Efficiency. This word, this idea, a key foundational aspect of western culture, defines how and to what end one should live life in this clearly broken and fallen world. This stepping-stone is what the nation of the United States of America uses to propel itself to become the giant it is, standing tall above the nations it and other efficient nations have declared inefficient, or Third-World. This is my background, the foundation of my education, my desires, my telos, and my praxis. Throughout the experiences and teachings I have been exposed to this semester, this word has appeared again and again, staring me in the face, telling me subtly, yelling at me aggressively, and clinging to me. With each instance, myself growing more aware of its influence, I find that living out the life of a pilgrim, communal engagement in the call of Christ to live out a backwards kingdom in this fallen world, requires stepping off the stone set before me, and humbling myself out of the prison of efficiency into the freedom of the Righteous One.
This question of what this life of a pilgrim, disciple of Christ, actually is and looks like has been one of major focus and influence for me this semester. The first and most prominent, which I have learned academically as well as socially, is summed up by William Cavanaugh, in his article “Migrant, Tourist, Pilgrim, Monk: Mobility and Identity in a Global Age,” “Pilgrimage was a social event, during which many of the ordinary rules of hierarchy and social structure were suspended” (350). Speaking of medieval pilgrimage, Cavanaugh relates this type of pilgrimage to the role the Church should play now; mobility in a world we live in but are not of, in which the rules and roles set by efficient nation-states are forgotten, and journeying through life becomes a communal act. This relational atmosphere of pilgrimage, and its fight against western efficiency, has been increasingly apparent through focused relationships with fellow Uganda Studies Program students, the program’s staff, and local Ugandans such as my homestay family. Interacting relationally with fellow students has probably been the most influential and most obvious in this light. In the Intercultural Ministry & Missions Emphasis group, a solid foundation for growing relationships was formed early on, as many of us, if not all, came from very similar backgrounds with hopes of achieving very similar goals. Many of us, influenced heavily with the western idea of efficiency, came romanticizing the African culture and seeking a clear telos for our life’s vocation. This, and the quick realization of unmet expectations, drew us together in such a way that we could grow and learn together that this idea of efficiency is not always foundational and important. For instance, while at the Kibaale Community Center in the Rakai District, we simply enjoyed each other, playing games, conversing, and sharing stories. While travelling away from what we have considered home for the past few months, Mukono, we found growth and a pull towards each other, as we stopped worrying about what we needed to learn, or what we needed to get done, which often occurs in the IMME Quarters. The more trips we took, the more time spent travelling together, it became incredibly obvious that lifting each other up and setting ourselves humbly before one another allowed for us to grow relationally as well as in our own spiritual lives and vocational identities.
Another relational interaction, which has encouraged this pilgrim life and fight against the western-influenced drive for a need of efficiency, is with my Mukono homestay family. While I have learned much about East African culture in classes such as African Traditional Religions, Christianity, & Islam in Contemporary Uganda, Faith & Action, and Survey of the New Testament, the majority of this cultural engagement has been done communally with my homestay family. This, in its true essence, is pilgrimage, communally engaging culture rather than simply individually consuming the exotic essentials. On a daily basis this semester I have grown relationally with my family members, Mama Harriet, Jennifer, David, Lillian, and Mark, as well as learned their cultural foundations, which often differ significantly than my own. Efficiency is one of these major differences. In the beginning of the semester, I often found myself commenting how inefficient a typical process of their daily lives were, or how better and easier something could be done in America. For instance, washing clothes is a painstaking process here, where one must spend at least an hour for every eight or so items, which need washing, and that doesn’t even account for the several hours they take to dry. Back home, however, one could throw in almost twenty items into a machine and wait hardly two hours for them to be both washed and dried. Immediately upon witnessing this my mind raced to its efficiency mindset, longing for a quicker and easier method. After experiencing this for a semester, however, I have realized that the time spent with my family, washing together, has been one of the most important relationship growing times, as it has both given something for us to do together, as well as provide time that would probably have been spent elsewhere. This relationship as a community, travelling together, growing together, and engaging in this fallen world together, is an important aspect of this pilgrimage I will certainly be focused on continuing in my life hereafter.
As a result of these relationships, which are a major part of communal pilgrimage in this fallen world, another response to living in this backward kingdom Christ calls us to be apart of, includes truly understanding and practicing the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love. In light of my western demand for efficiency, and my Ugandan experiences, which have revoked that demand, these virtues and the practice of these virtues have been revealed in a whole new way. Henri Nouwen, author of Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, explains how backward this kingdom that Christ calls us to actually is,
Therefore, we can say that the downward pull as we see this in Jesus Christ is not a movement away from God, but a movement toward God: A God for us who came not to rule but to serve. This implies very specifically that God does not want to be known except through servanthood and that, therefore, servanthood is God’s self-revelation (26).
While kingdoms of this world are continually striving to be a leading power, a ruling force, the kingdom of Christ is one that thrives on servanthood, a true humbleness visible in the life of Christ and His disciples. Understanding this vital concept inevitably leads to understanding the importance and the reality of the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love. Faith in Christ, in the context of this distinct and new culture found in the midst of a fallen world, has a whole new meaning. Without the foundation of western efficiency, one no longer relies on oneself, but rather must trust in the supernatural to provide.
For the African person, this is not a problem as religion is such an essential part of life. In a lecture, Rev. Dr. Sam Opol described this relationship using the imagery of a prism. With the African person in the middle, God is at the peak of the triangular prism, while the three sides include mystical powers, divinities and spirits, and ancestors (see figure below).
With this African ‘Prism’ Worldview, it becomes clear how crucial faith is when efficiency is put aside. Hope, too, is found true and inescapable in this awareness of citizenship of a backwards kingdom in this fallen world. Nouwen, in his discussion of what compassion is, states, “what really counts is that in moments of pain and suffering someone stays with us. More important than any particular action or word of advice is the simple presence of someone who cares” (11). With this in mind, Nouwen refers to the hope we have as disciples of Christ,
That is the good news of God’s taking on human flesh… ‘The Virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel,’ a name which means ‘God-is-with-us’ (Mt 1:22-23). As soon as we call God, “God-with-us,” we enter into a new relationship of intimacy (13).
In the same way, John V. Taylor speaks of presence in the African perspective stating that “The God whom, all along, Africa has guessed at and dreamed of, is One who is always and wholly present for every part of his creation” (138). This presence of God in our very being, as we communally journey together in this fallen world is the foundation of the hope we have as Christians. Lastly, love becomes something new and radical, something to be sought after, and something that is freely given. Acknowledging that in this backwards kingdom Christ, the ruler and king, sets himself down in complete humbleness to serve the kingdom rather than egotistically govern, love becomes what it is truly meant to be, selfless. Though these virtues seem to fit so much more snugly into African culture, they are truly transcendent and though it will take effort to seek out back home, that is what pilgrimage is all about!
Though relationship and these virtues are truly critical to the life of a pilgrim, who denies imperialistic cultural foundations such as western efficiency, pilgrimage without a telos and praxis to reach that telos is aimless wandering. Mark Steele, a film director, author, actor, and president of Steelhouse Productions, states bluntly, “So many wander aimlessly because they never embrace who God made them to be. Instead, they attempt to be like a dozen others who seem to have the life or calling most desired” (9). Our telos is what drives us, what carries us forward, and what gives us direction. Cavanaugh identifies the broad telos of a pilgrim as “not constantly seek[ing] difference for its own sake but mov[ing] toward a center, which, for the Christian pilgrim, is communion with God…an eschatological movement of the pilgrim toward the One who calls him home” (352-353). This telos excites me as it identifies those virtues faith, hope, and love, through its identification that to find communion with God we must move towards the center of ourselves, and his following praxis for the pilgrim focuses strongly on the relationships aforementioned as crucial. “To welcome and revere migrants as Christ, to feed them, pray with them, and wash their feet, is to turn migrants into pilgrims, and thus to turn fate into destiny” (355). This telos and praxis for the pilgrim, identified by Cavanaugh, is a great starting place for the Church, and for the disciples of Christ, but as Steele continues, “unique works of God—historic works of God—can only happen through people who accept what sets them apart and who work to refine their gifts so that when God comes calling, they are ready to act” (9). Christ sets us individually apart. Even though we are communal pilgrims in search of the center, in search of communion with God, He has created us in such a unique way that our praxis of the pilgrim’s telos must match our gifts, which He has given us to set us apart. In knowledge of this, my heart is set on carrying forth the telos of reaching communion with God, which in effect includes communion with those around me, through the praxis of my unique gifting of servanthood engineering. Following Christ as He washes the feet of His disciples, my praxis is to serve others through the skill of engineering in such a way that community results, relationship is formed, and the telos of communion with God is achieved.
As a pilgrim, citizen of a backwards kingdom, living in a fallen world, focused on the telos of communion with God using the virtues of faith, hope, and love, and a unique praxis that relies on relational community, one’s identity begins to be much clearer. Disciple of Christ. Follower of the Way. A component of the body of Christ, the Church. These phrases so commonly used begin to take form and make sense in the light of a community searching and journeying jointly. Unfortunately, this is not the identity I have always held onto as an acclaimed Christian in the Bible Belt of the United States. Holding onto the essence of efficient living, my identity has often been found as one who is continually seeking the most efficient way to reach the end, to reach the goal I assume is set before me. While this is probably the case for many in my region of this globe, and is not necessarily horrible as it does attribute to the telos, it does not leave room for a communal praxis, a way in which relationship can grow in presence. It is this new humanity which Lee Camp, author of Mere Discipleship, discusses, “an astonishing reality: all the division, all the social groupings, all the forms of identity that serve to categorize, divide, estrange, and alienate one from the other—these are broken down” (140). This is our new identity of pilgrimage in Christ. In the words of Jon Foreman, lead singer of the band Switchfoot, our “new way to be human.”
Camp, Lee. Mere Discipleship. Grand Rapids: Brazos-Baker, 2003.
Cavanaugh, William T. "Migrant, Tourist, Pilgrim, Monk: Mobility and Identity in a Global Age." Theological Studies 69 (2008): 340-356.
Cavanaugh, William T. "Migrant, Tourist, Pilgrim, Monk: Mobility and Identity in a Global Age." Theological Studies 69 (2008): 340-356.
Nouwen, Henry J.M., Donald P. McNeill, and Douglas A. Morrison. Compassion. New York: Image-Doubleday, 1982.
Opol, Rev. Dr. Sam. "African Worldview." African Traditional Religions, Christianity, & Islam in Contemporary Uganda. Uganda Christian University, Mukono, Uganda. 01 Oct 2009. Lecture.
Steele, Mark. "Personally Chosen." Set Apart: God's Steadfast Pursuit of You. 'Comp'. Daniel McIntosh. Tulsa, OK: Harrison House, 2009.
Taylor, John V. The Primal Vision: Christian Presence Amid African Religion. London: SCM Press, 1963.
For those of you, who read this, I appreciate you taking the time. I would love to hear your comments, insights, criticisms, etc. I also thank you for reading this blog, staying updated, keeping me in your prayers, supporting me, and encouraging me as friends, family, and fellow followers of Christ. See you all in a couple weeks!
Peace be with you,
Joshua 'Mubiru' Weed