What on the planet could that be? It is around 7.30 pm in the evening, and I am attempting to fill in a crossword puzzle. My mind is distracted though, and I have been trying to figure out number 1 for the last 15 minutes. I am waiting for Eustace and his mother to finish their homework, so that we can have dinner, which I prepared a while back.
“So Kenya has had only two Presidents!” the boy quips excitedly.
“No, 5” the mother replies. “President Moi is the 5th President.”
The boy looks confused.
“But Ma, you just said that the first President of Kenya was Uhuru Kenyatta and the second President is Moi,”
I abandon my crossword puzzle and watch them, an amused smile forming on my face.
“No, I said the first President was Jomo Kenyatta,”
“President Uhurus’s other name is Jomo?”
“No, President Jomo was President Uhuru’s father. Then there was President Daniel Moi, who was President Gideon Moi’s father,”
“Awesome! So a President is like a King?”
“Yea, something like that”
“So President Jomo died and his son became President. Then President Uhuru became a very bad King so President Daniel overthrew him. President Daniel was a good king and died an old man and his son President Gideon became king. Ma, is President Gideon a good king? Will someone overthrow him?”
Eustace’s mother looks at me exasperated. This boy is quite something.
“No, President Moi is not a king. He is a President”
“But you said a President is like a king”
“Yea, but not exactly. There is a small difference”
“Go and ask daddy”
“Daddy! Why is President Gideon not a king?”
Someone taps me on the shoulder. I am blessed of the Lord, the lady seated next to me says. She is smiling, revealing that one of her front teeth has been stained by her purple lipstick. I am momentarily confused. But I soon figure out what is going on.
“If your neighbor is dozing wake them up,” the pastor is saying. The lady with purple lipstick smiles as if she knows I have been daydreaming all along. Perhaps I have been smiling sheepishly as my fictitious son Eustace harassed his equally fictitious mother. What if the lady had not tapped my shoulder when she did and I answered Eustace aloud? I shiver at the thought. God forbid. The pastor would have had a field day delivering me from the chains of Satan.
“Unajua watu hunishangaza sana. Mtu anaweza kuona mpira mpaka asubuhi lakini akikuja kanisani anaanza kulala. Ama anaanza kuhesabu ng’ombe zake,” the pastor is now saying.
I instinctively look at my watch. It is now close to 2pm. The pastor has been preaching for close to 2 hours. Or rather he has been telling us how he would beat daylights out of his wife if he ever caught her cheating on him, because the Kingdom of God suffereth violence, and violent men take it by force. The Mama Kanisa is sitting coolly on her throne, next to her husband’s vacant seat, sipping water. Her face is expressionless, and you can hardly tell what she is thinking of her husband’s sermon. Maybe she will trade a few harsh words with him from the privacy of their home later in the day. And probably give him a weeklong silent treatment. Assuming that doesn’t count as cheating to earn her a beating. Or maybe not. But that is really none of my business right now. My primary concern at this hour is to have this pastor finish what he is saying so that I can go get something to eat, because I am starving. I am unfortunately seated at the middle of a row, so I can’t slip out without causing a minor commotion.
Preachers have perfected the art of blackmailing people into listening to them. They make us believe that if we are distracted while they speak, we are committing a cardinal sin. And I am a preacher by the way. But when I am speaking and the majority of my congregation is dozing or looks distracted, I conclude. Because it means that I have either lost them, or I have pushed the whole thing for too long (most likely repeating the same thing over and over again).
The truth is, there is nothing inherently sacred about a sermon. We have been socialized to believe that whenever someone is on the pulpit, they are speaking the word of God. Which is not necessarily the case. Sometimes we preachers just give our own prejudiced views, clothed with a layer of spirituality. Which is why every congregant is supposed to be alert, and test every sermon based on the scripture, irrespective of how anointed the preacher is alleged to be.
I remember one morning attending a prayer meeting, just after the Garissa attack. The preacher started by saying we should pray for Al Shabaab, which we did for 30 minutes. Then the sermon started. He said Christians should get armed, so that we could deal with these Somalis. He then went on to talk about the evils of the Somali community. I wanted to walk out. But then the Pastor, who had stepped out, came in and walked to the front and took the microphone from the preacher. I was extremely proud of the pastor. Look, I understand the fear. Most Christians, including myself, were very afraid during that period. But is that reason enough to spread hatred against a community? And from the pulpit?
I have just finished reading Para Juma’s novel, the Portrait of Apartheid. In that book, the white church is seen fiercely enforcing segregation laws against their own black worshipers. A white Christian girl falls in love with a black Christian boy, and they face persecution from the church because their interracial union is allegedly sinful. That shook me to the core. Especially when the girl, Elizabeth, tells her boyfriend, Onalo “the communists seem to follow Christ’s teachings better than the church”. It also piqued my interest to research on a few questions: what was the reaction of the German Church to the holocaust? And what was the reaction of the white church to racial segregation in South Africa and America? And are we, even today, really following Christ’s message of love as the church?
I refuse to be bullied by any preacher into believing what they have to say. Every sermon must be examined on its merits. And for me, the central theme in the Bible is summarized by Jesus himself: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. And John quipped in his first epistle: There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. The one who fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And we have this commandment from Him: Whoever loves God must love his brother as well. So for me, if a sermon does not measure up to that standard, I either zone out, or walk out.