Monday, 30 June 2008

God, GAFCON and Ubuntu

These two photographs were taken inside Binham Priory in Norfolk. The remains of the old rood screen were displayed behind a protective perspex sheet. What is remarkable is that over time the original medieval paintings have begun to show through the later post-Reformation overpainting, which was done in white with Gothic black-letter texts from Cranmer's Bible of 1539. Quite simply the people were obliterated with words. They were painted out of the picture and lost to sight.

For me these images are a salutary warning for the post-GAFCON church. They are a visual metaphor for troubled times. They caution against painting anyone out of the picture and pretending that they don't exist or that their views don't matter. They warn of the power of words.

Perhaps they illustrate too the contemporary tensions between the differing ways of understanding culture, faith and bible which led to GAFCON. In these images two worldviews exist in mutual contradiction in paint, which pretty much sums up where we are.

And what of God in all this? When Jesus says "You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," (Matt 5:43-44) he offers us a way out of the sterile ingroup/outgroup standoffs which litter the world. Genuine peace and reconciliation becomes possible when we stop demonising the 'other', scapegoating the 'other' and stereotyping the 'other'.

It happens when we see through the overpainting with words to see the 'other' as a person. It happens when we realise the deeply human truth of what Southern Africans call Ubuntu, as championed by Desmond Tutu: ‘God's dream is that you and I and all of us will realise that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion. In God’s family, there are no outsiders, no enemies. Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Buddhist, Hutu and Tutsi, Pakistani and Indian—all belong. When we start to live as brothers and sisters and to recognize our interdependence, we become fully human.’ You might want to have a look at Nelson Mandela describing ubuntu in this video

This realisation of our God-graced one-ness may yet help us to hold together in our tensions and disputes, for we are all made in God's image. And God sees through the overpainting.

Love, look at the two of us

Strangers in many ways

Let’s take a lifetime to say

I knew you well

For only time will tell us so

And love may grow for all we know

FOR ALL WE KNOW (Fred Karlin / Robb Wilson / Arthur James)


  1. Thanks Dave.

    Ubuntu is clearly a helpful concept.

  2. Thank you for reminding me to practice Ubuntu. The visual image is striking and a good one.

  3. Wow, wonderful visual image... thanks for sharing it