I, too, am Human!
I have met many PhD holders in conferences, workshops, and other venues. Some of these individuals are very arrogant and boastful about their academic achievements and publications.
While one should be proud of any kind of personal or group achievement, academic achievement should never be the intellectual compass to measure and vindicate one’s humanity. While trophies can boost someone’s self-esteem, they can’t humanize a person. Humanity simply means existence.
Do not define and associate your humanity with success, wealth, power, influence, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or race.
The mere fact that you are and you exist is what it means to be human–nothing else.
Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved, all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness. How you ride and ride thinking the bus will never stop, the passengers eating maize and chicken will stare out the window forever. Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho lies dead by the side of the road. You must see how this could be you, how he too was someone who journeyed through the night with plans and the simple breath that kept him alive. Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend. source:https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/kindness
How Now Shall We Live Together and Gently? A Biblical Perspective
The American Political Constitution is a masterpiece and should be praised for its democratic and cosmopolitan language. It is one of a kind. However, the relationship between Americans of different racial and ethnic background and the attitude they express toward one another and the foreigner among them is disheartening and betrays the American democratic ideals.
How shall we then proceed to heal our national wound?
How shall we then move forward to learn to live together, accept one another, and love another as Americans?
These are the questions we should be asking ourselves and each other in this moment of pain, trial, and seemingly great despair.
If I may appeal to Paul’s letter to the Galatians, in the sixth chapter, please allow me to share a few ideas with you. Although I make a sharp distinction between Christianity and American Nationalism, I would like to offer a Christian perspective on these national issues I noted above. The Christian identity counters the American identity. Nonetheless, I do believe and maintain that Christians are called by God to actively engage their culture with the message of Christ and be active citizens who must use the Wisdom of God and biblical principles to transform their neighborhood, community, city, and their country–toward peace, love, justice, truth, equality, etc. for the common good–to the glorious praise of the Triune God . Consequently, toward these goals, in this brief post, I would like to bring your attention to three underlying propositions: listening with care and love, doing good to all, and live gently, which may strengthen human relationship, bring collective peace, national healing, and foster racial reconciliation and ethnic harmony. Ultimately, I’m interested in highlighting some basic biblical principles on how to do life together and live gently in these tragic times in the modern world.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?“–Micah 6:8
- Listening with care and love
In such a national predicament and collective crisis we’re presently undergoing as a people, it is critical for each one of us to listen to each other and try to understand the other individual’s perspective. You will not understand somebody’s hurt and moments of troubles-both in the past and the present– until you learn to cultivate an attitude to listen and sympathize with that person. You will ruin the possibility to move forward toward collective progress, goal, and unity should you undermine one’s suffering and point of view. Do not interrupt! Listen!!!
Listen with care! Listen with patience! Listen responsibly! Listen with understanding! Listen with love! Moments of forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation come at the time when we offer ourselves up to each other for the sake of love and unity. As Paul encourages the Christians at Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (6:2). The imperative for social transformation, communal shalom, national healing, social justice, and radical spiritual renewal is to be relational to all people and to bear one another’s burden.
2. Doing good to all
Secondly, to work toward the common good and human flourishing in our society, it is crucial that we do good to all–with no exception. Doing good to everyone one meets means to be inclusive in one’s generous outreach efforts and activism; it also means that to deliberately extend acts of kindness, compassion, and love to those who cannot give back or do not have the means to return your favor. The ethical aspect of this biblical command and notion of goodness compels us all to forgive and love even those who refuse to love and forgive in return. Doing good to all is an act of justice and a form of loving activism and participation in the life of people or individuals in crisis. It provides a terrific opportunity to the Christian community to condemn social sins and human oppression–the antithesis of good–and to stand in solidarity with those to whom we have called to perform acts of goodness. According to James, the failure to do good and condemn what is unjust (or “not good”) contradicts the Christian ethic and the Jesus Creed: “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). The Christian community is also called to be exemplary models of goodness: “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works” (Titus 2:7-9). For Prophet Micah, goodness includes both social responsibility and spiritual development. The prophet associates good with justice, kindness, and humility. Doing good is also interpreted as a divine imperative, that is what God requires of his people and the community of faith. Social justice is integral to the spiritual life of God’s people and the Church in the modern age. When we dissociate Christian discipleship and (or from) the call to justice, it will ultimately lead to a life of obedience and a life that dishonors God.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”–Micah 6:8
Moreover, in Galatians 6, Paul implies that acts of goodness should not be premised on a spirit of aggressiveness and comparison, but rather should be framed within a spirit of humility and gratitude. Paul characterizes the Christian life not only as relational living but as a life that pursues the best interest and welfare of others, and the common good. Christian discipleship or the Christian life for Paul is not (and should not be) measured by an attitude of competition and comparison: “But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor” (6:4); rather, it is/should be characterized by an attitude of selflessness, sacrificial doing, and an attitude of deliberate service and sustaining good : “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (6:9). Even in the midst of unwarranted criticism, Christians in contemporary society should not be weary of doing and defending what is just, righteous, loving, and good. Such attitude toward life and other individuals is a pivotal marker of an exemplary and Christ-like discipleship.
“So then, we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (6:10).
3. Living Gently
Thirdly, the call to do life together and live gently in this chaotic world and in this life of uncertainty is not a free pass nor is it the absence of weakness. This is a high calling for the Christian to engage the world and culture meaningfully, relationally, and graciously. In other for the Christian to foster such an attitude toward culture, life, and the world, his/her life must radically be refined by the Spirit of God and shaped by the wisdom of the community of faith in Christ Jesus. Paul comforts us Christians that we should not be despair nor lose hope in these tragic times; for Apostle Paul, the Christian life that produces genuine spiritual transformation and growth is reciprocal, interconnected, and interdependent upon the community’s active collaboration and sustaining support: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (6:1). The christian life is lived in community and with the community of faith. This life of relations is in active solidarity with the community of Christ’s disciples–what we call ekklesia, “the church.” It is also a life in active solidarity with the oppressed, the disinherited, and underprivileged individuals and families. Genuine Christian discipleship means the courage to follow Jesus Christ, the courage to love, the courage to forgive, and the courage to take upon oneself the suffering and trials of another individual. The cross of discipleship is not only a call to bear the cross of Christ continually; it is also an imperative to bear the cross of both the weak and the strong among us.
Paul’s articulation of these radical ethical principles of the new community of grace in Christ and in the Spirit of love has tremendous implications for constructing a life characterized by the ethics and art of listening with care and love, doing good to all, and living gently. It is God’s desire for us to do life together, accept one another, and love another. It is only through the moral vision of the Kingdom of God that Christians and the Christian church in the American society and elsewhere could contribute meaningfully and constructively to a life of optimism, collective participation, a spirit of democratic communitarianism and humanitarianism, and a life of collective solidarity and racial reconciliation and ethnic harmony.
To be generous and kind to everyone is a cosmopolitan attitude and human virtue to be praised and coveted; xenophobia or the fear of the “other” or even the immigrant is the antithesis of human kindness, generosity, and hospitality.
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (James 6:10).
May we become the Gospel we proclaim!
I am tired!
I am tired of those individuals who are insensitive to human suffering, pain, and death.
I am tired of those individuals who misinterpret the words of Scripture/Jesus to devalue life and dehumanize people.
I am tired of those individuals who are afraid to change, forgive, and repent of their sins.
I am tired of those individuals who appeal to human depravity and social sins to justify the miscarriage of justice and support the mistreatment of those who are hurting.
I am tired of those individuals who are/ have been silent and use their power and status to shut the mouth of those peak against injustice, inequality, oppression, and social evils.
I am tired of those individuals who appeal to human reason to rationalize and counter the fact and the evidence so that they can feel good about themselves, and prove the world that they’re rational and brilliant.
I am tired of those individuals who are not bold enough to practice social justice, love their neighbor, and defend the innocent and their right to exist.
I am tired of those individuals who deny the social implications of the Gospel and Christian responsibility in the public sphere.
I am tired of those individuals who area afraid to suffer and be humiliated and alienated for the cause of love, justice, truth, and peace.
I am tried of being traumatized by fear, fear of death, and fear of social alienation.
I am tired!
Religion, Religious Affiliation, and Haitian National Identity
In this brief post, I would like to communicate a few ideas about three important issues that are intertwined and closely related to each other: religion, religious affiliation, and the construction of self and collective national identity based on certain religious tradition or system. The emphasis of this brief reflection will be on Haitian Vodou and Haitian (national) identity. Here are my 13 propositions:
1. Religious experience could be both personal and collective.
2. Religious piety is not spirituality.
3. Religious affiliation is a choice–at least in most Western societies and nation-states. (I understand it may not be a personal choice in certain countries where religious freedom is limited or not prized!) It is also observed that some countries in the Middle East, for example, have adopted a state religion such as Islam.
4. While a person may be born into a particular religious tradition or system–such as Haitian Vodou, Christianity, Judaism, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.–genuine religious affiliation, however, should be a personal choice of the individual.
As we say in Kreyol, “Yo pa achte Lwa” (“One cannot buy a Lwa/Spirit) (Nonetheless, I do understand that Vodou is also a family religion, and the religious heritage can be passed on from one generation to the next. However, that in itself does not qualify a family member to automatically become a Vodouizan, a Hougan or Mambo. Allow me to share a personal example: my grandmother from my mother’s side was a mambo (Vodou priestess), and my grandfather from my mother’s side served many lwa, even married to several of them (Spiritual marriage in Vodou). Nonetheless, my mother never practiced Vodou nor has she inherited the tradition or passed it on to her children. My father’s parents (my grandparents) were not Vodou practitioners). From this vantage point, religious affiliation is certainly not an entitlement.
5. Hence, to be born into a Haitian family does not automatically make one a Vodouizan or Vodouist.
6. Haiti is a country. Haitian is a national identity. Vodouizan is a religious affiliation. These three things are not the same and certainly not synonymous or interchangeable.
7. Haitians, both in Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora, have embraced various and competing religious affiliations. Haitians are Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Catholic practitioners, Protestants, Agnostics, Atheists, Secular humanists, Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, etc. As a result, Haitians are free to embrace any religious worldview or system.
8. Vodou is one among other religions practiced by Haitians both in Haiti and the Diaspora. Our ancestral faith is not monolithic; it is rather pluralistic. (In fact, Vodou itself is not a homogeneous religion.) Our African ancestors who were brought by force to the island of Saint Domingue brought with them various traditions, practices, customs, and competing religious practices and worldviews including Christianity, African Traditional religions, Islam, etc. While living on the island, they also adopted the religions of the Native Americans, and incorporated them into the religion of Vodou; they have also integrated Christian rituals and theology, and Masonic humanist morality and rituals into Vodou. While a large number of the enslaved population practiced what is now labelled as Haitian Vodou, not all of them were Vodou practitioners.
9. To embrace another religion other than Vodou should not be construed as the devalorization of the Haitian culture—since religions and cultures are human inventions and part of the process and theory we call social constructionism. In a true democratic state, the individual is granted the right of religious freedom and preference.
*The ideology in contemporary Haitian scholarship is that to be Haitian is to be a Vodouizan. Many Haitianist scholars have “essentialized Vodou” as the religion of all Haitians, just like certain individuals have “essentialized” race and culture. This tendency among scholars, both in the Anglophone and Francophone worlds, does not do justice to the reality and the lived-experiences of the Haitian people–both in Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora. I would suggest that Vodou, Christianity, and Islam had played a pivotal role in the Haitian Revolution since Vodou itself is a syncretized faith which integrates Christian moral theology and ritual into its own brand of practice. Secondly, Francois Makandal, Dutty Boukman, and other important maroon leaders, and revolutionary leaders embraced Islam; they were also Vodouizan. Thirdly, the founding fathers Toussaint Louverture and Alexandre Petion were devout Roman Catholic by confession. In 1816, President Petion had invited Protestant Christianity in Haiti–what is now called today “Evangelical Christianity—only 12 yrs after the founding of the new nation of Haiti ( I do understand there is a great divide between Evangelical Christianity of the 19th century and that of the 21st century, as to their political affiliation and theological confessions). Fourthly, a large number of the enslaved Africans practiced Vodou as a religion; on the other hand, the enslaved Congolese who were brought to Saint-Domingue at the end of the 18th century were equally Catholic Christians as Catholicism became the state religion of Congo in early 15th century– even before Christopher Columbus visited the Americas. A large number of the enslaved Senegalese who were brought to the island were Muslims–an important point Jean Price-Mars affirms in Chapter 3 (L’Afrique, ses races et sa civilisation”) in “Ainsi parla l’Oncle.”
In summary, in Haiti’s contemporary society, there are three major religious practices: Vodou, Protestant/Evangelical Christianity, Vodou, Roman Catholicism. (Islam is growing rapidly in Protestant Christianity is practiced by 45% of the Haitian population. It is probably more in 2016–giving the wide spread of Evangelical Christianity in post-earthquake Haitian society.). While Vodou is among the most practiced religions by Haitians in Haiti, Haiti doe not have “one single religious tradition.” Our ancestral faith is also Vodou, Christianity, and Islam.
10. To be a Haitian Muslim or Christian does not make one an inferior Haitian Patriot.
11. In the same line of thought, the Vodouizan is not a superior Haitian than the Haitian atheist or agnostic.
12. Freedom of religion means the opportunity one has to choose or reject a certain faith among others. Religious freedom means a person who is affiliated with a certain religious tradition is free to share his or faith with another individual of a different religious persuasion or to someone who has no religious affiliation.
13. Since religion like culture is a social construction or human invention, no religion or culture has the monopoly.
Holy Discontent: These Things Make Me Sad!
In “Choruses from the Rock,” eminent poet T. S. Eliot laments over the lack of a sense of community in Western societies:
“What life have you if you have no life together?
There is no life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of God…
And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads,
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbour
Unless his neighbour makes too much disturbance
But all dash to and fro in motor cars,
Familiar with the roads but settled nowhere.
Nor does the family even move about together,
But every one would have his motorcycle,
And daughters ride away on casual pillions.”