Category Archives: ubuntu

Knowing the poor by name

I didn’t preach on Sunday; I shared the services with a remarkable band called Remember Seven, and Katie Wallis preached. I’ve written about Katie before here. And here. Oh, and here too. It’s great to hear a capable preacher (I’m including you in that, kt!!).

The Old Testament reading concerned the Hebrew midwives, and Katie drew inspiration from them and their  refusal to conform (Romans 12) to the edict of Pharaoh. She spoke of knowing the poor by name, as people. It struck me that we know the names of the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah.

How many women don’t we know by name in the scriptures? It seems women didn’t count too much… Yet we do know the midwives’ names. They were and are women of consequence.

Get to know some other people—Angie, Daniel, Grace, yourself— by reading these excerpts from Katie’s journal (thanks, kt!). Oh, and look out for her book, it’s coming!

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Church & world, family & friends, reflection, ubuntu

Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year A, 19 December 2010)

It’s not easy being Joseph

Isaiah 7.10-16
Matthew 1.18-25


Sometimes, a young couple expecting their first child will say to me, ‘We’re not going to let having a baby change our lives.’ I just smile. Having a child is like a freight train colliding with your life. Nothing is the same ever again. And everyone finds that out sooner rather than later.

Mary and Joseph were no exception to this universal rule. Usually on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we look at how Mary the Mother of our Lord was affected by the coming birth of her first child. We look at Mary’s story two years out of three. But once every three years, we look at the announcement of the birth of Jesus from another perspective. Today, it’s Joseph’s turn.

In Matthew’s story of the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary were ‘betrothed’ to be married. We don’t ‘betroth’ children to each other any more; it meant that they were promised to each other. Joseph and Mary’s families had arranged that one day they would get married. When they were both old enough.

The decision had been made for them; a betrothal was serious stuff. Joseph and Mary were a genuine ‘item’—a celibate item, but an item nonetheless. Only a divorce could separate them. And a divorce could only mean a scandal.

So what could Joseph do when he finds out that Mary is pregnant?

One thing is clear about Joseph: he is ‘a righteous man’. In other words, a good man, an honest man. Desmond Tutu would say he has ubuntu. I wonder if Jesus may have been thinking a little of Joseph when he said to his disciples, ‘You are the salt of the earth’. He had to learn that kind of thing from someone.

Ignatius Loyola was the founder of the Jesuit order of the Catholic Church. He once said,

There are very few people who realise what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into his hands and let themselves be formed by his grace.

I see Joseph as ‘a righteous man’ who abandoned himself into God’s hands, just as Mary did when she said to the angel,

Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.

So as a man abandoning himself into God’s hands, what is Joseph to do about Mary? He may be a righteous man, but he’s not ‘hardline’ righteous. What do I mean by that?

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under church year, RCL, sermon, ubuntu

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C: 26 September 2010)

Forgiving debt—for Social Justice Sunday

1 Timothy 6.6-19
Luke 16.19-31

I mentioned the term ubuntu some weeks ago. I’d like to remind you of it again. Remember, it’s an African word meaning ‘the essence of being human’. Ubuntu means that we need other human beings just to be human. The Zulu and Shona people of southern Africa say: ‘a person is a person through other persons’—not apart from them. Ubuntu means that for us to do well, we need others to do well.

Desmond Tutu says (God has a Dream, chapter 2):

A person with ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole.

Tutu also says that in southern Africa, when they wish to speak well of someone they say, ‘So-and-so has ubuntu.’ So-and-so is a person who recognises others as persons. I want to suggest that this African approach to life is one that we could learn from.

The rich man in the ‘Pearly Gates-type’ story that Jesus retold did not have ubuntu. He didn’t recognise Lazarus as a person. Lazarus ‘longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table’. But Lazarus went hungry.

Do you notice something about this story? About who is named and who isn’t? In most stories, the rich and powerful are named and the ordinary people are anonymous. It’s the other way here. Jesus names the poor man. The other—the powerful man—is just ‘a rich man’. In fact, the ‘rich man’ is every person who has enough of the world’s goods—shelter, food, health care, education—yet who closes his or her heart to the poor. The rich man’s name could very easily be ‘Paul Walton’. Continue reading


Filed under Church & world, church year, RCL, sermon, ubuntu

A moment (just!) of ubuntu

I preached a few weeks ago about how the way of ubuntu is starting to speak to me, particularly through the writings and life of Desmond Tutu. Eureka St has a story today about how a young man with no money for a ticket was ‘voted’ onto a bus.

The story is called Vote 1 bus ‘bludger’. I’d like to think of it as a moment of ubuntu, of a fair go.

Leave a comment

Filed under reflection, ubuntu

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 4 July 2010

Bear one another’s burdens: Ubuntu

Galatians 6.1-16
John 8.2-11

A couple of weeks ago, I reminded you that I’m from Yorkshire. I’m happy that my birthplace was in Yorkshire; it means that I’d achieved something as soon as I was born!

It can be a hard place, Yorkshire. People sometimes wrongly say that Scottish people are mean. Well, it’s been said that the difference between a Yorkshireman and a Scotsman is this: A Yorkshireman is a Scotsman wi’ generosity sooooked out of ’im. And there’s a saying that Yorkshire folk are famous for:

’ear all, see all, say nowt;
tak’ all, keep all, gie nowt;
eat all, sup all, pay nowt;
an’ if th’ivver do owt fer nowt,
do i’ fo’ thisseln

Hear everything, see everything, say nothing;
take everything, keep everything, give nothing;
eat everything, drink everything, pay nothing;
and if you ever do anything for nothing,
do it for yourself.

But you know, anyone who were to live by that motto would be making a mistake.

Perhaps another piece of English wisdom is better: it’s from the poet John Donne, who eventually became the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. In 1624 Donne wrote,

No man is an island, entire of itself…
Any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind;
and therefore never send to know
for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.

John Donne got it right; others have got it right, too. I’ve been reading something of Desmond Tutu lately. He speaks of the interdependence of all people using an African word, ubuntu. I want to spend a few minutes on what he says later; some of it may be familiar to those of you from Africa, particularly southern Africa.

So, according to John Donne and Desmond Tutu, we are all interconnected; therefore, next time you do something for nothing, do it for someone else.

Continue reading


Filed under church year, RCL, sermon, ubuntu, Yorkshire