In last night’s (London) Evening Standard, Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote the following:
In Southern Africa we have a special word, “ubuntu”; it is very hard to translate into English.
It means that everyone in a community is dependent on everyone else. If I am happy you are happier, if I am sad you are troubled, if you are in need of help I can assist, if you are poor I can work to relieve your needs.
It is the mark of a truly interdependent society where we learn to recognise that we all belong to God’s fantastic family, all, all, all, even the relatives we don’t especially find agreeable.
He was writing in commendation of a fund set up by the paper to provide for the ‘dispossessed’ of London. It aims “to raise £1million to support the local heroes [small charities already in existence] who lift people out of poverty by targeting education, crime, health, and unemployment.”
I’m sure that, unlike the Archbishop, the Standard has no idea how rooted its campaign is in Biblical principles. Romans 12 gives a very clear picture of how Christians are supposed to live, including the exhortation, reflected in Abp Tutu’s article, to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (v15)
The paper, many of the charities to whom it will donate the money, and many of the major, high-profile donors have no Christian (or other religious) roots or background, yet their understanding that we are all bound together and a community can’t thrive when some of its members are suffering, is an intensely Godly one.
My boss has recently been doing some writing about the great social reformers of the 19th century. It is striking how many people rose up at that time, motivated by a vibrant, living faith, to work to relieve poverty, to improve working conditions and health, and to provide education for the poorest of the poor. Many of the hospitals, schools, and employment laws we have in place today were established by them.
Individualism, though it may seem the best solution for me right now, is never the best for us in the long run. God doesn’t tell us to love our neighbours (and even our enemies) just as another random box-ticking exercise, another little challenge to ensure our faith isn’t a walk in the park. He says it because it is the way society works best – indeed, the only way it works. By looking out for one another, we enable each other to flourish and to become the people God designed us to be.
What have you done for your community recently?*
*NB I’m asking myself as much as you!