can make a god out of ‘me’.

And it can so easily build barriers and create distance between the ‘we’.

How might this be happening? I would contend that increasingly we communicate via machines. We collectivise on line, we form ‘community’ that has no real cost as it can dissolve at the click of a computer key.

We followers of Jesus have a different calling on our lives- characterised by the word ‘love’ and the fruiting and flowering of the Spirit- not just in our narrow lives, but in our relationships.

Perhaps our calling in this changing time is to rediscover a simpler, older way of living, characterised by Ubuntu.

I loved this quote from a recent TV programme about Desmond Tutu-

” I am not an optimist, but I am a prisoner of hope…”

Amen Bishop, amen.

1 thought on “Lessons on community and theology from the Africans…

  1. There is a pretty much West of Scotland saying, mostly in Glasgow that say’s: ‘go on yourself…!!!’ its not meant that the individual has said or done anything particularly relevant to themselves, but has summarized or embodied the collective thoughts, art or feelings of the the community. Its usually unspoken, but its known when it happens. Its based on a community memory, forged over centuries, or through a shared code of behaviour, faith or belief.

    For a while, in the 90’s, I was enamoured with the creation of community or group through the use of experiential methods, but not any longer.

    I just feel, now, that communities and nations in the West have been so dislocated from any core memories and values, that they can easily influenced and viewed as sheeple from a powerful elite, that they can be led to behaviours that their grandparents within the community would find abhorent, so where I stand on this… is a little abstract.
    Personally I’d be very skeptical of any politician or religious leader calling for community… it usually means they’re up to something

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