Claim Who We Are in Christ!

Patience Kisakye, Upper New York Annual Conference, and J. Kabamba Kiboko, West Ohio Annual Conference


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Preamble

First of all, we want to say, Asante sana to the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) of The United Methodist Church for inviting a diverse group of women, including Kabamba and myself to participate in the 2018 edition of the WellSprings Journal. Asante sana is an expression in the Swahili language which means thank you very much. So again, asante sana for making room for the participation of African clergywomen!

The Rev. Kabamba Kiboko, PhD, and I are privileged to join a multitude of distinguished voices that have and continue to encounter the divine Word of God. We make our way into the 2018 WellSprings Journal at a time when the rationale for the African clergywomen’s theological discourse is rooted in a plethora of theological exercises that seek to:

i.    Build and shape African congregations and the communities within which they’re located.
ii.   Enhance the participation of women, children, and youth who make the majority of the population on the continent of Africa and across the church.
iii.  Celebrate cultural diversity and build bridges across cultures and theological understandings.
iv.  Promote freedom, and demand transparency and accountability, as well as disclosure balanced with support.
v.   Challenge injustice and encourage justice.

It is, therefore, imperative to point out, right from the onset, that the African United Methodist Clergywomen Association, which we represent, is an association whose aim is to promote theological discourse rooted in the Word that became flesh and now dwells among us. Embedded in Wesleyan theology through African people’s lenses, this Mother Africa, clergywomen’s organization ministers with women on the continent and in the diaspora; engage in theological education, as well as gender and identity issues affecting the body of Christ on the continent and beyond. It promotes theological discourse, clergy growth and development, and encourages and strengthens the church on the continent at a time when the stakes for humanity are high; among others, because the skills to amass wealth and profits are prioritized over and against the essential values of practicing responsible neighborliness.

We, therefore, want this multifaceted temple, this world, to be filled with infinite opportunities. We want the human spirit that is housed in the temple to be enveloped in creative potential, and also to be designated as a house of prayer and of a place to begin life anew and to celebrate it. In reflecting upon the temple, we should think of Israel’s history, where we are reminded of the first chapter of Haggai. The people returned to Jerusalem with spirituality in the forefront of their minds, but with time, they focused less on God and more on themselves.  The problem here is that the people neglected God’s house. They left it in ruins, while they built their own homes, their own fields, and lived comfortably in a drug culture. Like the Israelites, God’s house today is virtually ignored, if not a pits-stop. While a few show up once in a while to pray, the majority continue to live in the bondage of sin. The Israelites rejoiced that the Lord had set them free from the bondage of the Egyptians and enabled them to return to Jerusalem; God is still setting the hostages free, restoring the sick to health, opening blind eyes, and announcing good news to the poor. Regrettably, in the midst of all this, the world continues to cast a blind eye and a deaf ear to the Lord’s house. After all, the temple is located in an increasingly consumeristic and individualistic society. More often than not, people housed in the temple get discouraged from the ministry of building. There are forces and principalities that get in the way of building the temple. Some get discouraged because they want what they want when they want it in a microwave culture, and, when that doesn’t happen, they walk away.

Hayah

The ancient words of Haggai, written during the sixth century BC, continue to speak to The African Clergywomen in the twenty-first century. They have the power to transport us to the place where we claim who we are in Christ. Thus, we view this writing moment as a safari (Swahili word for journey) into the story of our own calling in light of these ancient words found in Haggai. So, welcome!

As we enter the Hebrew text of Haggai, in both chapters 1 and 2, we see one sign that reads “hayah dvar adonia byad haggai” in Hebrew and “The Word of the Lord was in the hand of Haggai” in English. The book of Haggai highlights the significance of the presence of the word by placing it at the entrance, the beginning of chapters 1 and 2. The first chapter begins with “In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord was [hayah] by the prophet Haggai” (1:1a). The second chapter opens with “In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, the word of the Lord was [hayah] by the prophet Haggai” (2:1a).

The verb hayah, used in association with the word of the Lord occurs at least twenty-seven times throughout the Hebrew Bible (in addition to the uses cited above): Gen 15:1; Exod 3:12, 14; 2 Chr 12:7; 1 Kgs 18:31; Jer 1:2; 14:1; 20:8; 25:3; 32:6; 39:15; 46:1; 47:1; 49:34; Ezek 1:3; 26:1; 29:1, 17; 30:20; 31:1; 32:1, 17; Hag 2:10; Zech 1:1, 7; 7:1. Throughout our safari, the signs show that the word of the Lord or the word of God is present.

Sankofa

In light of this, we will describe the global village in which we live and then identify the evils as we see, hear, feel, and understand them; and name how we may continue to embrace the future in relationship to the past. The question from our theme: Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory will be discussed in relationship to the spirit of Sankofa. Sankofa is an Akan word that calls us to go back and reclaim our past so that we can then move forward. It is an invitation to understand why and how we came to be who we are today. The spirit of Sankofa is symbolized in an image of a bird whose head is faced in the opposite direction of its body. This is to call attention to the fact that, even as the bird is moving forward, it has a responsibility to pause and reflect from where it has been to ensure a better future. Therefore, the house’s former glory and the remnants (the faithful few who returned) that may have borne witness to the past are necessary aspects of the house’s future. To this end, Native American Indians might say, “A people without history is like the wind on the buffalo grass.” And because the people of Israel have a history lived in the exodus, the timeline in the text leads to the next question: “How does it look to you now?” The remnants’ observations of the former house and story must be told, heard, and compared to the observations of the current house. Here is why: Sankofa’s indispensable lessons rest in the knowledge and understanding that one’s past is an important aspect of one’s future. Therefore, in response to the question: Is it not in your sight as nothing? ”must come the answer, “Absolutely not!” Here’s why: there’s yet hope, because, through the lens of the spirit of sankofa, one must visit one’s past from time to time in order to make the best of one’s future.

Ubuntu

Additionally, and for our purposes, the house is defined within the Bantu-speaking peoples’ frame of reference, meaning it is rooted in the spirit of Ubuntu. In other words, “I am because we are. And, we are therefore I am.” Though the house has a sense of self, that self has a history, a present, and a future, all of which are always experienced in the community with others. It’s a house whose freedom is not without its limitations. It’s a house that is not static but always in the process of being and becoming. It’s transitory in its life, struggle, death, and resurrection. It’s a house with a responsibility toward self and others.

The house is material in that its physical existence is part of the natural world. However, the house is gifted with the capacity in its spirit to be self-conscious: to remember the past, plan for the future, make deliberate decisions, consider consequences of the house’s actions, and, to some extent, be self determining. It’s problematic that the writer fails to integrate the house’s historical unity, by not properly acknowledging the present house’s relationship to its past history. Herein lays a dichotomy that begs reconciliation. The house lives in the midst of tensions that lead it to distort its sense of holistic self by attending to some aspects of its life while excluding and isolating others. This fragmented view is problematic.

“I am because we are” implies that the house lives in community with others. In other words, the house’s identity is made real in community with other historic, current, and future houses that may be different. The problem is that the writer s yet to celebrate the beauty that exists in the difference. The beauty in the text resides in the call for the past and current houses to engage in respectable discourse to move beyond contradictions.

Both the old house and the new house have their own expressions of freedom as well as limitations. But truth be told what each house could do was, and is limited by all kinds of circumstances: environmental, economic, political, cultural, and historical.

We cannot help but experience tension as we wonder if the remnants’ view of the house might be an over-estimation of the freedom(s) as well as an under-estimation of the limitations experienced in the previous generational house! Could it be that the remnants might bring to bear on the new house unrealistic expectations about the extent to which change might be possible, or despair and resignation that change may not be possible? False confidence and compulsive activity may emerge to bring about changes in the modern house, including the deceptive pessimism involved in passive acceptance of the way things exist in the world today!

Every authentic house bears witness to both continuity and change. In both individual and intergenerational dimensions, buildings call for preservation of self-identity as well as growth toward more mature representation. In their social dimension, they invite respect for tradition that preserves unchanging truth and reality, while also exhibiting a readiness for restoration that brings new truth and reality.

The inherent struggle is the spirit to resist both change and continuity in the house and in the environment within which the house is planted. This spirit breeds fear; the house becomes defensive and resists anything new, mistaking rigidity for order. The spirit of such a house is stifled. Rather than thrive, it recoils to the status quo of commitment to known reality and truth. If nothing is done, it becomes chaotic and irresponsibly resists all change while mistaking lack of discipline for freedom, novelty for creativity, and arbitrary rebellion for progress.

All of life is lived in the midst of death. No house is permanent! In other words, house(s) like our mortal bodies are born, live within limits, and eventually die. No house can succeed in contradicting its own existence by under- or over-estimating the importance of its own life and the reality of death. Denying or repressing the reality of death, one may desperately fight for preservation. The cost of this is a life compromised or sacrificed for the sake of maintaining a life without value. If a house does not claim value, it may be in danger of death. Herein is the parable of the laborers! Yet we are housed in mortal bodies where the idea of speaking to our neighbors about Christ makes us nervous!

The spirit of obuntu affirms life in the midst of its polarities, limitations, and possibilities as the good. But as Jesus put it, “no one is good, only God” (see Mark 10:18). Without the Spirit of God, no single house is willing and able to accept and realize the integration of the polarities, limitations, and possibilities of authentic human existence. No house can be fruitful without the Spirit of God in it. How can the remnants see the house becoming\ the authentic temple, built for a purpose, with the Spirit of God enabling it to be and become what it was destined to become?

The answer comes in verse Haggai 2:5b, “My Spirit abides among you; do not fear.” The house is not without identity, character, or purpose. This house, according to Jesus, is “a house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:17). It is rooted in the Kingdom of God as exemplified in both the Old and New Testaments. In the book of Genesis, for example, this house is a spirit housed in a body, the ruach of God. And according to St. Paul, “We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Cor 4:7).

And, in the words often attributed to John Wesley, “without God, [humanity] cannot, and without [humanity] God will not.”  In other words, a partnership is necessary to see the glory of the house. There is both continuity and change, which leads St. Paul to speak into young Timothy’s life, reminding him of his heritage, potential, purpose, identity, and destiny. His faith had been nurtured within three generations of family, including two named women Lois and Eunice. Like Timothy, our faith has been nurtured by grandparents, parents, neighbors and strangers alike. In Timothy’s vein, not everyone may appreciate us. Not everyone may welcome us: however, we have a gospel and denominational mandate to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Our House; Our Global Village

We live in a global village; under which science has borne witness that we are one as human beings. However, we continue cast a blind eye and a deaf ear to this truth because we prefer to label others while confining ourselves to familiar racial, national, religious, and other groups. Our global village has immense opportunities and grand potential. We are capable of generating food, housing, infrastructure, armaments, and other goods that could transform the global village responsibly or irresponsibly. In our global village, anyone in urban America can eat any cuisine from any country in the world, yet our actions contradict our shared humanity. Regrettably, 10 percent of the population devours more than 25 percent of the global village’s energy. In our global village death-dealing conditions, like poverty, are increasing at a vast rate. In our global village, the continent of Africa, which is the richest continent in many ways, is not only perceived as but labeled the poorest. Prophet Haggai opens the world to both the negative and positive realities of life. He calls the global village to seek God above everything else and to make God a priority so that the world can apply lives of discipline. At the same time, American citizens living in the United States are spotted throughout urban society dressed in all kinds of African garments; the East Africa Annual Conference is now planting new faith communities of Chinese-speaking brothers and sisters living on the soils of Mother Africa. In our global village, it is no longer true that the actions of Western society impact the rest of the world; what happens in Asia or South America now affects Western society. For example, a reduction in H-1 B US Visas, especially from India, will adversely impact the technology industry in America, not to mention the wide eyed girl or boy in Africa.  And so, the prophet encourages brothers and sisters living on the margins of society not to despair because while God doesn’t remove human problems, the Holy Spirit broods over God’s people and remains faithfully present with and among them.

In light of the above, why can’t we behave toward one another as fellow human beings?  “How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?” If truth be told, the setback experienced by humanity is rooted in the violation of cardinal principles and methods. What ethics will inform human actions? What methods will humanity utilize to transform the conditions under which the poorest of the poor live thereby bringing about the transformation of the world? If the question is modes of operation and principles, then all institutional systems including the Church, Governments, Banking, Insurance, Law enforcement, and Education have a responsibility to transform themselves from within.

While science and technology have established for humanity enormous possibility and potential, institutional systems and organization especially on the continent of Africa continue to teach the majority of the population (that is, youth under 25 years of age) to live in yesterday’s world that is transitory. Herein lays the challenge: to train children, youth, and young adults in the context of today’s interdependent world, which is being born and in which they are going to live.

Whereas humanity has globalized commerce, we continue to fail to globalize ethical, cardinal principles and values. If humanity were to espouse such principles and values across our global village, science and technology would help to transform the world. We are called to train children, teens, youth, and young adults to learn to place themselves in someone else’s shoes. Only then, will they learn that they are embodied spirits with a responsibility to not only see that their interests and the interests of their neighbors converge in more ways than they diverge.

If we don’t do this, our house, our global village, our humanity will continue to expand the scope of production without addressing societal problems. We must learn from the example of young Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice, and build capacity for intergenerational leadership! And, as God assures us through Haggai, “My Spirit abides among you; do not fear.” In God’s dictionary, the word “impossible” does not exist therefore, the prophet challenges us to claim ownership, responsibility and accountability as we undertake the challenge to rebuild the Lord’s house!

A Voice from Liberia: Dorothy Macaulay

We asked our colleague and sister in Christ, Dorothy Macaulay,[1] to offer some perspective from the African continent (Read Dorothy’s personal story here). We are grateful for her contribution.

Like any other nation in the world—and Liberia is no exception—the children of Israel went into exile into Babylon, and the land of the captors became home. Many of those who are in exile get adjusted to the new life and don’t want to leave their new comfort zones. According to the biblical text, only a small remnant returned to rebuild the temple, which was in a deplorable state. The prophet Haggai reminded the governor Zerubbabel and his people of the past, the wonderful worship, the appearance of the sanctuary, the beautiful choir and the hymn sung to the glory of God, the exterior of the church edifice. The prophet challenged them to be strong, for the battle is the Lord’s, God is the master builder. Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone. God is the one who has to build us and equip us for the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. In Philippians 1:6, the apostle Paul writes to assure us, “He who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus, perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you.”

Jesus is our Redeemer; he has purchased our inheritance by the shedding of his blood. We are joint heirs with him in the heavenly places seated at the right hand of God interceding. Everything he has earned by his sacrifice is stored up for us. We have the keys to that stored house and authority through prayer. As a clergywoman, I no longer have to live in fear and lack. Christ has called us at this time and age to change the course of the day, to allow our mess to become our message. Through the pains and hurtful moments of our past, we are transfigured into the image of ever-increasing splendor from one degree of glory to another. We are not ignorant of the fact that we live in a male dominated world and that we have our adversary as per Genesis 3:15: “And I will put enmity between you and the women, and her offspring and you will strike his heal.” But we claim our self-esteem and dignity. We are not competing with our male counterparts, but we want to say that we have something innate that we want to contribute to help you reach your goals. According to Genesis 2:18, we are co-partners, so allow us to coexist, so that the divine will may be done on earth through us as it is in heaven. As African women, we suffer a lot because our culture and tradition dictate information and influence that are contrary to the gospel, causing us to accept violence as a way of life. But I stand to say to my brothers and sisters, there are benefits in partnership. We are called to work together to bring glory to God. As African clergywomen, we have concluded to break silence to move from isolation to collaboration (see Eccl 4:9-12). As it says in Galatians 2:20 (KJV): “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

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[1] The Rev. Dorothy W. Macaulay is an elder in full connection in the Liberia Annual Conference. She serves as coordinator and secretary of the board for the Liberia United Methodist Empowerment Foundation (LUMEF, http://liberiaunitedmethodistchurch.org/foundation/), and is a past vice president of the clergywomen of the LAC/UMC. Here story is published with her permission and with our grateful thanks.

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