Embracing Ubuntu: Summer Home Church/Bible Study

This post is the third in a short semi-autobiographical series I’m doing called Embracing Ubuntu. Ubuntu, for those who aren’t familiar, is an African concept that is hard to translate but means something like “diversity in unity.” It is neither uniformity – making everyone the same or not talking about differences – nor is a free-for-all battle where anything goes. It is a recognition that is simple in theory but hard in practice: we are all different and that doesn’t make me better than you. I’ve expressed this idea many times, often using the Anabaptist phrasing the “Third Way,” but in this series I want to give examples of where I have encountered it working.

The Summer Home Church/Bible Study began at Queen’s a bit before I got involved. It was a radical (to some) initiative: with all of the campus fellowships having significantly smaller numbers in the summer, they met together to learn and worship and hang out. Most of the clubs were some brand of evangelical as I don’t think any of the Catholic clubs joined (and the Orthodox club was started near the end of my time there). But that didn’t mean there wasn’t tension and disagreement, especially between people who had left one club for another over some of those differences.

The first summer I was just there for two months and only occasionally went. I was pretty depressed that summer (not serious enough to be considered clinical depression, I’m sure) so while it was interesting I didn’t invest in it and didn’t get much out of it. My second summer I wasn’t in Kingston. My third summer I somehow got in on the leadership planning meetings because I had a class the time the whole group met, which was a great way to encounter a lot of different thoughts on how to manage a ministry in a way that helps out the most people.

In the fourth, I became a leader. I co-led with a woman who I clearly did not see eye-to-eye with on everything. The big thing, though, was that I was much more interested in getting people into tough questions where they might disagree while she just wanted to focus more heavily on things everyone could agree on. We talked about it about a month into the summer and didn’t come to agree on approach but we now understood each other and it became much less frustrating as we were able to lead together much more instead of occasionally leading against each other. It may not have been sustainable in a long-term ministry, but for the ecumenical short-term purpose that this group served, it did the job.

In my final Kingston summer, Emily (now my wife) and I took over leadership of the group. Emily leads like me, although maybe not quite as abstract which helps keep me down-to-Earth. We were both trained in Alpha, after all, which is very much the approach of working through tough questions head-on. Only a couple of months after many conservative evangelicals disowned Rob Bell as a heretic, we decided to use the NOOMA videos as the starting point for each discussion.

Some of the group on a hike to end the summer

It started out with a bang. In the first week, Emily dared to suggest that there is more than one interpretation to the Bible. Our most conservative member walked out after a tirade against Catholics and the United Church of Canada (he did come to a couple of social things after that, but no more Bible Study). It also resulted in the one curious non-Christian in the group never coming back. But we then than an absolutely amazing discussion about the need for humility in talking about theology or the Bible.

A few weeks later our decision to use Rob Bell caught up with us, sort of. Another more conservative member of the group asked to meet with us privately before the study to ask a bunch of questions about Rob Bell. She had been tipped off by a friend that Bell was a heretic and she should get out of the study. Unlike that friend, I had actually read Love Wins and talked about it along with why we didn’t think he was a problem even if we don’t agree with everything he says. I’m not sure such a teacher exists that I agree with on everything, but we did think Bell’s content was very good for helping people engage with Jesus. She agreed based on the previous weeks and stuck with us but was noticeably cautious the rest of the way.

Those two hiccups aside, we created a pretty great community. Those who stuck around expressed how much they appreciated our approach, having our own positions (Emily’s not always the same as mine) but trying to stir up discussion with all views so that we can best learn from each other. We covered all kinds of topics including but definitely not limited to: free will vs predestination, the nature of Hell, random evangelism methods. We did also talk about plenty of things that we did all agree on, able to encourage each other there, too.

Even though this group had some more hiccups than others, with each year I feel comfortable saying that we all become closer to Jesus and each other because of our efforts to work through our differences instead of shying away from them. And that is much more valuable than feeling like you are always right.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.