Thoughts from the Theologian: Reminder of Ubuntu Principles

October 3, 2023

Dear Trinity Boston,  

I pray I find you well as we begin this new Program Year in our Church calendar. In our Creation Care small groups and Wednesday morning Bible Studies, we reiterated the principle that has shaped my vocation—that is the African concept of Ubuntu. I was commissioned to write, Ubuntu: I in You and You in Me, a book for the Episcopal Church to study for our General Convention’s triennium period 2009-2011. I used the image you see here for the book cover. 

Some will recall of my lecture last year that Ubuntu is defined by the proverb: I am because we are, and because we are, I am. As a theologian, I interpret this cultural concept into a theological worldview. For example, Ubuntu sounds an awful lot like trinitarian language in which God’s name, I am, makes sense of how God is three persons in one nature. So, we at Trinity are using this African concept of Ubuntu to help us see how we are made in God’s communal image. With Ubuntu we gain new understandings of our interdependency, of how and why we need each other to fulfill God’s hopes for the world. All other outcomes flow from this: renewed commitments to restoring peace in a violent world; clearer visions of how God reigns on earth; and deepened spiritual voices in public arenas.​

In our life together at Trinity Church, we will gather in the spirit of Ubuntu principles across our ministries. The resulting practices include:

  • We honor God’s presence in all, and we seek God’s presence within ourselves.​ 
  • We use “I” statements, and we do not speak for others. ​ 
  •  We speak honorably, and we listen generously. 
  • We make room for everyone to share before anyone shares more than once. 
  • We invite, and we do not compel. ​ 
  • We study cooperatively, from where we are and with what we have.​ 
  • We bring our attention and intention as fully as possible, taking care as needed. ​ 
  • We avoid fixing, saving, or advising.​ 
  • We turn to wonder, rather than to judgment.​ 
  • We learn from silence.​ 
  • We honor the group’s confidence.​ 
  • We share the stewardship of one another’s time. 

Diversity, cultural differences, and race relations continue to be difficult topics not only in the United States but in the rest of the world. Even more specifically, spiritual communities shy away from invigorated discussion about both racism and a lack of diversity. My vocation seeks to respond to this timidity by equipping individuals and communities to engage these difficult topics as spiritual companions, rather than as opposing combatants. After all, the African concept of Ubuntu is defined as the synergy (spirit) that exists between the individual and community as we share our lives in this household of God.  

I will lead the next Tutu Travel Seminar in South Africa January 9-17, 2024. The Seminar focuses upon Desmond Tutu’s witness of contemplative prayer, restorative justice, and Ubuntu. Learn more here:

Enough for now.

The Rev. Michael Battle, Ph.D. 

Trinity Church Boston Theologian-In-Community