All you need to do is switch on your TV set at prime time and you will be discouraged about the state of our country, our poor beloved Kenya.

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Corruption is out of control. Impunity seems the order of the day as those in power evade justice over and over and over again. The opposition is merely the mirror image of the government as the “it’s our turn to eat” narrative drives political ambition. Negative tribalism is disguised in talk of “strongholds” and “negotiated democracy” while many Kenyans begin to wonder if their vote – and their voice – matters in this whole charade.

It is easy to get discouraged as a citizen of Kenya. In fact, given the events taking place, it is the most reasonable thing to do. It was easy to be patriotic during the days of terrorist attacks. Back then, the enemy was tangible and discernible, and foreign. Both the opposition and the government had a common enemy. But now, now everything is all muddled up. The enemy is amongst  us, and often within us, and this has messed up with our collective sense of nationality. We don’t know who to trust anymore.

Outrage Fatigue?

Doctors have been on strike for almost three months ago and few people even seem to know what the issue is, let alone how to resolve it. News barely makes sense anymore. One day you are siding with the doctors, the next day the spin doctors have changed your mind and you are now siding with the government. Wait, does it even make sense to take sides if we are all “one country”?

There is such a thing as compassion fatigue (outrage fatigue?) and many of us are at breaking point. We are being pushed to breaking (no-caring) point. We just want to retreat to our little corner and focus on our job, family and friends and let the rest of the nation take care of itself. Life is too short to care about everything and everyone. Let us all eat and drink and (hopefully) be merry, for tomorrow we die. There are people who “run” this country and they will do whatever they want. We have no “real” control over their decisions and actions, so why even bother?

This is where many of us are, and where many more are heading. We are folding into ourselves. Ranting on social media has lost its appeal. Hashtags never go far enough and tweets never go deep enough. We are not seeing results. Those in power seem to have all the cards. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

We Are Citizens, Not Merely Voters

I am a communication specialist, and I have previously worked as a journalist for four years. I have noticed that the efforts that make the biggest splash in the political scene are usually not very complex or calculated. Stories are perennially powerful, and often all it takes is a good story being picked up by the right person to make a difference.

This is what I mean; more often than not, it is not the statistics about a particular issue that move people to action, it is how you leverage these statistics to evoke emotions. This means that one story about a person’s rape ordeal could be more powerful than displaying staggering numbers of rape cases on a PowerPoint slide.

Just look at what happened in India. Rape is not a new plague in the country. It has been rampant there for decades. But it took a few stories showcasing the lives of those affected to start strong movements and cause radical changes in the law. In a previous post, I wrote about how there are more ways to be a responsible citizen than merely taking part in a vote. I focused largely on what we can do in our “circle of concern”. In this post, my focus is more “political”. My aim is to, hopefully, wake us up to the political options we have as citizen to contribute to positive change in your country.

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These may not make sense at first glance, and you may even doubt how effective they are. But sometimes you need to be part of something to see and appreciate its power. Having worked as a journalist, I had the advantage of seeing the areas where citizen participation made the biggest waves in government and society. More often than not, all it took was answering “yes” to the following questions.

Have you ever:

  • Signed a petition?
  • Contacted your MP, MCA or area representative?
  • Gone on a protest or demonstration?
  • Contacted a government department?
  • Spoken to an influential person about an issue you feel strongly about?
  • Raised an issue in an organisation you belong to?
  • Contacted radio, TV or newspaper?
  • Formed a group of like-minded people?

When we begin to see our role and scope of responsibility as much larger than the mere casting of a vote, then we will realize that we wield power to cause real political change in our society. Voter apathy happens when we limit the horizon of our political participation to casting  the vote once every five years. When we see our politics and our politicians through the lens of the ballot, we are only displaying our ignorance.

You have the power to do more. Join a political party. Join a political cause. Get out of the house. Talk to your neighbor. Unplug your earphones and engage that person sitting next to you in the bus (yes, I know it’s awkward and you are an introvert). Make use of that suggestion box. Send a letter to that politician. Write to the editor of that national newspaper (very few people actually do this, you’d be surprised). Get up, get out and tell your story.

The reason we get voter fatigue is because we have too narrow a view of ourselves. We are much more than voters in Kenya. We are citizens of Kenya.

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(c) tollywoodandhra.in

The ease with which one can access movies and music on the internet has made online piracy one of the hardest plagues for media owners and users to fight.

For many of us Kenyans, we have that “movie guy” who always hooks you up with the latest movies and episodes of your favorite shows (for just Sh50 per DVD!) You’ve probably never thought of this as piracy, especially since you are paying for the movie. But the reality is that these distributors illegally download the movies and shows and then write them onto DVDs for your entertainment.

Some of us are more internet savvy and we have installed torrent clients (e.g. bittorrent, utorrent) onto our computers and we download those pirated movies in the comfort of our homes. There are also numerous streaming services that give you access to thousands of movies and tv shows for free streaming (if you can get through the numerous pop-up ads).

The same goes for music. It is now possible to get a download of an American album within hours of its release without paying a dime for it. I admit that the jury is still out on some of the legal ramifications of downloading pirated copies of movies made in countries whose copyright laws don’t apply to us. In other words, Kenya is not part of the jurisdiction of many American copyright laws, which makes the issue of whether or not it is legal to download and watch pirated movies a tricky one.

But behind every law is a spirit an ethic, and a value system which the author of that law sought to satisfy. By making it illegal to download the film or show for free in the United States, the creator of that commodity intended that anyone anywhere who accesses it should pay for it (even if they can’t get prosecuted for breaking that code).

There is also the matter of artists who go broke and yet their music is making waves across the globe. However, this is not the post for that discussion. My aim here is more practical.

In the paragraphs that follow, I only seek to answer the question: “I feel it is wrong to download and watch pirated movies and TV shows, but it would be easier to avoid doing wrong if I had legal options for downloading and watching.” Here is my lame attempt at reducing the temptation and, hopefully, fighting piracy in Kenya.

HOW TO WATCH WESTERN MOVIES AND SERIES

The following are the only two service providers I know of that provide access to western movies and TV shows legally, but, of course, for a fee.

1. Netflix

The American online streaming service has been active in Kenya for slightly over a year. Kenyans can now access award-winning movies and TV shows like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, the entire Star Trek series, and hundreds others. For as low as USD7.99 every month, one can stream all these shows with a clean conscience. In November 2016, Netflix added the option to download movies and series episodes onto your phone or tablet for watching while offline. This is a great option for those who probably access affordable internet at the office and coffee shops and don’t have the same access at home. You can just download the episodes you want to watch then catch up on them at the comfort of your home.

  • PS: For new subscribers, Netflix allows you to access the full collection for free for the first 30 days.
  • PPS: My research also revealed that in Kenya, we only access about 400 of the more than 4000 shows available on Netflix. This also means that while Americans can access all the seasons of all the shows, Kenyans can only access some seasons and have top wait longer for the rest of the seasons. Copyright issues.

2. Showmax

This South African movie and series streaming service launched in Kenya just a few months after Netflix. While the collection is leaner than that offered by the American giant, sometimes Showmax gives Kenyans access to shows that are not locally available via Netflix. For instance, I found shows like Mad Men and Downton Abbey on Showmax and yet I could not access them on Netflix. So it may be good to subscribe to both services if you can afford it. Being an African product, Showmax also offers Nollywood films for Naija lovers. There is also a collection of some favorite Kenyan shows like Real House helps of Kawangware and the likes. For as low as Sh880 a month, you can access Showmax premium services, while Showmax Select is available for Sh330. Showmax also has a download option for mobile devices.

PS: For new subscribers, Showmax allows you to access the full collection for free for the first 14 days.

3. Amazon Prime Video

This service is barely two months old in Kenya and it promises to give Netflix quite a competition. It is currently available at the lowest subscription fee of USD2.99. But this will only be for the first six months, after which the subscription will return to USD5.99 (which is still a good bargain considering the collection that Amazon Prime Video has). Amazon Prime Video also has the advantage of exclusive content produced by Amazon and also features a lot of latest movies and series episodes, unlike Showmax.

PS: There is a seven-day free trial period for new subscribers, so you may give it a try

HOW TO LISTEN TO MUSIC

Currently, I know of only two music services that give you access to international music for free (with adverts in between songs) or for a monthly fee. These are Apple Music and Deezer (for android users). Of course some people can access music services such as Spotify, Google Music and Amazon Prime with a Virtual Private Network (VPN), but the issue of VPNs is another pandora’s box in the piracy discussion. For now, Deezer and Apple Music are the best options (for a monthly subscription fee of USD4.99)

HOW TO PAY FOR THE SERVICES

At the moment, the only payment options available for Netflix, Deezer and Apple Music are Visa card, Mastercard and Paypal. If you are too paranoid to use your Visa ATM online, you can obtain a Nakumatt Global Payment card and load money onto it via MPESA then use that to make the payments. That way, you can enjoy the movies and series without worrying about someone hacking into your bank account.

Showmax already anticipated this problem and now has an option for paying via MPESA Paybill. Just go to the Showmax page and they will take it from there.

I hope these options will be of great help in your efforts to fight online piracy.

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Fellow Kenyans, I know we are all rushing at the last minute to register to vote. Some of us have been too busy at work to find time to visit a registration station, and that’s understandable. Some of us have just not prioritised the process. That’s also understandable… sometimes. Kudos to those who have registered, those who have checked and double-checked their registration.

Kenya could use more people like you.

I know you believe that you are a model citizen and on that August morning you will queue for hours and proudly exercise your democratic right (duty?). Some of you are even planning to share your ink-stained fingers on Instagram and Facbook to confirm your participation. Good for you. But may I ask that you consider this truth for a moment? Your vote is not the solution.

You see, voting is the most visible part of the democratic process, but I am convinced that it is not the most important. Some of us treat voting as if it is the only responsibility the citizen has. We vote and have over the reins to the elctorate and then sit back and waiut for magic to happen. Allow me to burst your bubble. Voting is not THE solution.

However, voting is a solution. Voting counts, so please go out there and let your vote be counted. However, many of us act as if the right to vote is equivalent to democracy. Being a citizen in a democracy is much wider and involves much more than spending  a few hours every year to mark an X on a piece of paper and shoving it through a slit on a plastic vote.

I’m sorry to say this but, whoever you vote into power does not hold the silver bullet to all your country’s problems.

The reality is more complex. Real change is incremental, it takes time. Real change is communal, it takes all of us. Not just all of us registering to vote or showing up to vote, but all of us embodying that democracy every hour and every day of our residence in this nation. For democracy to work, all citizens must keep doing what we can in our circles of influence to be the change and advocate for change.

Where do you work? What do you care about? Are you an engineer? Then pay attention to the policies on construction and infrastructural development. Offer your expert opinions on those buildings that come crashing down on widowed mothers and their poor children. Resist that bribe and give up that questionable contract. Then go ahead and push your boss to push her bosses to push the policy makers.

Use your rare expertise and experience to highlight cases of bad policy and bad (or lack of) implementation in your circle of concern. The same applies to doctors and lawyers and journalists and social workers and musicians. Work for more than just a living. Work for a better work environment and a better economy.

Spend the four years between elections actually helping your politician’s manifesto come true, even when that politician abandons it. Your power is not restricted to the vote. Your power is only symbolised by the vote. But the real work happens as life happens. The real work happens in advocacy and water-dispenser conversations and boardroom meetings. Bad politics does not just thrive because of bad politicians, bad politics is watered and nurtured by a bad polity.

We all count for more than just being counted every five years. So get out ther and register to vote and then make the time to vote come August. And after that, go back home and be the change that you voted for. This is the only way we will get the Kenya we want.

What will you do when the politicians come knocking this Sunday?

Dear Pastor,

He will be visiting your church this Sunday, but he won’t be a stranger. You have seen him on television and read about him in the newspaper countless times. You have never met him, but you probably know him better than some of your congregation. He is your local political leader.

Perhaps he is the area member of parliament. Or maybe you are lucky enough to get a visit from the area senator or governor. The President? Whoever he is, Sunday service will be different today. Attendance will be in record numbers and your parking lot will host some of the most expensive vehicles to ever tread on that gravel.

There is going to be great pressure to modify your order of Sunday service because this politician is around. Perhaps the singing will be shorter, the sermon will be hurried. In the heat of the moment, it will make sense to include a slot in the service for the politician to greet and address the congregants.

It seems harmless enough. It is perfectly understandable to make an exception. Special circumstances sometimes call for special actions. But dear pastor, could I urge and remind you not to forget what the Bible says about some of those moments? The following considerations may help guide you.

1. Watch where the politicians sits

The Bible, that book that defines who you are and why your church exists in the first place, says something about where the rich and the influential members of society choose to sit in the congregation. I hope you will not forget to take the words of Jesus to Pharisees into account when that politician visits:

“Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”
LUKE 11:43‭-‬44 ESV

As far as Israel was concerned, the Pharisees were like a rough combination of the legislature and judiciary today. They are the ones who were supposed to understand, interpret and implement the laws set out by God. They even enacted some of the ways the laws of God applied to specific situations. Jesus noticed how self-important they were; how they carried themselves in the marketplace and the places of worship.

How will the politician visiting your church behave? Will they seat in the best seats? Are you, in fact, the one arranging for this? Why are you doing something that the Jesus you claim to be the Bride of clearly frowns upon? Or is it actually not about Jesus?

2. Watch how the politician will give

I am sure the highlight of Sunday service will most likely be the offering. Come on, with such record attendance, and with people overflowing that some are even standing outside the building just to catch a glimpse of their leader, the offering baskets will be bulging today. It is inevitable.

Buy I am not concerned about that. My concern is something else Jesus said about the same Pharisees that are the parallel to today’s politicians:

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
MATTHEW 6:2‭-‬4 ESV

Is this what the politicians visiting your church will do when it is time to give? Or maybe I am being too critical. The truth is these politicians are human, like you and I. They are also sinners. It would be unfair of me to expect them to stick to a higher biblical standard than other people. What if they want to announce their giving to your church? Who am I to judge?

But my concern is with you, dear pastor. You know better. Will you give these politicians a platform to do what Jesus clearly frowns upon? Will you change up your service to allow the politicians announce his donation for your upcoming church project? Will you give your your pulpit for the man or woman to say a word about what he has done for the community? Would you rather please man than God?

3. The sheep are watching the shepherd

In the end, this is more than just a matter of personal preference and opinion, dear pastor. You have a responsibility towards us, your sheep. And you will one day have to give an answer to God. As the Bible clearly puts it:

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
HEBREWS 13:17 ESV

Clearly, God wants us, the sheep, to obey you and submit to you. When you allow God’s word to be disregarded and God’s name to be blasphemed by endorsing some of these actions in the church, we find it difficult to obey God. It is hard for the sheep to take their creator seriously when the shepherd doesn’t seem to be doing it.

Dear pastor, please consider God this Sunday and the coming Sundays as you navigate the rising political temperatures in the country. The pressure to fear man rather than God will be high. Your reputation before the world will be at stake. Would you rather please men than God? I hope you will do the latter.

If you care about us, the followers of the Jesus you preach, you would consider these things. It will be difficult. Money is powerful, and the love of it can be tragic. You cannot resist public opinion on your own. I understand that, and for this reason, I will be praying for you.

I hope you do the right thing. I hope you will fear God enough to keep His commandments.

My Father

23/10/2016 — Leave a comment

Have you ever thought about the meaning of the word Father?

You’ve probably never needed to, because it seems so obvious… so self-evident. I used to think so too, until recently.

I was going through a “dark-night-of-the-soul” period where I found it difficult to pray. For some reason, it just stopped making sense speaking to a God that was invisible and immaterial. Whenever I closed my eye to pray, I was overwhelmed by the whole absurdity of the act. It just felt like talking into the air, into nothingness.

That’s when someone suggested a rather cliche solution: that I read the Bible and look at the way the people in there addressed God. Most specifically, how Jesus prayed and taught his disciples to address God.

Jesus called God His Father.

“Our father who is in heaven,” he taught us to pray. It sounded straightforward enough, except my main challenge was in conceptualizing God as a Father.

Many Christian counselors suggest that people who have difficulties thinking of God as a Father usually had a bad experience with their earthly fathers. They don’t know what is so good about having a father, and so they struggle to embrace a God who approaches them as one.

But the situation seemed different for me. This wasn’t about my earthly father. Growing up, my relationship with dad was more or less “normal.” My problem was a more philosophical one: How can I address God as “father” with a straight face when I know that God is Spirit and not human. Isn’t the word “Father” just an anthropomorphism of a being that is beyond our comprehension?

Well, I was in for a great (and pleasant) surprise.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word father as: “a male parent” or “a man who is thought of as being like a father.” Another alternative definition is: “one related to another in a way suggesting that of father to child.”

Beyond these surface definitions, Mr Charles and George Merriam and Mr Noah Webster don’t tell us much about what is actually involved in “being a father”, or what qualifies a man to be one.

Stay with me now. When you consider every aspect of what it means to be a father, you will quickly realize tat no single human being perfectly fits the description.

Does biology make one a father?

It is obvious that many who have contributed the Y chromosome to the existence of a child cannot quite be called the fathers of the child. This is especially if they have not contributed in any way to the raising of the child. These men fail to fit the “father” description because something, a relationship, is missing.

Does nurture make one a father?

In fact, there are many children being raised by men who are not related to them biologically, men who are married to their mothers, men that they call fathers. Even so, many who have been raised by men who were not their biological parents often say of these men, “he is like a father to me” as if he is not quite a father. Something is missing in the picture.

Does the law make one a father?

Or is it the law? Does legal adoption qualify one to be defined as a true father? And if so, why do we still feel the need to qualify the father title with an adjective such as “my adoptive father”. Somehow, we instinctively know that they are not quite the true definition of father.

Is it all three?

But even in the now increasingly rare case where one is raised up by the father who shares the same genes, these fathers still fall short. You may be biologically related to your father, he may be the one that raised you and his name may even be in your legal birth certificate, but he still falls short.

Earthly fathers don’t always love their children and when they do it is never a perfect love. Earthly fathers don’t always provide and when they do it may not be the best kind of provision. Even when they try their best, their humanity is a guarantee that they will never be the 100% father.

The fact that they are fallen human beings means that they will inevitably not measure up at being fathers.

The True Father

So who is the true father? Who fits the bill? Who meets all the criteria? Who is the one we can look at for any idea of what it means to be a perfect father? In other words, where do we get the idea that there is something like a 100 per cent father and yet no single human being has ever fit the mold? How do we know that the kind of fathers we have here on earth are less than ideal?

I found the answer when I went back to the Bible with my struggle. In the Words of scripture, I encountered a Father who fit the description, who met the criteria, and never disappointed. In the God of the Bible, I found not just the true definition of a perfect Father, I found the embodiment of that Father.

In my confusion, I thought it more realistic to address a human father than to address an invisible spiritual father. Yet the reality is that the human father was a false reality. No human being deserves to be called father. Not the man who contributed to your genes, and not even the man who raised you up. Only God fits the bill.

In fact, our earthly fathers are poor imitations of the true Father. Even the best of human fathers are mere glimpses of the perfection that is in our glorious heavenly Father. In other words, there is no truer and realer illustration of a human being talking to his father than that of a man praying to his God.

I am no longer struggling to pray. In fact, it is becoming more absurd to take my troubles to human beings instead of to God. I have learnt that prayer is the realest and truest form of communication I could ever take part in. Because in prayer, I am speaking to the only one who not only hears my words, but perfectly understands my words and perfectly responds to those words.

Through prayer, I can, for the first time in my life, talk to my real Father.

Sometimes I wonder if the Bible we have is less divine than it’s often hyped up to be.

Like many of you, I grew up on the Bible. My family wasn’t particularly religious, but we weren’t that irreligious either.

As far as I can tell, my dad never stepped into a church, yet it seems he read the Bible more often than my mum, who took us to church every Sunday. Apart from the little blue Gideon’s New Testament bibles we were given in school, I never read much Bible. My dad owned a copy of the New World Translation Bible (given to him by some Jehovah’s Witnesses who frequented our home and debated him).

Nevertheless, I grew up believing the Bible was the Word of God —  whatever that meant. For years, I always assumed we got the Bible the way Muslims got their Qur’an, that is, as a single book with 66 chapters. I would later learn that this wasn’t quite the case.

Apparently, the process that led to the Bible we have today was a very “human” process, and could only be described as “divine” if we chose to look at it providentially. Many who have argued for the canon usually say God “guided” the actions and decisions that led to the canonisation of our present Bible some 300 years after Jesus died.

The arguments sound convincing, but sometimes I would come across some work of literature that casts new doubts on my mind. Sometimes I am not even so sure about the inerrancy of our current Bible, not with the kind of history it has. Many scholars try to get around this difficulty by saying that the Bible is inerrant in “the original manuscripts” —  manuscripts that we no longer have.

Then there is the issue of what some books of the Bible say about the Word of God. For instance, 2 Timothy 3:16 is often quoted to support the claim that the entire Bible is the authoritative Word of God:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

Seems clear enough, until you consider when this verse was written and what “scripture” it was referring to. At the time of Paul, scripture used to refer to the Torah (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) and perhaps the other writings of the prophets. So, was Paul talking about the 66-book Bible that would be compiled three centuries after his death when he wrote this verse?

Difficult questions, these ones. Or when Apostle John, in Revelation 22:19 tells us:

“If anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.”

Many preachers use this verse to speak against those who try to “edit” the Bible by either adding some books or removing others. But was John referring to the book of Revelation when he wrote these words or was he referring to the collection that will come to existence much later on —  our present Bible?

These are just a few of the many questions that sometimes make me wonder if we have not deluded ourselves concerning the “Word of God”. What I mean is, when we insist that scripture is the ultimate authority on God’s will and not our churches, preachers and religious traditions, what scriptures are we referring to?

Isn’t our current Bible compilation more or less a product of decisions made by certain preachers belonging to certain churches and following certain religious traditions some 1700 years ago?

I am sure I will come across some book that will convince me that the Bible we have right now is the real deal, without needing to add or remove or modify anything in it. But sometimes I am not so sure.

Now, this does not mean that I am doubting the existence of God, or the gospel, or the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Although I have learnt about these realities through the same Bible that I find shaky, my belief in them does not really depend on what constitutes the true “scriptures” and what doesn’t.

But I cannot help but wonder how many of us believe certain things about the Bible because of what the religious human authorities in our churches and inter-webs and denominational documents say about them. How many of us are suppressing our questions and doubts because we do not want to be sidelined as heretics?

And did you know that CS Lewis, that famous English apologist and “the patron saint of evangelicalism” had some quite unorthodox views about our current Bible? Many of us who love his writings do not like to consider this side of Lewis, but it is worth looking at. You can begin here.

Perhaps it is time we all paused and read our Bibles again, for the first time. Perhaps not. Some people may see these as just muses of someone who is on the way out of the church, on the way out of true faith and Christianity. Am I just flirting with the deceiver by voicing these questions? I don’t know. But God does.

May His will prevail. And I sure hope and pray that I am in it.

It started after the first recent major terror attack on Paris. The Charlie Hebdo attack.

My social media timelines were riddled with slogans and memes of “Je Suis Charlie”. The phrase was a hashtag, it was a slogan, it was a prayer.

“Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) quickly became a way to identify with the victims of the attack. It was a way of saying that those who died could have been any of us; the dead cartoonists could have been our fathers, our uncles, our brothers.

So I retweeted. I shared the memes and stared at the photos of friends and relatives mourning their dead and holding vigils. I even read some of the stories about the amazing lives of the now dead men.

I cared.

My heart was moved by the images and the stories. “Je suis Charlie” was more than a slogan. It was a rallying call against terrorism. It was a mark of human solidarity in the face of the worst of humanity.

But I cannot say the same for Haiti. 

I first learnt about the devastating hurricane by accident. A friend who was visiting the country when the hurricane struck shared the news in a Whatsapp group.

Later on I saw the news headlines on CNN and the New York Times. More than 800 dead. Tens of thousands of homes destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of people displaced.

These are big numbers. But for some reason, they are just that, numbers. They don’t evoke any deep sympathy or grief in me. I don’t feel the compulsion to retweet the headlines when they show up on my Twitter timeline.

Why is this? Am I a hypocrite? Does my callousness in the face of such tragedy reveal something base about my heart? Or is there more happening here?

I think I have a theory. Just one among many out there.

There’s more to this phenomenon, and it has very little to do with me or my morality, and a lot to do with how stories are told.

Joseph Stalin, the man whose regime was behind the death of some 43 million people, famously said:

“The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.”

Stalin was onto something that has intrigued psychologists for decades. It is the curious case of diminishing compassion as the number of victims increases. It is as if we experience a “compassion fatigue” when the numbers are overwhelming. You may find numerous studies on this on the web, so I will not be going into it here.

But something happens when you put a name and a face to tragedy. It narrows your focus and at the same time magnifies your compassion. The death of one hardworking father of a two year old girl seems bigger than the death of a hundred faceless men.

And this is what is happening with Haiti. We have the numbers but not the names. Furthermore, the fact that this is a natural disaster and not an act of terror dilutes the passions.

It is easy to rage and rant at the human face of a terrorist. But who is crazy enough to lift fist at the weather?

The only thing that’s closest to a human face in the wake of the Haiti tragedy is not even a face, but a name, Matthew.

Matthew is the name of the hurricane. Some 11 years ago, hurricane Katrina swept over North Eastern United States and devastated homes and lives. The story was a bit more prominent than the Haiti one, mainly because it brought to surface the racial and class wars in America. These are perennially emotional issues.

Even so, it was nothing close to the emotions sparked by the 9/11 terror attack. Which brings to mind another important aspect in the Haitian tragedy. Haiti is a voiceless nation on the theater of global conversations. Few people care what Haiti has to say about anything. The country is only good for photo ops as a charity case.

It is where celebrities and corporations refine their images by going there to “help the victims”. Haiti is every Public Relations strategist’s goldmine. It also makes for a great topic for social commentaries… like this post.

That is why the recent devastation by hurricane Matthew has evoked a now all too familiar protest on social media. You may have already come across posts of complaints about why Facebook has not allowed users to put on the Haitian flag on their profile pages.

Ironically, there are more people complaining about the fact that the Haiti disaster is not getting enough coverage than the people actually covering the disaster. Few media organisations have bothered to interview possible faces of the tragedy.

We are content with the numbers. We have become too familiar with the incident that we barely notice it. We cannot wait for the next big news so that we move on from Haiti.

We don’t really care.

And this is why I am not praying for Haiti. The disaster is not close enough or real enough or human enough to move me. If I say a prayer, it will largely be due to guilt. I will do it because I do not want to appear heartless, yet deep down I know that I simply don’t care.

Not as much as I should.

This is the world we live in. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. What is trending is not always what “should” trend. What captures our attention is not always what should occupy us. And that’s just how it is. What can you do about it? What will you do about it?

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself…

While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.

I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.

Adapted from a sermon by Dr James Allan Francis in “The Real Jesus and Other Sermons” © 1926

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On delaying sexual gratification until marriage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I have been in a dating relationship for almost six months now, and Lord willing, I will be getting married some time later in the year. I thank God for my relationship, largely because I have experienced His grace, mercy and loving care in ways that I could not have imagined. Being in a relationship has taught me to die to myself, and that God placed me on this planet for so much more than my selfish pleasures.

FullSizeRender (1)So when I came across this book, Love Bila Regrets, I read it with mixed feelings. You see, I have made all the mistakes described in this book (that is, in my previous relationships). I have asked a girl out without thinking about marriage, I have shunned accountability in my dating relationships, I have dated an unbeliever, I have committed sexual sin… you name it. I’ve been through it all.

I am not proud of it. Every sin and mistake is highly regretted. I would not want to live through any of it, given another shot. Yet, for some strange reason, I look back at that past with gratitude, because God has used it to define and refine me into the image of His Son Jesus Christ.

Reading through the nine chapters of the book by John Musyimi and Mark Ambundo was like a stroll through my own dark past. Continue Reading…

The book of Esther is famous for being the only book of the Bible that does not mention God. Where is God in Esther? Is He just working “behind the scenes”, inferred and “providential”, rather than explicit? And is the God of Esther the God of the gospel that we believe in as Christians?

book-of-esther

I was reading the story again today, and I saw Queen Esther approaching the throne of King Ahasuerus without being summoned. The law of the land was clear about such an action: “…if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law — to be put to death…” (Esther 4:11).

This called to mind Exodus 33:20 where God tells Moses: “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

In fact, under the Old Testament law, only the selected High Priest could step into the inner court (the holy of holies) in the tabernacle (and later, temple). He would have a rope tied to his ankle because in the event that he had overlooked a cleansing ritual and stepped in while unclean, he would drop dead and had to be dragged out.

But then Jesus comes into the world, and He is our clean and perfect High Priest. He has never sinned and does not therefore need cleansing. He does not run the risk of dying when he steps into the inner court and looks at God’s face. He himself in John 1:8 says: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

Only Jesus can see God and live.

So what does this have to do with Esther and her God? The law of the land at the time had a caveat: “…if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law — to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live.” (Esther 4:11)

In other words, when you stepped into the king’s presence, the only reason you would continue breathing is if the king chose to be merciful to you. Otherwise, the only guarantee you had is that you were walking to your death. The throne of king Ahasuerus was a throne of wrath and death for those who approached it uninvited. So was the inner court of the God of the Jews.

Then in steps Jesus, one who has never sinned. This means that Jesus as our High Priest could walk into God’s presence with full confidence that He will live to talk about it! But it gets better! God says that if we believe in Jesus, and look to Him as our High priest, we move into Him and He moves into us. He lives and reigns in us and through us!

This means that we can boldly approach the throne of God because we have confidence that when God looks at us He sees His son. Instead of extending a condemning finger, He extends the golden scepter of grace. He lets us live.

But it gets even better! In the story of Esther, only those who entered the king’s court without being summoned deserved to die. But now, through Christ, God is actually summoning us! telling us to come! We know we can approach Him with confidence of life. And even when we doubt whether we have been called, we know we can still approach Him with confidence that Christ has paid the price of death for us.

“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

(Hebrews 4:15-16)

For the fame of His name,

Cornell

My church got a new senior pastor last Sunday. Actually, he’s been around for quite a while (at least five years) as the Associate Pastor. But Ken Mbugua officially became the Senior Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church on October 18th, 2015.

His first message will remain etched in my mind for a long time. Not because he was particularly eloquent in his delivery (though he always is), but because I believe this is one of the few messages worth retaining in a heart that refers to itself as Christian.

The title of this inaugural sermon was “The Preeminence of Christ in the Local Church” and Pastor Ken spent the rest of the time fading into the background as he presented Christ as supreme to his flock.

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“I want us to grasp the one tune, the one foundation, the one focus and the one goal for which we exist and for which we will do all that we do: to worship Jesus in the local church,” he began as he crescendoed into the heights of what it means to be a church. Continue Reading…

Do you love your job? Are you doing what you love? Are you pursuing your passion? If you have answered “yes” to all the three questions, then good for you. You are one of the lucky ones.

The harsh reality of life is that we don’t always get what we want, and we don’t always want what we get. Stories of people stuck in dead-end and un-fulfilling jobs are numerous. They are almost the rule, rather than the exception. But what if “loving your job” was never the point? I mean, yes, it is good to love what you do. It is preferable and pleasurable and there is nothing wrong with that. But is that the point of work? Continue Reading…

“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19 ESV)

The difference between demons and the children of God is not in their “beliefs”, but in their “lives”.

God demands PERFECT obedience. So does this mean that we are to always do right and never fail or fall at any point? That sounds quite… UNREALISTIC. No human being can do that, at least not from my own experience. Continue Reading…

Christians in the US did not lose the culture war when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage – because Christians have never won any culture war. In fact, I dare say Christians are not even expected to, let alone commanded to, win culture wars. Let me explain. Continue Reading…

I was going through my 2007 journal the other day and I came across an interesting entry. On January 3, 2007, I found myself grappling with the possibility that I may not be cut out to be an Engineer. I was in the second semester of my second year in college studying Civil Engineering, with three more years to go.

In the entry (below), you will meet a young man grappling with what he is “called” to do in life. It was so fuzzy at the time. All I knew is that I had zero interest in Engineering and I was a gifted communicator (as overheard). Continue Reading…

I have always wanted to write a book about being wrong. Not about the “idea” of being wrong, but a biographical account of the many times I have “done” wrong.

Because there are so many times I have found myself doing things that are morally deplorable. Things I am embarrassed to admit, and I guess that embarrassment, that shame, is the reason I am yet to write that book. “When You’ve Been Wrong” is the title I am fiddling with. Continue Reading…

I work on every other weekend, and last Sunday was one of those working days. But I found myself with nothing much to do and after writing a few stories, I stepped out of the office for a walk.

I ended up at Mamlaka Hill Chapel (MHC), on Mamlaka Road, just a few minutes from my office. I was just in time for the third and final service of the day. I slipped into the back row and sat down.

10497283_10152481909963328_4735291051785944544_oPastor John Musyimi was preaching. He is an excellent speaker, and one of my favorite teachers at MHC. On this Sunday, he was handling the second part of an on-going series the church has been doing on “Counterfeit Gospels.” Musymi titled his message “Money for Miracles.” Continue Reading…

I am currently reading one of those books that people read in secret. You know, those books that would make us look bad and weak and inadequate if people saw them on our shelves? The title of the book does little to help my ego: How to Win Friends and Influence People. You are probably already drawing inferences about why I could be reading such a book — and that, right there, is my point.

I have often sat with among friends and spoke ill of self-help books and the people who read them. It is already tempting to start justifying why I am reading and agreeing with Dale Carnegie in How to Win friends and Influence People. I feel that I should at least explain why I am reading a book with such a “self-helpish” title, but I will not do it, because to do that would be to go against the point of this post. So I put my reputation at your mercy.

Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid - Maslow's Theory IllustratedWell, I said that in order to say this: I think the whole notion of “self-esteem” has received an unfairly bad rap from Christians who want to remain faithful to the Bible. Numerous articles and blog posts and even books have been written to explain why “self-esteem” is an unbiblical concept and an unholy pursuit. I, too, have written my share of tweets and Facebook status updates in the past to that effect. But allow me to play the devil’s advocate and tease out something that I think is important about the idea of “self-esteem”. Allow me to defend self-esteem and, hopefully, still remain faithful to God’s Word.

Why would anyone want to read a book about improving your self-esteem and feeling better about yourself? Why would Joel Osteen sell millions of copies for titles such as Your Best Life Now and Become a Better You? Well, the easy answer is that Osteen and other writers like Myles Munroe or Rhonda Byrne (of The Secret ) are responding to a real need in the world.

People are searching for significance, we want to know and feel and believe that we matter. We crave recognition and we cringe at the notion of being forgettable or dispensable. We yearn to know that we count, and we will do anything and go to any length to attain this significance, and that is why for many of us, the first and easiest step would be to bury our faces in a How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (also by Carnegie).

I hear someone like Victoria Osteen advising people to worship God “for yourself”, and I have to admit that I get her. I can see where she is coming from and what she is trying to get at. I don’t know where her heart is, but my best guess is that she genuinely wants to help people. Many of the people who write self-help books also want to help people — and they do it the best way they know how.

Whether or not they also want to make money and become rich is another matter altogether.Just because I want to make money and be rich through journalism doesn’t make my other motives in pursuing this career (e.g. to speak truth to power and keep the government accountable) any less noble.

So, to the extent that there is a real need for personal edification and validation in the world, to the extent that there is a real need to succeed and win and avoid failure in life, to the extent that we are hardwired to want to be respected and “esteemed”, I fully support the notion of self-esteem. You see, the problem is not self-esteem, or our longing for it, the crux of the matter is HOW we go about satisfying this goal.

What’s even more disturbing is when we begin to speak as if the need does not exist, or worse, as if it should not exist. It is one thing to say that self-esteem should not be our ultimate goal or even a primary objective in life. But it is an entirely different thing to say that it doesn’t matter or that it is a wrong goal. There are many things we yearn and long for in this life, and most of these things cannot be attained by directly pursuing them. Things like contentment, or peace.

There are people who pursue contentment by acquiring things, because they think when they have enough things and enough relationships, they will finally be content. I believe the psychological term for this ultimate end is self-actualisation. They will finally be self-satisfied. Such people are pursuing a noble goal, but they are pursuing a misunderstood goal using the wrong means. To help such people, we should not disparage their goals and longings, instead, we should re-route and re-wire how they think about such longings.

I-can-do-this

This is where and how the Word of God helps us. The Bible does not just provide us with principles to apply when we want to achieve our personal goals. The Bible is more radical, it gives us new goals and new ways to think about old goals. The Word of God sets us right by renewing our thinking, and eventually our lives, to God’s will (His means and ends).

So, is self-esteem evil and is it wrong for a Christian to want self-esteem? I would respond by saying those are wrong questions. The questions assume that we are settled on who a Christian is in the first place. We may discover that if we stepped back from the question and explored what it means to be a Christian, we will discover a message that renders the question of self-esteem moot or irrelevant.

That message is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and this is the message that should define our posture as we explore all subjects regarding human needs and wants and longings in this world. The Word of God is a good place to begin. In fact, it is the only place to begin. And if we trust in the God who authored this word and revealed it to us, we may also discover that this Word is also a good place to stop. Because it is the only place worth staying in.

For the fame of His name

Cornell

PS: This will be among my last posts on Alien Citizens. No, I will not quit blogging, but I am planning to take a slightly different road, which begins by closing shop over here. I will update you all on the great migration. Have a blessed day, friends.

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

pat

Photo credit: wpxi.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider yourself warned.

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

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