Reflections Tower Hamlets

What an amazing 12 year old North Korean Atheist reminded me

Photo 07-03-2017, 13 55 34

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My job continues to blow my mind:

Yesterday I sat across the table from a 12-year-old Korean young lady who comes to one of our groups (which is about helping people of different faiths and cultures live well with differences and build friendships across those differences). She has been coming along for a few weeks now. I had assumed she was South Korean. But yesterday she told us that her parents are from North Korea, and that they had defected/escaped when mum was pregnant with her. Not all the young people grasped what an astonishing thing this was…

She told us about how her parents had lived in the mountains living off the land, with hardly enough rice (almost a luxury) to feed them. They escaped through China and a whole bunch of other countries…

All of us were mind-blown!

This young lady is a gifted illustrator who has mastered many mediums. She’s also an atheist, with a very mature and developed worldview. I love what her perspective does to the Christian and Muslim young people in the room. It creates something truly healthy. She and her peers are all learning to think critically about their own worldviews, and to treat those of others with respect.

Guidlines for Dialogue imageTheir dialogue is robust – very robust at times – yet respectful. At the heart of this robust respect are our Guidelines for Dialogue.

And after the disagreement (or agreement) there is still a shared humanity, a shared school, a shared neighbourhood that we must all live in and work for the good of…

There’s a South African term called Ubuntu, which is quite tricky to translate. But it speaks of the commonness or shared humanity that we all have; how my welfare is tied up with your welfare and cannot be detached. From my Christian worldview, I would call it recognising the ‘Image of God’ that we all share… the common dignity and value that every human has because God made them. That dignity and value that is yours, which requires that I always treat you a certain way (with dignity and value!) even – especially – when I disagree with you.

I love watching our young people exhibit Ubuntu, and treat each other as “image bearers” (they wouldn’t all use that term, or accept the God premise) … I love watching them learn to speak confidently and positively about their own faith and worldview – rather than speaking negatively about that of another. It’s far too easy for us to only spot what is “wrong” with other faiths and cultures, and only see what is “right” in our own; and at the same time to be blind to the “good” in other faiths and cultures, whilst being blind to the “bad” in our own faith and culture.

One of the things I love about my job is that The Feast doesn’t try and pretend that all faiths and cultures are the same. We recognise that there are fundamental differences on very important things and that we need to grapple with those differences, work out how to live well together with those differences, without glossing over them. But at the same time, we have much in common, which we also want to celebrate and enjoy.

Almost all worldviews make some type of exclusive claim or truth claim about ultimate reality (as a Christian, my faith makes some exclusive claims about Jesus, for example, which I believe with all my heart). But having worldviews that make exclusive claims does not mean that we cannot work for and build inclusive communities. We can, and we must! I love doing just that every day with our young people.