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, 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 Media

Pat Robertson – A Warning

Over the weekend Kenyans on Twitter went to town with their sarcastic prowess after a clip of Pat Robertson saying one can catch AIDS from towels in Kenya went viral. Mr Robertson was responding to a viewer’s question on last Thursday’s episode of The 700 Club. The anonymous viewer was worried about the Ebola epidemic and wanted to know if the trip would be taking an unnecessary risk.

pat
Photo credit: wpxi.com

Robertson’s response sounded reasonable enough except for a few generalizations and flippant statements. On Ebola, he said “not in Kenya” and every Kenya who was watching “amen”ed to that. Then he added that even though one should not worry about Ebola in Kenya, they should be wary of other diseases such as AIDS, Malaria and stomach bugs.

He advised against eating fresh vegetables and drinking un-sanitized water. Although the 84-year-old Christian conservative said all these things in generalities that may have exaggerated the sanitation situation in Kenya, the one statement that really rubbed Kenyans the wrong way was “… you might get AIDS, the people have AIDS in Kenya, you gotta be careful, I mean, the towels could have AIDS…”

And in their usual #SomeoneTell hash-tag activism, many Kenyans on Twitter had a field day giving Pat Robertson a piece of their mostly sarcastic mind.

I empathize with my countrymen. I really do. It hurts to have my country so grossly misrepresented by someone who has never even set foot on Kenyan soil (I think). It is only reasonable to be particularly sensitive about what Robertson said concerning Kenya.

But one thing that many seem to have missed is that Pat Robertson has been making such ridiculous statements on global TV for decades. We are only more aware of him now because he was talking about Kenya. I bet most Kenyans who probably regularly watch the 700 Club did not flinch when Pat said the following things:

  1. To a caller who said that he is often insulted by his wife, Robertson jokingly advised the man to move to a country such as Saudi Arabia, “where wife-beating is legal”.
  2. On feminism: “Feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”
  1. To the question of husbands who cheat on their wives, Robertson casually told a viewer that “males have a tendency to wander a little bit. What you want to do is make a home so wonderful that he doesn’t want to wander.”

Robertson has also, on several occasions, described abortion as a “lesbian conspiracy”. But the statement that got him the most heat was what he said in reaction to the 2010 Haitian earthquake:

 “Something happened a long time ago in Haiti… They were under the heel of the French… And they got together and swore a pact to the Devil. They said we will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French. True story. And so the Devil said, “OK, it’s a deal.” And they kicked the French out… ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor.”

In other words, Robertson believed the Haitians had it coming.

So it is now Kenya’s turn, and that’s why we are lining up to take our jab at Mr Robertson. Yet, in light of the man’s record and reputation for being flippant, bigoted and all other words that describe a serious lack of wisdom or discretion, should we really be wasting our breath and time reacting to his latest episode of verbal diarrhea?

Robertson’s age is confusing. At 84, one would naturally expect more mellow, nuanced and generally wise advise coming from the man who has been dishing it out for decades. But he only seems to be getting worse.

Robertson’s context is also more confusing. He is speaking as a Christian leader and his show The 700 Club targets a largely Christian audience (considering it is distributed by Christian Broadcasting Network, which was founded by Robertson). Many of us who lay claim to the same faith find ourselves in a precarious situation when it comes to this man. We are embarrassed by him, and we are naturally quick to disassociate from him.

I don’t intend to dwell much on this issue, but I felt I should point out one lesson that stood out with this incident: Pat Robertson is what happens when we rely on the wisdom of man rather than God. Robertson seemed to have weaved his way into the trust of millions of people who regularly watch his show. He gets thousands of letters seeking advise on various topics about the Christian life and ministry. But the one thing that stands out in more than 90 per cent of Robertson’s responses is that they are just that: Robertson’s responses.

He seems to be his own authority. His answers are based on his own judgment, experience and personal opinions. Very rarely does he quote the Bible or even attempt to wrestle with what God says about an issue over what Robertson thinks about it. It is simply assumed that he has earned the authority to give answers without even doing a little research on the issues involved. “I don’t know” is seldom an option. His conspiracy theories go without question.

So what do I think of Pat Robertson in light of all this? Well, the only word that comes to mind is “warning”. Yes, Pat Robertson should be a warning to all of us on the folly of relying on ourselves and our theories and philosophies instead of God’s Word.

Consider yourself warned.

“Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe.” Proverbs 28:26

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” Proverbs 3:5-7

Posted in Media, Music Reviews

Don’t Be An Upcoming Gospel Artiste

It happens all the time. You hear a given phrase over and over and you get used to it and you never notice anything odd or weird about it. And then one day it hits you. You may have even used the phrase in conversation, until this day when someone says it and you were a bit absent minded and then it really hits you. Suddenly it sounds so different. That’s what happened to me last evening.

I was attending SPA FEST, an annual dancing competition, to cheer a team called DICE. It is the team my friend Winnie (she has written a guest post here before) dances in. In one of the interludes, a guy came onto the stage to perform a rap song. I didn’t catch his name, and it was obvious not many people knew who he was. You could tell from the murmurs in the crowd as he climbed up onto the platform.

“I am an upcoming artiste,” he added after the name I didn’t catch.

That’s when it hit me. I have heard that phrase used hundreds of times and I bet I have even used it a couple of times when referring to people. But what does that phrase, “upcoming artiste” really mean?

L Jay Maasai was the new artiste of the year in the 2014 Groove Awards (Photo courtesy: tetemesha.com)
L Jay Maasai was the new artiste of the year in the 2014 Groove Awards (Photo courtesy: tetemesha.com)

The surface meaning seems obvious. An upcoming artiste is someone who has recently started singing or performing in public. An upcoming artiste often doesn’t have an album – yet – and he has recently started recording some songs – or not yet. An upcoming artiste is not famous. His name has not caught on and people still struggle to remember him whenever he comes onto the stage.

An upcoming artiste is not an established artiste. In other words, he is not that popular – yet. Most of them can barely move the crowd (although the guy I saw yesterday really worked us up). All that sounds obvious, until it hits you afresh like it did me last evening. Why the “up” in upcoming? In fact, why the “coming”? Does the phrase reveal a worldview that we often overlook, as Christians, but should actually be wary of?

I believe it does, in a way.

An “up-coming” artiste implies that the artiste is “rising” to a certain level and that he or she will one day “arrive”. This bothers me. Because whenever we say an artiste is “rising” whose ranking are we using? The truth is that we have bought into the vocabulary and therefore the worldview of the world. We are categorizing and ranking Christian artistes using worldly standards and we don’t even realize it.

In the world, it is the numbers that speak. In the world, we know an artiste has “arrived” by counting the number of songs and albums and sales he has made. In the world, we know an artiste has arrived by looking at how many followers he has on Twitter and the place he holds in the TV music show charts. In other words, in the world, the stats are counted, not weighed. 

Which leads to the inevitable question, whose standards are we living and “performing” by? The irony is that most of the “upcoming” artistes often begin with a message that is faithful and biblical in the early years of their musical “career”. But as they rise up the ranks and arrive, the message gets more shallow and their gospel becomes watered down and less explicit. By the time they are topping the charts, many are great performers with messages that can barely be distinguished from the other chart-topping “secular” artistes.

Just track the musical journey of many current “arrived” artistes. Check their stats and you will see the consistent rise. Now go back and check the content of their songs and you will see the consistent decline. It will make you wonder if what we need is up-coming artistes or “down-going” artistes.

I am not saying that this is the case with all artistes who gain popularity in their musical careers. There will always be the remnants and the faithful such as Eunice Njeri. The fine wines that only get better with age like Christina Shusho are worth their place in the charts. But these are exceptional because they are the exceptions. The rule is more worrying.

“[Christ] must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:30

For the fame of His name,

Cornell

Posted in Media, Music Reviews

What Does Sex Sell?

Sex sells. There is no doubt about that. Let a semi-nude (semi-naked?) woman pose next to a car and men will suddenly be interested. Ensure your TV show has some steamy scenes and a romantic (lusty) storyline or two involving the protagonist, and your audience will be hooked. Use a sexually tantalizing image to advertise an upcoming sermon on teen sexuality and the teenagers will show up in droves. Think HBO, MTV,Telemundo… you get the picture.

Sex sells. In a hypersexualized society, the easiest and fastest way to get people’s attention is to dress up your message (or at least wrap the package) in lingerie.

sauti sol

In a recent heated controversy over a poster used by Mavuno Church to attract teens to church, Pastor Muriithi Wanjau made a lot of sense while defending the move. Our teenagers live in a hypersexualized world. They see sex everywhere, they think about it most of the time, that is where they spend most of their time. And in order to get their attention, we have to go where they are. We have to reach out to them using images that make sense to them. Images that will hook and lure them in. And sex is one of the most powerful images.

A big part of the uproar that is now only a distant memory was that the church was succumbing to immoral means to achieving moral ends. The church was becoming like the world in order to win the world. The church was not only in the world, but it was rapidly becoming of the world. Defenders of the “blurred lines” approach were however equally strongly persuaded that this was not the case. The church was not actually promoting pornography or condoning illicit sex. On the contrary, those who did visit Mavuno church and listen to the advertised message confirmed that the church was still for moral uprightness, for chastity and for a sexuality guided and guarded by the Word of God.

The publicity was just that — publicity.

Both sides agreed to disagree. Continue reading “What Does Sex Sell?”

Posted in Media, Music Reviews

Lecrae Responds to His Critics… Again.

Lecrae Moore is the first rapper to win a Grammy for the Best Gospel Album of the Year, but not every Christian is celebrating. Perhaps the confusion in the audience at the Grammy Award ceremony as his win was announced was an allusion to a deeper tension among Christians at the time. Lecrae was outside the venue when his name was called out, and he therefore didn’t make it to give his acceptance speech. Not only did most people in the audience wonder who Lecrae is, but many never even got to find out!

church Clothes 2 Cover
Church Clothes 2

Anyway, the award was for the album “Gravity”, and that’s not even where the controversy is. I am talking about Church Clothes 1. The rapper got his fans and critics into a frenzy when he collaborated with a “secular” DJ Don Cannon. The predictable accusations of “compromising” his witness and playing to the “worldly” gallery gushed without restraint. The song “Church Clothes” was however the bane of Lecrae’s fans. In the song, Lecrae went hard against the rampant hypocrisy in the church. This is not news. But the problem is that Lecrae’s approach was so harsh, to the point of seeming as if he wasn’t part of the church he was bashing: Continue reading “Lecrae Responds to His Critics… Again.”

Posted in Media

Great Reads (19 Oct 13)

Hello fellow Aliens!

I decided to change the name “Blog Break” to “Great Reads” to ease understanding for first-time visitors. It’s not a major change, but it’s a helpful one, I think. The following are some of the great reads that I had to bookmark for re-reading, because they were worth it — at least to me.

  1. OUR DISORDERED DESIRE TO ENTER THE “INNER RING”. Art Lindsey: “One of the most memorable of C. S. Lewis’s essays is entitled “The Inner Ring.” It describes our common desire to be accepted within the “inner ring” of whatever group matters to us at the time… This desire to be on the inside of whatever group you aspire to join can affect your relationships at work, in the community, and in the church.”
  2. STOP QUOTING BIBLE VERSES AT ME. Emily Timbol: “What should be most important to us, is not having a handy verse ready to quote, but the character of Christ within us, shining through. We need to read and know the Bible, in order to honor and obey God. To share the gospel, we have to know the gospel.”
  3. WHAT YOUNG CHRISTIANS CAN LEARN FROM THE ELDERLY. Elizabeth Marten: “Young people, myself included, want to appear independent. We are good at convincing others (and ourselves) that we are making do on our own. But the truth is that we’re often lonely. In our efforts to remain independent, we have forgotten how to be dependent on a community.”
  4. 20 TIPS FOR PERSONAL DEVOTIONS IN THE DIGITAL AGE. David Murray: “… Take guilt to God… Don’t share your daily devotions in social media… Establish regular time and place… Journal… ” and more.
  5. WHY DO WE SAY “GOD TOLD ME”? Nancy Guthrie: “When someone begins a sentence with “God told me . . .” I have to admit a silent alarm goes off somewhere inside me—unless the phrase is followed by a verse of Scripture. I know that many see this as the way the Christian life is supposed to work—that if we are really in fellowship with God we will be able to sense him speaking to us through an inner voice. But I’m not so sure.”

Have a blessed reading time. 🙂

Posted in Media

Blog Break (03 Sep 13)

Hello friends. I hope you’re having a great start of September. Here are some interesting reads that I thought will be worth your while. Enjoy:

1. THE MEDIATED LIFE IS NOT WORTH LIVING: “These days nearly everything we do is mediated by and filtered through technology–and this is not necessarily a good thing. Our social interactions are increasingly conducted and assisted via our phones, which all too often distract us from actual conversation and connection.”

2. IS JESUS ENOUGH FOR DRUG ADDICTS? A powerful call to community and deliberate discipleship. Mez: “Yes Jesus is enough. Yes, the gospel is the only power on this earth (or anywhere for that matter) capable of completely transforming any life, no matter how lowly. But addicts need a reason to get out of bed. They need a purpose. Very often they lack ambition. They lack dreams. They lack motivation. They lack sustained support and accountability. They lack true community.”

3. DELIBERATE MISUNDERSTANDING: “Speakers and writers have certain responsibilities: they should try to be clear, honest, efficient and sensitive to their audience. But listeners have a responsibility, too. To insist on implausible meanings is to pull a silly time-wasting trick: “Can I ask you a question?” “I don’t know, can you?””

4. WHY I CALLED OUT JOEL OSTEEN AND JOYCE MEYER. Rick Henderson: “Yesterday I did something that I have never done before in a sermon.  I publicly called out false teachers and named them by name.  I said,

If you listen to Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer, if you take what they teach seriously, it will not be good for you.  It will be detrimental to your long-term growth as a follower of Jesus.”

5. JOHN STOTT’S 8 KEYS. These eight keys to preaching with authority are applicable beyond the pulpit, to any other Bible teaching context. I hope you find them helpful: “His [Stott’s] suggestions are incredibly practical and perceptive – unfortunately, they’re sparsely practiced. So, here’s a friendly reminder: please, please, please take his advice.”

Have a blessed week

Cornell

Posted in Media, Music Reviews

God Looks at the Outward Appearance

beautyThe Word of God is alive. And one of the ways that this comes out clearly is in how new lessons are often caught from passages that you have read more than a dozen times and have never seen them before. I am tempted to think that this is also one of the evidences of the timelessness, and therefore the uniqueness, of the Word of God. I am not necessarily saying that we discover new truths from the traditional passage, but rather, we find old truths – truths clearly stated in other passages – being confirmed in this traditional passage.

The account of David’s anointing is one such passage. 1 Samuel 16:6-7

Samuel looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

This is a familiar passage. One that, I bet, you have quoted a dozen times. The passage is however often quoted in an attempt to downplay outward appearances, “looks” and other external marks of “perfection.” Sadly, the passage has been stretched to the extent of demonizing external appearances. In our attempts to preach the inclusion of the disabled and the disfigured in the society, we have used this passage to make it seem as if a wholesome body was inconsequential.

No wonder Plato’s body/spirit dichotomy became so popular in the first century Christianity. A popular group known as the “gnostics” perpetuated the teaching that the whole body was evil and only the spirit was good. This was actually “biblically” justified using verses such as Galatians 5:16-17

“Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

So, what is the danger in upholding this distorted view of God’s creation? We will end up demonizing what God approves; dismissing what God ordains as good, pleasing and praiseworthy. We end up having a low view of beauty, and as a result, a low view of God’s glory.  David tells us, in Psalm 19 that

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.

Speaking of David, the revelation that stood out as I read his anointing passage for the umpteenth time was this: God does not create an antithesis between the HEART and the OUTWARD appearance. The passage DOES NOT say “God does not look at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart.” What the passage actually says is “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

The difference is in HOW we look, not in WHAT is seen. The antithesis is between what God looks at as the basis for His choice, and what men look at as the basis for their choices. God looks at the heart, man looks at the outward appearance.

The lesson here is clear (or, at least it ought to be): outward appearances, or “looks” are important to God. Looks matter. But they are differently important. They are secondary, but not irrelevant.

Looks point to something, they are not the REAL thing. The heavens DECLARE the glory of God; the heavens are not the glory of God. We don’t worship the heavens. The outward appearances are only indicators, pointers, pictures… not the definitive thing.

No wonder, a few verses later in the 1 Samuel account, David finally shows up and the Bible records this about him:

He was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” (1 Samuel 16:12)

If one was to read this verse without the earlier information in verse 7, we could easily assume that David was chosen on the basis of his looks. In fact, if verse 7 wasn’t there, I bet we would currently have two denominations divided over the interpretation of verse 12.

So, we cannot dismiss the fact that David was handsome. We cannot say that God does not look at the outward appearance. The only freedom we have, from reading this passage, is that God looks at the outward appearance differently. Not the way we do.

David was a handsome man. His beauty was not an irrelevant detail thrown into the passage. It pointed to a greater beauty. The beauty of his heart. And his heart’s beauty pointed to an even greater beauty; the beauty of the heart’s creator. God’s beauty.

Could such an attitude permeate our attitude towards Christian art?

Could we learn not to tolerate bad Christian art (read Christian music) “just because” the message is orthodox and biblical?

Yes, we are to aim for more than outward looks. But this is not a license to settle for bad looks.

For the fame of His name,

Cornell

Note: My reference to the disabled and the disfigured above should not be misconstrued as implying that a person’s heart is necessarily evil because of their outward appearance. I am well aware that these are the effects of the fall, and are in no way indicative of one’s standing before God. If anything, we are all Differently Disabled.

Posted in Media

Surrender Your Story

2013-story

The only thing I love more than a good story is a good story worked into song. A story song is a song that tells a story. This is the main reason why I love bands such as Casting Crowns and why “closet” country music lovers can’t stop singing Coward of the County and Gambler in the shower.  Stories are powerful. They have the ability to turn what is mundane into something magical — what is obvious into something surreal. Stories are so powerful because they resonate with our lives, our experiences.

We identify with stories. We don’t just understand them, we relate. We don’t just hear them, we feel them. Stories are more than just a logical organization of nouns, adjectives and verbs; they are living entities. We tend to remember stories better than abstract facts because stories reside not just in our brains, but in our hearts. They become a part of us – or rather, we are a part of them.

Which is probably why stories tend to be even more magical when worked into songs. The only reason I love country music (there, I said it) is because of the story approach many country-song-writers take. But there’s something even more amazing about good stories. You probably didn’t know this, but no writer has ever written an original good story. Not even a fictional one. The beauty of every story lies in the fact that it is grounded in reality. Every work of fiction is worth reading only because it reminds us of something real. The setting may be wonderland. The characters may be talking animals. But what makes the story worth reading is that wonderland is a land and the animals are talking. It is this allusion to reality that makes every work of fiction worth our attention.

education-books-stories-6702200The worst writer is the purely imaginative writer — the one who doesn’t see the need to consult and conform with reality. The best writers are the most unoriginal writers — the ones who bother to create heroes that bleed and bad guys that love their wives. The Chronicles of Narnia are not a pure product of C.S. Lewis’ imagination. We admire Lucy because her innocence reminds us of our own when we were younger. We are not sure what we feel about Edmund probably because he has both a good and bad side — very much like us. We love Aslan because he reminds us of something else, someone else — Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, we tend to love characters in stories (imaginary or not) because they remind us of real people in a real world experiencing real struggles.

Back to my thesis: no writer has ever written an original good story.

I will use a song by Natalie Grant to illustrate my argument. Make a Way is a sad story about a teenage girl who goes into the city, hoping to make it big as a model and become famous. However, the first man she encounters ends up using her instead of helping her. She sacrifices her pride and dignity at the altar of magazine covers and modelling contracts. But her life never improves. She feels worse, not better. But she encourages herself with the words that drove her down the road of fame-seeking:

I’ll make a way
I’ll do whatever it takes
Even though it won’t be easy
I have a plan and though I may not understand
Someday, I’ll make a way

Despair drives her to walk aimlessly down a street. Natalie Grant captures her state more vividly than I ever could: “Walking down the road, in the city where she’d come with so much hope. Her vision had long died, along with all her pride, and she found herself at the end of her rope …” This is where she comes across a church, with the choir singing about Jesus Christ. The young woman hears the message, is drawn in, and falls down on her knees to pray. Then she hears Jesus telling her words that are very familiar and yet strangely comforting:

I’ll make a way
I’ll do whatever it takes
Even though it won’t be easy
I have a plan and though you may not understand
Today, I’ll make a way

These are the same words she had been telling herself ever since she first came into the city. “I’ll make a way”, “I will do it”, “I have a plan”, “I will survive”. Words that had grown stale and empty over time. Words that had become fossilized into maxims better left to bumper stickers and tweets, words that meant nothing because they had become unrealistic, untrue.

Yet, Jesus comes to her and says those very words, and the paradigm shifts. Suddenly, there’s hope. A new light shines into her life. It is not because she heard a different story. The only difference is that she heard the same story from a different person. She heard the words from the only person who had the power and will to make them come true, and – to reiterate my argument – the only person who ought to have said those words in the first place — Jesus.

By surrendering her story, the young woman gave life to her story. By giving up her story to Jesus, she owned the story even more strongly. Her words may have sounded original, deep, motivational even. But they were coming from the wrong lips. She thought they were her words, her resolve, her determination. Yet, the reality is that we have no resolve, no passion and no determination apart from Christ.

LivingStories

So, here’s an assignment for you. Go and look up every song, every movie, every novel that has ever moved your heart and welled you up. Examine it carefully and you will discover this amazing truth; it is always a plagiarized, distorted version of another person’s story. A grander story. God’s story.

Do not settle for mediocre stories. Let God’s story be your standard. Yes, those love songs may make your heart melt, but they are coming from the wrong lips. Learn to re-purpose your stories — whether you’re the one writing them or the one reading them. Let God redeem your stories.

Every good story points to a better story because it flows from a perfect story – God’s.

No human writer has ever written an original good story because only one writer is good, and only one story is original.

In the beginning was the Word.

For the fame of His name,

Cornell.

Posted in Media

Journalism in the Bible: Crafting the Truth

safety-helmet-clipboard-notebook-pen-wooden-table-top-view-construction-concepts-57119973

He rummages in the deep pockets of his lab coat for something to write on. His fingers feel out the shape of a notebook and he pulls it out – it’s a prescription pad.

It will have to do.

He pulls out a chair and, with his elbow, pushes aside the mountains of medical books to create some space. Taking off his lab coat and hanging it on the back of the chair, he sits down and begins to write.

“In as much as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us … it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,”  (Luke 1:1 & 3).

Luke begins what will end up being a 24 chapter letter to his friend.

Dr. Luke is not a trained scribe, but he loves to write. He is certified to fiddle with a stethoscope and write prescriptions, but here he is, employing  his doctor-sharp memory in the task of penning out a biography of Jesus.

The physician has done his research: he has double-checked the facts and cross-checked his sources. Now he writes.

The doctor is doing what scribes do (or ought to do) best, relaying the truth to the masses in writing. Of course, when Luke penned his letter, he had only one person in mind – his friend Theophilus. But thanks to God’s providential orchestration, the whole world is now privy to this treasure chest of God’s Good News to the world.

I can’t help but relate to this First Century doctor. I am a trained Engineer, with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering plus several months of working experience in the bag. Yet here I am, training and working in a leading media house in East Africa and bearing the title of Journalist:  interviewing people, double-checking facts, cross-checking my sources and writing stories.

To the casual eye, it may seem like I wasted my five years of Engineering training. Plus it’s not like the money in Journalism is anything to write home about. So, why am I doing this? What would compel me to leave the multi-million shilling construction projects and settle for spending hours at boring press briefings and scribbling on tattered notebooks?

Two word: Passion and Mission

A passion for the Word and a mission to the world.

I believe I am called to write, commissioned to tell stories and compelled to relay the truth. If I was Harry Potter, the pen would be my magic wand; I just slide the tip across my notebook and I make news; I just tap on a keyboard and watch lives get transformed.

I love to write, and I am persuaded that I best express my love for the society around me through writing. So, I write. Like Dr. Luke, I have laid aside the pomp and flair of a well moneyed career and opted to plant my rear at the corner of an office and “bang copy”. I love what I do. I love to tell stories and most importantly, I desire to tell the truth. What better place to do it than as a journalist?

Daily Nation’s slogan is “The Truth.”

Echoing the words of Luke,

“In as much as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us (The Truth) … it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent readers.”

My definition and understanding of “The Truth” may not be exactly like that of my bosses and most of my colleagues. But like Luke, I too have an opportunity to tell the truth that will outlive all others – through my life and, as opportunities arise, my writing.

It may seem implausible at first, but the Bible is actually the product of journalism – the product of men observing events, double-checking facts and cross-checking sources; under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. You can call it divine journalism.

And that’s The Truth.

For the fame of His name,

Cornell

Posted in Media

Why I’d Rather “Read” than “Listen” to My Bible

The thing with epiphanies is that they tend to happen at the most unlikely moments, and places. For me, however, the bus is proving to be a favorite hot-spot. I was commuting home from work the other day when I decided to listen to my audio-bible and block out the explicit lyrics blaring through the bus speakers. I was listening to the dramatized NIV bible, The Bible Experience, featuring a cast of popular African American actors. The narration was word for word, not edited. I was on the book of Matthew.

reading bbFirst, it was the angel speaking to Jospeh. It was a young woman’s voice; spoken in a low, silvery, solemn voice: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

Then it was King Herod, speaking to the wise men passing through Jerusalem. He spoke in a cheeky, sarcastic tone: “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

Third it was John the Baptist’s cutting words to the Pharisees and Sadducees: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” You could almost see his piercing eyes and the bared teeth hissing out the wrathful sentence. Continue reading “Why I’d Rather “Read” than “Listen” to My Bible”

Posted in Media, Music Reviews

Music As Christian Entertainment?

Music, like food, can be enjoyable. But that’s not its primary purpose. The “entertainment” aspect is a secondary and incidental outcome, not to be pursued as an end in itself. This does not mean that the entertaining effect of music is unnecessary, just as the taste of food is not unnecessary. The problem lies in our finite need to understand things in limited and distinct categories.

I don’t think we ought to classify something that happens to be “entertaining” as “Entertainment” because that would be establishing the identity of something by what it does rather than by what it is.

By definition, I am not a writer, I am a human being who writes. I am not a blogger, I am a son of God who blogs. I am not a sinner, I am a saint who sins.

If you don’t see the ridiculousness of classifying music (Christian or otherwise) as entertainment, consider the idea of classifying a theological book that happens to be humorous as “Christian Humor”. The problem is that the moment we define the book as such, we’re bound to have people reading the book solely for the “humor” in it. To define is to confine. We must therefore be careful with our definitions lest we put our borders too restrictively on ideas that are bigger and more complex than our finite minds can comprehend.

FOR THE GLORY OF GOD

There are many things that we can do for the glory of God. I believe that it is in the process of seeking to glorify and delight in God that we find ourselves delighted and entertained. However, the devil wants to replicate the same “felt” outcomes of delighting in God and achieve them through misguided and misplaced purposes. For instance, while sex is enjoyable, that does not mean that enjoyment is the primary purpose of sex.

When we make the enjoyment the end, then any means of attaining that enjoyment becomes acceptable e.g. pornography and masturbation. In the same way, romantic feelings are an incidental part of the whole package of marriage. However, if we make those feelings the sole basis for a marriage, then there’s nothing to stop us from pursuing them in misplaced objects, e.g homosexuality. There will also be nothing to stop us from getting divorced once those feelings fade. Continue reading “Music As Christian Entertainment?”

Posted in Media

A Man After God’s Own Art

“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”

Ephesians 5:11

Samuel said to the Christian Singer, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you to write and lead songs of worship in His Church; so listen now to the message from the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Blasphemous Singers for what they did to my children when they waylaid them as they came up from that world of sin. Now go, oppose those Blasphemous Singers and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death their lyrics and their lies, their instrumentals and their melodies, their curses and their choruses.’”

So the Christian Singer summoned the worship team and the evangelists. They went to the clubs and radio stations where Blasphemous Singers ruled and reigned and ambushed them with the message of the Gospel. Then he said to the Compromised Christians who were associating with the Blasphemous Singers, “Go away, leave the Blasphemous Singers so that God will not destroy you along with them; for you have shown kindness to all the Christians who have come up out of this world.” So the Compromised Christians moved away from the Blasphemous Singers. Continue reading “A Man After God’s Own Art”

Posted in Media

Out of Site, Out of Mind (Adios Facebook!)

So, last week I decided to take a short hiatus from Social Media and blogging in order to refresh and catch up. I was supposed to take a month or so off. If you’re among the people who noticed that I had even left, you must be wondering what I am doing back here – only a week later. Well, a lot has happened in the brief time that I was away, and I have learnt some unanticipated lessons in the short time that I was away. I thought I should share them with you here. By the end of the post, you’ll understand why I’ve decided to interrupt my blogging hiatus, though I am not going to be logging into my personal Facebook profile anymore. Here are some of the painful PERSONAL lessons learnt about MY Social Media Facebooking habits:

1. IT IS A HEART THING

No-Facebook-logoI have tried the social media Facebook fast thing before, and I’ve failed terribly. I didn’t even finish 2 days before I was dying to log in “just to see what’s going on”. In the first instance, I decided to go the whole amputation way. I disabled my Facebook account. That meant that I was inaccessible to my Facebook friends. There were many reasons why I couldn’t stay out for long. For instance, I realized that there were friends that I needed to communicate with, and readers who needed to access my notes. Only later on did it occur to me that disabling my Facebook account was a selfish way to carry out a Facebook fast. Not only is it attention-seeking, it harmed unsuspecting friends. My fast shouldn’t be my friends’ fast. It’s my heart, not theirs, that needed the medicine. That’s why this time around I decided to leave my account online but not log in. It’s a heart thing, not a technical thing. I am the one who needs to overcome this addiction, and I didn’t need to take unwilling victims in my quest. Continue reading “Out of Site, Out of Mind (Adios Facebook!)”

Posted in Media

IGNORE THIS BLOG-POST IF YOU HATE JESUS!!!

ShareIfYouLoveMeIt started with e-mail forwards, before finally migrating onto our Facebook timelines. You know the drill. It will usually be a heart-wrenching picture of a disfigured victim of a disease or assault, or the picture of a baby in ICU with head heavily bandaged and tubes running all over her little face. A caption at the bottom of the picture will often say something to this effect: “Share this if you have a heart. Ignore it if you don’t care.” That is in the mainstream category. There are also the more religious ones, you know, an encouraging calligraphic quote or Bible verse, with the words, “Re-post this message if you love Jesus” as the title of the link. You were just minding your business, you only wanted to log into Facebook, check your messages and notifications and leave without posting anything. No one has to know you were online. But thanks to this guilt-tripping link, you now have to share it… or ignore it and deal with your conscience. Continue reading “IGNORE THIS BLOG-POST IF YOU HATE JESUS!!!”

Posted in Media

Should Christian Artistes “Take Back” Secular Music?

secular-music-christian-musicA friend of mine once remarked that “if you mute the sound to most of today’s Gospel music videos, I bet you will not be able to tell whether it is a Christian or a Secular Video playing.” He was right, many Christian songs are increasingly conforming to the MTV standards of music videos. The days of congregational singing on videos are slowly becoming history. While one may argue that it is a general change in culture, I cannot help but notice that, even in the days of Ron Kenoly and Don Moen, secular videos were just as perverted. It is the Christian videos that seem to have conformed to the secular videos with the passage of time. While this may be  cause for alarm and concern for many, it is not what I am writing about today. Today I will be thinking through another equally common practice in the Christian music. “Take backs”. This is when Christian artistes take secular songs and remix them (redeem them) by changing the lyrical content to something more biblical and Christ-centered. The debates surrounding the issue range from those who are convinced that music is “spiritual” and secular music has “demonic” influence to those who think that the only spiritual thing in music are the lyrics. Continue reading “Should Christian Artistes “Take Back” Secular Music?”

Posted in Media

Plagiarized Spirituality – God or Google? [Part 2]

The problem with plagiarism among Christians is that the problem is not plagiarism in itself, but the false self-aggrandizement that it reveals. It is bad enough to be proud of an ability you have, what is to be said of taking pride in an ability that you don’t even have?

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith.” [Romans 12:6]

In my previous post, I brought to our attention one example of plagiarism that is rampant among Christians (though plagiarism is not a problem unique to Christians) on social media . It is my hope that you realized my focus was not so much on the fact that people post [unoriginal] status updates and tweets without citing the original authors, but that when an opportunity to accredit those words arises, many of us would still not do it. This was my major concern. I am not suggesting that we now have to cite the author of every witty spiritual quote we post. Most of the times we honestly don’t even remember where we read or saw that quote. Continue reading “Plagiarized Spirituality – God or Google? [Part 2]”

Posted in Media

Plagiarized Spirituality – God or Google? [Part 1]

It’s a typical day at work or at home. You decide to take a break from whatever you were doing and log into your Facebook Account. You begin scrolling down the News Feed, skimming through your friends’ status updates. Then this status update posted by your friend, *Mike, catches your attention: “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” You immediately recall reading those same words in C. S. Lewis’ book, The Problem of Pain. It doesn’t really bother you that the person has not accredited those words to their original author. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t even occur to you that he hasn’t. Not at first… not until you scroll down to the comments section. Continue reading “Plagiarized Spirituality – God or Google? [Part 1]”

Posted in Media

15 Essential Facebook Attitudes

I was going through my archives of past writings and look what I just dug up! I had just joined Facebook and I was a new believer when I wrote this (2007 – one year into the faith). It still inspires me. I hope it inspires you too.

15 Essential Facebook Attitudes

  1. You and Satan are no longer friends (Born Again).
  2. You added Jesus as a friend and He is at the top of your friend-list. (Jesus is your closest Friend). Continue reading “15 Essential Facebook Attitudes”