Where to begin? We’ve only finished our first full day of the Amahoro 2013 in Entebbe, Uganda, but already my mind is fit to burst from all the goodness it is being fed with. If you’re lost right now, the Amahoro Gathering is an annual event that brings together African and non-African Christian leaders who are committed the tangible manifestation of justice, mercy and reconciliation in their local contexts.
This morning started with an amazing and challenging keynote message from Bishop Zach of Uganda, speaking on this year’s theme of The Politics of the Kingdom of God. I was scribbling so fast through this message, trying to capture as much of his wisdom and challenge as I could, to fully be able to absorb it later. Even reading through my notes tonight as I sit typing in my hotel room (while my sweet room mate Tina sleeps), I am sure there is a lot that will keep reverberating for me from this talk.
But will you let me have a go at giving you my own personal highlights?
Romans 14:17 says, “The Kingdom of God is…righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Bishop Zach explained to us that in the French bible (one of you can maybe confirm this for me?!) the word Righteousness is translated more often as Justice. Righteousness is one of those words that can assume a certain Christianese, where we talk about it a lot without really getting it.
The meaning of Justice is unavoidable. And so should it’s practise be in the church.
(Side note: Bishop Zach advocated strongly more than once for learning other languages. He said that if we only have one language, we limit out understanding of the world and the way it works, and we also limit our understanding of God. God is not limited to one language or culture, and so learning a new language can help us into a fuller understanding of who he is. Well, as someone who’s working hard at two foreign languages, this was welcome motivation!)
That justice is the right relationship between us and God, and between one another. And the route of every conflict, Bishop Zach argued, is not difference, but injustice. Politics becomes keys because the issues of injustice, poverty and inequality are political. He gave the example of a slum in Kampala that regularly floods, causing an outbreak of cholera each time. The root cause? Greed. Corrupt politicians took a portion of the funds allocated for a canal system nearby, causing it to be built too shallow and leading to the floods. The pastors and church leaders here, he argued, can pray as long and hard as they like, but until they start engaging in politics, advocating for a solution and for transparency, nothing will change.
The role of the church then, is an active one. There is a false dichotomy, Bishop Zach said, between “spiritual” and secular activities, between heaven and earth. Because what do we pray in that most famous prayer? “Let your Kingdom come, on Earth as it is in Heaven”. Heaven is the dwelling place of God, and the vision of the bible is a time when God will once again dwell permanently with his people, when Heaven in the truest sense comes on Earth.
The Kingdom of God is material, tangible, practical. And the politics of the Kingdom of God, are the politics of Love. There’s that glorious image we are given in the bible of heaven as a great feast, where we are all seated around the table, equal with one another, enjoying one another. The church is supposed to be enacting this in our own lives. But what has happened is we see some at the table, some under the table, and some not even invited to come near.
And here was the challenge to me personally. As a Christian living in one of the richest countries in the world. It is far far too easy to pretend it is enough to give some money each month and say I am acting justly. It is not enough. I am just shaking the crumbs from my napkin under the table. True justice involves building bridges of access and reconciliation and it involves tearing down some barriers to inclusion. Tearing down will not be easy or maybe pleasant if you’ve had a stake in seeing that wall stay up. But how can we proclaim a gospel of peace if there is no justice? Peace presupposes justice.
And let me add this: it’s harder to ignore the inequalities, the injustices in our world, when you’re sitting around a table with beautiful men and women from some of the poorest, most discriminated communities in the world. Any excuses melt on the tongue.
(Gosh this is not easy, and I’m going to be wrestling over this one for a long time to come…)
And so back to that verse. There is justice. There is the peace that comes through that justice and reconciliation. Then there is JOY.
You know, I think, that I chose joy as my one word for the year. I wouldn’t blame you if you’d forgotten, because I’ve not written about it as much as I did with Brave last year. It’s not that it’s not been on my mind, but it’s been gently sliding it’s way in and out of my thoughts and my days, and I’ve struggled to really take a hold of it yet.
But then this morning, Bishop Zach wrapped up his talk by focusing on JOY, saying that “just relationships, restored relationships bring Joy.” And I felt it to be true deep down. My moments of greatest joy in life have been sitting around a crowded table of people eating and drinking and celebrating together. The table only works where there’s equality and peace. And so there have I found the joy too.
And it makes sense in other areas of my life. It explains why working for Serve the City in Brussels and now in Luxembourg brought be such a deep sense of satisfaction, even when it has been hard. It explains why I lose any sense of peace if I am in conflict with someone else. It explains why hospitality and generosity and serving feel so right. When I am in right relationship with my neighbour, when there is justice and peace between us, then there is joy.
Oh dear friends, it is late, and I am overwhelmed with thoughts and questions and wonderings. But I am tired too, and my poor room mate is surely by now silently cursing my keyboard noisiness. There’s so much more to say and I’m not sure I have even come close to doing justice to anything Bishop Zach said, or the wealth of discussion and conversation that went on afterwards. But you encouraged me so much as I prepared for this trip, so I wanted to share with you while it’s still fresh, still touching me profoundly. I appreciate you so much, truly. And with that, a goodnight!