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LEST WE FORGET: OF SAMARITANS, ELECTIONS AND MOVING ON

In a country like ours, our memories are wired to forget quickly. We are, in street speak, a “happening” country. As we speak, few of us remember what it was like to go through two and a half elections. There was a handshake and apologies. In spite of my cynicism towards the political class, I choose to think that there is hope for us. However, my hope is measured and placed beyond the political class. I say that because I remember the prolonged election period.  I was there when they said we should pray for this country. You may have been there too. I heard them say that the effectual and fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. So, we prayed in tongues of men and in tongues of angels. We fasted for days. We hoped and we remain hopeful. We prayed that there would be no violence or deaths. We prayed for a smooth transition and a just election process.

Some of us said they knew God had spoken so they spoke. I stopped in my tracks when I heard those words, not because God cannot speak to people but because that has been used to support selfish, manipulative and out rightly evil actions. The spoken words became a post on social media. A spark was ignited. There were valid questions, measured responses and misplaced opinions. God became a stone to be hurled at the other side. The scriptures became a poisonous arsenal, fired at the perceived enemy whenever it suited us. Tribe and party trumped over love. Love was trampled over in an attempt to be on the “right” side of things. Confusion ensued. Did we hear Him right? They asked. A defense was mounted for “our side” of things. Those who could not take it were marked as the enemies of purpose, progress and the very Power of God. The church, the body of God, lay on the streets, bruised, confused and naked.

We always read the story of the Good Samaritan under the assumption that we are the Good Samaritans. I have often assumed that if I came across a man who is wounded on the streets, I would be quick to attend to him. I would take him to hospital. I would pay the hospital bill, no matter what it would cost me. I assume that the years of being taught the scriptures have had an effect on my callous heart. That the coldness of my heart has been thawed by This Love I profess. The Scriptures say that a priest walked past the wounded man and he found himself an alternative route. In Hebrew, the term kōhēn (priest) refers to an official who was set apart in order to carry out certain duties related to worship. They were mediators between God and the people. Peter, refers to the believers in the New Testament, as a royal priesthood, a chosen people and a special people to God (1 Peter 2:9).

The priest and I share a name and a role. We also a share a response. As we speak, there are internally displaced persons in this country. Women were raped. Homes were plundered and burnt to ashes. Precious lives were lost. It is not news. It happened in 2007, 2013 and in 2017.  How many strangers have we left bleeding as we found ourselves an alternative route? How often have hidden behind our priestly garbs to avoid seeing the bruised man or woman, lying on the street? How often have we refused to see past our preferences, denomination, biases and tribal alliances?

Then, a Levite passed by and saw the man on the street (Luke 10:32). He saw him then went on with his journey. Look around you for a moment. What do you see? Do you see that terrified neighbour whose life will never be the same? Do you see yourself, posturing in prayer and denying your role in healing this land? Do you see the walls you have built to keep the “others” out? Do you see the powers and principalities at work?

A Samaritan passed by and he had mercy on the man. He took it upon himself to attend to him and nurse him back to health. Historically, Samaritans and Jews were like the proverbial oil and water. According to Jews, even their way of following God, was wrong. Jesus said that blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. Some of us danced on the graves of those who died tragically in one way or another during the election period. Life, we said, could only be valuable, if it was of our “kind”. The greatest lie in these shaky times is that we do not need one another. We are certain that we do not need the ones on other side (tribe, political party, denomination or religion). We are certain that those who are like “us” will meet our every need.  The trappings of our lives deceive us further into thinking we are self-sufficient. Our certainty has stripped our curiosity. We do not want to wander beyond the imaginary lines we must toe lest we find human beings, made in His image and likeness.

We prayed for this country and its well-being but we forgot that a country is only as good as its people. A person is only as good as his heart.  We lifted our hands in reverence of His Power but we shielded our hearts from His power. We repented for the sins of the nation and its fathers only to turn a blind eye to the logs in our own eyes. We raised our hands as the priests only to step back when God required a man who would welcome the stranger, nurse the wounded and love as He loves. We memorized the scriptures like the Levites then let grow stale in our hearts because it did not suit our political inclinations, our tribal alliances, our biases and preferences. Jesus, we said, can have everything, except that which we value most. We are here, a year after a turbulent time. Did the turbulence shake what’s unnecessary out of us or did it barely move us?

The election season revealed to me I am not a Good Samaritan. I do not know how to love past the lines. I am not a good listener particularly when my opinions are being challenged. My vision is blurry because of the layers upon layers of opinion-dressed-as-truth that have formed cataracts in my eyes. More than ever, I am cognizant of how counter cultural the invite to be a Christian (“mini Christ”) is less about belonging to a church or clique and more about being a beacon towards the Light. If the words of this Gospel are to come alive, then the Levite and the priest (after the old order) must die and make room for a holy priesthood (in the new order of priest). This kind of priesthood is not about piety and rites.

It is about deep seated transformation of the heart followed by love that challenges every fiber of my being by its kindness, faithfulness and authenticity. The stranger and the outcast find space in it just as the lady with a sassy mouth and lad with a tattooed body. This love does not respect lines because it is aligned by He who Loved the World that he gave His Son for it. This Love makes a way because He who first Loved us is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

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VIEW FROM THE PEW

The god we want performs miracles on demand, sends some via Uber and gives a receipt for e-payments in form of bribes labelled as offerings. The god we want operates under karma. The god of the cross is gracious and just, merciful and loving, slow to anger and abounding in compassion. Give us the god we want, we pray as we sit at the feet of men who mirror the gods of our hearts. Give us the god we want, we pray.

I am seated in line, yawning and planning the ultimate show down between the attendant and I. I have been seated here for the past two hours. My fellow bench warmers are gnashing their teeth. We are not allowed to use our phones in this waiting room. The screens that are supposed to display the person who is next in line are not working. One gentleman disappears from his booth. The other three are staring at their computers. From the blank expressions on their faces, I am convinced that they are playing Candy Crush or some other mind numbing game. The queue has been growing longer while the pace at which we are being served has been on a sharp decline.

It is a working day. I told my workmates I would back in a few. It seems I am growing roots here. Add a little bit of water, the lack of a digital distraction, the pent up anger from being cut in traffic and you have the perfect cock tail for a World War III. Okay, that’s a bit far-fetched but you get the drift. Being patient is not on my list of things to do before the day ends. We chit-chat with my fellow bench warmers. One lady with gaudy make up has been here before. She knows the drill so she fills us in on how it works. There is a bespectacled gentleman on my right who is equally agitated. We agree that the cost cutting measures that have been employed by this service provider are too drastic.

We are busy trying to calm our wrecked nerves when I catch a glimpse of him and his team from the corner of my eye. He stands out from the crowd because of his ragged beard. His team, composed of men in dark suits, hovers impatiently  while waiting for him to be served. They barely speak to one another but when the leader speaks, the atmosphere changes. There is an air of tension, characterized by a dance between reverence and fear. They do not look at him in the eye. They refer to him as “My Lord”, much to the surprise of most of the people in the room. The team is composed of middle aged men but in his presence, they cower and bow. They speak only when they are spoken to.

One of the local dailies recently ran a story about a flashy prophet who is coming to town. Questions have been raised about how he acquired his wealth but he continues to command crowds. Platforms are easily available. We have a spiritual leader on almost every street of town and every web based platform. It is impossible to go out in search of a church on Sunday morning and go home without finding one. For every  two, ten or even one hundred spiritual leaders, there is a counterfeit leader who is faking it till he or she makes it as they like to say.

The story of golden calf begins with an absent priest and gnawing need for a god that could be felt. Moses was up in the mountain. The congregation was at the bottom of it. Moses spoke to God as a man spoke to his friend. The congregation had caught glimpses of him: in the parting of the red sea, in the triumph over the Egyptian army and in the daily portion of manna. They wanted more tangible proof. Don’t we all want a sign? Haven’t we all been at the bottom of the mountain, deprived of the high of Sunday morning music?

As I watch the interactions in the waiting hall between the spiritual leader and his team, the gap between the God who washed feet and the God we want becomes visible. Voltaire once said that God made man in his image then man decided to return the favour. The God who washed feet tarried in his miracles. He ran  late even  as his friend Lazarus lay on his deathbed. He should have built an empire but he did not have  a palace or a home of his own. He refused to perform miracles on demand so that he would live out the heart and will of His Father.

The god we want performs miracles on demand, sends some via Uber and gives a receipt for e-payments in form of bribes labelled as offerings. The god we want operates under karma. The god of the cross is gracious and just, merciful and loving, slow to anger and abounding in compassion. Give us the god we want, we pray as we sit at the feet of men who mirror the gods of our hearts. Give us the god we want, we pray.

Aaron eventually fashioned the golden calf and the congregation danced in jubilation. Unlike the God of Moses, the calf was present and perfect. He could be sought with gifts and pleased with ease. He did not care about the intent of the heart if the price was just right. Our world demands merit. We work in order to get paid. We plant in order to get a harvest. Anyone who wants a job must seek one diligently. The kingdom of God intrudes into our systems. Grace is given freely without merit. Those who are first shall be last. The least among us shall be the greatest. The way up is the way down in the kingdom.

The calf conforms to our meritocratic systems. We ascribe godliness to spiritual leaders who are simply emperors in the making. We mistake authoritarianism for Christ like leadership. We substitute the call to carry our own crosses daily to Him whose yoke is easy with the yokes placed upon us by self-seeking leaders who seek not the one who laid down his life. We want the Messiah to come with a chariot, a chopper and an entourage instead of the lowly king who forsook equality with God for the sake of his flock. We mistake slavitude with servitude.

Our pastors and spiritual leaders could use less flattery and more honesty.  We need to place fewer expectations on them and depend on the Good Shepherd. We need fewer personalities on the pulpit and more shepherds on the pulpit. We need men and women in the pursuit of the Kingdom on the pews and on the pulpit. We need intentional communities where every believer matters, where the least are seen and heard. We need to lay down our lives for Him who gives Life in abundance and not for the sake of another symbol of our “arrival”. The kingdom of God is a subtle invasion: yeast making the bread rise, a seed gradually growing, a hidden treasure, a king on a cross. May it overthrow the gods of my heart and yours.

TURN RIGHT, THEN LEFT

Turn right, then left

Head towards the door at the end

Open it with caution

Walk in confidently

Success awaits you

Abundance shall greet you

I was twenty one when they said that

Life is what I made it

I turned right then left

The first door was a dead end job

With a stifling tie

A measly paycheck

A pile of debt

That was higher than the mountains I wanted to scale.

I turned left then right

Left my dead end job

For a start up in the valley

A hoodie and a pair of sneakers

That kept me up till six in the morning

Crappy coffee in the teeny-weeny space

We called an office

Dreams bigger than Google

Ideas that would change the world

Overthrow government

Put cash in our nimble hands

I was twenty five when the start up crashed.

Competition, cash crunches

Angel investors did not want it

My business partners bolted

Failure is good, they said.

Turn right, then left, they said

As I popped pills to postpone my demise

Work smarter, not harder

Learn from it and grow

Darkness rising

Rising faster than the start up

Accelerating my steps towards the abyss

Begging for my undivided attention

Turn right then left

I was twenty seven when I went home one day

Tired, afraid and alone

I turned left then right

And never woke up again.

 

 

 

Words have meaning

In modern day speak, I am twenty with a decade of experience. I am not old, I am ageing gracefully. In my imaginary life, I have tons of advice for you on everything: relationships, money, career and family. I am an expert at living because I have lived twice. I have been a child, spoken as a child and thought like a child. My attempts at being an adult have been like a doodle by a child. They have form but it is not distinct. There is a sense of direction but it is hard to pick where it is going. An artist would look at it and marvel. A critic would shred it to pieces at the first glance. Getting older in a world that idolizes being young is hard. It is harder when you recognize that you do not fit into the  mould that has been cast. I am awfully aware of the ways in which my skin is changing. My body is defying yester year’s abuse and constantly asking me to do a better job of taking care of it. The tension between loving this body as it is and the body that I want remains a constant. I live in the gap that has been created by it. It is exacerbated by the fear of what lies in the ruins from the past washing up on the pristine beach I have spread out in front of me.

I know the terror that comes with wondering what happened to your life. You wake up wondering whether this is the best you can do in spite the fact you can only do the best that you know how to do. You spend hours scrolling through acres of happy photos. You smile at the photos, forgetting that they capture a moment, not a lifetime. Nobody knows the life defining contexts from which those moments emerge except for the smiling faces in the photos. I have had a lot to be grateful for and excited about in the last decade. A husband who prays me up, pushes me off the cliff when I am getting comfortable and supports me. A daughter who lights up my days with her antics. A mother who loves me. Siblings who care for me. A small circle of fantastic friends.  My cups overflows but why do I find myself running on empty?

Research is increasingly showing that we are an anxious and depressed generation. We are living longer but anxiety and depression are silently stifling our lives. They lurk in the shadows with every disappointment at work, failed attempt to be a start-uper, complicated relationships and family ships. Amidst all that, there is a pressure to make it and look good while at it so the brand building and chasing continues because the next high depends it. Then, it all comes tumbling like a stack of cards. The wind swiftly scatters it as it would scatter trash. But we must fail fast and fail forward even if it kills us. Where is meaning in all of this? What’s the point? Is it enough to work, live, laugh, let go and let God?

Words have held a sacred space in my life. When my father died and my six year old mind could not understand why he was not coming back, I had books to remind me of the smell of hair tonic of his neat Afro. When I could not understand why my neighbourhood looked like a scene from a cops and robbers movie, I had Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood to comfort me. I read through my grief, my failures, my successes, confusion and chaos. I did not find the answers in the books but there was a strange comfort in knowing that the world was not as bad as it was or as it is. For those fleeting moments spent reading whatever I could find, I saw past the stained windows and empty rooms. I saw the fullness of what I had and the beauty of what I could become.

 I am here rummaging through the drawers of this chest I call my life. Some drawers are best left untouched. They are dusty and rusty. The keys are somewhere at the bottom of the ocean, never to be retrieved again. Some drawers are opened with tender loving care only to be shut with a bang because the rot that lies therein makes the whole room stink. Others will remain open because they carry treasure I am only too glad to share and shine in the spotlight. Such is the shallowness that this life has bequeathed me. I am running but I have somehow convinced myself that there is nothing to run away from. I am hiding but I hold the illusion of being as transparent as a ray of light.  Where is meaning when you are looking for it?

I was barely out of my teenaged years when I learnt that my purpose was intricately linked to my love for words. My pastor and mentor at that time had barely figured out a way around his hormone charged temper outbursts. I believed him when he said I had a purpose beyond what the Joint Admissions Board (JAB) had decided I should study. I had to believe him because I was struggling to be in my anatomy classes but I aced them anyway because what I could not stand in the morgue made sense once I came across it in a book. Words, as I figured out, gave meaning, to what was meaningless. If I could read it, then I could get through with it. Fast forward to five years later, it turned out my pastor was an emotionally abusive manipulator who was somehow convinced that he could not sin or fail. What followed was heartache, confusion, chaos and a search for meaning. It’s been a decade of deconstructing what I thought I believed. It’s been a decade of unmasking the layers. Beneath the good and bad in this past decade lies a persistent, insatiable ache: What is the meaning of life?

I am reading as always as I grapple with ageing. I am reading writers who don’t have the answers yet. Seekers, hoping to shed a light towards somewhere more holy. Sojourners in this land we anxiously inhabit. A common thread emerged this week among the writers I came across. Words have meaning. I did not think much about it but as it sunk, it occurred to me that the Truth in that is like a breath of fresh air in the morning. The Word was made flesh. The Word is Alive. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God. On the first day, God birthed a new world through His Word. The Word stood at the dawn of history and it will witness the dusk of history. Is it possible that I have lost sight of meaning because I have lost sight of words? Is it possible that I have lost sight of the mystery, the awe, the tenderness and the raging fierceness of the Word?

Honestly, I do not know. My favourite words are evolving. The testament of the Word is continuously eroded by attempts to domesticate into a formulae for a perfect life. The Word is alive but life sucks and I know that far too intimately. So, I am seeking, poring over the ancient word, wrestling with what I find uncomfortable, embracing the mystery of what does not fit my left or right brained thinking. I am listening to the Word made alive where it is made alive: in the spaces that are considered uncouth, in the mundane acts of living every day, in the quiet uneasiness of my own anxiety and the loudness of my uncomfortable relationship with my body, on days I would rather miss work. Because words, as I have learnt, have meaning.

Fruitful, not successful

I am staring at the computer aimlessly. My attempts to get my brain to decide what needs to be first on the agenda failed before they took off. Today, I am simply uninterested in my work. If it was possible, I would have taken a day off and gone to Ngong Hills. I would have filled in my off duty form. In the space that requires me to indicate my reasons for being away from work, I would have written “Uninterested.” This week has been hard. Two rejection letters came in quick succession. I have a third application in the pipeline. Those who see the sunny side would tell me not to give up. I do not want to give up. I am uninterested for now. I am staring at my computer in the hopes that it will stir something in me. These screens keep lying to us. In spite of all the research about how we are turning into zombies and information junkies, the digital screens hover over us like ghosts. There are mounted on roads, complete with products we want to buy but we do not necessarily need. There are in the supermarket, displayed at the eye level for maximum effect. Thoughts about how the queue seems to be stagnant are interrupted with adverts about the miracle skin cure for all skin problems. I roll my eyes in disbelief every time I see such adverts. As someone who has a problem with a skin for the better part of her life, I know there is no magic in a bottle or a brand.

Today, I read an article about the ten important career lessons we never learn until it is too late. Lesson no. 1 was about keeping a job that does not make you happy but lesson no. 6 said that there is more to success and happiness than the hours we put in it at work. This advice gets more confusing with time. Someone needs to do a study on the downside of advice given in bullets and PowerPoint slides but I digress. Minutes later, I realize I do not have all day and embark on one of the many tasks that need to be done by the end of the day.  It does not make me happy or sad but putting one foot in front of another moves the meter. I move from “Uninterested” to “Somewhat interested” then to “Interested” as the day progresses. My wanderlust still thirsts for the feel of the cold earth in the heart of windy hills.

Lately, I have been thinking of work as an act of fruitfulness. In the book of John, Jesus tells the disciples that if they remain in him and he remains in them, they will bear much fruit. There is a difference between fruitfulness and being successful. Being fruitful is not tied to what you feel about your job. It is intricately linked to the fact that God calls us to be co-workers with him. Whether we work in the field turning hay or in a crammed office or an airy corner office, the goal is to live out God’s heart in that place. The impact may not be felt or noticed. The rewards may not be commiserate to the effort but He who began the good work in us, sees it and recognizes it. Fruitfulness is not limited to growing your wallet, it grows your character. The world does not have a shortage of successful men and women. It awaits and longs for fruitful men and women who bear His image. Being successful focuses on the end goal. Being fruitful consider the process just as important as the end goal.

How shall we pray?

 

The ground shifting uneasily

The weight it carries too heavy

News that breaks the heart

Shatters the soul

Kills what’s left life

A life sniffed out too soon

A bad habit

Creepily and eerily intertwining itself

As a tare among the wheat.

The end of the road

Termination letters

Divorce papers

Diagnoses so severe

That they cannot be named

Lest they rise like the legion

Seize and shake up the world

How do we pray, dear Lord?

 

The fool says that there is no God in his

But the wise know where words fail

Where chaos convene

Whirlwinds growing in fierceness and fury

Was it the fury of what life became

That stole the prayer out of our hearts?

Did the patter of the army outside

Carry our praise

Was it praise unto you  in the first place

Or perhaps, praise for a deity

We thought we knew

How shall we pray, dear Lord?

 

For we do not know how to pray

So pray for us and in us

When the adversity sweeps the memory of your goodness

When your hand seems distant

And your heart seems cold

Give us the words too deep that we cannot understand

When our understanding fails

Teach us how to pray, dear Lord.

BECOMING MY MOTHER

“Do not eat that.”

“You will fall off that seat.”

“Wait. Stop. Slow down. “

On a typical day, I spend time trying to keep my daughter from harm. I should probably say perceived harm because in my daughter’s world, there are no harmful things. The peels from the carrots look like disease causing agents to me. In my daughter’s eyes, they are a delight. They taste better than the carrots that I have been trying to forcefully feed her for months. The phone tastes better milk. She has tried to get into the oven at some point. Taking my eyes off her for a second can be disastrous. It is near impossible to have my eyes on her at all times so she has bumped her head a couple of times and slammed the door over her fragile fingers.

In my daughter’s world, the warnings sound like a voice from another world. They get drowned by the goo-gaa-gaa sounds she makes as hastily walks towards the next phase of trouble making. I get frustrated and impatient. I wonder why she does not understand that she might hurt herself. I know the older mothers will remind me to savour the moments but there is nothing savoury about a toddler who is always looking for an opportunity to tease at danger in the face. Add that to the tiredness that comes after a long day and the constant worry that comes with being a mother, you have the perfect recipe for an endless chase.

I think about the number of times my own mother keeps reminding me of what to do. I am a grown up with a household to run but my mother has not stopped mothering me. She calls often to check up on me, worries if I have lost too much weight, the amount of food in my plate and crime reports in the city center. I get offended by her remarks at times. It’s only a matter of time before my daughter starts wondering whether we are really related considering I am way off the “litness” meter. I am choosing to postpone my worries about that phase for now. The recognition that I am becoming my mother or that I am my  mother concerns me more. In this era of wokeness and enlightenment, questions abound about how my daughter will turn out in light of this realization:

Will I damage her capacity to take risks by constantly looking out for her?

Will I recognize her need for a “push” off the cliff?

Am I framing my warnings in a manner that cautions her instead of scaring her?

An article on parenting that I came across on Thriveglobal.com confirms my fears. According to its author, today’s parents do not let their children experience risks. She cites findings from a study in Europe which says that children who do not take risks as children develop phobias as adults. My doubts and fears are compounded by the fact that every week, there is parenting blog on my timeline, generously sharing tips on how to do this and that. From the advice I have come across so far, there is a better way to communicate with your child, a foolproof method for raising grounded children and a perfect method for preparing your children for success.

I have had several communication breakdowns with my daughter in spite of trying out the tried and tested methods. I do not know what it means to be grounded so I am still figuring out how to make my daughter become something I may have failed to become (wish me luck with that one). Success is the least of our concerns for now. I just need to keep my daughter away from electricity, fire, water, wires and any other thing she considers a potential toy. In essence, my experiment in parenting is failing in many ways if it was measured against the plethora of advice that is out here. The only thing I am certain about is that I am my mother. My mother is not the world’s best mother because I did not have the benefit of having been mothered by any other mother.

My mother is simply my mother. She is witty, generous to a fault, cautious, humorous, cares deeply, loud and amicable. My mother is also deeply flawed just I am. We are not supposed to say that out loud in my culture or even think it but it needs to be said. What scares me about becoming my mother is that I have somehow bought the illusion that there is a better version of me out there. In my delusion, I have believed that if I apply this technique, read this book, take these steps, then I will emerge first in a race that no one is keeping tabs on. I am not dismissing the wise and wonderful words of wisdom out here on parenting. I am careful not to believe that the ultimate goal in parenting is getting it right.

I am learning to focus on an identity that is not pegged on the wonderful reviews I get as a parent but on an identity that is more lasting and true. God calls me His own, clothes me with His righteousness and considers me good on account of His good and complete work in me. His faithfulness as a father is not measured against the milestones I make. It’s offered freely for the rest of eternity. I cannot be the perfect parent to my daughter. At best, I am my mother. That does not make me a failure or success. It makes me human, fully accepted and loved by God.