Archive for the If I was… Category

Is there a Canaan for the the Urban African Church beyond the COVID-19 wilderness?

Posted in If I was... on June 5, 2020 by Kyama

COVID-19 has meant that for the first time in my lifetime Christians have had a mandatory break from weekly church services, in most major urban centres of the world. As I write this, church leaders here in Kenya, met today to consider cautiously opening their doors to resume meeting. The announcement has not been made yet – and many are waiting with bated breath. There are obvious health concerns associated with opening church gatherings to the general public. It is also true that the ravages of a pandemic should not outweigh the very important role that religion plays for the long term [spiritual] health of the society. After all this is not the first or the most serious pandemic humanity has faced since 32AD.

The question then is what the urban church in Africa will likely return to after the pandemic. Before I attempt to reflect on that, let me get some important things out of the way.

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One: There is much talk of the new normal. A useful way to reflect is to see the present situation as normative in a way that facilitates better anticipation for and integration with the future. It might help to think of what we have now and going forward as ‘normal,’ and the past as the “old normal.”

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Two: Technology has been hailed as the way of the future. Some assume that technology will change everything and replace current modes of physical relationship with virtual means. One analogy sometimes used to describe the technological shift has been the total replacement of camera film with digital photography. I am not yet convinced that virtual relationship and interactions will completely supplant the need for interpersonal interactions such as those in churches. I find it helpful to think of technology as a modifier or accelerator. The entry of mobile phones made phone booths obsolete, but mobile phones multiplied the number of conversations people could have with each other. People never stopped meeting – they still do, but they added mobile communication to the arsenal of relational tools at their disposal. Emails eclipsed hand written or typed personal letters, but people still crave physical meetings. In the same way, I do not expect that zoom will completely replace the need for physical community in church. I will get back to this in a moment.

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Honk (Or Zoom) If You Love Jesus: How Churches Are Adapting Amid ...Three: Of all the things that will change – the core tenets of Christian faith will not change. The message of reconciliation between a loving God and an obstinate humanity will remain relevant for all time. The at-times gripping, at-times in your face, at-times baffling, at-times winding story of that reconciliation recorded in the Bible will remain relevant for as long as the human race will struggle with its brokenness.

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So, if Christians in African urban centres have had a break from Church, will they go back to church? Will churches survive? Will there be a need for people to meet again in the communities we have come to know as the church? The short answer to all these questions is “Yes.” The long answer is “it will really depend,” and here is why –

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People will be yearning for the message of life: The average congregation member or potential church goer will be very exposed to a lot of information, trends and ideologies on the internet. Christianity will be one among many ‘ideologies.’ They will also be exposed to all kinds of ‘feel good’ spiritual experiences in the form of music, talks/sermons and even online experiences. The thing that will move them from the comfort of the screen to the church building, is a message that goes beyond attempting to produce a feeling [though that has its place]. People will go to church if what they find there is an authentic, life-giving experience of Christ and his people. It will go beyond intellectual engagement with the content, or some good old razzmatazz. They will want to see, and connect with people who are human, genuine about their humanity, but also bold and willing to stake their life on their message. I will not be surprised if people will flock to churches of pastors who are trolled or vilified for standing up for their faith in Christ online. I won’t be surprised if people seek out preachers with high personal integrity, and church members who care more about applying the message to their daily lives than trying to be suave or PC. I won’t be surprised to see churches emerging which meet in simple ways but put a premium on authenticity and fidelity to Christ. They will crave a meaningful faith not just a fleeting spirituality.

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People will be yearning for a holistic gospel: I expect people will leave the couch to attend churches that look beyond personal religion. They will find enough of that online – after all the online experience is very much like a supermarket [of global proportions] where people can pick whatever each wants without having to consume it with someone else. It is very individualistic in that sense. People will leave the screen if they find something that offers more – something that offers a community dimension of faith lived out for the benefit of society. The opposite is also true. People will want more than just ‘giving back to society.’ People might leave the couch to attend a church that isn’t just another NGO trying to solve societies’ issues without a bigger vision and motivation. There isn’t a shortage of causes to follow on the net. I think urban Africans might be moved to communities that tie their message of hope for the society with a bold, well-thought through, and authentically articulated commitment to Christ.

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People will be yearning for holistic supernatural encounters: Social media has done anScience and Religion - Debate On Religion excellent job of ridiculing charlatans who manufacture miracles for show. The pendulum has also swung on the opposite end where the same media has idolized a humanism that glorifies [even worships] science. Unfortunately, this humanism leaves more questions unanswered about bigger life issues than it answers about the mechanics of it. I suspect that the discerning public, church-going or not, are already suspicious of the two extremes and are looking for more. That ‘more’ may likely be found in communities that unashamedly offer the possibility of a God who isn’t bound by human constraints, is free to perform miraculous acts, not for show but as interventions revealing his sovereignty. These will not be limited to the spectacular. It seems to me people will be very much attracted to Acts 2 communities where God can be seen at work in big and small ways in people’s lives without the lights-camera-action mode we have seen recently. People might be willing to leave their laptop at home to go hear the Word of life preached boldly, thoughtfully and authentically, producing life change in people who previously had no hope.

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People will be yearning for simplicity without being taken for simpletons: Lets face it Advanced Biblical Theology and Christian Doctrine | Udemy, the online world is a highly complicated one with numerous twists and turns. Add to that the complexity of managing virtual relationships with multiple levels of very public interactions. Add to that the real-life friends. Add to that work. Add to that family. Add to that the nagging existential questions of life. An uncomplicated genuine encounter with Christ which touches the heart, the mind and probes the deepest of our emotions will likely inspire a person to make that trip to church. It is possible that, while there may likely be a number of large communities, there will be many more new small communities thriving in this simplicity. Cities are already highly complex places which are expensive to live in and costly to run large gatherings in.  This will inevitably make it hard to financially sustain large teams of full-time clergy. I would not be surprised if this dynamic of our growing African cities will contribute to the shift towards simpler church setups and services.  Teams might end up being smaller with mostly bi-vocational members. It will be simple but not simplistic. That generation will want to engage their faith with their minds as well as their hearts. They want to grapple with the hard personal and societal questions and probe deep for answers. They will hope for leaders [both clergy and lay] who won’t be afraid to reflect and probe with them. I can see people leaving that online perch and make the trip to sit under the teaching of such leaders. I can see some gathering around their bi-vocational pastors after service and talking till evening weaving theological issues, with life questions, with counselling matters, all with a measure of seriousness but peppered with some light-hearted fun.

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COVID-19 is not the end of the church. For a part of the world, things might continue as they did before. There is another part of the world for whom that will be the old normal. The normal will force them to grapple with the issues I raise. After the COVID-19 wilderness, it is very likely that a number of churches in African cities will be unable to adjust to this life in Canaan and may have to give up their existence to make way for a generation of churches that might be very different from what we know. These ‘new’ churches might have an uncanny similarity with New Testament communities. And that won’t be a bad thing for urban Africa. It actually could well be the answer to the fervent prayers of many in my generation and before.

On Pentecostalism Today

Posted in If I was... on May 23, 2020 by Kyama

This is an excerpt of a Facebook conversation about an insightful article calling for a Pentecostal response to COVID-19. You may find the article here Coronavus Calls for Revival of Pentecostalism. In my Facebook post I hailed the article as a reminder of who we are, and what should be normative. The following is a part of the dialogue that ensued with Kevin Muriithi, a youth pastor, apologist, and theologian.

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Kevin Ndebz Muriithi Kyama thanks for the read. It was helpful in articulating, at least in my reading, the place of being open to the Spirit’s leading. I like how Richard Foster looks at the various Christian traditions as "streams" that help us to flow to the same river. To that end I think Pentecostalism reminds us of the place of the Spirit. A few questions for clarity:

1. The writer talks about prayer and love as descriptive of healthy Pentecostalism. Isn’t this just descriptive of being a Christian in which case what does Pentecostalism offer as a distinctive Christian tradition?

2. Openness to the Spirit should be center in our Christian life. I think the danger however can be a leaning towards individualistic and subjective experience above what we see in God’s entire revelation in scripture. I think this is a major critique towards Pentecostalism in general, and "excessive Pentecostalism" in particular. So the question would be what balance does a healthy Pentecostalism offer and how does it differ from other Christian traditions on the same?

3. I guess these questions point to this underlying observation on my end – that either because Pentecostalism as a Christian tradition is relatively young or because there have not been distinctive "healthy" Pentecostal theology(ies), then that is why we see the aberrations in doctrine and practise? If it is my ignorance, especially on the last point on lack of a distinctive healthy Pentecostal theology, what would you say are the basic pillars of Pentecostal theology that make it distinctive?

4. Although I see the biblical and practical emphasis on the Spirit and gifts, my major critique is that in most cases these seem to be emphasized outside the guidelines of Scripture. This remains my major critique on the movement and on it’s rather concentrated scope on the biblical revelation i.e Pneumatology. Is there more to Pentecostal theology beyond this?

These will greatly aid in my understanding my dear brother.

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Alex Shianda Kevin Ndebz Muriithi streams of living water by Richard Foster is a fantastic book.

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Kevin Ndebz Muriithi Alex Shianda it really is. Very helpful in learning from one another.

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Kyama Mugambi Kevin Ndebz Muriithi most popular (and scholarly) discourse on Pentecostalism starts from critique. There are many angles this launches from, eg critiques against American Fundamentist pentecostalim (and its related televangelist variants), excesses of African charismatcism (in independent and historic mission churches) etc. Every Christian tradition (even evangelicalism that is fierily scathing towards most other traditions) has areas where it needs Christ, and where it can learn from other traditions. This particular article is set within that context where Pentecostalism is said to have nothing to offer. (A narrative that is fast growing here). Even the site where it is published has in the past been impatient with Pentecostals/Charismatics. This article offers a corrective for Pentecostal/Chrismatic insiders (of whom I am one) and (hopefully) observers.

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Kyama Mugambi All theology is in some way contextual. Post enlightenment Euro-Christian thought has tended to promote theological discourse (learning) by (often fractious) critique. Simply put, find the fault in others, then present your considered opinion. This is …See More

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Kevin Ndebz Muriithi Kyama Mugambi I hear you and wholly agree, all theology is contextual. In total agreement especially on the idea that the various traditions have something to offer the global church – and that all traditions are imperfect. Agreed. I think this answers most questions but I’d like to hear from an insider’s perspective on this:

What would an insider say are some foundational pillars of healthy Pentecostalism? Or what would an insider say is Pentecostalism’s unique contribution to the global church?

Let me emphasize that I am asking for my own understanding and that I ask with a desire to learn from an insider’s perspective.

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Kyama Mugambi That’s the subject of whole books [see Alan Anderson, Walter
Hollenweger]. I would say Pentecostalism is but one expression of Christianity. It is found both in independent churches, and in historic mission Christianity [where it is sometimes called
Charismatic Christianity…] It’s key emphases [which would be its
pillars, or contribution if you like] are – a recognition of the prominent place of the Holy Spirit in the lived-out Christian experience, a profound appreciation of the power of God at work in the miraculous, an appreciation for New Testament experiences in the life of the Christian today, a vibrant orality that makes a place for experience as a valid expression of Gospel truth. There are others but I think those are the key ones. Let me also add here that there is a whole spectrum of Pentecostal expression and even nuances to Pentecostal theology. But I would summarize the key points that way.

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Kevin Ndebz Muriithi Kyama Mugambi thanks for these. Very helpful.

Two Passovers plus One

Posted in If I was... on April 12, 2020 by Kyama

Traditional Jewish MatzoThe first Easter happened during the Passover, a celebration commemorating how God’s people depended on Him for life and deliverance from slavery. Knowing the end of the story from the beginning, God instituted that Holy day for Israel before the last plague in Egypt. He instructed His people to remember how He cared for their plight as slaves and rescued them at a great cost to Egypt (Exodus 12). On that fateful night and going forward He told his people to slaughter a lamb, smear its blood on their front doors, then roast the meat and eat it quickly with unleavened bread, as a memorial. God didn’t need the festival – it really was meant to be a lasting reminder for people through the generations of their indebtedness to God.

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This first Passover was also a prophetic event pointing us to another Lamb sacrificed to save humankind, God’s people. God responded to our tendency to sin by sending Jesus, His Son to die a cruel, shameful death on the Cross. On the Passover week on that first Easter, Jesus was slain and His blood poured out to avert the plague of eternal spiritual death. (Matthew 26-27, Mark 13-14, Luke 22-23, John 18-19) This deliverance event is the most important Christian Holy day (holiday if you like). Each year Christians celebrate it, usually with family, food and fun memories. Each year I look forward to the Easter church service, my highlight – the communion and hearing again those powerful words about Christ’s Body broken and His blood poured out for us.

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Photo Of The Inside Of A ChurchWithout conventional church services to attend, Easter 2020 is one of the most unusual Holy seasons in recent history; certainly different from anything I have ever had. It may well be different from any Easter many of us will ever have. This year’s Pesach finds us in the middle of a struggle to come to terms with the pain, grief, loss and confusion of the moment caused by Covid-19. We are confronted with a historical moment which, if I am to be honest, I have no other means to make meaning of except through faith. It is a season when an entire community (humanity in this case) comes face to face with illness and mortality. Israel faced this community-wide cross-roads at least twice in Biblical times, each time depending on God for deliverance, and instituting a Holy day of remembrance. (The Passover in Exodus and Purim in Esther)

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One month into the crisis, the small number cases in Africa at this moment confounds the science of it all. On the continent we now live with the grim anticipation of a deluge of confirmed infections waiting to happen. This may well be the case, but it may not. There may be no tsunami of illnesses after all. The possibility exists that the cup may pass by with less destruction than projected. What will a Christian response be?

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Silhouette of Person Holding Glass Mason JarThe Passover message contains a potent, pertinent lesson. It teaches us that our health, indeed our existence, depends on God. An appropriate practical response may be to set aside moments of reflection (as Dr Sahaya Selvam wisely pointed out) to remember how much we owe God for our lives. But what if the angel of death strikes, as he has elsewhere, and the storm beats worse than what is predicted? Even here, the Passover message still applies. The Easter Passover is about our indebtedness to God for all that we are. When that storm blows over, there will be a place to retreat and remember God in solemn praise, and resolute dependence, as Hosea (6:1-3) and Habbakuk (3:17-19) remind us. It remains a Passover after all, should we live to remember the days.

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Brown Wooden CrossGod prescribed the Passover ‘feast’ to Israel during the last and greatest Plague in Egypt. As we grapple with these circumstances around us, I think it is fitting to set aside our own moment of remembrance. It may be well worth the spiritual exercise to reflect on what we will do to remind us about our indebtedness to God when Covid-19 is over. Here are some thoughts I have turned over in my mind. On the day of remembrance next year (whenever that will be), perhaps I should plan to eat dinner with only my family ensuring that on the menu are immunity boosting lemons, ginger and garlic (that have been a part of our diet now); to do a zoom call with other friends and loved ones with facemasks on to remind us how precious we are to each other – and that we owe our lives to God. Have you thought about what you will do when God delivers you from Covid-19?

Facts, Faith and Covid-19

Posted in If I was... on April 9, 2020 by Kyama

Covid 19 confronts us with a barrage of fear inducing facts. How are we as Christians to come to terms with the impact of these numerous pieces of frightful information? This has been the subject of much discussion with some decrying the failure of “Christians” to acknowledge the facts of science. Some Christians clap back with comments ranging from references to God’s sovereignty to Apocalyptic prophecies. This article isn’t about the details of who is right or wrong in these arguments. It is a [rather lengthy] piece for Christians who want to figure out what role their faith plays in relation to alarming facts in crisis such as this one.

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Concept Of Covid-19 In Red BackgroundFacts within a specific context are what constitutes one’s reality. Some facts will only apply within a given context while others do not. For example mangoes in our village fall on the ground under the pull of gravity. That might be true all over the earth but it is a different matter on the NASA space station four hundred kilometers above the earth. The behaviour of a mango on the space station does not necessarily negate the laws of gravity but it just means the facts apply differently in that different context. The fact of gravity is the same but these are two different realities as experienced by the people in those places.

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It follows, therefore, that someone else’s fact, in a different context may not constitute our reality. For example, a person without previous an infection of chickenpox will likely respond differently to exposure than one who has had it. One important point, however, and this is the point of this post, is that different people process the same fact differently based on the resources they have to process their reality. In other words, the same reality, with the same facts and the same context, will evoke different responses. The range of responses is wide. Some responses are more informed by faith while others are less informed by faith. Other factors such as fear, pain, and so on also influence people’s response. How then are we as Christians to address the information we have about covid-19?

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Person Holding Laboratory FlaskFact, scientific or otherwise, helps us know with some certainty what the measurable, verifiable elements of our reality are. Religion, however, is what should guide us in coming to terms with this reality. My faith as a Christian helps me make sense of what we know so far about our situation. Should the situation change, my faith will also help me find understanding and purpose. I return to this shortly. From a Christian perspective, it is possible to be aware of particular facts about a reality but miss the mark in making sense of them. I illustrate this with a well known Biblical account in Numbers 13 and 14.

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Israel came out of Egypt with a promise for a bright future. Their long and winding journey in the wilderness brought them to the promised land. When they arrived at its threshold, Moses, their trusted leader sent spies to bring back a report. Twelve men went out with specific instructions to gather information – facts, about the land. At the end of six weeks brought back the same facts. The land was productive, but unlike Israel, the people lived in large fortified cities and had considerable military might. This where the commonality of perspective among the spies ended.

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Ten spies looked at the facts and concluded, according to their interpretation, that the promised land was a no-go zone. In their words, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” In the same way many of us with potentially useful morsels of info share [on social media], the spies took it upon themselves to present the facts, and their assessment to the people. The result of their introspection was a riot and possibly mass hysteria among a travel-weary, poor, fearful and anxious Israel. “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder,” Israel complained to Moses.

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Photo of Person Peeking through the HoleJoshua and Caleb, the remaining two spies, encountered the same facts, acknowledged them but saw greater purpose. They did not dismiss the negative, potentially overwhelming downsides of Canaan. They instead chose to see the whole picture. Their assessment of the facts led them to conclude that the land presented an opportunity for Israel. They accepted that Canaanites had great military might but this was no match for God’s promise to Israel. It was not lost on them that there would be a struggle, but they gave meaning and context to the facts by putting God in the picture.

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Similarly, Covid 19 presents us with the opportunity to assess the facts of post-corona-virus life. Our Christian assessment should be honest about what the situation on the ground is. We should also be aware of who God is and what he intends for us.

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Let us be clear here that hope does not mean dishonesty about the truth. A harsh indictment is given for those who deny the truth about a dire situation. Such unwise people (the prophet uses stronger words) put themselves on a collision course with God when they “whitewash” the truth with false claims. (Ezekiel 13:3-12) While the temptation is great to bend the facts to give hope to a desperate people, such hope must be rooted in the actual situation. Covid-19 is a serious disease that has caused widespread suffering, and death. Every presentation of hope needs to make sure it is not “whitewashing” this fact.

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We also must understand that a message of hope in Christ that does not acknowledge God’s sovereignty over human frailty also attracts God’s displeasure, as we have seen in the Numbers narrative. Our Christian faith response cannot be despondent and despairing, even with harsh facts – this is not the vision we see of our God in scripture. Our faith furnishes us with the resources to accept both the severity of our situation, and appreciate God’s sovereignty over it.

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Man Holding His FaceI can see three responses that we can adopt as we process meaning behind the facts of our Covid-19 situation. The first is a retreat into lament. (See N.T.Wright’s reflection on this Here.) Christian faith teaches us that there is a place for a quiet weeping over our state. A solemn, soul-searching moment that invites us to grieve over our weak physical and spiritual condition, as God would, and does. Jeremiah in his eponymous book, and the book he wrote of Lamentations gives us excellent lessons on this. Many Psalms also do a great job modelling this, and giving us the vocabulary for lament. In our lives lament involves prayer, meditative readings and even music that puts us in touch with the feelings of grief, loss and sense of utter dependence on God in our lamentable circumstances.

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This grief cannot be perpetual but must give way to a resolute dependence on God. Such a dependence recognizes the seriousness of the situation but also acknowledges that God can bring deliverance in any form to the afflicted. It challenges our one-track view of modern medicine, and causes us to consider other avenues of God’s miraculous intervention, whether by medical or other means. This dependence is so fervent that even if God did not heal in the way we desire, we still remain devoted to him. (See Habbakuk 3:17) This dependence prioritizes seeking after God in His Word. (See Hosea 6:1-4) It also highlights spiritual disciplines such as community worship [in whichever form available], prayer and fasting.

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Brown Concrete Cross Near a Palm TreeFinally, a third Christian response to our difficult realities should inspire an outward orientation. The alarming facts of Covid-19 must re-sensitize us to the most vulnerable in our midst and how severely they are affected. It should drive us to care for them by considering their livelihoods as well as their health. It will require those with means to give generously to safeguard the well-being of the vulnerable. Christian employers, landlords and other people of means – must think outside the box to find humane solutions to the difficult dilemmas of life, especially in cities and towns. A Christian response to Covid-19 realities is a call to reach deep into our Christian experience, to cultivate a sense of purpose and hope at a time when the facts tempt us to fear. In the face of the hopelessness of skepticism towards God, our Christian faith invites us back to the Cross, to cling on to God with even more devotion.

Leviticus 25, Covid 19 and the triumph of Hope

Posted in If I was... on March 25, 2020 by Kyama

Covid19 shook most assumptions we have held about the proper functioning of our world. It affected how we relate with our loved ones, when and how we travel, how we do business, what is important in business, whether politics is a crucial media topic in times of crisis, how nations relate, what is the first world or the third world in terms of a pandemic, and so on. We return to this shortly but first let me talk a little about another occurrence that was intentionally designed to periodically rattle the fundamentals of a nation.
Jubilee was an extraordinary economic, social and political phenomenon (See Leviticus 25). Image result for virgin forestGod instituted it to occur every fifty years, as a kind of sabbath after seven seasons of seven years each. Farmed land was put on furlough. Even the soil, trees and vines were given a rest. Economically speaking, land previously sold was returned to its God-instituted custodians. Creditors had to forgive the debts of those who sold themselves to servitude on account of poverty. (That is if their kin did not ‘redeem’ them before the day.) Slaves by reason of money were freed, and relationships potentially are given a new lease of life.
At face value, this seems like a wonderful time of favour, celebration and good cheer. One must read the text more carefully to see that the Jubilee was an institutionalized periodic knock on the head for anyone who missed God’s directives about justice in society. Jubilee was a difficult time. The resulting societal changes affected the dynamics of power, leadership and governance. In other words, the sabbath of sabbaths had a politico-economic dimension. It was also a moment of reckoning where the society, especially its leaders, should have taken a long hard look and addressed the issues.
Look closer and see that Moses instituted a total upset of the systems of ‘good economic practice.’ Such ‘good practice’ required that the owners of the means of production paid for labour. Money loaned to a person ‘did its work’ to bring in interest, both to recover the time value of money and to generate value for the lender. Means of production, ie land, was to be worked to generate maximum value for its owner, working it at every open opportunity. Jubilee tossed all that on its head. Image result for upside down graph
Workers giving value in exchange for money loaned in the past (but still unpaid), were released. The remaining amount of money owed – was pardoned. The land lay unfarmed. It is easy to see how this was a moment of jubilation for slaves freed, and for workers who didn’t have to go to the fields. Jubilee was a season of uncertainty where the well-to-do were plunged into the unknown. The society pushed the reset button.
There are many dimensions of this reset. Fundamentally though, the haves and have-nots had to name, then come to terms with the inequalities of society. “What do you owe?” “It is now pardoned.” I can imagine how a person who had completed only 3 out of 6 years of servitude happily left their implements on the farm as soon as the Jubilee year started. I can also imagine land owners determinedly working their bond-servants to the bone in the few days remaining before the Jubilee year began just to try and get that last unit of value before the reset. There was little recourse when someone owed you, and did not pay, and had to be released -all that because the Jubilee had come. The pardon of the season protected the debtor but instituted a kind of preference against the person of means. (Remember Fr Gutierrez’s preferential option for the poor?)
More could be said, but suffice it to say that Jubilee was such a difficult manoeuvre to execute properly that some say it likely was never observed as instructed. It remained an unfulfilled longing awaiting a Messiah. (Isaiah 61, Luke 4) It is not hard to imagine why it was the substance of wistful dreams. Anyone with the power and societal wherewithal to effect it would have had to endure immense uncertainty, angst, and pain for the reset to happen properly. It is easy to see political reasons why Jubilee might not have seen the light of day. Hope for the poor came at a cost. Jubilee challenged everything and everyone – Leveling the playing field in an unequal society, in an uncomfortable disruption for one group, which simultaneously projected rays of hope for another group. Jubilee was the reminder that before God, all humanity is equal and vulnerable.
Despite its unclear origin, obscure trajectory, and unprecedented consequences so far, Covid19, like Jubilee, gives us a glimpse of what it looks like when all humanity is equalized and vulnerable.Image result for covid 19 It has forced a rest, in some places, of all but the essential means of production. The proverbial soil, trees and vines have to rest, along with those who tend them.

It exposes us to the angst and fear in a person [people, society, societies] when money, health care cover, one’s government, can do little to offer assurances against a reality that shakes the very foundations of what makes us secure. It also exposes us to the seeming recklessness of those who, having nothing more to lose in the humanly induced inequalities of society, choose actions to try to secure their daily subsistence. It exposes our vulnerabilities as humans. It brings out the dangerous human potential for pain, fear and indifference in all levels of humanity. It flips the table on what we normally see. The indifference of the privileged towards the poor, and the systems that make society so unequal, is exchanged with the fear the privileged have when the systems threaten their own existence. The fear that the poor have of the worsening of their plight, is exchanged with an indifference towards the dire context, as they try to make ends meet.
Covid 19, like Jubilee, can also present for us hope. Covid19, like Jubilee, is a moment in time that will change everything. In changing everything it gives a fresh start, just like unfarmed the fields. Society may never really be equal, but Covid19 shows ‘the least of these’ this one thing. It shows them that the privileged are also human, they fear, they ache, they cry, and their lives are fragile. Perhaps this moment is even more important for the privileged because it shows us that our humanity is real and finite. It shows us that we can no longer hide in money, systems, and policies. These things can fail us, as they have failed those we have been indifferent towards.

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Hopefully, covid19 will challenge us to be more human, and humane. I pray it will change the way we behave towards others, from different social strata, and different races – calling us to challenge systems and hold leaders accountable. Hopefully, it will push a reset button that gives us a fresh start to rediscover our humanity as God intended it – making us call, talk to and appreciate those who are not like us. It will remind us why it is so important to be mutually respectful, to be interdependent, even with those we think little about- helping us to guard our language and thoughts whenever we talk or refer to others who are not like us. It will also show us why we need God in our broken world, brokenness for which we do not really have all the answers. These are the reminders that point us back to the Cross of the Christ who promised the real Jubilee. (Luke 4) It is a call to put our Hope in Him who knows our human condition, and Who recommended that every now and then we need a fresh start a reset.

ps. While this in one sense has nothing to do with Jubilee politics in Kenya, in another sense, it has everything to do with it!

Scorpions, Debt and Rehoboam

Posted in If I was... on November 2, 2019 by Kyama

The story is told of how a son of a great king ascended to the seat of rulership after the death of his father. At the initial meeting, the gathered nation spoke their hearts out to the new ruler, pleading a different future from the heavy burden his father had saddled them with. They cried out for relief from the previous regime’s oppressive environment. The young ruler retreated for some days to consult with wise elders seeking a way forward. The wise men suggested a compassionate response, full of empathy and justice for the groaning nation.

Having listened to the elders, the young ruler sought a second opinion. He went to the inner circle of his handlers for their thoughts. They had a radically different approach. The men the young ruler had grown up with advised him to be tough, and unrelenting if he was going to accomplish what they wanted during his tenure. They trashed the elders’ divinely inspired wisdom. So, coached by his confidantes, young ruler came back to the groaning nation with these words, “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.”

Scorpion

2019 Kenya is struggling under a heavy debt burden. Numerous calls have gone out to the leadership for caution against an oppressive debt regime. The words returning to the groaning nation are that if the big agenda is to be fulfilled then the public must be content with a heavier debt burden. Those opposed to the back-breaking load are, therefore, enemies of progress, often contemptuously scorned. It is not clear at this point if Kenya is too far gone to beat an about turn away from the fast-approaching onslaught of debt-induced turbulence. What is clear is that the pain of slow business will only be multiplied on the public through higher interest rates, to ostensibly stimulate economic growth in the flailing banking sector. The scourge of whips will turn to the scourge of scorpions. To paraphrase the respected, most senior banker, I also ask, what use is this growth if it does not translate into the lives of the ordinary citizen?

Debt trap

The story of the young ruler has a dramatic ending. The nation couldn’t take it any more. The people refused the young ruler’s leadership. They essentially denied the ruler a kingdom, ripping away from him what he had desired to have. His courage and audacity were met with the consequences of harsh political realities. Despite the big vision and smooth words, Jubilee has consistently met the groanings of economic duress with promises of more of the same economic activities that cause the pain. More debt, less action against systemic and individual corruption, and apathetic responses to the plight of the common man. Could it be that Jubilee is inviting upon itself Rehoboam’s fate? Is it possible that the Kibra election will be a prophecy of whether the young ruler will have a kingdom or not in 2022? Could it be that 2022 portends a multitude of rulers who will be stripped of their kingdoms for their lack of wisdom in times such as these? If I was Jubilee, I would study the story in 1 Kings 12 thoroughly and see what I can learn from it, because the issues are the same, the key characters in the story are the same, and the same frightening end might be their lot.

Forgiveness, Irrationality and Choice

Posted in If I was... on October 4, 2019 by Kyama

Brandt Jean statement https://youtu.be/xkOXpmePoDE

Image result for brandt jean

Faced with an opportunity to address the killer of his brother, Brandt Jean chose a difficult path. He voiced his forgiveness and even stated that he would not have wanted the Amber Guyger not to go to jail.

That felt wrong to me on several levels. A person of color died, unarmed in his own apartment, from bullet out of a white police officer’s gun. Forgiving one is not recommended, in a racially charged nation where many offenders are hardly brought to book. Justice needs to be served, if not for this family, for many others vicariously. Jean’s statement felt to me like it trivialized the gravity of what was at stake here.

However at another level Jean did something that sets him apart from the Pope’s words to his shooter or Mandela’s approach to peace in post-apartheid South Africa. Pope John Paul II had instruments of power. His forgiveness came at a great personal cost but his position of authority and responsibility in the world afforded him a certain status and possibly cushion from the effects of this heinous act against him. Mandela was already a famous leader by the time he left prison. He led the nation and had access to resources and status that is vastly different from Jean’s situation. While I don’t claim to be an expert in these matters, or to understand Jean’s environment from a first had perspective, it is not lost on me that nothing in Jean’s life now or in the future is set up to be spectacular or cushioned. He has nothing to gain materially from this situation. In fact, he lost his brother, his privacy, his dignity, his preferred future and so on. When Jean goes back to life, his racial background will predispose him to the same fate that befell his brother. I struggle with that in light of what he said. It doesn’t sit well with me.

Jean lives in a world where systemic injustice not only robs him of dignity but of choice. Systemic injustice exposes him to death on his person, and the possibility of grief every time he steps out. Even when he is at home or at school he has no choice about whether he will experience loss of a loved one by virtue of his race. He also has no choice about the remedy for his situation. When a person gets shot, the only choice he has for justice is to return to the same system that let him down. That is why his statement is at once both jarring and admirable to me.

Invited to address the court, for once Jean had a choice. A free choice to respond. Forgiveness became his escape pod from the matrix. He opted to voice forgiveness, renounce the impulse for revenge and free himself from Amber’s unwitting grip on his life as the killer of his beloved brother. His society’s choice (and mine) was for him to vent its pain and disappointment with the broken system and its broken people. The justice system offers an opportunity for victims to articulate their sentiments before sentencing. It is a part of the system’s way of dignifying the victims. For the rest of us this was an opportunity for Jean to accept partial justice and make legitimate demands for more. There are possibly people out there, even ones oblivious of the racial divide, who would have recommended forgiveness, in an abstract theologically philosophical way. It is a novel concept that is kind of unique to Christianity.

The ultimate choice though was Jean’s. He seemingly ignored these potential voices and demands and made his practical choice. Its irrationality is only matched by its audacity. I look at my own life and shudder at the struggle I have to forgive people, even for things they inadvertently did to me. It took an immense amount of ‘something’ to help him rise above the situation, rise above us and choose a difficult but potentially liberating path. It is that ‘something’ he called faith in Jesus that I find most intriguing because it offered him freedom that the state or society is unable to give. Granted perhaps a pastor or church person might have talked to him. But that isn’t enough. That faith must be activated in the heart to be any use in a situation like this. I have preached many sermons on forgiveness, but in the final analysis, after the sermon comes the decision. When it comes down to the wire the listener has to decide. After the decision comes the action. The decision and action are the prerogative of the individual. What did this faith do to Jean? What is this thing that for millenia mingles irrationality with audacity? Why is it that this faith inspires acts that that are both awe inspiring and repulsive? As people here would ask “kwani what did Jesus do to him?”

 

What’s in a Namba?

Posted in If I was... on May 27, 2019 by Kyama

So what’s in that Namba

The President and the head of the Opposition launched registration of the National Integrated Identity Management System number, better known as the Huduma Namba, on April 2nd 2019. This was with much ado from various quarters. A few days this, activists sought court orders to stop the registration citing it as unconstitutional. A day before the registration, the High Court ruled that the registration should continue but cautioned that no one should be compelled to register. Since then the Deputy President and other leaders, with their families led by example, urging Kenyans to register with assurances that this was a voluntary exercise with benefits for the citizens as well as the government. rusty-numbers-1417548-639x425.jpg
The narrative was complicated by comments a week after the launch, where the Principal Secretary of Immigration was quoted as saying, “If you are not in NIIMS and you are applying for a passport, we will know very well that you are not a Kenyan.” The fear among the populace isn’t misplaced, therefore, since the government promised that they would not compel anyone. While court specifically ordered a voluntary registration process, the secretary’s comments point to a different possible reality.
Then there are those who are suspicious of the motive behind the seemingly rushed, widespread registration. If information is power then its collection and use raises legitimate questions in a world where the individual’s data can be traded and exploited for some form of gain. The breadth and depth of the information requested at the registration of the Huduma Namba plays right into these concerns. The possible use of the information for commercial purposes by undisclosed entities is in itself an infringement of the individual’s rights.
My concern however is with how I should process this as a Christian living in Kenya today. As widely quoted in the press, many expressed their anxiety wondering aloud whether this number bears any relation with the dreaded ‘mark of the Beast,’ that signals the apocalypse in Revelation 13. Discourse about the ‘end times’ does occupy a significant amount of time in Christian’s imagination around the world. Naturally we would expect this to factor into this particular activity. The President and others dismissed this as an uncalled for distraction in the process of serving the nation.
There is something about this tugs at their minds seeking a Christian way of reflecting on this. On the surface I think Christians want to know exactly what to make of the number and its apparent connection with Christian faith and the events of the last days. At a deeper level I sense a desire among the faithful to connect with the ethics and moral implication of this registration process. The question is – How am I supposed to think Christianly about this?
I have my reservations about the Huduma Namba, and yes, I am a pastor. On one plane I am just apprehensive about the logistical hustle it is, having recently lined up for hours to obtain a passport in a process that took a couple of months longer than anticipated. I will give it to them, they are doing their best, but these things affect our perceptions. Let me also say that my reticence at this point is not about the number of the Beast in Revelation 13, though I will give a thought later. That is an important discussion to have but it belongs on a different table. number-1182946-639x842.jpg
It occurs to me that there are some crucial issues that numbers of this nature bring up, that I have the duty to reflect on as a Christian. Numbers are essential in our personal lives. We can’t do without them in the mathematics which attends our everyday lives. They are indispensable, as they are enjoyable, in the Engineering that affects our activities, and which I had the privilege of studying during my campus days. Numbers are also important in religion. All Abrahamic religions attach both functional and symbolic uses of numbers in their faith. While it may be the growing practice to dismiss the symbolic use of numbers as mythical, we cannot altogether wish them away. They are woven into the very fabric of faith. The Bible is full of numbers, in fact there is even a book called Numbers!
It is significant for example that Jesus had twelve disciples. The number 12 is also the number of Jacob’s sons, and subsequently the tribes of Israel. Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days before the start of his brief but important ministry. This is an echo of the time Moses spent in conversation with God on the mountain before he emerged with the 10 commandments. 40 is also the number of years the Israelites spent in the wilderness. Jesus fed 5000 during one day of particularly lengthy teaching sessions. He sent out 70 on mission to speak God’s word, not unlike the 70 people who God affirmed for leadership alongside Moses. 70 is also the number that Israel spent in exile. Jesus asked us to forgive 70 seven times, in a day! Christ had 3 close disciples with whom he shared everything he taught, and even shared some significant experiences like the transfiguration. Most pertinently, his death and resurrection took 3 days. We believe that God is three in one, the Holy Trinity, Fathers, Son and Holy Spirit. The numbers are important in the narrative that shapes this faith.
It is not just numbers on their own but the big deal is really in their context, and purpose. 12, 70, 3, 5000 don’t really mean anything significant in Christianity unless they are connected to the people, their circumstances and ultimately God. The book of Numbers, for instance, retells the story about the nation of Israel, and contains a, sometimes tideous, accounting for every soul in the nation. The book starts with a numbering of the soldiers and proceeds to essentially offer a detailed census report, complete with numbers and locations. Later on we can see their victories, missteps, positive and negative consequences of their decisions enroute to the Promised Land.
With such accounts as Numbers and Deuteronomy, it does seem like enumeration of a people will always find God’s approval. (After all Jesus was born during a census) But we find in 2 Sam 24 (and 1 Chron 21) David punished for taking a census of the soldiers. Is this a double standard? The book of numbers starts with a census of soldiers and contains a second enumeration in chapter 26. Why then did God punish David? It seems like exactly the same action but what is the difference? A closer look at both narratives gives us a clue to unlocking the importance of numbers. Moses counted the potential soldiers in Numbers twice, to show how a limited, finite force of former slaves with no standing army triumphed with God’s help after a miraculous escape in Chapter 1, and after a disastrous plague in chapter 26. The hero here is God! Chapters 33 to 35 offer a summary of the Divine Hand as a lesson for future generations of which we are a part. On the other hand, David numbered his fighting men, when he should have been focussing them on building a moral, God fearing community whose values lay in reliance on God, not human strength. He did not need to and in fact received advice from his trusted General not to do it. David wanted to be the hero in this one. Numbers can be used for the wrong reasons and contravene God’s code.
In general, numbers in the Bible highlight God’s practical love and concern for His People. The book of Numbers uses numbers to illustrate the different ways a group of 2 million received God’s care and love to see them through the unknown and uncertain into a new season. 5000 is the number that Jesus fed eager spiritually and physically hungry crowds with meagre resources. The focus here is not whether they were 4999 or 5001, but that a God who was feeding the minds and hearts of a multitude of people, was also concerned about their health and well being.
That number 5000 also highlights another significance of numbers. It demonstrates the magnitude of God in relation to the mortal, limited nature of the human. The boy’s 2 fishes and five loaves which Jesus used to feed the crowd, provide the striking contrast which always presents itself when bounded human resources come face to face with the enormity of human problems. The use of numbers in scripture is vast and varied, but invariably, the positive use of Biblical numbers is to demonstrate the God’s relationship over his people, and in so doing to affirm and dignify humanity in light of this relationship. Whenever numbers are shown negatively as in the case of David enumerating his soldiers, one will see there, a dehumanization of people by commodifying them for a particular use. In this case, David just wanted to know if he had what it takes to win a war, with or without God. The soldiers were no longer people, but means to an end. So numbers carry meaning. They shape who we are in the context of our faith, and add a symbolic concreteness to the stories, and metaphors upon which our relationship with God, indeed our faith thrive in.

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Numbers also play a part in concretizing our identity as Kenyans. For good or ill, each citizen has several numeric identities. Like every Kenyan should, I have a birth certificate with a unique number. Then there is my identity card (ID) number, and my passport number both of which are primary markers of my specific citizenship in this country. These depend on the birth certificate number, and that isn’t enough. As a citizen my monetary obligations incurred by my citizenship contract are carried out with the aid of yet another identity number – the Personal Identity Number (PIN). This tax identity is based on the ID number. My children here will receive their full benefits as students in the republic through the recently instituted National Education Management Information System (NEMIS) number. Like the other identity numbers, this is premised on the Birth certificate, and includes parental ID number details. NSSF addresses my social security primarily for when I reture, while NHIF concerns itself with my health benefits as a national.
As I reflect on these numbers, Christian I must ask myself about their efficacy in addressing the needs of all Kenyans. The book of Numbers details the allocation of resources for a nation living in the desert under pressure from enemies and the elements. Enumeration in this day and age is in itself a resource intensive one. Each layer of identification protocols is a layer of cost centres. Kenya’s resources are limited which means that what we have must be taken care of frugally (after all we are severely indebted, and as the Book of Books says the debtor is… lets talk about that another day). Stewardship of resources is a legitimate ethical and moral question for which we must engage our faith.
Multiplying layers of protocols such as some of these numbers may be touted as efficiency but may inadvertently reveal inefficiency. One might ask, if we could not serve the Kenyan well with their ID number, or PIN number or Birth certificate number what will we do different to better serve them with yet another number, which they have to register for? Incidentally, we haven’t even talked about the cost of registering and operationalizing the new system- before the others are complete. If we still have not yet registered everyone for their ID, PIN, Birth certificate, or NEMIS number, how will we manage the number of numbers – the Huduma Namba? As the Good Book says, if you stumble in safe country, how will you manage the trickier places?
In my view, most importantly, what will this new layer of identification do for the least of these in our nation? Does the Huduma Namba, or any other number for that matter contribute to the care of or the marginalization of the least of these. We find in Acts 6 a redemptive allusion to numbers for the purposes of stewardship of resources and the care of the vulnerable. In this narrative, the unity of the early church came under threat from conflict in the care of widows. Resources seemed to be unevenly distributed to widows leaving some from one ethnic community marginalized. The leadership appointed 7 leaders for the sake of caring for these vulnerable ones in the community. This seems to have settled the matter since Luke the writer of Acts does not revisit this again.
As we engage with the question of the Huduma Namba, we must look again at our context and apply this grid to our context. If this number, or any other number, will become a prerequisite for the issuance of any necessary service for our distinguished citizens in this great nation then we must ask what will become of those without it. As is the case with any system implemented across board on a national scale, it is the marginalized, vulnerable, hidden, ill, disabled, widowed, orphaned, poor, imprisoned, and illiterate who are often left out. In keeping with Jesus’ teaching Matthew 25, Christian concern for the least of these will not let me sit still while they are dehumanized, being left out of the essential services. They must be remembered and accounted for in redemptive acts. Huduma Namba must not become the protocol that separates the weak from the stronger, marginalizing them. Our dignity as a nation requires that we consider the vulnerable among us.
Coming back to Revelation 13, there are many issues with the Beast in the narrative that aren’t easy to understand and are therefore open to many interpretations. Lets leave the intricacies of that to theologians in my neck of the woods. What all Christians agree is that the grand scheme of Revelation is the ultimate reconciliation of humanity with God through Christ. What makes the number in Rev 13 so memorable, and scary even, is the way it commodifies our humanity and in so doing dehumanizes us. In that chapter, those who are supposed to find their identity in their Creator God lose their names, their individuality in exchange for a number which restricts activities for their livelihood. Like the David’s situation in 2 Sam 24, someone other than God is trying to be the hero. That is an important issue to put at the back of our minds as we navigate this conversation about the Namba. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so dismissive or disdainful of the said pastors when they make reference to this. There may be something to it worth paying attention to. That said, informed by my faith as a Christian, and following my pastoral responsibility, I submit that these then are the issues we must grapple with in the discussion about the Huduma Namba. loc-number-2-1533209-639x485.jpg
As we engage in this conversation our reflection as Christians therefore needs to be directed at the way in which this and other programs will be used to either bring together or separate, and what they will mean for the marginalized among us. That in my view is one proper Christian response. Another is the question of stewardship. Thinking Christianly about this should make me sensitive to the abuse of data and money that may attend this process. Numbers can also be an important resource in helping us hold our leaders accountable for their mandate to direct the affairs of the people. I need to be bold in my assessment of the information that such exercises yield. Such an assessment will inform my vote and other public engagement with my government. It also should focus me inward from time to time, when these programs remind me of my ‘good neighborly’ responsibility towards my fellow Kenyan who may be vulnerable and marginalized by this or any other program which is supposed to help them.

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Competence Based system delay

Posted in If I was... on December 13, 2018 by Kyama

I support the delay and perhaps the revisiting of the CBC system Kenya intends implement. While I am critical of 844 having gone through, it and taken my children through it, I am all for thorough reflection before implementation of the system.
Here is my why. old-school-s-class-room-1441405-640x480.jpg
Education systems are (should be) dictated by the future socioeconomic environment the students will live and work in. Only economically privileged societies have the luxury to experiment with other models.
Early stage, (or recovering economies), with high population, aiming for high growth rates, with economic inequalities and income disparities – thrive with education systems that attempt to level the playing field with the limited resources they have. Such systems tend to be rigorous, exam based, aim to develop basic skills and promote merit based evaluation systems (read exams). The myth is that such systems are not student based. Actually they are, they just start with the fact that the student will face an uncertain future for which they will need certain standard skills, along with their peers. These are the heavy workload, exam based systems. Such education systems favor student’s comfort later, in adulthood, not now.
Socioeconomic systems which are more equal, lower economic pressure, lower population and with no need for high economic growth rates, can now focus on present student comfort.
Nordic countries (Sweden, Netherlands, and Finland – with ‘the worlds best education system’) are in that category. After decades of exam based systems, in 1970s/80s after achieving high GDP per capita, supported by mineral (oil/gas) wealth, low populations, relatively slow growth rates they could now focus on such issues as family comfort, maternity incentives and, pertinently, student comfort. (Gdps 30-60k, almost stagnant population, economic growth below 4%, one of those countries even gave all their citizens a $5k bonus! Just for being citizens!) Such countries can afford non conventional approaches to education because they literally can afford to solve the labour issues differently. Please note that UK, US, Russia are large western economies which still keep more standard education systems. Like Brick, countries they don’t tick all those boxes.
China, India, Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore are all strong yet emerging economies that maintain a form of rigorous merit based economies. They have the opposite challenges of say Finland. They are aiming for >5% growth rates, are dealing with inequalities, are aiming for non mineral based economic sustainability. They are also populous. These countries all have make or break exams at several levels.
The question we must ask ourselves is – on which lane should we be? The facts/numbers speak for themselves.amphitheather-1442064-639x426.jpg
One system says we aim for the students comfort in the future. The other system says, future is sorted, let’s make the kids have fun now, after all they are such few of them anyway, and after all we have the cash.
I can feel some of my middle class friends hyperventilating now. Why all this neoliberal vybe of commoditizing our kids as cogs for Kenya’s future? Good question. 2 quick answers.
A. We can’t afford the CBC system for all of Kenya. We have issues threatening the sustainability of our economy. Universal education is one solution. We have to find a different way of addressing ‘non standards’ competencies. Singapore, Malaysia, and (especially) south Korea have figured work arounds for this. That’s what we should be looking at.
2. I am concerned that contrary to what it claims CBC will promote economic and social inequalities. As it stands now, only private schools have, and will continue to have capacity to fully implement CBC. Our government already has among the highest proportion of budget allocations for education in Africa. It won’t hack this thing. Take it from me. Once again those with money will benefit from a good system that we can’t afford to implement.
With current system, a kid in Turkana has a better chance of competing on same level in say Math, English, Swa as a kid in Nairobi (regardless of the other non conventional competencies both have)
In CBC, a gifted artist in Turkana can’t compete with their contemporary in Nairobi. The resources required to level that playing field are simply not there.
I rest my case.
By the way, I do think that non conventional competencies (artistic, intellectual and otherwise) are critical for the future of this country. We need artists, musicians, sculptors. By the way we need philosophers, theologians as well and CBC doesn’t even begin to deal with these non conventional either…

Martin Luther still speaks today

Posted in If I was... on November 2, 2018 by Kyama

Every October 31st, a number of Christian traditions celebrate Reformation day. It is the day protestants remember Martin Luther who, together with others, laid the foundation of Protestantism. At a time when many church leaders were abusing their positions of power and authority to commit various sins, among them getting rich by extortion, Luther’s reflections helped redirect the church back on the path of right belief and right practice. [Orthodoxy and orthopraxy]

Luther based his objections on his knowledge, understanding and reflection on the Bible. From his thoughts we find the encouragement to return to such important concepts as faith, grace, and scripture. [Sola Fide, Sola Gracia, sola scriptura]. In his mind, Christ came to the centre and all was to be done for the glory of God. [Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria].

The vibrant expressions of the Protestant church we see in Africa today, directly and indirectly, drew from these elements of Reformation thought. We see in Charismatic/Pentecostal Christianity how the priesthood of all believers, talked about in the New Testament and emphasised in the Reformation, opened up the space of participation to create a rapidly growing, highly participatory Christian environment.

As Andrew Wall’s the Scottish historian and missionary argues, the beauty of the gospel is its ability to enter into every context and become so much at home that people may even forget what the context looked like before Christianity. The gospel comes with power to challenge the status quo. It challenges power and wealth, by pointing its followers to the way of the cross, which is a way of self-denial.

The gospel doesn’t stop there. It also challenges poverty and despair. The same gospel that scolds privilege and power also speaks into poverty and despair offering hope, provision, blessing, healing and victory for the vulnerable and weak. This is not a contradiction. It is the power of the gospel to speak life, abundant life, into every situation.

The gospel must speak life, hope, blessing, provision and victory. This aspect of the power of the gospel finds much resonance among believers on the continent. Not just that, it is a word of hope that is much needed in the midst of much suffering [Heb 6:18-19, Rom 12:12, Rom 15:13]. After all where else can we find real hope, given the track record of man [foreign or local] on the continent? However, it is here that some of my fellow pastors have erred royally. They could not resist tapping onto this powerful aspect of the gospel and turning it for their own gain. This isn’t dissimilar to Luther’s day.

As of October 31, this week, it is 501 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 arguments on the door of a church in Germany. As an introduction to his arguments he wrote:

The 95 Theses (Die 95 Thesen)

“Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.” [The 95 Thesis]

If Martin Luther came back to life today, as a reflective, perceptive pastor, living in the midst of a vibrant growing church which has many positives but a growing issue of sin in the form of greed, what would he say? Would he have a word from the Lord to us as pastors? Would he have an objection to a section of this exciting movement of Christianity that his thinking [along with others], helped found?

Reading the 95 theses, I am of the conviction that he does not need to come back to life. [At least not before the rapture]. His words are clear, and his arguments sharp. One only needs to peruse the arguments to see that Martin Luther does have something to say to some of our preachers today. Here are some thoughts from a few of the arguments. [For reference, Martin Luthers' specific arguments are in brackets]

Preachers are in error who say that one can receive blessing and deliverance in exchange for a gift mediated through the minister. [21]. Such promises are deceptive and are the evidence of a more humanistic approach to spirituality. [24,27] The transactional nature of this type of spirituality, especially involving money increases the propensity for greed and materialism. [28] Only God can deliver the preacher and his or her faithful because He alone is above sin. [28,30] Repentance can go out the window the moment cash becomes a substitute for genuine discipleship. [31]. In fact, the moment someone thinks they can pay God in exchange for blessings then this begins a slippery slope of separation from God. The slope is made more slobbery the moment a man or woman of God assigns themselves the mediator role for such blessings. [33]

At the centre of the conversation should be discipleship through the gospel, and not receiving blessings and deliverance, though these are important, nay crucial in any context. [35, 52] After all God’s goal is reconciliation with his people first. [36, 48,58] Besides, God has already released his blessings upon his people through and in the person of Christ. [37] Maintaining the balance between genuine discipleship, repentance, God’s blessing and deliverance is not easy even for the most learned, theologically -inclined Christian. [39] The more the reason why addressing these issues needs to be done with care. [41] Christians ought to learn about the value of material blessing, especially its role in impacting the vulnerable and needy. The believer is blessed to be a blessing to others and not to themselves. [43,45]. It is wrong for Christians to misappropriate family resources to give men and women of God who demand them in exchange for blessings. [46,47] God is the deliverer himself, a gift given cannot deliver or bless. [49]

Genuine God-fearing people would be grieved to the core if the full extent of the inaccuracies and theological errors of some of these preachers were to be revealed. [50,51,52] It is a grave error to the Body of Christ, and especially to Christ himself, to limit the preaching of other biblical truths at the expense of preaching some of these teachings. [53,54,55,56] Staying true to the gospel isn’t as attractive, popular or convenient as some of these other ideas. [63,64] The value of the gospel is in its invitation and challenge to men of wealth. [65] The value of the gospel is not in its invitation to gather the wealth of men. [66] What is so suspicious about some of this preaching is its promotion of gain for the minister at the expense of the faithful. [67] Obscuring the truth about the dangers of these perspectives is an invitation to God’s condemnation, while those who wisely and graciously point out the inconsistencies invite blessing. [71,72, 73, 74]

To build the brand of the man or woman of God instead of promoting the Cross of Christ is to make a mockery of the Gospel. [77,78,79] God will hold accountable senior church leaders, and opinion shapers who do not caution pastors in their ranks about these things. [80] One of the real problems with these quid pro quo teachings is that they do such a disservice to the true meaning and value of the gospel, that it makes it harder for even well-trained people to speak to others about this gospel. [81] Many faithful are raising concerns, but to shut them up by invoking the power of the man of God, without giving a reasoned response brings disappointment and exposes the church to ridicule. [90] At the end of it all the most important thing is following Christ, through the blessings and the tribulations of life, through the challenges without seeking a short-cut route of ‘buying’ blessings. [94, 95] In any case isn’t it much better to be assured of obtaining eternal life with Jesus the right way, than to have an uneasy security because of having taken a short-cut?

Martin Luther speaks to us today. Many will do well to revisit the Scriptures and evaluate ourselves against what we find there. The reflective ones among us must apply themselves to find out how best to navigate the power of the message to bring hope and God’s material deliverance while safeguarding ourselves from the greed which that very power exposes us to. The long-term future of the church’s effectiveness on the continent is contingent on the outcome of that reflection.

Read for yourself the entire set of Martin Luther’s arguments here http://www.luther.de/en/95thesen.html