Monday, February 12, 2007

World, Country, Family, Church?

I have pursued the idea of community in several posts. As I write, my thinking clarifies: sediment sinks to the bottom (I hope I never have to dig around there!), and a somewhat clearer brew rises to the top. I think I'm starting to get it.

I have taught often in my classes that our emphasis on individual fulfillment, basic to our identity as North Americans, is detrimental to the larger community to which we belong; and I believe i am right. But I am also a child of the Sixties. I desire the right, at least for myself, to determine as much of my present and future as I reasonably can, and I can't see any good reason to deny anyone else the same privilege. "All the world, so easy to see, people everywhere just got to be free."

So I face a basic fact: I am committed to the same individualism that I find destructive of community within our society as a whole. I am also a child of my own culture. Africa has taught me that we are most fully human within community: umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (a person is fully a person with other people): but I am an American anyway.

This note of community lies behind my embrace of Penn State fight songs. It is the force that binds me to my countries, however frustrated I am with what we do as Americans or Zimbabweans or Canadians. It is the commitment that keeps me human within the whole human family.

I thought of this all again most recently in the aftermath of a church discussion. I grew up Brethren in Christ, and that church identity is deep within me. My grandfather's grandfather's father was a lay minister in our church, in Ontario in the early 1800s. But after this particular conversation, I felt so annoyed as to wonder if I should embrace my Mennonite identity and leave the Brethren in Christ behind.

The answer is, of course: No. Asking the question also answers it. As I have said on various occasions, the hardest part of moving to Manitoba has been the fact that we have moved out of the geographic orbit of the Brethren in Christ Church. I have sometimes wished that we could have remained as a family within the church, rather than having to find a new Mennonite identity (however closely related our faith communities are). As soon as I raise the possibility, I know that I could not do it: my extended faith family is too much a part of myself to leave it behind.

If I had to rank the communities within which I find myself, I would place church and family together -- in practical terms, family (since one lives most closely with family), but the two hardly separate. In the second rank, I would place country and the whole human family -- again in practical terms, country (since one lives first within one's country), but again the two hardly separate.

I find myself, I find my fulfillment, within the various communities in which I live: worldwide, country, church, family, and work. (I notice that the workplace has not figured in this narrative: perhaps because so much of my work life has been in the church, and now continues in a seminary, I tend to equate work and church.) Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.


Climenheise said...

May one comment on one's own post? Or is that not quite cricket? I googled "umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu" and am intrigued with how many hits I found: often White Africans like me trying to express what we have spent much of our lives searching for. Curious!

KGMom said...

I am spending a lazy lightly snowy day here--so I am not sufficiently mentally engaged to ponder the deeper meaning of your blog.
Suffice it to say that when I read--Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu--and saw one comment, I assumed it was Daddy remarking!
It wasn't, so I guess I too will Google it for some enlightenment.

KGMom said...

Since I have found a translation--I like this saying. Personhood is achieved in relation to other people and because of other people.
Rework the "I think, therefore I am" into "The community is, therefore I am."
I would accept that!