Kenya: Who Am I?

In America black people constantly wrestle with racial identity. As a young black man I have to consciously resist the stereotypes of dominant society, as they attempt to define who I am. Likewise I have to resist dominant society’s portrayals of who they think I ought to be. While that is easily communicated on paper, actually walking the tight rope of identity is difficult. One of the most fundamental questions asked by all of humanity is “Who am I?”  As Christians we go a step further wanting to know who we are in Christ, and how do we reflect the unique aspect of the Imago Dei that has been imprinted upon us.

I do not want to sound cheesy, but being in Africa, spending time alongside my African brothers and sisters was a spiritual, psychological encounter that gave me an even deeper glimpse into myself. It wasn’t merely being in a context where blacks are the majority of the population, because I already have that in the neighborhood where I live (Philly). However, I think it was the knowledge of the fact that I didn’t have to worry about stereotypes or archetypes from white or black folk, but could comfortably be me without judgement. The racial climate doesn’t easily allow for  much of that in America. We must intentionally seek it out, even when it seems subversive to some who think we ought to all assimilate into one bland and uniformed cultural expression, disregarding the diversity created by God.  I believe that the better we truly know ourselves and who we are, the more capable we will be in ministering to others. Kenya was a timely gift.

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Kenya: Four Kids and $25

One particular day while in Kenya, a few of us had the privilege of sneaking off the campus with Peter Odanga, the Word of Life Director, and driving up into the village in the hills. He would simply yell “candy” in Swahili as we passed by people’s huts and the kids would come running. We didn’t preach to them, all we did was give them candy, for which they were unbelievably grateful. From what I gathered, Peter does these runs about once a month, and I think it is his way of being a familiar face to those in that village.

We drove further along and then eventually parked, got out and begin walking through a field of high grass. On the other end of the field we came right into the middle of a families dwelling. Everyone was barefoot, a man was working hard on a piece of furniture I believe, and we were greeted very graciously by the women and children. They brought chairs out for us to sit down and by the time we were sitting the men had come over as well. Peter translated Swahili and English both ways as we spoke back and forth with this family.

During our discussion we eventually found out that four of the kids there were no longer able to attend school because they could not afford the school fees.  We asked how much it would cost to put them all back in school for the rest of the year. The answer was devastating. $25! The cost to put all four of them back in school again for the year was only $25. I don’t think my heart sank any lower my whole time there as it did at that point. We obviously offered to pay the fee and Peter said that it would be fine to do so. The family was so grateful, but I knew that we were only giving out of our excess, and we did not deserve the appreciation they gave. The head of the family actually climbed up a coconut tree and cut down several coconuts for us, chopped the tops off and served us. This was a humbling experience. It was one of those humbling and formational moments that a person can never forget.

Kenya: London Layover

Our trip to Kenya, must really start with our layover in London. We had a 13 hour layover, which gave us the opportunity to get out into the city and see the sights. It was my first and only time in Europe. I probably did not get to take it all in as much as I normally would have, since we were all dreadfully tired by the time we arrived in London, as it was time for bed in U.S. E.T., as we were getting our day started there.

We saw the sights…

We watched the changing of the guards.

If you look carefully, you will notice that the London bridge is not falling down (sorry, bad joke). Anyhow, we blended as much as a primarily black american group possibly can in London, which is not very well.

We eventually got back to the airport and onto the plane, heading for Kenya. Our final destination was the Mombasa Airport. I can still remember vividly as we drove off of the airport property, and immediately adjacent to the airport were shacks, and by shacks I mean people’s homes. During our hour long drive back to our campus, we saw neverending poverty. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen poverty like that before, but not that much. I can remember in Jamaica seeing the shack towns, but then you would also see some middle class areas as well. Here there seemed to be no middle class at all, and it wouldn’t be until more than half way through the week that we would see actual upper class neigbhorhoods.

As I stared out the window watching black people live in terrible conditions, my mind just kept taking me back to London, where we saw palaces, grandiose churches, and generational wealth. The reason my mind kept going there, is because as a psuedo historian, I know that Kenya was a colony of the British. I would be reminded by my friend John a Kenyan, that they were a British colony up into the 1960’s.  And so it became pretty evident that there was a direct line between the wealth enjoyed in London, and the poverty that was being endured by the Kenyan people.

Little did I know that our London layover would serve as a historical reminder for me, in an in your face way. This theme seemed to come back a few times as we experienced Kenya. We also got to be in Kenya during Madaraka Day, which is the celebration of Independence from the British. The imprints and residue of British colonization were permeated throughout Kenyan culture. While that was obvious for me to see, I am sure that forms of colonization are imprinted on my life as well, to which I am oblivious to. And yet Jesus promises an alternative to the imperial imprint that tries to determine our values and practices, and that is the Kingdom of God. And so all I can say is let us resist some more.

Woke Up This Mornin’ With My Mind Stayed On Jesus

I have never been one to tip toe around my opinion of mainstream american religiosity. I have trouble labeling what passes for Christianity in America as such. This is not a statement on whether or not folks are among God’s family (which isn’t really for me to decide), but rather it is an ecclesiological and theological concern which aims to critically consider what qualifies a group of people to be the Church, as well as what is the heart and substance of Christianity.

Unfortunately, American christianity-ism, has inundated itself with very elaborate abstract and systematized theology. The lack of theology being done rooted in specific 21st contexts as well as understood through situating Jesus in the biblical narrative, history, and his Palestinian socio-political context is at the core of our contemporary theological plight. In doing theology with the attempts of building universal systematic principles, we have in essence landed upon vague theological musings that can and often are manipulated regularly.

An example may prove helpful. Jesus challenged his followers to take up their cross and follow him. In America these verses are loved by so-called Christians. In fact, it is not uncommon to hear people talk about the various ways in which they daily take up their own cross and follow Jesus.  The only problem is that they have an abstract understanding of what that means. Taking up the cross of Jesus and following him hardly means to literally consider the actual life, deeds, and teachings of Jesus as they broke into the realities of 1st century life while reflecting and then living out its implications for 21st century American life.  No, instead we get to decide what that means based off of our own personal preferences. (Yes I am critiquing the way Americans read and apply scripture).  It is not strange to hear someone talk about getting up and throwing on a christian tee, listening to their favorite christian artist in the car on the way to work, and reading their bible at the work place as succesfully taking up their cross and following Jesus throughout the day.  While those things are not inherently wrong, they have little to do with taking up one’s cross and follow Jesus’ as was originally intended.  Our abstract and vague theology allows us to creatively reimagine the Christian life in light of our own comforts and unwillingness to have our lives disrupted by the Jesus way.

We have lost sight of Jesus, having replaced him for systematic theology. With our abstract and vague theology, we are able to justify and convince ourselves of just about anything we want. But when we consider Jesus, the Crucified One, who is situated and concrete in real human existence, it will disturb and disrupt our agenda. The realities of Jesus’ sermon on the mount subverts our american ethic, forcing us to wrestle with whether we are serious about following Jesus or not. It is only as we turn our eyes to the Revealed One that our religious justifications are undermined. This can not be done through our tainted imaginations of a nice western Jesus. This demands that we read the Gospels anew, examining the life and teachings of our Lord with utmost seriousness. May we all turn in our clean and pretty systematic theology for Jesus and the cross, which are often not so comfortable and nice, yet open our eyes to seeing the world in truly fresh ways.

White Man’s Religion???

Did you know?

During the 4th century A.D., that both the church father of the east and of the west were both African.  Yes, that puts a ruffle in the Islamic claim that Christianity is “the White Man’s Religion”.

In the east, there was Athanasius of Alexandria.  It is noted, that some people even called him “the black dwarf” back then.  Nonetheless, he was the church father of the eastern church, and is noted for valiantly defending the full deity of Christ, even to the point of being temporarily excommunicated.

Simultaneously, Augustine of Hippo was the patriarch over the west and was also from North Africa.  His massive works and development on theology are still studied vigorously to this day. It is his theology that Calvin and Luther would later draw from to arrive at what we call today western theology. While their theology is very different and distinct from Augustine, making some claims and assumptions he never did, it is indisputable that he is the Father of Western Christianity and Theology.

While some could argue that the western tradition has used theology to promote and justify slavery, racism, and apathy towards social justice, those current ideologies were not held by these church fathers.  In fact, at that time the church was much more multi-ethnic, and its face was very diverse.  The amazing thing is that simultaneously both the two primary church fathers were African, yet few are aware of it.   Check it out for yourself.

Barabbas Comparison & Jesus’ Significance

My last post I considered how Western Christianity denigrated Barabbas by taking Barabbas’ ethnicity out of the equation as well as ignoring the socio-political context. This was all compounded by a tradition of sloppy exegesis which distorted the clear depiction of an insurrectionist into a mindless serial killer.

However, I would like to consider why Barabbas is important in the Jesus story. More often than not, Barabbas is the poster child and mascot for those who choose to impose penal substitutionary atonement on every passage, regardless of the biblical context. Why not, Barabbas deserved his crime and Jesus took his place, right? Well, yes and no.

The reality is that Barabbas’ presence in the story is not there primarily to teach us that Jesus is our substitute. Instead, Barabbas is supposed to help us consider Jesus’ significance and mission. Remember that Jesus was Jewish just like Barabbas, and both were born into oppressed bodies under the Roman Empire. Barabbas as noted in my last post was a well known revolutionist who attempted to violently overthrow his occupiers. However, Jesus is actually accused of participating in similar activities when before the Roman authorities. Consider these passages…

Luke 23:2 “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”

Luke 23:5 “But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.”

In fact, in Matthew 26:55 Jesus himself poses a rhetorical question as he is about to be arrested. He asks “Am I leading a rebellion?” However, the answer is not clear cut. In some ways he is, just not a violent one like the kind Barabbas leads. However his proclamations of a new Kingdom being ushered in certainly imply a certain type of overthrow.

So again we have Barabbas and we have Jesus.  In many ways you could say that they are both revolutionaries, just varying in kind. Matthew 27:15-27 goes a bit further and clues us in on Barabbas’ importance in the Jesus story. Barabbas’ name is Jesus Barabbas. Here in Matthew we see that there is a choice between Jesus Barabbas and Jesus the Messiah. Jesus itself means “the Lord Saves”. So the choice for the people comes down what type of revolution they want and who they believe God is going to use to bring them true liberation. They can try to achieve freedom using the same tools that currently oppress them (violence and manipulation) or Jesus’ methods (sacrifice and service).

Unfortunately they choose Barabbas, thinking that the way of force, violence, and oppression will some how turn into freedom and peace (often promised imperial deceptions).  Yet we all have a choice to make, who will you follow Jesus Barabbas the Violent One or Jesus the Crucified One. Do you expect the violent tools of the empire to suddenly create a new world of  peace and justice? Or are you willing to follow Jesus’ way, the way of the cross, as he flips this world upside-down? How does this impact our role as Christians in America, (the modern Roman Empire in the world)?

Christ’s Victory In Light Of The Cross


How significant is it that Christ was victorious over the authorities and the empire, which were actually the ones to sentence him to death? American Christians do not often talk about the cross in that type of manner, not being necessarily concerned with the social implications, but rather emphasize the cross’ ability to offer personal redemption and forgiveness from sin. Yet the New Testament writers seem to have no problem talking about both its ability to cover our sin as well as its social implications over power (including, Sin, death, empire, rulers, authorities, and Satan). The cross was a low and humbling death, reserved for common thieves, and those involved in revolutions wanting to overthrow the Roman Empire. In many ways, the Cross contextually is an image of defeat, designed to shame and embarrass its victims, while serving as a visual warning for those who would find themselves with similar values. How then do we interpret Christ’s Victory in a place of utter defeat and shame? How do we in our own lives take up our own cross, going up against all the odds? How do we in wanting to save our lives, basically lose our lives for Christ? What does that look like in the 21st Century? What does that look like in your neighborhood?
I believe that when we find ourselves in that lowly place of despair and hopelessness, that we will most clearly understand Christ’s Victory. The significance of the victory seems to be directly contrasted with the seemingly drastic desperation and bleakness in which it comes out of. It is as though, God is choosing what is low and despised to reduce to nothing the things that are powerful and dominant (1 Cor. 1:28). Therefore by putting his money on the underdog or the impossible situation, God shows himself as sovereign over even the impossible. And so we reflect on the Cross, keeping it as the center point of everything that we do, as we seek to true comprehensive victory in every sphere and realm of life.

“And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.” (Colossians 2:13-15)

I’m Back and Blacker than Ever!

Well, since I have not blogged for aeons, I will follow the mandatory blog procedure of apologizing for being gone, while reassuring my readers to continue journeying with me as we reflect faith, politics, culture, and whatever else randomly falls into my mind. All this is done with a tone of repentance yet hopeful optimism for what my blog promises to be in the future. Here goes…

My bad.

Well I think that about covers it. Look forward to new stuff from me…. and I would love to hear back from u as well. Peace.