Sunday, 8 May 2016

May they be one

In today's world which is riven by divisive and abusive behaviours that tear societies apart Christ's prayer for the disciples should have enormous meaning for the average Christian.  The problem with this is that we tend to interpret the text (Jn 17.20-26) as referring to the Church and its multitude of denominational choice.  Christ is praying for the disciples and it is known as being part of the "High Priests prayer".  The result of this is that we apply it purely to the "Church" and see our differences within the various denominational structures and pray for reconciliation.  There is no problem with this view and indeed having recently had dealings with the Eastern Orthodox churches I am convinced that this applies to all parts of our Churches, including the many separate denominations within the Orthodox Church as much as in the Western Church.  I suppose it just goes to show that each of us have a different taste / style / setting when it comes to our liturgy and belief systems. Another tendency is for us to see it from an individualised perspective.  From this point of view the prayer of Christ that we may be one suggests the sublimation of our individuality into a unity of sameness which is also not the intention.

Given this it is all the more reason to pay particular attention to this passage from outside of the "church".  Last week I wrote about looking at things with a 'both ... and' attitude rather than an 'either ... or' attitude (Peace in our time) which is in a manner of speaking linked to this post.  It is about changing our thinking from an attitude that is centred on the self to one that is centred on the other.  Unfortunately, we have inherited a manner of thinking about ourselves that comes out of Greek philosophy and a predominant Western philosophical thought process that arises out of Descartes' famous 'I think therefore I am' statement.  This paradigmatic statement has rendered our thinking into a self centred one, which has influenced our theological thought, our scientific thought and our philosophical thought (although this is changing slowly).  We have also applied this way of thinking to how we interpret the various Gospel passages. a problem when we realise that the Gospel was written using a different philosophical view, Jewish, prior to the full impact of Greek philosophical thought becoming a part of our interpretive process.

Ubuntu - I am because we are and we are because I am (FRIDA: Young Feminist Fund)

The Christian paradigm as opposed to the alternative self-centred approach is set out in the book of Acts in the Jail earthquake story (Acts 16.16-24).  I want my profit compared to the community built in jail by Paul and his companions looking out for everyone including the jailer. More importantly how the community at the start of the 'church' based on how they helped each other (Acts 4.32-35).  This almost communistic manifesto of care for the poor is a reflection of the Middle Eastern and many other cultures focus on the Community as the centre of attention.  The community focus is embedded in many indigenous cultures and their corresponding values and philosophies.  The concept embedded in the Zulu "umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu" is one that is found in many cultures outside of Africa but is now known more generally by the word Ubuntu.  The Ubuntu concept has been widely researched and thought about in recent decades, since Desmond Tutu utilised the concepts within his theological and Christian practice.  Everyone who comes across the term wants to know what it means but it cannot be directly translated.  The general concept is in the formulation "I am because we are; and We are because I am" or if you want a Descartian translation 'I am therefore we are / We are therefore I am'.  This sort of philosophy is found in the circle sentencing courts and the Aboriginal understanding of kinship within the group (Basic precepts of Aboriginal spirituality) as well as in the Native American concepts of justice and healing.  It evokes an understanding of the person as a valued member of the community who understands that their contribution is for the greater good of the community not just their own selfish wants and needs.

This sort of thinking means that we put our community relations up there in our decision processes not just a reflection of our own wants.  The fact that Christ prays for us to be one suggests that we ourselves need to see our individual lives as contributing towards the well being of the community. In much the same way Christ put others before his needs.  In living our Christian faith out to this paradigm we circumvent the wants of our own self, subjugating them to the needs of the wider community.  This enhances the community rather than ourselves and our grasping for wealth / fame / power.  It is the community's need that is foremost in our minds by enhancing the community's well being we enhance our own.  This is what it means to be and act as a Christian in the world.  A selfless view that enhances our relationships and the community that supports us in our time of need.  I wonder if we will remember that when we vote or participate in the political process or will we look out for our own lives and not care for those who have greater needs in the community.

No comments: