I offer my prayers for you as leaders in the Diocese of Oregon for a blessed Thanksgiving. Let us pause in the busy lives we lead to give thanks to God for all of the many blessings we have as people living in the United States of America in the twenty-first century. For many of us, this will be a time of gathering with family and friends for food and fellowship. For many of us, this will be a good time with much joy and laughter. For many of us, we will know what it is to be full and satisfied. We have much to be thankful for.
For others of us, it may well be a difficult time when we come to grips with all of the ways in which we are not so blessed as those in the above paragraph. For some of us, this will be a time of understanding our separation from others. For some of us, this will be a time of sadness and tears. For some of us, this will be a time to know what it is to be hungry and in need.
I have recently become reacquainted with a word that was made popular a few years ago. In fact, in 2009, it was the theme of our National Church Convention. I refer to the term “Ubuntu.” In 2009 Bishop Mark Beckwith (Diocese of Newark) described Ubuntu in his blog this way:
Ubuntu is a Bantu word introduced to the church by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It means “I am because you are”. Ubuntu was the theme of General Convention. Ubuntu is a Gospel challenge. Ubuntu is becoming a key element in the ether of the Episcopal Church.
Ubuntu stands in some tension with a defining philosophical concept in the Western world: cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”). First coined by Rene Descartes in the 16th century, this concept has enabled people to claim their unique identity and their essential integrity. Which has been a good thing. Yet when left alone – without the balance of Ubuntu, or the notion that we are all in this together, or a commitment to community – it creates rampant individualism; and leads people to take refuge in separate silos, holding on to what they have – sealing themselves off from the rest of the world.
Theologian John Mbiti has tied Ubuntu and cogito ergo sum together: I am because you are – and because you are, therefore I am.
As we gather in whatever form we do this Thanksgiving let us all remember we are Ubuntu, we are all in this life together, I am because you are – and because you are, therefore I am.