Je Ne Suis Pas Somalia

Have you noticed that there seem to be more people outraged by the lack of outrage over the bombing in Somalia, than there are people outraged by the bombing itself? Why is that?

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More than 300 people were killed and roughly the same number of people injured when two truck bombs went off in the middle of a busy Mogadishu street last Saturday, but it seems we could not care less.

No, let me check that, I will speak for myself; it seems I could not care less. I have been thinking about this, about why the tragedy in Somalia doesn’t seem to move me as much as similar and less tragic events in other places. Following are a few thoughts.

What happens in Mogadishu

“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” how many times have you heard that mantra? Used it yourself? You don’t have to be an American, or even to have gone to the US to know exactly what that phrase means. We hear it in movies all the time.

Remember the movie The Hangover? What about the Oceans’s Trilogy (Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen) in the early to mid 2000s? Such films have brought the US culture and cultural conversations right into our living rooms. Now, whether the films present an accurate picture of the real US is neither hear nor there. The point is, when I hear about a shooting in Vegas, I have an instant subconscious reaction to the news.

Images of Casinos and lights and fancy hotels mixed with movie scenes and characters flash in my mind. Same goes for France. The first image on my mind at the mention of Paris is the Eiffel Tower — even though I have never been to France.

And in the remote chance that I have not watched any of these movies or never heard about Las Vegas (or San Bernardino), international US-based news channels like the CNN will make sure I know all about it. I can’t help but notice, and care. I’m afraid the same cannot be said about the relationship between TV media and Somalia.

My westernized brain

Death and tragedy and terrorism are not words I associate with many of these “Western” places. The West, as is often marketed to me in my living room, is full of fun places; places I want to scape to and holiday in; not places I want to flee or avoid.

This is why I will care deeply if something even remotely tragic happened in such places, not necessarily because I personally know anyone there, but because I know so much about the place and the people there that I “feel” like I am one of them. It is always in my face.

This is why I care more about an attack in London than an attack in Mogadishu. What do I even know about Mogadishu except for the fact that this is where the Al-Shabaab come from? Okay, this is also where those Somali refugees in Dadaab and the immigrants in Eastleigh come from, but none of these details make Mogadishu any more appealing to me.

I seldom think about visiting Mogadishu except probably on a humanitarian trip or as a war-time journalist. Nothing good can come out of Mogadishu, and what happens in Mogadishu better stay in Mogadishu. Should I blame my negative perception of Somalia on the media? Well, blame is a strong word, I will instead opt for the word “attribute”.

Storied beings

When we say we care about human life and are saddened by the loss of human life, we are usually not referring to the abstraction that is the Homo Sapiens species. To care about human life means to care about my mum and my wife and my best friend. To care about human life means to care about my next door neighbor who is an unemployed single mother of three, because I once had a conversation with her and learnt about her circumstances.

No one cares about anyone without first knowing and appreciating and empathizing with their story. We are storied beings and we cease to exist the moment our stories are censored or go untold. The stories we have access to and pay attention to will ultimately determine which people we care about and strongly react to any tragedy that befalls them. It has little to do with an abstract rule about caring for “humanity.”

This is why the death of a faceless Frenchman thousands of kilometers away is more tragic than the death of a dozen villagers in a mudslide just a few kilometers from my house. My life has been shaped by numerous white faces on the TV screen teaching me about love and money and sex and relationships. My goals have been inspired by the American dream scripted, cast and directed by middle aged haggard bearded pot bellied white men in Hollywood.

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This, sadly, is why I care about the death of Michael Jackson than the death of my high school friend. Why, I know more about Michael Jackson’s life than I knew about my friend’s. My emotions have been hijacked and shaped by the Hollywood narrative of privileging the Western culture, Western stories, Western values and Western people as the “normal” or “default” face of humanity.

Human means to political ends

What does all this have to do with the tragedy in Somalia? If it is not yet clear, I will get more explicit shortly. You see, once in a while, I will care about the death of a political protester in my own country; but that will mostly be because I want to make and score a few political points in my own criticism of police brutality. It will seldom be because I cared much that the dead protestor was a father or a son or even a human being. His humanity will largely be a means to an end.

Remember the infant killed by police in Kisumu in the wake of the August 8 Election? Do you know what happened to her family, or even whether they got justice? Me neither. Baby Pendo’s death, as far as I and many were concerned, mostly served as an emotional anecdote in the political rhetoric at the time, then we moved on swiftly.

These and many other realities are the reasons why I find it difficult to be mad or sad that so many people in Mogadishu are dead from the handiwork of terrorist agents. I don’t know any of the names of the dead Somalis.

I can’t picture their faces without an image of a terrorist (sometimes in those very faces) intruding into the frame. I don’t know how to care about a Somali tragedy because I don’t have Somali friends or know any Somali stories and the few Somali people I know seldom speak to me about where they come from.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a normal person in Somalia. Do Somalis have schools? What kind of schools? Do they have professions and career paths apart from the life of a dessert wanderer? Are there Somali professors in Somalia? What about Somali journalists and doctors and lawyers and engineers?

You see, every time I hear about professionals in Somalia, it is always in the context of diplomats and expats living and working there. Even in the wake of Saturday bombings, the only doctors and other professionals that were mentioned as victims were the foreigners. The West was desperately trying to remain relevant at the center of a foreign tragedy.

The fact of the matter is that I don’t have insider knowledge of the Somali experience. There are no cultural artifacts shoved in my face every minute to condition me to see Somalis as real people with real families and dreams and goals and relationships and, yes, tragedies.

Je suis Somalia? I am sorry I don’t even know what that means. Does this make me less human? Heartless? A hypocrite? Maybe and maybe not.

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May The Lord comfort the families of all those who lost their loved ones in Somalia, even as the rest of us who don’t call the victims “our loved ones” process what is happening in our own twisted ways.

 

 

Is It Reasonable to Believe in God?

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

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

But more on this later.

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

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

Reasonable objections

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

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

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

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

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

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

The environment alone?

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

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

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

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

Evolution alone?

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

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

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

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

Will the real believers please stand up?

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

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

These are the people Jesus alluded to when he said:

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

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

A reasonable faith

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

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

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

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie

Chimamanda is yet to disappoint me — not that I am looking out for her to disappoint. So far, she is the best female African writer I have ever read.

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Yet even as I type that last sentence, I can’t help but feel Ifemelu looking at me and shaking her head disapprovingly. Did I have to put those qualifiers, “African”, “female”? Couldn’t I just say Chimamanda is a good writer, period?

Ifemelu, the main character, is a Nigerian girl who flies to the US immediately after her undergrad. It is in America that she realizes she is black, and that to be black in America means to be concerned about race – whether you’re a racist or not. She copes with life in America in different ways.

You will have to read the book to see how far she was willing to go because of financial desperation.

Being a person who cannot keep her opinions to herself, Ifemelu copes with life in America by venting on her blog – a race blog. The posts are quite insightful. She learns a lot about people and race and in the process, learns things about herself that she didn’t even know existed.

Then there’s Obinze, the love of Ifemelu’s life. Their relationship is what keeps the reader hooked to the book. One keeps turning the page to see if this will be another “happily ever after” tale of love or not.

There’s so much to say about the book.

But what stood out most was the author’s depth of insight. Chimamanda has an uncanny ability to see into people’s personalities and draw profound life lessons. Her characters are deep, not consciously deep, but they are deep subjects of analysis.

I love the way Chimamanda doesn’t fear the complexity of human beings. She faces it head on and presents it as it is in the book.

The author doesn’t present simplistic people, she makes characters complex and confused and double-minded and all sorts of unpredictable. In other words, her characters are human.

This is a great story, one that I will definitely re-read in the future. Grab a copy when you can, it will be worth your while.

The Fake News on Fake News

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

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

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

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

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

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

A time to weep… and reflect

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

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

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

What’s in a name?

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

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

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

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

Born this way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A saint misunderstood

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

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

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

A time to mourn…

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

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

… and reflect

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

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

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

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

This shouldn’t be.

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

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

I Did It All By Ma Self: Where Is Your Hope?

On our human fascination with ‘rags to riches’ stories

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Jack Ma was in Nairobi last week and the internet went boom! Full disclosure, I am one of the few people who had no idea who Jack Ma was before all the fuss preceding his Kenyan visit.

I had a chance to finally research his story and listen to his talk in Nairobi. I was not disappointed. The man has lived an interesting life and his story is indeed one for the books. To encounter so many obstacles and so much rejection and then rise to such heights of wealth is quite remarkable. His life is truly an inspiration.

So are his words. I listened to the advise he gave the eager crowd at the University of Nairobi and I found myself nodding. The man makes a lot of sense on top of all the cents he has made as the founder and executive chairman of the Alibaba Group, that internet behemoth of a marketplace.

“A good teacher should want his students to be better than them,” he said as the audience furiously scribbled and tweeted away.

Keep on learning. You don’t have to be the best but you have to know who is better than you are then learn from them,” I nodded to this. 

I asked my wife ‘do you want your husband to be rich or to be respected? She said she wanted me to be respected.’,” what a wife!

If you want to be successful you should have a high EQ (emotional intelligence). A person with high EQ knows how to work with people, he understands people. A lot of people get money quickly and lose it quickly because they only have high IQ but low EQ.

“People with high EQ are street smart. You also need a high LQ (Love Quotient?), that is how to care for others.” Can I get an Amen!

I am glad Jack Ma came to Nairobi and spoke to the broad spectrum of entrepreneurs in the country. Many of the values he espouses are admirable and should be emulated by all people, whether in the marketplace or any other place. Failure is never final and should never be fatal. How we treat people is more important than how much money we make. Failure should be seen as a lesson rather than a final verdict, a bump on the road rather than the end of the road.

Truth be told, though, nothing Jack Ma said last week was new under the sun. All you need to do is pick up a book on basic life skills. Stephen Covey (of 7 Habits) could have easily taught you the same thing. However, one may argue that Stephen Covey never went through the things that Ma went through, and most of what he teaches is taught rather than caught. Jack Ma, on the other hand, has seen the darkest side of this life and emerged victorious.

Jack Ma is different and (apparently) more worth listening to because Jack Ma is speaking from hard and harsh experience. Jack Ma is able to empathize while many other peddlers of similar truths can only sympathize. Which brings me to another observation I have made: There are a lot of people who have gone through worse failures and faced more rejections that Jack Ma ever did. The internet is full of them.

So Jack Ma was rejected in over 30 jobs that he applied for. But what about this woman, Rosie Percy, who got rejected 200 times? Harvard rejected Jack Ma 10 times. Well, Harvard rejects people all the time, the number of times you get rejected doesn’t change the fact that you probably don’t meet the threshold. The examples could go on. But my point is, the only difference between Jack Ma and many people with similar (or worse) pasts is how Ma’s story turned out. He is currently the richest man in Asia and the 14th richest man in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Recent sources place his net worth at about $43.2 billion.

That’s the big difference. The rest is detail. Or is it? Which brings me to the landing strip of my blog-post today. I will put it in the form of a question: Why are you listening to Jack Ma? Is it because you believe that doing what he did and taking his advise will somehow get you to where he is? Are you listening to him because you believe his wealth validates him and makes him worth listening to? To be more succinct, what and where is your hope in taking Ma’s advise?

The hard fact of life is that we can tick all the right boxes and memorize all the right entrepreneurship tips and still end up broke as a joke. The only difference between where Jack Ma turned out and where many other broke people with a similar past are is luck. That’s it. Pure luck. The wealth is purely incidental.

Does this then mean we should not listen to his advise? Absolutely not! The man has some great life lessons. We would all be better off learning from him and applying many of the things he says to our own lives. However, the bigger question remains: Why pay attention if that is no guarantee that I will end up at least a millionaire if not a billionaire like Jack Ma? Why take the risk if its all a game of chance?

Sadly, that is a question even Jack Ma cannot sufficiently answer. We all need to embrace something that Jack Ma seems to have embraced in his poor years, that life under the sun is about making others better. Ma lived for that. He just happened to get wealthy in the process, but that was never WHY he got wealthy. How we make money is infinitely more important than how much money we make.

So, if the reason you are listening to and following Ma’s advise is because you want to end up where he did materially, then you have already missed his point. I will conclude by going back to something Ma said when he recounted his conversation with his wife.

“I asked my wife ‘do you want your husband to be rich or to be respected? She said she wanted me to be respected.'”

The wealth is detail, and is neither here nor there.

“Why don’t people ask us about our hope? The answer is probably that we look as if we hope in the same things they do. Our lives don’t look like they are on the Calvary road, stripped down for sacrificial love, serving others with the sweet assurance that we don’t need to be rewarded in this life.”

― John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life

 

Would Jesus Vote for Uhuru or Raila?

Kenya’s 2017 General Election is just a month away and I can’t help but wonder, how would Jesus vote?

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If you are a Christian, you have probably wondered how you should go about choosing a presidential candidate. Who do you vote for when every name on the list seems tainted by past and present scandals? Does God approve opting for the lesser of two evils? And what about abstaining from voting entirely, would I be absconding my civic duties and thus disobeying Romans 13?

These are difficult questions. Okay, maybe they are easy for some Christians reading this; but I know enough people who find these questions paralyzing. I happen to be one of them. How does a Christian vote with a clear conscience when he or she knows she will be choosing a sinner either way? One more tough question: Should Christians only vote for Christian candidates?

A Democratic Kingdom?

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said in November 11 1947:

‘Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…’

His point is self-explanatory, but there are many times we have been tempted to think that a democratic government is the ideal form of government. Well, the truth is that even a perfect democracy has its flaws, and one of the biggest flaws of such a government happens to be the biggest flaw in every other government: it is made up of human being.

The problem with the world is that it is made up of sinful human beings. This means that no matter who we vote for, we can almost be assured that they will let the country down in one way or another. But even before I go deep into the depravity of humanity, another question must first be answered, is our way of choosing leaders (democracy) God’s choice way of choosing leaders?

In other words, have we considered that perhaps we are finding it difficult to decide who God wants us to vote for because we are already working within a system that is fundamentally flawed? The Bible does not event hint at the possibility that a democratic form of government is the biblical way. In fact, all we get from the Bible about the process of selecting leaders is what Paul says in Romans 13:1;

‘Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.’

The implications of this passage are staggering. In essence, the passage seems to imply that all forms of government, whether socialist, democratic, communist… have been instituted by God. God has ordained them in their respective times and places and we better get in line and follow the rules of the land in which we find ourselves.  This also means that voting for ANY leader in a democratic process will not guarantee that life will be better under his leadership.

A Timeless Warning About Earthly Leaders

What, then, is the biblical way? Should we only vote for Christians? Or should we establish a monarchy (or even better, a theocracy)? Lest we forget, God was the first to raise an objection to Israel’s request for a human king when they entered the promised land.

So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots.

And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants.

He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” [1 Samuel 8:10-18]

Now read the warnings of Samuel about kings and think about the current leadership in your democratically constituted government. Look, for instance, at this part “… He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants…” Suddenly, thoughts of corruption, land grabbing and oppressive taxes begin to take shape.

What God said about a monarchy back then is the same thing He says about democracies today. Same frogs, different ponds. One may point out the fact that God still “chose” kings for Israel even though He fundamentally objected to the idea of a human king. He had His purposes for choosing both “good” and “bad” kings for Israel, but that is a topic for another day.

The Hope for Your Vote

It would appear, from the passage above, that God has never planned to have a human being on the throne of this fallen world. The fact that we have to choose earthly “supreme leaders” in the first place is a problem. In fact, it is a two-fold problem; we are choosing between fallen human beings, and we are fallen human beings doing the choosing.

How then shall we vote? Or shall we all then burn our votes and sit at home on election day because it won’t make any difference whom we vote for? Not so fast. We have established that no amount of diligence or research when choosing a candidate (which is important) will guarantee us a “good” government. What we need is a change of focus, a shift in our perspective. It turns out that the questions I started with are only difficult because we are approaching them from the wrong box.

The question that every Christian needs to answer when making a choice is this: Where lies my hope for my country? Is your hope in the leaders? The manifestos that the candidates have published? Is your hope in the track record of the candidates? Their promises? Their sincerity? Their professional background?…

If your hope is in any of these things that are humanly cultivated, then it does not matter if you vote for the person who will bring the most good to the country. In fact, even if you do your due diligence, vote for the best candidate and that candidate lives up to his promises, this will in no way be the proof that you did the will of God in your voting decision.

If we are truly in Christ, we must make a clear distinction between God’s standards and the standards of this world. We must be in this world but living by the rules of another world, the world to come. This distinction can only be seen, not in our voting patterns, but in our voting attitudes. We must put our hope in the right place, and this place is: The fact that God is on the throne.

Even after I have done my humanly best, the choice I make must be submitted to God’s will. God is the ultimate decider. He is the one who will decide which leader we deserve at this season of our lives.

This does not mean that my “voting” is inconsequential, it only means that my “vote” is inconsequential. Yes, there is a difference between your vote and your voting. There is a difference between the act of marking an ‘X’ on the ballot paper and the attitude with which you mark that ‘X’. This is the difference between a Christian’s vote and the vote of any other citizen.

It means that two Christians may vote for opposing candidates and it never be a question of one making the right choice while the other makes the wrong choice. It also means that two Christians may vote for the same candidate and one of them ends up making the right choice while the other makes the wrong choice. The difference is in the posture of our hearts, the source of our hope. The rest is detail.

PS: If we really must put our hope on any human leader, then let that leader be the man Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us as the atoning sacrifice for our sin. He is coming back again, to fully rule the world He created and over the people He purchased with His blood. Are you a citizen of this kingdom?

PPS: God willing, a group of Christian friends will gather in Nairobi tomorrow evening (Friday, July 7) to discuss the topic: “Christianity and Politics”. I plan to attend the forum. Would you care to join me? Follow this link for more details: Meaty Forum