“I Am” because “We Are”

Dear Editor:

It has come to my attention that some individuals have made comments on Houston Herald Facebook page that not only were meant to criticize my choice of people to quote and terms to use as part of my quest for Christian unity/community but have cast aspertions on the Northside Baptist Church and the wePRAY women’s group.  If something I wrote has offended anyone then I apologize for that.  If something I wrote misled anyone to think that I am not a fundamental Christian, once again I apologize.  If you have read continuously Sweetwater Journey you would know that I have presented those principles throughout my column.  Oftentimes I mention programs that I feel are interested in community for all as I am.   The wePRAY women  is one of these groups.  Our prayer conference at the Northside Baptist Church on Saturday was centered in Jesus Christ, revival, prayer, redemption, service to others and everything the human spirit longs for.  Area women came together to worship, sing, pray and yes, find unity in one another through Jesus Christ.  God bless you if you disagree with this and give you clarity above and beyond what you assumed that I meant so that He is honored regardless of any error in judgement I may have made.  I hope you will continue to read my column and monitor what I am espousing.  It’s just possible you might find something there you need.

Rita Foster

The “ubuntu” philosophy was unfamiliar to me. It came up in our Worship Resource Guide for church. It is a South African term meaning “unity”. It goes deeper than that though. One writer applied the phrase “I am because we are”. There is a legend that is told in that country about an anthropologist who placed a basket of fruit by a tree and then challenged the village children to race to see who would get there first and win the fruit. The story goes that the children all grabbed hands and ran to the tree, then sat around enjoying the fruit together; the premise being, how can one be happy while everyone else is sad. In the service, I explained to the children that sometime they might be in the minority if they are part of a group who wants to leave other children out because the majority decided they don’t fit in for some reason. They might be the only voice who speaks up for the ones being left out.

The pronoun WE can be used in an inclusive or an exclusive sense. In the phrase: “I am because we are”, I believe that “I am” is included in the “We” and made to feel like I belong. I am accepted, influenced, guided and even protected by the “We”. Whatever befalls me befalls everyone. The “We” is tuned in to my life and what and who I am. Within the ranks of “We” there are those who have talents and resources that I don’t have. As the “We” mobilizes these resources to minister to my needs and improve my well-being, I am once again restored. I can then use my talents and resources to contribute to the overall well-being of the “We”.

The ubuntu symbol is made to be a circle. In the worship service, I gathered the children to take each other by the hand and stand around the poster of the symbol I had placed on the floor. Then, they saw what the symbol represented. Together we stood in a circle that had no ending and no beginning and we were united. We looked like the ubuntu symbol. Every person played an important role in creating the circle. We were one, all shapes and sizes but nonetheless wholly important. The Spirit of awareness helped each of us grasp the concept of “I am because we are”. We then placed a new center in the main circle of the symbol. It was a circle with a cross with JESUS written on it. Around the outside were the words: ”loved” “redeemed” “satisfied” “sins forgiven” “youth renewed” “crowned” “redeemed” and “healed”. It was important as we took communion that we realized how much Christ is about ubuntu – “I am because we are”.

At the end of the service we placed a large basket of fruit in the center of the main circle in the symbol, remembering the legend.

In Wikipedia, a broader description of ubuntu is given as: “The belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”. This writing includes many of the quotes I found online from ministers who wrote about ‘ubuntu’ and its meaning for all of us.

Sandra Summers, in her sermon about ubuntu states: “When I knew I was being called to preach on the ideology of ubuntu. I texted my friend Jay asking him where I should start on this huge concept. He wrote, ‘Love others, love the journey, don’t conform to individualist culture, share a drink with all visitors, and make more food than you need in case someone comes over.’ This is ubuntu.”

Desmond Tutu, a South African retired Anglican bishop and social rights activist who rose to fame during the 1980’s as an opponent of apartheid made this statement:

“We say a person is a person through other persons. We don’t come fully formed into the world. We learn how to think, how to walk, how to speak, how to behave, indeed how to be human from other human being. We need other human beings in order to be human. We are made for togetherness. We are made for family, for fellowship, to exist in a tender network of interdependence. That is why apartheid and all racism are so fundamentally evil for they declare that we are made for separation, for enmity, for alienation, and for apartness. . .”

The Golden Rule, for many, hijacks the concept of others being our neighbors to them being an “other”. When someone is an “other” we don’t see them as our neighbor. We think  “I’m not homeless” “I’m not poor”, “I’m not a drug addict” or “I’m not a prisoner”. According to Summers she states “that because of the concept of being one, there is nothing that someone else is that I am not”.

Reverend Antonio Torrence posted a sermon in June, 2003, he titled “We Are One”.

He talks about the amazing times we are in, in the way our horizons are both expanding and contracting in regards to the internet and social media, gradually becoming a global village. We are gradually becoming “one” through technology.

Reverend Torrence believes as I do that the church should be the leader in uniting such a diverse community. When Christ spoke about being one in His prayer in the gospel of John, He wasn’t talking about groups of people becoming just unified within their own group but all of humanity is to become one. Reverend Torrence states: “We are to be one. And yet, in spite of humanity’s technological evolution towards globalization, we are still living in a culture of selfishness and individualism. We are living among a people who frequently say, ‘I don’t need anybody. I can make it out here on my own. I can do it my way and exist by myself.’ It is because of greed and selfishness that the world’s ills are escalating out of control.”

In many instances, the concept we have of God is one we have created. Our god is okay with the way we are. We create a god that makes sense to us and doesn’t challenge the way things have always been. Our god keeps the status quo. Our god is okay with us using our own opportunities and industry to elevate ourselves. This is what Jesus fought against during His entire ministry here. He worked hard to change everyone’s concept of God.

Summers states: “When we start believing in the God of our own creation it is easy to restrict access as we see fit. Therefore, we don’t have to love those we deem unlovable because our God isn’t in them. Who and what do we deem unlovable? Is that God’s declaration or is it us attempting to limit God? God did not create us because God had to. God created us because God is abundant love. Without a communal connection, as emphasized in ubuntu, we lose perspective of God. We must not only love God in the privacy of our hearts, but we must unconditionally share this love in community, to be reminded that God is bigger than any one relationship.”

The followers of Christ are called to draw the entire world to Him through their own lives and dedication to make the world the best it can become. Jesus reminds us in His prayer in the gospel of John that we are not to function alone but that we are to be one in Him.

Taken from John 17: 17-23(NIV)

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

Jesus Prays for His Disciples

“I have revealed you[a] to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

.Jesus Prays for All Believers

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Torrence states further: “We are all a part of the one body and if one member suffers, all suffer together. . . When friends deny us, family forsakes us, and our loneliness seems overwhelming, we need the company of God’s beloved church to encourage us. Even on our sick beds, when we are unable to make it out to fellowship, although letters, cards, and flowers, are precious – we still need the physical manifestation of God’s love present by our bedside. We need someone to hold our hand, dry our tears, and calm our fears. We need each other. Let those who are colored in the many hues of the rainbow collectively mirror your true colors. Let the dark shades of Africa mixed with the soft pastels of Europe and the florescent spices of South America. Let them form the mosaic stained glass windows adorning your spiritual temple here on earth. Let them be one. Tell someone, ‘let us become one’. The fulfillment of this prayer seems impossible. How can we become one? How can we become unified when we can’t agree how we should worship, what hymns to sings, and how long we should sing them? Lord, how can we become one? How can we be unified, when everyone has a different opinion and want their voice to be heard? How can we be one when from 11 am to noon on any given Sunday, your people effectively separate themselves by race, class, and culture? How can we be one, when on any given Sunday, Sunday morning still becomes the most segregated hour of the week in our country? How can we become one when it matters to some of us, who sits in our pews and who bows next to us at the altar? How can we be one when it matters to us, whether we clap our hands, sway to a beat or just meditate in silent? Lord, how can we be one?”   Reverend Torrence.

Jesus’ prayer was answered with the early Saints as they gathered with all things common and prayed together as one so we know it can happen and will happen again.
They were all together in one place, physically and mentally. They had one purpose and were of one mind. They had fire in their bones and wanted to change the world with their newfound freedom in Christ. They saw everything with new eyes compelling them to live beyond themselves. It took three intensive years of ministry to get them to this place in which everything they had known for generations was challenged and reshaped. It took the death, burial and resurrection of their leader, the Son of God, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, but at last they were of the same mind. They were one. They had ‘ubuntu’, the touching and agreeing of two or three, the collective consciousness.

“It is a collective consciousness that causes us to consider ourselves as a chain where we can only be as strong as our weakest link. In other words we are only as strong as those who are the victims of social isolation, Black on Black crime, single parents, absentee Black fathers, gang violence, AIDS, and other social depravities. We are only as strong as those who have to worry about where next month’s rent is coming from, where tomorrow’s supper is coming from, and when will I get a job. We are only as strong as those who are struggling to get their prescriptions filled; those struggling to pay their college tuition, and those praying for some form of transportation. Ubuntu says we are one people with one purpose.” Reverend Anthony Torrence.

Join your neighbors in prayer that we might be united as one. I am fortunate to know the Texas County wePRAY women’s group who meet in Houston on the evening of the third Tuesday at the Undivided Hearts building. They meet once a month to pray for and to talk about all of the hopeful changes needed and the ones that are actually taking place in their county because of the workings of the Spirit. They represent Christian denominations across the board and come together as One in Christ.

“We have a word in Africa – ‘ubuntu’ – ubuntu says that I can only know myself as I see myself through your eyes – so the closer you stand to me, the better I can know myself. That is authentic New Testament community.” Emile Wolfaardt His People Community Church.

In the ‘80’s when I was writing and performing music as an ambassador for the Nebraska Farm Crisis Network, I wrote a song I titled “When I See My Image In Your Eyes”. It was written for the farm family that had lost everything because of uncontrollable circumstances in the worst agricultural crisis in American history. Some of the ones who didn’t lose their farms judged them harshly which added to the stress they suffered.

The chorus: “When I see my image in your eyes, it can make me feel ten feet tall

or half the person I am. I want to be the most that I can be, you can help by how you see me”. Verse: “If you’ve never walked in my shoes, you may think it’s all my fault for the way I have to live. But by the grace of God go you, my friend, but by the grace of God go you.” Verse: “There was a time I was on top, but a twist of fate had its own cruel way. And now I need to see my image in your eyes, whole and successful once again.”

Sandra Summers writes:

“When we are our best selves we see others in a way that is rare today. When we are as whole as we were created to be, we see our neighbor in pain, and respond as if it was our own. We respond through our neighbor’s eyes when they respond to ours. When we forgive ourselves, we forgive others. When we love ourselves, we love others . . . Whether you are like my friend Jay preparing more food than you need, crossing borders into a neighbor’s space, or taking time for you – we are a part of each other.”

If, you, the reader, believe as I do, that we are to be one, don’t be discouraged when you see what a daunting task that is. Just because it seems that all is lost and the groups we belong to grow farther and farther apart, this is the way Christ said it would be in these times. The Apostle Paul in the Scriptures warns that these would be “terrible” times and people would be lovers of themselves and money. They would be abusive, without love and self-control. (Read II Timothy 3) Christ tells us that this is only temporary. As He lives through you, take advantage of every small opportunity to be positive and hopeful. His future followers are attracted to this. The ones who are in wilderness being taught by Him need to see Him through us and our positive words and actions. Never lose hope in the positive.

Paul encourages us further: II Tim 3:10-17 NIV

10 You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

In the spirit of community for all which is at the core of Sweetwater Journey, I would like to close this writing with the rest of Desmond Tutu’s quote:

Ubuntu enables reconciliation and forgiveness especially when hearts have been inflicted with such pain. This is how you have Ubuntu – you are, you are hospitable, you’re gentle, you’re compassionate and concerned. Go forth as a new doctor, conscious that everybody is to be recovered, reverenced as created in God’s image whether inner-city and rural areas – go forth and demonstrate your Ubuntu, to care for them, to heal them, especially those who are despised, marginalized. Go forth to make the world a better place for you can make a difference. The task is daunting- of course, but it is our necessary struggle.”  

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