Monday, June 13, 2016

bringing home ubuntu

It is hard to believe that it is already mid-June. I apologize for my absence recently. I've been in and out of the office and got to do some traveling. I'll give some highlights soon. For now, I want to give you an update on what's next.

I'll be leaving South Africa on July 20 - roughly five weeks from now. I will not ever be ready to say goodbye to this place, but I fully intend to find my way back. And I'm fully committed to leaving well, as I wrote about when I first arrived.

When I return, I'll have two weeks at home and will then head to Boston! There I'll be living in an intentional community called Life Together for ten months. I've wanted to live in an intentional community ever since my high school youth leader BJ told me about them. He compared it to the community of apostles in the beginning of Acts, where they "held all things in common" and basically put the community above the individual. 

In American society, this is radically counter-cultural. The pervasive myth of the American Dream, tired trope of rugged individualism, and repeated calls to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" result in many struggling to understand the value of this type of experiment.

In South Africa, there is another philosophical ideal:  ubuntu. It means "I am because you are." It means that when our neighbor hurts, we hurt too. It means that everyone is our neighbor. It means that we are all connected, and that when we ignore or deny those connections, we sever part of what makes us human. Now of course, not everyone lives into this ideal, and Western imperialism and globalization have caused society to look more and more like what we find in the States. But I believe in ubuntu, and I've experienced it in all sorts of small ways. And I want to try to bring it home.

In addition to community life, we will each work 32 hours a week with a non-profit or church partner on social justice issues. We will spend the remaining work week together learning about activism, community organizing, and creating social change. Our housing, utilities, insurance, and transportation are all covered, and we receive a modest stipend for other expenses. (Thankfully I do not have to raise another $10k this year.)

Some of you are probably wondering when I'll get a "real" job making "real" money. I don't fault you for that. In return I ask of you:  What is filling your soul right now? Are you passionate about what you're doing? Do you feel challenged? When is the last time your world was turned completely upside-down? If you knew all of your basic needs were covered and had no obligations, what would you do?

In the meantime, here is a blog post by one of this year's Life Together fellows. It brought me to tears. And the Oscar Romero prayer found at the end of this newsletter is a beautiful reminder as I finish out my year here. This community is already filling my soul in so many ways, and I think it is exactly what I need during what is sure to be a difficult transition.

Light and love,

finding a church home

It can be incredibly difficult to find a spiritual home in a new place - especially if you're as picky about where you worship as I am. Some YASCers are placed with a parish, but since I work for a provincial organization, I was free to attend anywhere I wanted (or to sleep in on Sundays if I preferred). For a few months, I did some church hopping and felt a little like Goldilocks. Something was always not quite right for me.

I realized that I was spoiled by All Saints which its beautiful architecture, high church liturgy, impressive choir, moving sermons, and welcoming community. While I wasn't looking for something exactly the same, I wanted somewhere where I felt welcomed, challenged, and inspired. I wanted a church that could entice me from my bed on Sunday mornings. After receiving a recommendation by three different people, I found myself in Central Methodist Mission on the bustling Greenmarket Square one Sunday early this year.

When I walked in, I saw this mirror just beyond the baptismal font. It reads "you are beautiful... and so is your enemy." With that statement I was simultaneously affirmed and challenged.

I'd heard people speak about Alan Storey and his incredible work and prophetic voice. He has lived up to this expectation with consistently powerful sermons. But the assistant minister Michelle, an American with a melodic Mississippi twang, truly drew me in.

Michelle is one of those special humans who makes you feel instantly comfortable with her, like you've known her for years. She has a warmth and energy about her, a way of letting you know that she is truly listening, fully absorbing every detail. She says her favorite aspect of ministry is pastoral care; it shows.

One of Alan's greatest ministries is Manna and Mercy, a weekend workshop that guides participants through the Bible in a way you've never heard it before. Through historical context, careful exegesis, and "the lens of Jesus' life," Alan makes this radical message accessible to a wide audience.

CMM recently welcomed visitors from the Eastern Cape - pensioners who were protesting at Parliament after being denied payments owed to them. They slept in the sanctuary for two months, and it was incredible for the space to be used in this way - as a literal sanctuary for those seeking it. Their presence during worship on Sundays was an incredible gift - with powerfully translated messages in both English and isiXhosa and lively singing and joyful thanksgiving.

I've been incredibly grateful to find myself here and for the wonderful people I've met through it. You can read more about it here and find audio for Sunday sermons here (I especially recommend March 25: Excruciating Vulnerability and June 12: Tears of Solidarity).