Monday, December 5, 2016

Christmas in Christ Chapel 2016: Introduction to "Ubuntu, Jesu: From the Cradle of Humankind to the Ends of the Earth" (Brian E. Konkol & Paschal Kyoore)

The following text was included in the opening pages of the printed program for Christmas in Christ Chapel, "Ubuntu, Jesu: From the Cradle of Humankind to the Ends of the Earth".

Christmas in Christ Chapel is an annual community worship celebration, which takes place in Christ Chapel on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College during the first weekend of the Advent Season.

This year's gathering, which took place December 2-4, 2016 and included five separate services and over 350 student participants, welcomed over 5,000 people to campus and thousands more viewed online.

The full video of Christmas in Christ Chapel 2016 can be viewed at:

My full interview on the Christmas in Christ Chapel 2016 theme can be viewed at:


Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (“A person is a person through other persons”).

Community is what often defines identity in various locations across the African continent. For some, this is called “Ubuntu”, or as John S. Mbiti stated, “I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am.” In striking contrast to our common manifestations of western individualism, Ubuntu expresses that “a person is a person through other persons”. As Bénézet Bujo recognizes, “a person only remains healthy in a holistic sense by living in harmony with the whole creation,” thus “to be human is to affirm one’s humanity by recognizing the humanity of others and, on that basis, establish humane relations with them.”

While popularized by Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela during the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, the concept of Ubuntu has numerous variations in a wide range of African linguistic expressions, such as gimuntu in kiKongo and giKwese (Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola), umuntu in xiTsonga and shiTswa (Mozambique), bumuntu in kiSukuma and kiHaya (Tanzania), umundu in Kikuyu and umuntu in Kimeru (Kenya), and bomoto from Bobangi (Democratic Republic of Congo). In recent years, feminist scholars such as Puleng LenkaBula and peace activists like Timothy Murithi have taken Ubuntu in provocative and profound directions. Today the Gustavus Adolphus community contributes to this important conversation.

The Ubuntu relationship of individual and community can be observed in the baobab tree, which is featured on the cover of this program and expressed artistically and prominently in our scenic design. The baobab tree is considered sacred across the African continent, as it is tall, majestic, strong, and imposing; much like the spirit that holds the human community together in all its diversity, reminding us of our common ancestry and collective trajectory. At a time of great division and painful isolation in 2016, both locally and globally, we gather under the inspiring and reconciling baobab to celebrate Christmas in Christ Chapel, under our theme “Ubuntu, Jesu: From the Cradle of Humankind to the Ends of the Earth”.

To proclaim “Ubuntu, Jesu” is to boldly connect the incarnation event of Jesus with the totality of life in its fullness for all that exists. The “Cradle of Humankind”, therefore, has a double meaning. First, it is the physical location of Africa as the birthplace of humanity, and second, it is the manger of Jesus, the Son of God. Therefore, “Ubuntu, Jesu” communicates our shared origins and dignified character, “From the Cradle of Humankind to the Ends of the Earth”.  

This weekend each worship service begins with artistic choices grounded in the African continent, and through music, dance, and the spoken word, subsequently migrates to expressions from around the world. In doing so we follow four topical sections: Creation, Alienation, Incarnation, and Proclamation. Not only does this sacred progression seek to illustrate the theme of Ubuntu, but it also mirrors the arc of Scripture, echoes a historical Lutheran worship presentation, and honors the Christian liturgical calendar while affirming the relational Trinitarian formula. In making such connections, we take notice of our common creation, temptation for alienation, celebration of incarnation, and call to proclamation, in the hope that we might receive the spirit to embody Ubuntu throughout Advent, Christmas, and beyond.

Like the roots, branches, leaves, and fruits of the baobab tree, we as human beings are interconnected with all things in all places and at all times. In the words of former Gustavus President Edgar Carlson, “We need each other to become ourselves.” As we celebrate the birth of Jesus through the lens of Ubuntu and under the sacred baobab, may we recognize our roots and reform our reach, for the sake of all that exists.

May God continue to bless you, with peace and all things good, today and always.