I’m not what you’d call a religious person, although I do believe in God. I don’t go talking about it all the time or trying to push my views because I think that’s something that we find inside, or in my case, outside. I don’t feel it in churches, although I’ve tried a number of them. I feel it under trees and where wild things are. So reading a book about God isn’t something I’m generally inclined to do. I’ve never actually made it even through the old testament of the bible (very dark and violent in my opinion). But four years ago, on the Daily Show with John Stewart, I saw Desmond Tutu promoting his book. He really made a profound impression on me, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. So I finally checked it out of the library.

Archbishop Tutu is such a sweet and good man that it’s almost heartbreaking. Although his book is all about God, it’s not at all preachy. It’s in his style: accessible, not very long, infused with charming touches of humor, and loving. I haven’t finished it yet, but I just read something in it that I had to share.

God Has a Dream
A Vision of Hope for Our Time, pp 25-26

None of us comes into the world fully formed. We would not know how to think, or walk, or speak, or behave as human beings unless we learned it from other human beings. We need other human beings in order to be human. I am because other people are. The “self-made” man or woman is really an impossibility. In Africa when you ask someone “How are you?” the reply you get is in the plural even when you are speaking to one person. A man would say “We are well” or “We are not well.” He himself may be quite well, but his grandmother is not well and so he is not well either. Our humanity we know is caught up in one another’s. The solitary, isolated human being is really a contradiction in terms. God is smart. God does not make us too self-sufficient. We have our own gifts and that makes us unique, but I have gifts that you do not have and you have gifts that I do not have. The totally self-sufficient person, if ever there could be one, is subhuman.

The first law of our being is that we are set in a delicate network of interdependence with our fellow human beings and with the rest of God’s creation. In Africa recognition of our interdependence is called ubuntu in Nguni languages, or botho in Sotho, which is difficult to translate into English. It is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness; it speaks about compassion. 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. They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are. The quality of ubuntu gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge human despite all efforts to dehumanize them.

You know when ubuntu is there, and it is obvious when it is absent. It has to do with what it means to be truly human, to know that you are bound up with others in the bundle of life. And so we must search for this ultimate attribute and reject ethnicity and other such qualities as irrelevancies. When we Africans want to give high praise to someone, we say, “Yu, u nobuntu“: “Hey, so-and-so has ubuntu.” A person is a person because he recognizes others as persons.

Yes! What he said! I already highly recommend this book for everyone, even though I haven’t finished it yet. And I’m not a person who reads any non-fiction willingly, let alone religious works. Although he’s an archbishop, (which makes him what? Catholic?) Desmond Tutu writes to everyone, black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight, of every religion or no religion, and says that whether or not we believe in God, God believes in us. No matter what we’ve done, God never writes us off as irredeemable. Jimmy Carter provided a quote for the inside cover that calls it “A spiritual message that if heeded can changes lives as well as history.” I think that probably is true, so I hope everyone in the world will read it.

Okay, so now I’m going to go back to reading it.

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