ubuntu – a person is a person through other persons.

In Scot McKnight’s latest book ONE.LIFE, he tells of a time when he and his wife visited South Africa.  During their visit the came across this strange but beautiful word, ubuntu. The word comes from the Bantu language and communicates something that is deeply embedded in the country of South Africa, but is easily forgotten in the US.

In our individualistic autonomous society it is easy to live in close proximity to others and even be around others all the time, yet live an incredibly isolated life.  Most often in our culture we value the individual over the community.  But the word ubuntu conveys something very different.  Desmond Tutu once said, “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 a human all by yourself.”

Notice what he says, it is “the essence of being human.” There is something about living in the context of community that is inherent to what it means to be human.  Ubuntu doesn’t value the individual over the community, but ubuntu sees that the individual needs the community in order to survive.  Life is intended to be a community project.

Now, in a series of blog posts discussing imagination, why talk about the need to live in community?

If you are anything like me, when it comes to thinking about new creation you may picture someone by themselves locked away in a room coming up with a great idea, story, music, art, invention, etc… They hammer it all out on their own and then when it’s done they present it to the world.  However, in my experience what I’m finding is that creativity and imagination is also a community project.  Think about how many people it takes to write, film and produce a movie, or how many people read drafts of a book before it is published.  I have a friend in a band and when they recorded their most recent album he told me stories of song writing sessions that involved 4-5 people some of which weren’t even band members.  We most effectively dream up and execute new ideas in the context of other people.

James K.A. Smith has a simple yet brilliant diagram in his most recent book Desiring the Kingdom (pg.48).

A brief explanation of the diagram is as follows (please see Smith’s book for a better and more accurate explanation):

1. Everyone’s life is on some sort of trajectory.  Everyone’s life is in motion.  We are first and foremost beings that love and our love is always aimed in a certain direction.

2. The aim or the target of our life is towards that which we love most and what we believe to be ultimate living.  Everyone lives with some sort of vision of the “good life” and we work to bring the vision to reality.  I would say this vision resided in the realm of ones imagination.

3. We order our priorities and our habits in such a way that reinforces our vision of ultimate living.  In turn this shapes our hearts and our affection is moved in the direction of the “good life.”

4. Maybe the most important, yet most forgotten is that the community and context in which we live (i.e. – the people with which we surround ourselves) has a significant role in
shaping our habits, priorities, affection and imagination.

In an earlier post I wrote of my childhood dream to be Michael Jordan.  The idea of being a basketball player ‘just like Mike’ captivated my imagination.  Basketball was the love of my life.  It was my vision of the good life.  This vision of ultimate living was reinforced in my heart and mind through a variety of different groups of people.  Some were friends; I surrounded myself with friends who had the same love for basketball as I did and we fueled each others dreams. Some were teammates; I was on multiple basketball teams and went to numerous basketball camps that taught me to excel in my game.  Others were family members; all through my years of playing my parents continued to tell me just how great a player I was (which may have been motivated more by their love for me than my actual ability). The point being, it was through other people that my imagination was shaped and enhanced.

Here is where my last three posts have been headed.  If we are to be people who are captivated by a Kingdom Imagination, we need to be people who are immersed in a community that reinforces the vision that the “good life” is found in and through the Kingdom of God. We have to be connected to other people who live by the same story and people who order their lives in such a way to see the Kingdom come in our local context. Having a Kingdom Imagination can’t be done in isolation, it has to include community (doing and sharing life with other people) because God in his nature is a community.

So a few questions to close out this series:
1. What is the thing that most captures your imagination?
2. Where in your local context do you see a need for a fresh Kingdom imagination?
3. Who are the people who would  help bring that Kingdom dream to reality?


2 Responses to “Community Imagination: “ubuntu””

  1. Linda

    My imagination is stirred as I continue to think about how God works in my heart and mind. I have contemplated the questions posed and find myself quite unable to answer in a way that completely describes my thoughts about our awesome God and how I can relate his immense love to the world. I am so small and he is so big. He is omnipotent and I am just a speck. He has filled me with words and poetry that have been given to me in my private times of prayer and meditation when I draw near to his throne of grace. I sense my inadequacy even in my expression and yet I know he wants to use me to glorify his name both within and outside of the community of believers. I share one of my poems in an attempt to encourage others in their walk. Perhaps God will show me how to build others up and in return I will please him by sharing his love.

    Faith Walking

    When I say I believe in Jesus
    When I speak to my family and friends
    Do I mirror the image of the Savior
    Or do I abandon him in the end?
    What does his love look like
    When displayed in the life of a man
    Is it loud, is it proud and self-seeking,
    Is it boastful, judgmental and grand?

    Jesus put his Spirit within us
    Holy and righteous and true
    He made us a part of his body
    Complete and delightfully new.
    He imparted good gifts to believers
    For the sake of the kingdom of God
    To live for his glory on earth
    In this body of flesh and blood.

    We’re instructed to seek Him daily
    To thank him for all he has done
    To realize he blesses and keeps us
    For our sake he has given the Son.
    By faith we know he loves us
    By faith we walk, not by sight,
    For he has placed us in His kingdom
    Providing our hearts with his light.

    With adoration and praise we keep walking
    Seeking his face all our days
    For by faith we are strengthened completely
    Following his perfect ways.
    Conforming our lives to his precepts
    Loving and continuing on
    Trusting in his gentle leading
    To witness the love of his Son.
    (linda hoffman 2011)


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