Surrender Your Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LivingStories

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

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

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

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

In the beginning was the Word.

For the fame of His name,

Cornell.

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Journalism in the Bible: Crafting the Truth

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

It will have to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two word: Passion and Mission

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

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

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

Daily Nation’s slogan is “The Truth.”

Echoing the words of Luke,

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

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

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

And that’s The Truth.

For the fame of His name,

Cornell

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

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

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

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

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

Music As Christian Entertainment?

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

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

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

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

FOR THE GLORY OF GOD

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

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

A Man After God’s Own Art

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

Ephesians 5:11

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

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

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

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

1. IT IS A HEART THING

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

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

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