Posted in Faith, Features

Searching for Jesus, finding Krishna

It is Wednesday evening, at around 6:30 pm, and I am sitting on a small mat, my legs crossed into a tight knot. The large doors, the high ceiling and the artwork on the walls evoke a sacred, reverent feeling in me. I am caressing a set of beads between my fingers as I chant and sing just low enough not to disturb the woman seated next to me. She is also singing.

My story today begins where it will end: Inside the Hare Krishna Temple at Ngara, Nairobi.

My name is Jayne Adhiambo Opondo. I am 22, and I am a follower of Krishna. I know “Opondo” and “Krishna” in the same sentence sounds strange, because there is this strong stereotype that some religions belong to certain people.

In the same way people assume every Arab or Somali is a Muslim, the name Adhiambo Opondo is likely to have Christian, rather than Krishna, associations. So how did I end up here? Perhaps the best picture to illustrate the beginning of my journey is that of a box.

Read the full story here.

Posted in Features, The 4th Dimension

Forced to go through circumcision at childbirth

“Don’t leave me! I’m begging you, please don’t leave!” The young woman screamed amidst gasps for air as the waves of pain around her womb grew worse and drifted closer to one another.

Florence Sinet, 24, had gone into labour a few hours earlier while at her house in Loodokilani, Kajiado. When her waters broke, she asked her husband to take her to hospital, but her husband, in his late 50s, insisted that she deliver the child at home, the traditional way.

He called the local traditional midwife who arrived within minutes and started attending to Sinet. The midwife examined the labouring woman and immediately realised that this was going to be a difficult birth. The baby had not descended properly and needed to be turned before it could be delivered.

Good thing that the sexagenarian already had dozens of home births under her belt, a good number of which had similar, if not worse, complications. She had only lost a few babies and even fewer mothers. However, when she examined Sinet, she suddenly rose to her feet and stumbled backwards, a horrified look on her face. She then turned and ran out of the room.

 

Read the full story here.

Posted in Mental Health

When suicide is a way of life

At around this time last year, I attempted suicide. I was facing too much pressure at work, my anxiety attacks had kicked up a notch,  nothing was making sense in this life and I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Objectively speaking, it probably wasn’t all that much pressure. But there is nothing objective about anxiety — especially for someone already on medication and therapy for clinical depression. What matters in the moment is the feeling that the weight of the world is bearing down on you and you can do nothing to stop it from crushing you.

So I attempted suicide.

No, I didn’t take any pills, or rat poison. Neither did I tie a noose on a rope that could bear my weight. It never even occurred to me to jump off a building or onto a busy highway. My suicide was less typical than the episodes that make headlines online.

I quit my job.

Suicide is not a moment

With no plan B, no savings to fall back on, no side-gig to bring on the occasional bacon. When I tendered my resignation, the only thought on my mind was not “how will I make a living?” but “I have to leave this place or I will die.” To me, leaving the workplace was a matter of life and death.

So why do I characterize as suicide, my decision to torpedo my career? Because for all practical purposes, it was. In fact, I believe that by the time people carry out the physical act of ending their life, they have committed a thousand suicides leading up to that moment. Suicide is not a moment, or even the last moment in the life of people dealing with mental health challenges, it is usually a way of life.

Today, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day and I figured I should bring to our awareness a type of suicide that many of us dealing with and campaigning about mental health rarely think about.

According to WHO, nearly 3000 people on average commit suicide daily. For every person who completes a suicide, 20 or more may attempt to end their lives. About one million people die by suicide each year. But these numbers are only a shadow of the real tragedy.

Invisible suicides

What I did when I left my job may easily be considered “career suicide”. This is especially if it was done in a way that would make sure you never get a reference for future jobs. You see, many people who leave their jobs due to mental health issues rarely leave it on good terms. They are often not sober enough to give notice, let alone serve it.

Many departures are explosive, with the leaver sometimes creating a ruckus on their way out. They may shout about the toxic work environment and, for those dealing with ( for instance) bipolar disorder, some may even be physically violent and hurl insults at bosses and colleagues on their way out. Their future work prospects therefore largely depend on how much awareness they and the people around them had about mental health issues.

But there are also the other invisible, more subtle suicides. For instance, there is the communication suicide. Many people dealing with depression often stop picking calls and replying to text messages. They ignore and shun all attempts by others to be there for them. They just want to be left alone.

Ironically, when people give up on them and stop calling or texting, they end up worse. Some may see and dismiss this behavior as attention seeking, but it is often more complicated and deeper than that.

Relational suicide

There is also the general relational suicide. People dealing with depression start cancelling appointments and stop showing up for social events. They prefer staying by themselves, locking themselves in the house and shunning all social interactions. In doing this, they deprive themselves of the human contact that is critical to the psychological health of all human beings.

Relational suicide also manifests itself in broken friendships and divorce, severed family ties and social club no-shows. All these are suicides. What makes us human is not just the fact that we have a beating heart or air flowing through our lungs; animals have that; what makes us human is the meaning we find in relationships, in being part of a community, doing and making sense of life in relation to others.

So, as we reflect on the statistics of physical suicides on this day of awareness, I hope that we will also make an equally concerted (if not more so) effort to be aware of the suicides that lead to the final one.

More than a metaphor

I also hope that we will not make the mistake of dismissing things like “career suicide” or “relational suicides” as mere figures of speech. We should not make the mistake of thinking that the physical taking of one’s life is the real tragedy while the other suicides above are mere metaphors.

Everything that makes life worth living can easily be reduced down to a metaphor: God, religion, purpose, vision, meaning… all these can easily be dismissed as mere metaphors. But these are the very things that make flesh and blood worth more than that of animals.

People end their lives because they have already ended all other aspects of life that make physical life worth living. We cannot simply focus on the edge of the cliff and ignore the road the led us up to that cliff. We cannot just secure the window ledge, fence the bridge, or keep ropes out of reach, and think we have solved the problem.

For many of us dealing with mental health challenges, suicide is a way of life as much as it is a way out life.

 

Posted in Commentary, culture, Faith, Religion

Celebrating the Bigger Picture in Benny Hinn’s Shift on Prosperity Gospel

When I first came across a YouTube clip circulating on social media that Benny Hinn had renounced the prosperity gospel and that he will no longer “ask people for money”, I was reluctant to celebrate.

First, being the skeptic that I am, I thought the clip was had been edited to fit a certain narrative, so I wanted to watch the entire message before forming an opinion. So I looked for the original message. I found it tucked inside a 3-hour long Facebook Live video on Benny Hinn’s page. I even posted the full, unedited transcript on this blog.

The more I listened to his original words, the more I felt my reservations fade.

More questions than answers

However, many questions quickly followed this initial excitement. Does this mean that Benny Hinn is on the path to affirming and preaching the true gospel? What about Benny Hinn’s views on other teachings of the Bible?

Wait, it sounds like he renounced the prosperity gospel, but did he say what the true gospel is? Was he always preaching the true gospel and then adding the prosperity stuff on top or is he now changing his entire understanding of what the gospel is?

Come to think of it, Benny Hinn doesn’t use the phrase “Prosperity Gospel” anywhere in his message. He uses the word “prosperity” a lot, and rebukes those who try to peddle the gospel as a means to prosperity. Is this the same thing we mean when we speak about the prosperity gospel? Are we putting words in Benny Hinn’s mouth?

As far as I know, prosperity gospel is the teaching that Jesus died to make us healthy, wealthy and happy. But the true gospel is about Jesus dying to save us from our sins and restore our broken fellowship with God. Did Benny Hinn make this distinction? Is he even aware of the nuance? What exactly is the gospel according to Benny Hinn?

These are just a few questions that led me back to my previous reluctance to celebrate what many have lauded as a significant shift in Benny Hinn’s theology.

But I am a communications specialist, and I like to think I understand the power of context and environment in determining the effect someone’s words have on another. It is why echo-chambers continue to thrive on the internet and why confirmation bias tends to rule our convictions.

When you’ve already decided that a person is against you and doesn’t want you to succeed in life, you develop filters for whatever positive thing they say. You never associate with them or give them a willing audience, and when you are forced to listen to them, you always expect them to speak against you and you grow suspicious when they say anything positive about you.

This is why, no matter how good your arguments and how compelling your evidence, you will never convince a Jubilee party die-hard to vote for the opposition party.

Bigger picture

This brings me to the point I refer to as the “bigger picture” in Benny Hinn’s latest words. I am celebrating Benny Hinn’s words, not because it says anything about the overall change in his theology (or even a change in the trajectory of his theology), I am celebrating his words because of the people who got to hear them and, for the first time, consider the truth of those words and possibly believe them.

The “bigger picture” is not the man who claimed to renounce the prosperity gospel, the bigger picture is the masses who heard, listened, and believed him.

There are those who have faithfully followed Benny Hinn Ministries who will struggle with this question. Probably for the first time in their life, they will feel the instinct to disagree with their teacher and like the Bereans, they will go back to their Bibles to confirm the truth of these new and strange claims.

Some of these people will share the clip with their friends in the same prosperity and Word of Faith circles. Hopefully, the anouncement will be subject of discussion in Bible Study groups and Whatsapp groups and after-church conversations in those circles.

“Did you hear what Benny Hinn said? What do you think it means? Do you agree? What do we do with this new shift?”

Listening again, for the first time

And in the process, many will Google their questions and they will encounter other people speaking about the same topic. Probably for the first time in their lives, they will dare to examine the words of those “enemies of the church” who have always spoken ill of their pastor and movements.

They will wonder how what these people knew that their pastor did not; what they said that caused their pastor to change his mind and announce it so publicly and so brazenly. Then they will listen to these enemies again, for the first time.

The more I consider all these possibilities, the more I realize that Benny Hinn’s public renouncing of “prosperity” is not about Benny Hinn. It is not about expecting Benny Hinn to go out and sell all he has and give to the poor. It is not about expecting Benny Hinn to now change his circle of friends and denomination and join the “true-gospel” movement.

It is not even about whether Benny Hinn should now apologize and make amends for all the people he ostracized for calling him out when he preached the prosperity gospel; or whether he should now begin a ministry of calling out those he once walked alongside.

For all we know, this may be the last time we hear about it. He will probably do an interview or two about it and then quickly fade back into the movement that he has led and been a part of for decades.

For all we know, he was probably using even this supposed recanting as another opportunity to make himself look good and honorable before human beings. Only God knows what is in Benny Hinn’s heart — It is possible to confess that you used to be a people-pleaser and still do it as another act of people-pleasing.

Of course I want and pray that Benny Hinn will fully embrace and preach and live out the true Gospel. As far as I know, what he has said is worth celebrating. But it is simply to early and we know too little to tell whether this is indeed what it happening. We celebrate the teaser, even as we await the rest of the story.

Yet despite this, I see a bigger and a more immediate cause for celebration. In just 5 minutes Benny Hinn has planted a seed of (or at least a curiosity for) the true gospel in millions of hearts that may never have considered listening to someone who wasn’t Benny Hinn.

Whatever we think of Benny Hinn in this season and afterwards, we cannot deny the fact that God has, in this moment, used him as His instrument. And this is definitely worth celebrating.

For the fame of His name.

Posted in Faith, Religion

FULL TRANSCRIPT: Benny Hinn Rejects the Prosperity Gospel

“I am sorry to say that prosperity has gone a little crazy. And I am correcting my own theology, and you need to all know it. Because when I read the Bible now, I don’t see the Bible in the same eyes I saw the Bible 20 years ago.

Steve Strang from Charisma, whom we go back years, actually he was in my wedding, people don’t even know that Charisma magazine began with my father-in-law. Charisma magazine started with Roy Harthern, and I married his daughter.

So Steve Strang was in my wedding. We go way back. And he’s already asked me “Are you ready to make it public?” and I said “Well, not totally, because I don’t want to hurt my friends, whom I love, who believe things I don’t believe anymore.”

And I will tell you now something that is gonna shock you.

I think it is an offense to the Lord to say ‘give a thousand dollars’. I think it is an offense to the Holy Spirit to place a price on the gospel. I am done with it. I will never again ask you to give a thousand or whatever amount because I think the Holy Ghost is just fed up with it.

Did you hear me? I think that hurts the gospel. So I am making this statement for the first time in my life, and frankly I don’t care what people think about me anymore.

So I had a guy.. well I’ll tell you who, it was Dan Willis and I love Dan with all my heart. I said to him ‘don’t you dare preach that message again.. I don’t wanna hear it, I don’t even want to be a part of it’.

So when they invite me to telethons I think they will not like me anymore. Because when you look at the word of God, I don’t wanna get into it now. Am I shocking you? Good, let’s have a high five on this one.

If I hear one more time ‘break the back of death with a thousand dollars’ I’m gonna rebuke them. I think that’s buying the gospel, that’s buying the blessing. That’s grieving the Holy Spirit. That’s about all I will say.

If you are not giving because you love the Lord Jesus, don’t bother giving. I think giving has become such a gimmick it’s making me to my stomach.

And I’ve been sick for awhile too, I just couldn’t say it. But now the lid is off. I’ve had it. You know why? I don’t wanna get to heaven and be rebuked. I think it’s time we said it like it is: The gospel is not for sale, and the blessings of God are not for sale, and miracles are not for sale, and prosperity is not for sale.

I still believe in prosperity but let’s look at what the Bible says. I’m not supposed to say it now but it looks like I’m saying it anyways. You have to read… And I just sent a letter to my people with what I really believe, so I’m kinda jumping ahead of myself, because I am really ticked, in a Holy Ghost way.

Anybody ever been upset in a Holy Ghost way? Maybe ticked is the wrong word, I don’t know why I even said it, there’s some guy years ago said ticked and I just stuck with it. But it’s like holy anger, it’s like, ‘ why do they have to do that?’

If it’s not about adoring, loving Jesus, have nothing to do with it. If it is about self and mullah.. You know what mullah is? Money. If it’s about how to get rich, it is not the gospel. It’s about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Why do we give? Because we adore Him, we love Him.  Why do we give? Because His gospel changed my life, and I want to see all the lives changed just like how my life was changed. Now, enough about that.

The message of prosperity is in the Bible, we cannot deny that if we give we’ll receive. We cannot deny God will bless us, that’s in the Bible. You can’t erase it, no way.

God wants to bless His people way more than you want to receive His blessing. But when you put a price on it, never. Because it gets corrupted. That’s all there is to it.”

Excerpted from Benny Hinn Ministries Facebook Live Video: Benny Hinn LIVE Monday Night Service – September 2, 2019 (Timestamp 1:21:00)

Posted in Commentary, Kenya

What the 2019 census reveals about Kenyans

The questions asked during the census exercise have been quite revealing — but not in a way many of us have thought of.

Depending on where you live, you probably found some questions odd or unnecessary. We even joked about it on social media. Someone wondered out loud on Twitter why the enumerator found the need to ask if he owned a TV and yet she could see it right in front of her.

Another city dweller found the question about owning cattle a little amusing. I personally remember pausing for a few seconds before responding to a question about owning a canoe (I don’t). I, too, joked about this on Twitter and Facebook.

Humor as a shield

For Kenyans living in the city, especially the middle class, many of the census questions felt out of touch. Yet instead of realizing that these questions ought to teach us something about the rest of Kenya, we chose to laugh and meme our way through the oddities.

We used humor to shield ourselves from the realities of the stark inequalities in a supposedly “united” Kenya. We do this a lot. Just check out the hashtag #KoT on Twitter. If we are not raging about a foreigner who has disrespected our country, we are making fun of the ridiculous levels of corruption within our own borders.

One man’s joke is another man’s lifeline

The census questions say a lot about the reality many Kenyans still live in, a reality that we cannot afford to joke our way out of confronting. The way a Nairobi resident felt about answering “no” to whether they owned a car is the same way someone in rural Kajiado felt about not owning a “cow”. Except that in Kajiado, the feeling was much worse and the implications of that reality much more devastating.

Owning a canoe in the fishing villages around Lake Victoria does not make one the butt of a joke. To some (who own it) it is a means of sustenance and a mark of great privilege,  while to others (who don’t) it is a mark of failure in life. One man’s joke is another man’s lifeline.

While you are wondering whether to classify your home theater system as a radio or part of your TV, someone in a slum not far from your apartment complex does not even own a portable radio. Another in a remote village in West Pokot doesn’t even see the need to because his area doesn’t receive a radio signal.

I spent a few days earlier this month in Mosiro Ward in Kajiado County where I came face to face with the reality of child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). To many of us in Nairobi, the term FGM is often relegated to hashtag activism and the horror story that occasionally shows up on our TV screens.

The girl child as property

Yet, to many girls as young as 10 years old in Mosiro, this is a reality they have to live with — a rite of passage that defines them and earns them a place in their society. FGM is not a matter of choice or opinion for many of these girls, it is as natural to their life experience as menstrual cramps — they know to expect it and they better be ready to endure it.

I hate to imagine how many fathers glanced at their pre-teen daughters when the census enumerators asked if they owned a cow. Because to many of these men, bringing a girl into this world is an economic investment that guarantees a bump in the number of cows you own. It is sad that there are still communities where the question of whether you have a child and whether you own cows sounds like one and the same question.

This is nothing to laugh or joke about. For each property-related question that you answered “yes” to, there are millions of Kenyans who answered “no” and still many others who were too ashamed to confess their lack. Yet this is why the census exists, to reveal the needs in our society so that the government can make informed decisions regarding resource distribution.

A call to confront the inequalities

Isn’t it ironic, then, that instead of getting angry about the basic things we own that our fellow countrymen can only dream  about, we find ourselves amused? Is our conscience this seared? The opposite ought to be the case.

The question about your level of education should provoke you to care about access to education (or the lack of it) for hundreds of thousands of Kenyan children.

The question about the number of children you have should provoke you to care about the infant mortality rate and what we can do to stop preventable deaths in the country.

The question about how you earn a living should provoke you to care about the rising rate of unemployment in Kenya and the tone-deaf advise college graduates get about becoming entrepreneurs instead of getting a job.

While you were wondering whether to classify as a “habitable room” your guest room and the SQ that you have converted into a study room, there is someone who was not even sure what to call the shack they live in.

As I write this, the Kenyan drought management authority says that more than 2.5 million Kenyans in at least 11 counties facing starvation as drought and hunger situation gets worse. This is not just a food-related census question to respond “yes” or “no” to, it is a matter of life and death.

This is what census 2019 reveals about Kenya — or at least it ought to. I hope that when the results are released in three months, we will use them to confront these issues, call our local government representatives to account, and do something to make our neighbor’s world, and not just our own, a better place.

Posted in Commentary, culture, The 4th Dimension

Why we should fundraise for weddings

A good friend of mine turned 30 the other day. So her fiance and friends decided to throw her a surprise party. Those who could chipped in to make the day a success. We also bought gifts to take to the party and did our best to keep the secret until the big day.

Nothing strange with this arrangement. Makes perfect sense. We also held a similar surprise party for another friend who was leaving the country to study abroad. People raised some money and organized the party. Totally normal affair.

So how come the topic of raising funds to celebrate the permanent union of two friends evokes so much emotion and debate today? Why has it become anathema for a couple to raise funds for their wedding?

The wedding fundraiser controversy

For the longest time, I’ve been on the never-raise-funds-for-wedding camp.  I was easily among the people who, in principle, thought that it is inappropriate to ask people to give you money to have a lavish wedding. People should learn to live within their means, especially now that they were getting into marriage. Furthermore, a wedding, unlike a funeral, is not an emergency, right?

The logic seemed pretty clear… until it wasn’t any more. I realized that the reason we find it so controversial that people raise money for their weddings is not because something is wrong with the couple, but because something is wrong with our understanding of what a community is.

“The reason we find it so controversial that people raise money for their weddings is not because something is wrong with the couple, but because something is wrong with our understanding of what a community is.”

I used to silently agree with those who spoke against raising funds for a wedding. We believed that those who did so to have an extravagant wedding were “idolizing the wedding”. This aversion to such actions was further confirmed by people who would borrow loans to fund a wedding.

“A wedding is about the couple, it is their marriage after all,” we would argue. “The people you are killing yourself to impress with your big wedding will not be there when your marriage is in a storm”

We would applaud and admire the couple that went super scrappy on their wedding day and never borrowed a dime. Even more noble was the couple that resisted the peer pressure and the force of society and walked into the AG’s (Attorney General’s) office to get it over and done with.

However, even though I saw the logic of that line of thinking, I secretly and silently worried that I would not be able to fund the kind of wedding my fiance and I desired — nothing fancy, but even a normal wedding was a costly affair. I was reluctant to ask people to help me fund my wedding (though standing on this side of the wedding, it hits me that I was only able to have the wedding I did by the grace of God and the generosity of others).

A radically different view

Today, I hold a radically different (and hopefully obvious) view, though not entirely so. Nowadays I believe that the scrappy wedding is the anomaly. The AG-visit-no-wedding is the aberration. And this is where the analogy of the birthday party comes in to help.

Although I now fully support fundraising for a wedding, I disagree with the insistence that the couple should be the one to take out loans or ask people to give them money for a wedding. It is sad that we have pushed marrying couples into this corner. Like the birthday party, a wedding ceremony should be the initiative and responsibility of the family and friends of the couple.

I disagree with the insistence that the couple should be the one to take out loans or ask people to give them money for a wedding. It is sad that we have pushed marrying couples into this corner. Like the birthday party, funding a wedding ceremony should be the initiative and responsibility of the family and friends of the couple.

If a wedding is indeed about the parents and the community, as we like to say, then the parents and the community should come together to make it a reality for the couple. The couple should only be consulted on their preferences for the wedding, and even these are not hard conditions as the family and community should tell them what they can or cannot afford.

So how come we seldom think of weddings the same way we think of birthdays and work anniversaries and other parties that we throw for our family members and friends? I can think of two reasons:

1. We live in an overly individualistic age

Even though we understand weddings to be merely ceremonial, we still think of them as the couple’s affair. This is partly an overreaction from the now outmoded practice of arranged marriages. In the past, when parents would choose marriage partners for their children, the parents were also responsible for the wedding.

The young man and woman never spent a dime. Weddings were community affairs. The two families invited and worked together with relatives and friends to celebrate (and fund the celebration) of the union between the two families. Today, we want the superficial image of a community (the wedding guests) without the responsibilities of the community (owning the wedding).

This is not entirely the fault of the community. It is also the fault of the couple planning to get married. We have become islands. People don’t even know we are about to get married, or if they do, we make the wedding a personal affair and bride/groom-zilla our way through every detail.

Marriage is no longer seen as a rite of passage worth celebrating, but a business contract between two people with zero accountability/submission to the larger community. You might as well fund it yourself.

2. The commercialization of weddings

Since we believe that our marriage is no one else’s business, we end up making our weddings a spectacle, tweaked to impress and gain social capital. We may not want people to contribute towards our wedding, but we will definitely make sure they are impressed by our wedding.

So we find ourselves in this precarious position where we want to host 500 guests at a fancy venue and feed them all and make sure we do it without asking for a dime.

No wonder weddings have become commercialized. They are now one of the ways we make our mark in society instead of being one of the ways the society makes its mark on us by acknowledging that we have taken a step worth celebrating.

What makes a marriage covenant significant was not always the signature in the government document, it was the family and friends who gathered together to say “we acknowledge this step, we celebrate this union, and we are doing this to show you that we are for this marriage and not against it. We support you and we will always be on your team.

A celebration

We like to say that a wedding is a celebration. If a wedding is a celebration of marriage and a celebration of the couple, then it makes sense that the family and friends of the couple take responsibility for the wedding. Why should a birthday inspire such a meaningful and thoughtful community participation when a wedding doesn’t?

Finally, on that popular funeral comparison. We always like to say how a funeral is an emergency but a wedding is not. This is how we justify raising funds for a funeral but not for a wedding. What we miss in the process is that the dead person is not the one raising the funds. They can’t do it, duh. It is their family and friends who come together to do it.

Sadly, even this sad aspect of life has been tainted by our atomized society and we now see funeral fundraisers as about the person/friend/colleague who has lost a loved one. We see our contributions to funerals as being about the person who is raising the funds rather than being about the dead person. If a funeral is indeed a “celebration of life” or a “send off” party as some of us like to call it, then the family and friends are coming together to plan and fund the party, without the invitation of the dead person

Similar thinking should apply to a wedding ceremony. The couple, having declared their love for one another and their intention to get married, the community should take over. The couple should only avail themselves to the witnesses of their wedding and (hopefully) their marriage.

Yet I am afraid this may all be wishful thinking, considering the rate at which meaningful communities are dwindling in our current society. It is worth thinking about though. For the Christians, I propose the local church as a good place to start this shift in thinking.

Posted in Book Reviews, culture, Faith

Book Review: Unashamed by Lecrae

I enjoyed reading (or rather, listening to Lecrae read) this book. It is a deeply personal account of the rapper’s journey to faith and his journey through faith. It is an autobiography of sorts, mostly focusing on how Lecrae came to faith and why he does “ministry” the way he does.

The book finally (hopefully) puts to rest why the rapper insists on being referred to as “a rapper who happens to be a Christian” instead of “Christian rapper.” You see, Lecrae’s relationship with rap and hip hop predates his conversion. What happened at his conversion, he explains, was a change of worldview, not a change of trade (or talent).

The best way he knew to express himself was through rap, and just because he became a Christian doesn’t mean he raps because he is a Christian. He raps despite being a Christian. It is a subtle difference, and many might miss it.

I admit that I am one of those people who miss that difference, because I don’t classify music (with lyrics) alongside other neutral vocations such as driving a bus. I believe that with music, unlike driving a bus, your faith is not just expressed in the kind of person you are while you do your work, it is also expressed in what you talk about (or sing/rap about). That’s why there is such a thing as “Christian rap” and no such thing as “Christian driving.”

Being a personal account, Lecrae does not shy from revealing gory details about his past failures. What stood out is the fact that his sinful life does not just precede his conversion, but includes his life after conversion. I was comforted by this, especially considering the many times I have found myself “sinning more” after my conversion than before. I relate to this one, Lecrae.

Even so, I couldn’t help but feel like Lecrae was defending himself in this book. He was succumbing to the pressure to “explain himself” and why he is the way he is. I am no judge of whether this was warranted, but I am grateful he did it.

I also couldn’t help but feel that, for someone whose mantra in life is about not living for people’s acceptance, by writing this book he seemed to still want us to “get” him, and, in a way, accept him.

The only significant doctrinal qualm I had with the book is in Chapter 10: Kicking Down Hell’s Door. Lecrae uses Matthew 16:18 to segue into why he feels called to reach the culture. He infers from Jesus’ words… “upon this rock I will build my church” that this is speaking about Jesus building the church “upon the rock of the culture”. Well, that’s quite a stretch and I didn’t buy it.

I believe the “rock” that Jesus is referring to is either the confession of Peter (you are the Christ, son of the living God) or Peter himself (what he symbolizes as an Apostle who confesses the Lordship of Jesus over and against the claims that Jesus was merely a prophet).

All things considered, this was a good read. I recommend it.

Posted in Mental Health

How depression is demolishing my idols

I have never felt so dependent.

Every simple task is a monumental feat. Getting out of bed feels like scaling the Everest, only harder. Don’t even mention picking up a phone call. My head feels like it is locked in an unrelenting vice grip.

You see, I am being held hostage by two very experienced kidnappers: Depression and Anxiety.

Cunning abductors

My abductors can be quite unpredictable. They strike when I least expect it. Like that random bout of sadness when the rest of life is going well. Or that unexplained anxiety attack when the name on the caller ID just wants to know how I am doing.

Sometimes my abductors are lenient. They let me enjoy the occasional early morning, or an empty in-tray at the office. Sometimes they even let me reply to friends’ messages and agree to meet up with them.

Small wins

Other times I am lucky enough to escape from their grip and do normal-people stuff. For instance I went to church last Sunday; I wrote an essay on Wednesday night; I sat through a long meeting on Thursday. I even met two friends over lunch during the week; and I am writing this post right now.

All these highs and lows are familiar to anyone who has ever tasted depression. But my abductors have also been teaching me things.

Hard lessons

In the months and years I have slogged through this tar-like existence, my captors have inadvertently taught me key lessons about myself.

For instance, Depression and Anxiety have taught me that there things I used to idolize and look upon to give my life meaning. They have revealed to me just how much of an idolater I am.

You can see it in the things I am no longer able to do, and what that inability is doing to my sense of worth and identity.

I am a writer, and I am lucky (or unlucky depending on how you view it) to have my hobby double up as my job. I often joke with friends that I take breaks from writing to write. However, one of the first fingers that my abductors chopped off to torture me was my desire and ability to write.

These days it is normal to walk around uninspired for weeks. I have a feeling my captors are housing me in a dingy apartment on Writer’s Block. So, not only am I not able to write for a living, I am not even able to write for fun!

Depression and Anxiety have taught me that I may have had an unhealthy reliance on my ability to do certain things. Yes, I am a gifted, trained and experienced writer. Yes, I enjoy writing and do it for a living. But do I find my identity in my ability to write? Do I find my validation in the fact that others applaud my skill?

Crushing defeat

In the past, I would have easily answered a confident “no” to both questions. But now, I am not so sure. Each time I am unable to write or find inspiration, I find myself feeling utterly defeated. I want to hide from the world. I am suddenly ashamed that I have nothing valuable to offer the world.

Not being able to write as easily, as often or as well as I used to has revealed that I had pegged so much of my self worth on my ability to do these things. My gift had become my idol and my bargaining chip in a world that values personal talent and competence.

Gradually, I have realized that the fact that I am made in the image of God; that I am loved by this God who created the universe; that it has pleased this God to forgive my sin and welcome me into His family; these truths that I claim to subscribe to don’t seem to hold that much sway in how I value myself in this world.

I am learning that while I paid lip service to the fact that God is my all in all, I was really finding my real worth in what I had to offer this world, in the acceptance that this world showed me because of what I could do.

Now all these false gods are being stripped away, and instead of feeling like someone who has been unburdened, I am suddenly feeling like someone who has been stripped naked. It shows that these human abilities are all I really had as my covering.

I thank God for these lessons, even as I try to figure out how to apply them and refocus my worship. It took the scheming plan of my abductors Depression and Anxiety for God to show me where my true allegiance lies.

These agents of a broken world sought to destroy me by taking away the things I valued most. But God has been gracious enough to use these plans of evil as opportunities to show me what really matters, where my true identity is, whose acceptance really counts. God is showing me that I should never have been valuing these things so supremely to begin with.

May the Lord hold me fast through these trying times. To anyone currently going theough the same or similar idol-smashing process, my prayer is that you will recognize the process for what it really is and you will not despair. Instead of grumbling, be grateful. This is an opportunity to re-focus your worship and reclaim your true identity.

Our God is faithful. Even though He slays you, He is the only one worthy of your worship. Hold fast to Him. His grace is sufficient.

John 6:68 “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Rom 8:18–21 “ I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

2 Cor 12:9 “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

Job 13:15 “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.”

Posted in Book Reviews, culture, Faith

Book Review: How the Bible Actually Works

I regularly listen to Pete Enns and Jared Byas’ podcast The Bible for Normal People. The two hosts have carved out a helpful niche focusing on why Christians need to put off their overly mystical lenses when approaching the Bible. They acknowledge the difficulties that many Christians encounter when reading they Bible, and they do their best to respect the reservations many people have with the Scriptures.

enns_howbibleactuallyworks_hc_3d-1.pngOne may say that Pete Enns’ book How the Bible Actually Works: How An Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers—and Why That’s Great News is more or less a transcript of the entire podcast. In this book, Enns acknowledges that many people, Christians included, often find the Bible difficult to apply in their lives because it is “ancient, ambiguous, and diverse”.

Enns writes: “The spiritual disconnection many feel today stems precisely from expecting (or being told to expect) the Bible to be holy, perfect, and clear, when in fact after reading it they find it to be morally suspect, out of touch, confusing, and just plain weird.”

The author does not seek to defend the Bible against these apparent accusations. In fact, Enns himself finds and describes the Bible in the same manner. He acknowledges that it is an ancient book depicting an ancient and unfamiliar culture.

He also describes the Bible as ambiguous, with many Christians finding themselves unsure about what to do with some of its commands; and he also finds it diverse, meaning that there are apparent and “actual” contradictions between different parts of the Bible. Enns believes that the ambiguity and contradictions are not reasons to invalidate the Bible, they are a cue for us to take a different approach to how we read the book.

Enns believes that the way of Wisdom was always followed by the people who wrote and read the Bible in ancient times. He uses several “contradictions” in the Bible to show how wisdom dictated different commands for different situations, even making room for commands that contradict one another (e.g. Proverbs 26:4 & 5).

According to Enns, all this ambiguity and diversity should discourage us from the reading the Bible as a rule book set in stone; and we should be willing to adapt and sometimes abandon passages that no longer serve the purposes of Wisdom.

“The Bible becomes a confusing mess when we expect it to function as a rule book for faith. But when we allow the Bible to determine our expectations, we see that Wisdom, not answers, is the Bible’s true subject matter,” he writes.

I agree with the author’s exhortation to Christians that they should apply Wisdom when reading the Bible. Indeed, the Bible is not a mere rule-book. Neither is it an instruction manual. The Bible is an ancient book and I personally find some of its commands ambiguous, confusing and even contradictory. The Bible may be a light to our path, but it is useless to us if we read it with our eyes closed. We should indeed apply Wisdom when reading the Scripture.

The main thing I struggled with while reading this book is Enns’ definition of this “Wisdom” that we are to apply when reading the Bible. The closest he comes to explaining this “Wisdom” is when he says we are not only to read the Bible, but also to read the culture, read the present moment and then discern how best to adopt, adapt or abandon a given Biblical passage.

The problem I find with this approach is that it is no different from any reasonable approach to any other work of literature.

When I read a book such as The Chronicles of Narnia, common wisdom (and just general reasonability) tells me that lions can’t speak and there are no magical mirrors at the back of wardrobes. Common wisdom tells me that it is bad to judge people by their race or size; it is better to share; and it is sometimes good to give others the benefit of the doubt. These are aspects of wisdom that life and experience teaches all of us — though we are not always attentive students.

So what, then, is the point of the Bible if what is written there is no more trustworthy or authoritative than the limits of my own judgment and Wise reading? And what does the Bible even mean when it distinguishes the “Wisdom of God” from the “wisdom of man” (James 3:13-18)?

When I say that Biblical passages about slavery are no longer applicable today because society has evolved and we now understand that it is wrong to own another human being, isn’t that just the common wisdom of the age? Am I not just aligning with the times? What role has the Bible played in showing me how to think about slavery if the only lesson is that the Biblical writers were slightly more progressive than the surrounding cultures?

After all, there were many other ancient thinkers who didn’t ascribe to the Judeo-Christian teachings and yet proved to be more progressive than their surrounding cultures.

While I appreciate the author’s effort in bringing the Scriptures down to earth and encouraging a more thoughtful and authentic approach to the Bible, I feel he has done little to make a case for why I should give the Bible any more attention than other works of literature. The author has brought the Bible down to earth and left it there.

If “how the Bible actually works”  is how any reasonable person would work in any given situation, then what is the point of ascribing to Scripture? If the Bible is no more than a case study on how to apply the wisdom that we already possess, why should anyone opt to be a Christian instead of simply being a humanist?

By reading this book, I found myself less confident in the faith I have in Christianity, even as my approach to the Bible became more enlightened. I am not sure whether this is ultimately a good or bad thing for someone who confesses to be a Christian and strives to be faithful to the God revealed in the Bible. Wisdom leads me to believe that it is not.

Posted in Book Reviews

Favorite Quotes from ‘Love Bila Regrets’

I thought I should share some of the quotes that stood out for me as I read John Musyimi and Mark Ambundo’s book Love Bila Regrets. Find my review of the book here.

On the point or end-goal of a dating relationship:

“Christian dating does not always lead to marriage; however, it must only be pursued in the context of movement towards marriage.”

On why a man should be very clear about his intentions when considering dating a woman:

“[Jesus] is absolutely clear to his bride – the Church – about His love for her, His commitment to her and His plans for her future. The church is never in the dark on these matters.”

On how a wife is to “actively” submit to her husband in marriage:

“In marriage, the call to submission for the wife is not one of passive waiting around for the man to do everything; rather it is joyful and intelligent submission. She participates fully in all issues. Though the final decision rests with the husband, it is not without input from the wife.”

What is the fundamental thing to look for in a potential mate?

“Look for an individual who is growing in Christlikeness.”

On delaying sexual gratification until marriage:

“Refuse now to engage in what will later rob you the beautiful experience of marital intimacy with the love of your life. Wait, preserve, persevere.”

On pursuing intimacy with God as a way to deal with lustful and impure thoughts:

“[Pursuing intimacy with God] is the ultimate antidote to lust.”

On the need for accountability and pursuing our growth in the midst of Christian community (church):

“How can character be developed outside the feedback. Correction, rebuke and even confrontation best found within authentic Christian community? People in such a community are like rough pebbles flowing down a river, knocking against each other thus smoothing each other out as they go along.”

On the importance of focusing on our relationship with God more than our relationship with our mate:

“One’s ability to relate healthily is born out of a robust walk with God who consistently affirms and strengthens self-identity.”

On how Christ uses relationships to shape  us and grow us and refine us:

“[Christ] uses relationships to refine our character; calling us to speak the truth in love, admit our short-comings and learn from our past failures.”

And finally, to those of us who may be tempted to use “that’s just the way I am” as an excuse to be less loving in a relationship:

“We are not slaves to our personalities. Every Christian has an obligation to subject his or her personality under Christ because in Him we are new creations.”

 

Posted in culture, Media, Public Relations, Writing

Well said…

Every now and then I would post something on Facebook, share a tweet or write a blog post and a reader would comment with only two words: “Well said.”

This response would often bother me — a lot.

You see, we live in a society where people talk too much but do very little to translate their words into action. Social media platforms have made us armchair activists. For many of us, the only time we lift a finger to help another human being is when typing about it on a keyboard.

Yet, despite this overwhelming evidence of inaction, we all claim to value action; we celebrate and applaud real, tangible, service over mere lip service. Even the Bible says that true Christians will be known, not by the doctrines they profess, but by the fruit they display.

“You will know them by their fruit,” said Jesus. “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead,” adds James, the brother of Jesus.

So, whenever someone would applaud me for writing a good story or expressing an idea well, my insecurities would bubble up and I would receive such affirmation with a sense of skepticism and guilt. My anxiety would lead me to dark thoughts of: “Was that a jab at the fact that I am all bark and no bite?”

This would lead me into a spiral of self-doubt, especially when I thought about how little I do to make this world a better place. I was sold on the idea that the only way to help someone was to do the more glamorous, tangible work of (especially) giving money. Put your money where your mouth is, they say.

This is despite the fact that the reason I wasn’t giving much was because I didn’t have much to give. The world had established the standard, and I either met that standard or I was a hypocrite for claiming to help humanity through my words.

But I have come to learn that words are necessary. They are powerful and often effective. If the history of the publishing industry is anything to go by, words are worth unimaginable amounts of money. People would pay a lot of money to read and listen to a motivational speaker. Words can change the world, and words well said are potent.

Yes, kind words are a type of fruit.

The more tangible, practical types of help are also significant, but we are only responsible to help according to our capacity. Let those with money give their dollars. But we should not silence or belittle the help of those without money because they are offering the only gift they have, the only gift they are equipped best to give.

If anything, I would not be able to offer the financial help that I can offer today if it wasn’t for the fact that I kept writing until someone decided to pay me to do it.

It is ironic that even though Jesus taught “man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God,” I was more worried that “man shall not live on words alone, but especially on bread.”

So now I am learning to write without fear, guilt or reservation. I want to write and I want to write well. I am learning to gift the world and help humanity with the one tool I have been gifted and trained to wield well — words.

This is also to all the fellow writers and “communicators” that feel guilty for not being able to “do” much other than write. Go ahead and give it your best shot. Write your help and write it well.

And when you receive that once dreaded comment of “well said”, may you also hear it as “well done, good and faithful servant.”

Posted in Commentary, culture, Features

Black is not beautiful

While attending an event recognizing persons living with disability in his constituency, Kibra Member of Parliament Ken Okoth recently tweeted:

“Celebrating the International Day of Persons Living with Disability. Inability is not Disability (sic).”

This example illustrates an important point about many of our attempts to “normalize” what the prevailing culture otherwise finds abnormal.

Chances are you have heard the popular phrase “black is beautiful” used in a conversation or you read it in a piece of writing. The context is usually in the attempt to fight against the popular (false) assumption that light skinned people are more beautiful simply because their skin is lighter.

However, many who respond with “black is beautiful” seldom take the time to think through the implications of their well meaning response.

If I am not mistaken, I assume that what they intend to communicate is that beauty is not skin deep and what ultimately distinguishes beautiful from ugly is not the color of one’s skin but something else along the lines of what Dr Martin Luther King, Jr called “the content of their character”.

But how does simply stating “black is beautiful” (often as a caption to a picture of a black woman) communicate this message? It sounds more like a desperate attempt to force a “truth” that the audience simply doesn’t find convincing.

It is almost like walking into a jewelry shop and shouting “iron is precious too!” It is very close to what we are often doing (albeit unconsciously) when we insist “black is beautiful” in an atmosphere that seems to elevate lightness of skin as a measure of beauty.

To stretch the analogy further, if someone was to approach the shouting person in the jewelry shop and asked them “why do you say iron is precious?” the person will most likely start listing all the major feats that iron helped human beings accomplish in history.

However, in doing so, the conversation will no longer be about the chemical composition of iron but about something entirely different. You see, if the preciousness of iron is determined by its ability to serve as a tool, then diamonds should be at the top of the list and gold at the bottom. Clearly, the parameters for determining the preciousness of metal were never located in the hardness of metal.

In the same way, the cultural standards of beauty are not in the color of one’s skin but in a combination of factors that can never be simply reduced to skin color.

Black isn’t beautiful, and neither is whiteness or lightness.

But the sad reality is that if you grew up associating whiteness with wealth, privilege and beauty; then you will always struggle to disentangle blackness from poverty, disadvantage and ugliness. White is civilized, black is not.

Instead of maintaining “black is beautiful” or “black is beautiful too”, perhaps we should spend more time investigating how come white is beautiful in the first place, and why that seems to be a given. By pursuing this line of inquiry, we may just realize that what is needed to see black as beautiful is not to give black the things that white has (clearly, that isn’t working), but to take apart our entire value system and anchor it on something less superficial than health, wealth and the pursuit of privilege.

This won’t be easy. It will mean questioning almost everything we have always believed about how the world works. It is going to be a messy process. Many of these cultural biases are so ingrained that we act on them mindlessly. Even more troubling is that even when we attempt to fight against these biases, we still do it along contours defined by a worldview that privileges white over black.

This is what I mean; we have dark skinned models who are skinny and wearing make-up and strutting on stages in exactly the same way that white models used to do in the time when all models were white. The only thing that has changed is that we now have black models on events that previously only had white models. This is not progress.

As long as we fail to see that the system that came up with beauty pageants and skinniness and make-up and stage-strutting is the same system that made white beautiful, we have not accomplished anything, not even if all the models became black.

A culture is deeper than its symbols. A culture is also about values, and it is ultimately about worldviews — the lens through which we view and interpret all of life. This is why I don’t believe the way to change a culture is to chip away at each symbol, one symbol at a time until we finally change the underlying worldview.

The only thing this will achieve is a regressive series of “campaigns” that never seem to address the heart of the matter; one day “black is beautiful”, the next day “plump is beautiful”, the following day “burkas are beautiful” and after that “kinky hair is beautiful”… and so on. While such campaigns give us a sense of motion, they are not marks of any meaningful progress, they will never get us to the change we desire.

The change we desire and instinctively crave for when we shout “black is beautiful” is a more radical (radical as in root) change. It is not a change that is color-blind, but a change that sees color through the right lenses and appreciates the diversity of the world without needing to flatten it in order to please or accommodate everyone.

Do you have some ideas on where we can begin in our quest for this kind of cultural change? Or is it a lost cause? Are we just re-arranging furniture on the Titanic? And is there even a point trying to work towards such a cultural reformation?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Posted in Commentary, Kenya, Media

I am Sharon Otieno

Sharon Otieno was 26 and in love. The Rongo University student was on a night out with friends when she met the man that would dominate her mind and inbox for months to come.

A charming man

The man was charming. He was kind and good to her. She blushed whenever she spoke about him or saw his name on the caller ID. He was not just friendly to Sharon, he was Sharon’s friend. Despite his busy life as a politician, he always made time to meet Sharon.

He bought her gifts and flowers and took her to fancy restaurants. He was quite romantic. Sharon fell for the man. And she believed that he had fallen for her, because that’s what he said. She could also tell it from how he looked at her, and how he always referred to her as his sweetheart and “baby”.

You see, the man always kept his word. He was never physically abusive and he never said an unkind word to Sharon. When Sharon told him that she was pregnant, he never suggested abortion. This wasn’t just about sex to him. Instead, he promised to take care of the mother and child. He would always be there for his baby and their baby.

Sharon wasn’t stupid, despite what many people now think and say of her. Sharon did what we all do — she was bold enough to believe in true love. She dared to dream of a happy future with the man she loved. Their age difference wasn’t an issue — people with a much bigger gap between them had lived “happily ever after”. The fact that she was still a student didn’t matter. She was an adult.

A horrifying death

Sharon died afraid and confused. She died a horrifying death, in the hands of savage men that she didn’t even recognise. Sharon died with a thousand questions that she barely had time to articulate. Probably the final and most prominent thought on Sharon’s mind as she breathed her last was “why?”

This is also the question that many of us, in the wake of her demise, are left fiddling with. Strange men and women who have never even heard of Sharon have come up with strange riders to this existential word “Why.”

“Why was a student messing around with men her father’s age? Shouldn’t she have been in school focussing on her education?”

“Why was she involved with a prominent politician if her motive wasn’t to extort money from him and enrich herself out of the man’s misery?”

These whys have confounded many who came across them, especially on social media platforms. However, the larger majority of the whys were kinder to Sharon, more thoughtful and compassionate, even in the midst of the pain and rage.

“Why did anyone think Sharon deserved death?”

“Why take advantage of an innocent and impressionable girl only to end her life in such a cruel manner?”

And while we are at it, “Why is the world so cruel?”

We are Sharon Otieno

There are many dimensions to Sharon’s tragic love story that we will never understand. Yet we should never forget one thing: Sharon was never any more guilty or more foolish than any of us. Sharon’s story is our story.

We, too, will meet men and women that will knock us off our feet and make the world worth living in once more. We will come across men and women that will cause us to stay up late into the night Whatsapping goofy emojis and whispering sweet nothings until we fall asleep.

It won’t matter how rich these people are, as long as we are convinced that they love us and truly care for us. We will get pregnant out of wedlock and choose to keep the baby. We will make plans for our child’s future and stay up late chatting about baby names an the kind of schools we want our child to attend.

Sharon’s story is your story and my story. Her tragedy is our tragedy. Her and her family’s quest for justice is our quest. Her mistakes are our mistakes, and her heart is our heart.

Many more of us are still making and living in decisions much like Sharon’s. We are still falling in love with people the rest of the world believes are wrong for us. Our family and friends have probably tried to talk us out of those relationships, but we believe we know better. What we feel is real. If they truly loved and cared for us they would be on our team.

And many of them are. They are rooting for us. Praying for us. Hoping we will come to our senses and leave the relationship, and at the same time hoping that our relationship will bring lasting happiness.

Monster are us

Despite what we like to believe after the fact: there is no sure way of knowing if a relationship will be bad for you. Despite what we are thinking and saying about the “powerful” people behind Sharon’s death, we would be gravely mistaken to think that we know what monsters look like.

The monsters that walk among us don’t have long sharp canines or thick pointy horns on their heads. Monsters are not always out to get us. Many of them do genuinely fall in love and make sincere promises to marry us and spend the rest of their life with us. Many monsters are usually saints. Until they aren’t.

We would be gravely mistaken to assume we are faultless when it comes to our monster-detection capabilities. You see, it should not come as a surprise that sometimes monsters are us. The men that we write off as monsters after the (tragic) fact are our drinking buddies and “political connections” before the fact.

The man or woman’s political position or wealth or even his marital status have never been guarantees that we will never be happy with them. The heart wants what it wants, and Sharon’s heart made a choice, a choice that, despite her best judgment that it was the right choice, had tragic consequences.

Even as we watch and pick our lessons, may Sharon’s story cause us to be a little kinder with the truth — whatever we conceive it to be. If you have friends or family in Sharon’s position before her death, be there for them now rather than later. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Share your concern even as your cheer them on.

Love them with the truth.

Posted in Features

Just Google it: Evolution of ‘Search’ in information seeking

An old story is told about a big ship whose engine had failed. The ship’s owners called in one expert after another, but none of them knew how to fix the engine.

Then they brought in an old man who had been fixing ships since he was a teenager. The old man lugged a large and worn leather bag of tools with him. He arrived and immediately went to work. He inspected the engine very carefully, top to bottom.

The ship’s owners stood there, tracking the old man’s movements, doubting he knew what he was doing. After looking things over, the old man reached into his bag and pulled out a small hammer. He gently tapped something in the engine.

Instantly, the engine lurched to life. He carefully put his hammer away, tipped his hat at the ship owners and walked away. A week later, the ship owners received a bill from the old man for one million shillings.

“What?!” the owners exclaimed. “It’s ridiculous! He hardly did anything!” So they wrote the old man a note saying, “Please send us an itemised bill.”

Read the full story here.

Posted in Book Reviews, Faith

Book Review: Am I Truly Saved? by John Musyimi

I have been a Christian for almost 15 years now, give or take. The thing is, I am not always sure I am a Christian. I am also not sure if the first time I raised my hand and “gave my life to Christ” was really the time I got “born again.” I am not even sure if the second time I did it was the one… or the third time I did it.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have doubts. Something tells me that most of you are doubters too, secretly. Yet that does not worry me as much as the fact that many of us can be so sure that we are saved.

But should we be so sure? Can we?

John Musyimi believes we should, and w can. But he also believes that not everyone who is sure they are saved, is saved. Our certainty must have the right basis, and Musyimi sets out to show us that basis.

In his second book (or his first booklet), John Musyimi, a pastor at Mamlaka Hill Chapel (when he wrote the book), lays out a six-point diagnostic tool that Christians can use to check “whether you are in the faith”. He appeals to his namesake, the Apostle John, for a guideline on how we may gain assurance that we are “really” and truly born-again.

Now, I think what Musyimi is attempting to do in this booklet is quite dangerous. It may easily go either way. Many teachers who have set out to assure Christians of their salvation have ended up increasing the doubts of those Christians, and those who’ve sought to reduce those doubts have ended up shipwrecking the faith of their hearers.

There’s no denying that this is a dicey topic, and one that must be approached with utmost care and wisdom. Fortunately, John Musyimi does just that, to the best of his ability.

The six tests mined from 1 John are real gems:

  1. Obedience – if you are truly saved, you will keep God’s commandments.
  2. Affection– if you are truly saved, you will love the brothers.
  3. Separation – if you are truly saved, you will have decreasing love for the world.
  4. Faith – if you are truly saved, you will believe in Jesus Christ.
  5. Holiness – if you are truly saved, you will experience increasing victory over sin.
  6. Spiritual – if you are truly saved, you will show evidence of the Holy Spirit dwelling in you.

I have a confession to make: I didn’t make the cut. Not on all the six tests. I seriously flunked on test number 2 (affection). I struggle with affection for the brethren. Most of the time, I just don’t like to be bothered. I really have to “push myself” to care, and that is just how it is… at least for now.
Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Furthermore, it’s not that I am doing so well on the other tests anyway. And this is where Musyimi’s booklet proved quite helpful. What if we fail the test? What if we realise that we don’t always obey, we don’t love as we ought, and our battle against sin often seems like a losing one?

Thankfully, Musyimi anticipates those questions, and that is why he is careful to approach the tests with a subtlety that might be missed by most. Throughout the manual, you will find such statements as “inclined to” (help brothers)”, “decreasing love” (for the world), and “increasing victory” (over sin) just to name a few.

These are POSTURE phrases, not POSITION phrases.

The author, like the Bible, is aware that he is addressing men, not machines. We change, and the best change is a growth kind of change. The proof of our salvation is not in where we are in the journey but in which direction we are facing (heading), and Musyimi is careful to point this out.

One last thing, what if we find out that we are facing the wrong direction? What if our love for the world is increasing while our love for the brethren is decreasing decreasing? Is this a valid reason to throw in the towel and say goodbye to this “salvation thing”?

Absolutely not! It turns out that this realization is one of the best news you could have received all your life! As Musyimi puts it, realizing this deficiency in your life is actually “a sign of God’s mercy upon you!”

Get your hear examined today. Your life may just depend on it.

Apart from Jesus, the people in the Bible are no more worthy of being our examples than the people outside the Bible. A person is not worth emulating simply because they had the “privilege” of being a character in Scripture.

There’s nothing special about having a “Christian” or “Biblical” name.

God has surrounded us with relatives, friends and neighbours far more worthy of emulating than most Biblical characters could ever be. So look around. Pay more attention to your fellow church members, not just as peers but also as inspirations.

You may just discover that Dave from Accounting is just as holy as King David

Be like Dave from Accounting

Posted in The 4th Dimension

Is it reasonable to believe in God?

 

Christianity is often criticized for putting faith and “allegiance to God” above reason. Our arguments are dismissed for being circular, and we are ridiculed for refusing to consider the possibility that we could be wrong about the existence of God.

I think many of these criticisms are valid, and more Christians should be willing to admit when we have been less than reasonable.

But more on this later.

Many professing Christians simply don’t like to examine whether or not their faith is reasonable. Many of us are simply neither ready nor willing to “give a reason for the hope that we have”. Some of us feel it is not necessary, or it is too much work, or it is giving the devil too much rope.

Some are simply afraid of what they will find on the other side of this logical exercise, so they are not in a hurry to find out.

Reasonable objections

Richard Dawkins, a British evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist, once said in his popular book The God Delusion: “A child is not a Christian child, not a Muslim child, but a child of Christian parents or a child of Muslim parents.”

Part of Dawkins’ point is that we are products of environmental conditioning and there is therefore no supernatural explanation for why some people choose to be Christians while others don’t. Every child is technically born an atheist and only later compelled to follow the religion of their parent.

Dawkins makes a valid point. Our environment plays a significant role in shaping our life choices. Even one of my favorite 20th century Christian apologists, Cornelius van Til, agrees with Dawkins to some extent. In an essay on why he believes in God, Van Til indulges an atheist friend who tells him that the only reason he believes in God is because everything in his past set him up for that inevitable choice: Born to believing parents, educated at a Christian school and confronted every day with Christian ethics.

Given these circumstances, it would seem Van Til had no choice but to become a Christian! In response, Van Til tells the friend, rather sarcastically:

How different your early schooling was! You went to a “neutral” school. As your parents had done at home, so your teachers now did at school. They taught you to be “open-minded.” God was not brought into connection with your study of nature or history. You were trained without bias all along the line.

Van Til does not deny that a large part of the reason he embraces the Christian worldview is because it is second nature to him. He admits that everything in his past “conspired” to lead him to choose God. But is that all there is to it?

The environment alone?

We can rightly say that many professing Christians today are not Muslims for the same reasons. They didn’t have a choice. However, while Van Til acknowledges the role the environment played in his becoming a Christian, he goes on to argue that this is not the only reason people end up believing in God.

If it was, the friend, raised by similar parents and attending similar schools, would have also been a Christian. Yet he is not. In other words, even though Dawkins logic may explain many religious people in the world, the problem with the logic is that it is not comprehensive. Dawkins restricts and limits the reasons why people choose a religion to environment and effectively closes the door for any other explanations. This is neither fair nor very scientific.

He would have been more reasonable if he said “the only reason I know of” rather than “the only reason there is”. He is putting too much confidence upon how much he, a mere human being, knows about all the reasons that may exist in the world.

Consider this implication: If the environment were all it took, then we would have no atheists walking among us. Everyone would be religious and following some god or another by virtue of being raised in a religious society. Dawkins would be a phony. But the fact that atheists exist points to something more than the simplistic “product of your surroundings” explanation for belief.

Evolution alone?

Of course, Richard Dawkins and his kith will quickly rush to evolutionary explanations for why some people don’t believe. They believe that those who do not believe are the anomalies, the mutants, the “fit” ones in this battle for survival and the ones to take humanity to the next stage of existence — a world without religion, if you ask Dawkins.

Dawkins’ general hypothesis for why people opt for religion is that “human beings have acquired religious beliefs because there is a selective advantage to child brains that possess the rule of thumb to believe, without question, whatever familiar adults tell them. Dawkins speculates that this cognitive disposition, which tends to help inexperienced children to avoid harm, also tends to make them susceptible to acquiring their elders’ irrational and harmful religious beliefs.”

This explanation not only presupposes that evolution is true, but that evolution is the only explanation for all human phenomena. In other words, evolution is the supreme law or philosophy of the living universe and no other explanations exist for any behaviors on earth. This is quite a leap.

If I am not mistaken, I would say that, even if evolution as espoused by Darwin is actually true, the claim that it is the only explanation for belief in God is itself a giant leap of faith. In fact, the shift from seeing evolution as a description to seeing evolution as an explanation is a leap of faith.

Will the real believers please stand up?

I would argue that the environment, while a big factor in leading people to belief (or to claims of belief), is not the decisive factor when it comes to determining whether one’s belief in God is true. There is still the little matter of whether a faith claim is genuine or not, a question that can actually not be answered by science but is confined to the realm of theology.

There are many people walking this earth today, claiming to believe in God and are even ready to give their life for this belief. Yet, they have never seriously interrogated this belief. They are simply, to use Dawkin’s word, delusional.

These are the people Jesus alluded to when he said:

Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:22-23)

It turns out that the argument that some people are only Christians because they grew up in a “Christian” environment is actually a case for why some people are fake Christians. It has little to do with why anyone is a true believer. To this extent, then, bringing up evolution and environmental factors in debates about the reasonability of faith is largely an exercise at missing the point.

A reasonable faith

However, if the opponents insist on this line of argument, I would say that the environment criticism does in fact contribute to the reasonability of such a belief. It is actually reasonable for people who have been brought up surrounded by the Christian worldview to end up professing Christianity. It would be unreasonable to choose otherwise.

But just because something sounds and looks reasonable doesn’t make it true. There are still questions to be answered concerning the existence of God and the evidence for that supposed existence.

I do hope, though, that it is increasingly becoming clear that we don’t always need irrevocable proof to make reasonable claims and choices. Reason is a servant to whatever evidence is available and our ability to weigh that evidence. You are only as reasonable as your intellectual ability allows you to be. This is why it is reasonable for a child to cry when hungry (because he or she cannot speak) and unreasonable for an adult to do the same in a house with a stocked kitchen.

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

Posted in The 4th Dimension

The Fake News on Fake News

I don’t believe there’s an unprecedented surge in FAKE NEWS in Kenya. Or at least the rise is not as big as it has been made out to be.

broken-news

I think what is happening is the same thing that happened with the apparent rise of police killings of unarmed black men in the US over the past decade.

With the police shootings, it turned out that they were only getting more filmed, so we were seeing them more on social media and TV. But the rate of new incidents was not necessarily on the rise.

In the same way, the rise in Fake News is only humanity coming to terms with the fact that balance and objectivity are a myth when telling stories. Human beings are wired to promote the stories (and facts) that confirm our biases and dismiss those that don’t. “Whose truth is it?” and “Whose team are you on?” matters more than “What is the truth?”

US President Donald Trump did not redefine Fake News when he started dismissing CNN and New York Times for reporting stories that seemed disloyal to him. He, in fact, defined Fake News as we are seeing it today. Fake News is news that I don’t agree with. Fake news is news that doesn’t support my cause. Those who shout “Fake News” are more often than not making a statement about relationship rather than a statement about reality.

George Orwell once defined journalism as “printing what someone else does not want printed.” He might as well have been talking about Fake News.

Posted in The 4th Dimension

A time to weep… and reflect

Kenya’s 2017 General Election has revealed demons that have long captured our souls, and unless we deal with them, it doesn’t matter who becomes the president of Kenya.

elec

In my short stint as a reporter for the Daily Nation, I experienced many challenges. But that’s not news, being a journalist in Kenya is almost synonymous to facing challenges. Long hours, tight deadlines, elusive and uncooperative sources, covering traumatic events, working on public holidays… these are just a few of the shared struggles that come with the trade.

However, one of thing that caught me by surprise is when a few readers criticized a story I had written a few years back. This shouldn’t have been surprising, but I guess I was too naive not to see it coming. I had written a story that criticized opposition leader Raila Odinga. I don’t even remember what the story was about, I was merely quoting a press conference I had attended.

What’s in a name?

Soon after the story was published, my inbox was flooded with emails denouncing my story because “I was the wrong person to write about Raila Odinga”. The problem? My name. NGARE KARIUKI is not a name you want to see by-lining a story that even faintly criticizes Mr Odinga. My motives were questioned. My name was all the evidence needed to determine my motives.

This incident is etched in my memory because I had been so naive prior to writing that story. It never once occurred to me that I belonged to the “wrong tribe” when I went for the press conference. Ever since, I have carried the burden of my name with heightened vigilance.

I have learnt that it doesn’t matter that I grew up in Eldoret in a neighborhood surrounded by Luos, Luhyas, Kisiis, Somalis and Kalenjins. It doesn’t matter that my biggest worry during the post-2007-election violence was the fact that I could not speak Kikuyu and may have be mistaken for a non-Kikuyu when machete wielding Kibaki-supporters came calling.

All that mattered then was the fact that my name is Ngare Kariuki. That, it seems, is still what matters now. In the wake of the 2017 general election, the tribal tensions around the country are palpable. Whether consciously or not, it is almost inevitable that the people you will see defending Mr Odinga online are Luos, Kambas or Luhyas. On the other hand, those celebrating the Jubilee win will often be descendants of the slopes of mount Kenya.

Born this way

This brings to mind an important point that my friend Huston Malande raised recently in a thread on Twitter. He wrote:

“Politics is like football. People don’t choose their first team after performing a logical analysis of all available options. Even though I don’t watch football anymore, my first team was Manchester United. Why? Because my dad was a Man U fan.

And because I loved my dad, if Man U lost, the sadness I saw on his face made me sad too. One of my happiest moments with my dad was when Brazil won the world cup in 2002. We literally danced around the house!

This kind of deep emotional response and attachment is exactly what happened after the announcement last night, and it’s scary. Unlike professional football which is mostly detached entertainment, politics is very real and very close to home.

I live in Kikuyu … the whole place erupted as people took to the streets to celebrate, complete with Vuvuzelas and Akorino drums. D’you think the kids had any clue? Absolutely not! And yet, they’ll never ever forget how good it felt to join their parents in celebrating.”

You can follow this link for the rest of the thread. I have quoted the excerpt above because it hit close to home for myself and, I assume, many reading this. If we were brutally honest with ourselves, w support the candidates that we support because we were brought up by parents that supported their camp and became politically aware in a community where this political camp was normalised.

We know the camp we support “from the inside”, and we know about the other side from outside. We have no idea what it feels like to support the other side. We hold everything from the other side with lots of skepticism and great suspicion. In fact, we’d get a headache if we attempted to think of anything that the other side does right. We are simply not wired to embrace anything from the other side, no matter how reasonable or sensible it sounds.

Can anything good come out of Nazareth? John 1:46

A saint misunderstood

This is the challenge before many of us. In fact, for many of us, even if we were actually convinced of the problems in our political camp, we would excuse, downplay or explain them away, and in the event we accepted the problems, we would be quick to forgive and encourage reformation. There are no sinners in our camp, only misunderstood saints. Anything to propagate our camp.

This is why it seems almost irrelevant (and irreverent?) to point out that I actually voted for Raila Odinga in the just concluded election. You must understand that this is not even something that I can discuss with my own mother, because all through last week, she concluded every phone call with “tano tena!” So, I kept my divergent views to myself and only shared them with my wife and a few close friends who I deemed more “level-headed.”

But if I was pro-Raila, how come I am still reluctant to criticize him in public in the wake of the results?  You already know the answer. My name betrays me. I already belong to the privileged camp, even if only by association rather than by conviction. I am like a white man in the US supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. My privilege renders my support inconsequential. I am a bastard in this other camp. I am here to be seen and not heard, especially if my intention is to criticize the gods of our camp.

A time to mourn…

Which brings me to one final observation. With all the heightened emotions and tension in the country, especially on social media, a narrative that has fast risen to prominence is that of “letting the losers mourn in peace.” This is a noble and gracious call. It is never good to gloat over wins. Even winners in soccer matches do greet and sometimes embrace the losing team.

There is something to be said about our human need to “rub it in” when it comes to victories. Yet, this posture is never attractive. If your candidate won, I implore you to be considerate about the feelings of those who lost. But what if you are a Luo, you voted for Raila and you are not as deeply affected by the loss? I would encourage you to be gracious still. It is possible to be on the losing team without needing to tell our more affectionate teammates to “get over it.”

… and reflect

As for me, I am still trying to navigate my precarious position. I am not so deeply affected by Raila’s loss, largely because I don’t put my hope in human leaders. I am of the disposition that even at our most calculated choices on this earth, we are all just playing dice on the future. Only God is worthy of our hope and trust for the future of this country. Even the best human leaders are human at best. They are prone to wander from the goal. That is why I am not so crushed when my team loses.

But if you are more affected than I am, perhaps this is a good chance to re-evaluate your emotional priorities. Yes, our emotions are also within our control. The only difference is that we cannot control our emotions after the triggers are set off, the trick to controlling our emotions is to determine long before what we will allow to be our triggers and what we won’t.

Don’t get me wrong. Now is not the time to control the emotions that have been triggered by the recent events, it is already too late for that. The best we can do now is bandage those wounds and nurse them. But now is the time to re-evaluate what you value, where you put your hope, what keeps you up at night, and what you are willing to lose your cool over.

Sadly, I have seen many friends who claim to be Christians but have never even batted an eyelid when someone criticized God or blasphemed His name to their face. Yet, these same friends “lost it” when there was even a hint of criticism against their political leaders. Even when the criticism was coming from someone “from their own camp”, it didn’t make much difference.

This shouldn’t be.

It reveals that our problem is bigger than the outcome of an election, or who the next president is. It reveals that our problem is an idol problem. Our hearts have been captured by an idol that is willing to wreck everything we hold dear, friendships, family ties and even our jobs, for the sake of one utterly flawed human being.

“An idolatrous attachment can lead you to break any promise, rationalize any indiscretion, or betray any other allegiance, in order to hold on to it. It may drive you to violate all good and proper boundaries. To practice idolatry is to be a slave.” 
― Timothy J. Keller, Counterfeit Gods