Archive for April, 2007
Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, for all his works are truth, and his ways are justice; and he is able to bring low those who walk in pride. Daniel 4: 37 And you, Belshazzar his son, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this! You have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven! The God in whose power is your very breath… you have not honoured. Daniel 5: 22,23
Daniel told the truth. He told unpalatable truth to tyrants with absolute power. He interpreted their dreams, as the Lord revealed them to him, however damning. His friends told the truth when threatened with death by fire. They told the truth because the God of heaven was their very breath. In the end Nebuchadnezzar accepted the truth that came from the Most High God and his last recorded words before he disappears from the story were words of praise and worship.
But his successor didn’t seem to know Daniel, who may have been in retirement. All we know of Belshazzar is that he held a great feast, got very drunk and used the drinking vessels from the Temple to entertain his wives and girlfriends and the powerful of Babylon. And then the moving finger wrote on the plastered wall and eventually Daniel was called to face this drunk and rather scared bully and to read the cryptic signs.
So once more Daniel stands up to tell the truth. He is uncompromising, scathing in his criticism, refusing any reward. He tells the king that he has learnt nothing from his father, and that judgement is about to fall on him. The next day Belshazzar was dead and Darius the Persian was in charge.
But this is complicated truth. It is not truth of the ‘Did you break that window? Yes or no?’ type. It is truth that arises out of a close relationship with the Lord, letting God’s wisdom, God’s law, God’s character inform understanding. It is truth that is fed by a sympathetic and prejudice-free assessment of the politics and culture of the surrounding world. It is truth mulled over in prayer with close advisers. And it is truth delivered in different modes. With Nebuchadnezzar it was truth that allowed the king space to think it all through, so that eventually he was a changed man. With Belshazzar the truth was hard-hitting judgement.
How do we speak the truth?
Enjoy and be blessed!
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego answered the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defence to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up’. Daniel 3:16-18
Daniel, feted and promoted by the king, had asked that his three companions should be appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon. Did he think they would be safer away from Nebuchadnezzar’s court? The king, however, decided that the civil service of the provinces needed a lesson in obedience. They were all to bow down before a golden idol. If they refused they would die in a fiery furnace.
There is a story that an officer organising the evacuation of troops from the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940 sent his family a telegram which simply said, ‘But if not…’ He knew they would know what he meant. He longed for rescue, but he would trust God whatever the outcome.
For the three servants of the Lord God of Israel, their spectacular story had a miraculous ending, as they walked out of the fire unharmed. But they didn’t know how it would end when they refused to obey the king’s command. Disciples of the living God have no guarantee of special favours or an easy life. A gospel that expects health and prosperity in exchange for faith makes faith and trust meaningless.
There were just three of them in a powerfully intimidating situation, thousands of miles from home and from fellow believers, not knowing whether, back in Jerusalem, any of the structures and observances of their faith still survived. Some Christian minorities today still face vicious persecution for refusing to bow to godless power, whether in the form of discriminatory laws or vengeful mobs.
For most of us the challenge may come from sceptical and sometimes belligerently hostile attitudes to our faith. But when we are tempted to fudge an issue of integrity, to concede and compromise, then our witness, like theirs, is to our Lord who walks with us in the fiery places. When we long with all our hearts for an outcome that matters very much, we too have to say, ‘But if not’. We know that ‘all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose’.
Sometimes the best insights into faith come from the most obvious places.
Take America, for instance – a country founded by ‘pilgrims’, where 98 per cent of the people believe in God and close to 50 per cent attend church every Sunday. No wonder its balladeers, folk singers and rock icons have so often filled their songs with echoes of gospel truth or travesty. From the unequivocal Christian heritage of ‘grassroots’ groups such as the Carter Family through to contemporary hip hop and indie music, Jesus is frequently namechecked – and not just when someone’s picking up a Grammy.
Often it’s in praise, sometimes it’s in derision; but there is also many a time when his mention invokes the reverence American artists have for him (if not always for his followers).
I feel Jesus in the tenderness of honest, nervous lovers.
I feel Judas in the pistols and the pagers that come with all the powders.
Lost in fog and love and faithless fear,
I’ve had kisses that make Judas seem sincere.
‘Citrus’ from The Hold Steady’s Boys and Girls in America
Then there are those who recognise that wrestling with the political and social conscience of America means also addressing the faith that undergirds much of its ideology. Ben Folds, a long-term indie favourite, could be a modern-day Isaiah, calling disingenuous religion to account in his song ‘Jesusland’:
Town to town
broadcast to each house, they drop your name
but no one knows your face.
Billboards quoting things you’d never say
you hang your head and pray
North of the border, things are much the same. The latest offering from the Canadian band (and darlings of the music press) Arcade Fire, The Neon Bible, is shot through with religious references and apocalyptic thoughts. Hardly surprising, perhaps, from a band who recorded the album while holed up in a church for 18 months and whose lead singer has a degree in scriptural interpretation.
Of course, it would be misleading to read religious revival into the current preoccupations of pop culture, but at least it’s heartening to hear music from across the Pond that provides a little more food for thought than controversy-courting raps about bling, cars and girls.
I’ll leave you with a plea from the Arcade Fire song ‘Windowsill’ – one I hope to hear reverberate around the globe:
MTV, what have you done to me?
Save my soul, set me free.
With the demise of a figure some described as “Boring” Yeltsin, I’ve been tempted to recall the men and women who taught me history from primary school through to university.
- Mrs. Tanui – She cut a gentle, grandmotherly figure. I, predictably, slept through most of her G.H.C classes, but always somehow passed all her questions at exam time.
- Mrs. Okello – Gentle, but firm. Very businesslike. I had to stay awake. I never dissapointed her at exam time.
- Mr. Sese – Like Mrs. Okello, only he was a man. Similar experience.
- Mr. Njenga – Taught me to cram all world capitals, names of all nations and their leaders. He also made our classes quite hillarious with his shrubs, kwanza on the word “baba.” He always said “mbamba.”
- Mr. Muriithi – Extremely dramatic. Hearing him teach was to see the historical events he described unfold right infront of you. Comical guy. With him, we quite literally lived through the Mwene Mutapa and Old Ghana empires, not to mention the nationalist and independence movements around the world. He also had a thing for current affairs. Taught us off-head.
- Mrs. Wekesa – A variation of both Mrs. Tanui and Mrs. Okello that I experienced in high school. Had a deep knowledge of what she taught. I especially enjoyed her grasp of the history of East Africa, the Middle and Far East. Allowed me to teach some of her classes…yeah…
- “Mr. Kasavubu” – That is a nickname by which this particular teacher went. As can be imagined, he was Kasavubu reincarnate, if you recall that little Congolese affair. Was a funny guy, but also had a very short fuse. Was very passionate and dramatic about each topic he taught. I recall the day when he dramatized the intrigues surrounding the dissapearance and death of Patrice Lumumba. Chilling stuff. Like Mr. Muriithi, taught us off-head.
- Mrs. Ondera – Always told us “the exams will sort you out.” Needless to say, they did indeed.
- Mrs. Mbugua – Another variation of both Mrs. Tanui and Mrs.Okello. One had no excuse to fail in her class, though.
- I forget his name, but an equally effective history prof. He was a quiet gentlrman.
- Prof. Eshlemann – He was as good as they come in American history and government. As sober as a judge too 🙂
Being in love with a colleague is not a crime, even if you’re their boss. Paul Wolfowitz, the head of the World Bank, is not the first to find himself in this situation, and he won’t be the last.
Nonetheless, his board is right to be considering his future. Since Mr Wolfowitz took the helm, the World Bank has often repeated its assertion that corruption is ‘the single greatest obstacle to economic and social development’, and so the world’s leading development agency must jealously guard its moral authority.
Having admitted to showing favouritism to a member of staff to whom he is ‘romantically attached’, Mr Wolfowitz’s future is not a private matter. Nor is it an issue just for his aggrieved employees at the Bank – or even its board. It has repercussions for almost half the human race. They are condemned to live on less than $2 a day largely as a consequence of the very corruption the World Bank claims to oppose but with which it has now flirted.
But is the Bank right to make corruption such a priority? After all, it occurs in rich countries, too – only this week, a scandal broke in Britain about prison officers taking bribes from prisoners in return for favours. However, it is rampant in virtually all poor countries and there it strangles the economic growth that could lift people out of poverty.
Without trust, the costs of doing business become prohibitive. The poor are the hardest hit – and the impact on them is compounded by the siphoning-off of resources that could otherwise have gone into the public services on which they especially depend. As the prophets of ancient Israel saw so clearly, corruption inevitably serves the interests of the few at the expense of the many.
Mr Wolfowitz has shown courage in admitting his mistake. He and his board now need wisdom in reaching a decision about his future. But those who in recent years have claimed to speak for the poor in subjecting the World Bank to incessant criticism – and thus undermined its effectiveness – also need to show some courage.
They need to admit that poverty will become history only when we do all we can to ensure that the vices that cause it are overcome by the virtues that foster prosperity. This is what a genuine love for the poor demands. Otherwise, all we have is a romantic attachment.
“Just how does a 27-year-old little-known man imagine he can dethrone a Cabinet minister whose ministry was recently voted the best performing under Kibaki’s government?”
– Journalist Tim Kamuzu Banda in the Sunday Nation, April 15, 2007.
Well, the cat is finally out of the bag…:-)…in the mainstream media at least.
Just for the record, I’ll restrict my elective politics to that blog.
For those who have enjoyed reading me here, normal programming shall continue.
In the meanwhile, kindly let others know about that other important blog of mine.
I also covet your prayers and financial support in that endevour.
Thanks and God bless.