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December 22, 1998

Harambee!

Today I greet you with the Swahili word for "unity" in the spirit of Kwanzaa that begins this Saturday. If geneticists are right the entire human species may be traceable to an African woman who we might as well name Eve, so why not recognize our common roots and get in the spirit of the latest Holiday festival to come around.

In a day when people have the historical consciousness to think that anything from the 1970's is ancient history most would be happy to know that the celebration of Kwanzaa is ancient dating back to 1966, the brainchild of a professor from the Neo-African state of California.

It is a positive festival celebrating such lofty principles and ideas as umoja, kujichagulia, ujima, ujama, nia, kuumba and imani. It is celebrated for seven days with gatherings nightly around tables to light three candles one red signifying those who have gone before us (our bloodline); green signifying earth, hope and material goods; and black which represents people of African heritage.

Kujichagulia means self-determination but it does not stand alone, umojua means unity so there is a need for people to support each other which allows a persons gifts to flourish and frees them to use their talents not for themselves but for the good of all which is ujima and ujama (collective work and cooperative economics). Nia means purpose. Kuumba means creativity. Imani means faith. In my own tradition which is Christian and Catholic we have two terms that somehow I think embody the principles of Kwanzaa they are as you might expect Latin words communio and missio. Most of what has taken place in the Catholic Church in the past 30 years (ancient history to most) has been a struggle to embody those two words communio and missio.

Communio is best-translated "communion" although often is rendered "community". Anyone who has been around Catholic circles in the past thirty years has heard about "community" ad naseum (another Latin word which means until they want to throw up). "We must have community, after all that's what Vatican II was all about," the leading evangelizers say without end.

As Lee Corso (college football fans know who he is) would say, "Not so fast my friend."

Communion is what we need or in Kwanzaan we need imani first. We need faith and a relationship with God and from that relationship we begin to see those around us in a different light. Notice to those skeptics who might be reading this: I did not say we need religion first, I said we need a relationship with God first. It's a subtle difference and one that is often overlooked. If religion comes first it is no more than a body politic; a gathering of like minded folk. If relationship with God comes first than there is a searching out of other people who also have a relationship with God and a coming together in a communion both with God and each other or in Kwanzaan umoja and ujima.

When this is accomplished then we have missio which could be translated in a number of ways and perhaps "mission" is the most adequate meaning that "You are being sent out of here with something that only you can do and we are all counting on you to do it, in fact our very survival depends upon you doing it," or in Kwanzaan kuumba, ujamaa and nia.

So during this holiday season I wish each of you a Happy Kwanzaa because perhaps the principles and ideals that guide that celebration are more in touch with Christianity than the welfare man with the sack of material goods over his shoulder handing out gifts and filling up stockings while mom and dads bills pile higher.

Harambee!

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