As a family, we’re making progress learning Swahili, which is becoming increasingly important to our ministry, in addition to Maa. Today’s word is kutoka. It means to go out, to leave, to exit or to be from a place. So we might say “Tunatoka Marekani” — we are from America.
But as we are having to focus on the office work side of curriculum development and ongoing language learning due to the current pandemic, and as the children’s HomeSchool co-op is not able to meet due to temporary government restrictions, we’re all thinking “ninataka kutoka!” — I want to go out!
Kutaka is the other word in today’s phrase. It means to want. A similarly sounding word is takataka — trash or garbage. Unataka takataka? Sitaki takataka!Do you want garbage? I don’t want garbage! It’s interesting how much kutaka (to want) sounds like takataka (garbage, is generally not wanted by anybody).
Our twelve year old’s favorite sentence in Swahili? So far, it’s Baba ni bata! — Daddy is a duck! Hmmm. Whence do you think she got that silliness?
Last month (in February), I (Joshua) was able to spend a week in Olepishet, teaching my History of Christian Mission course at a missionary training school founded and run by our Maasai friend and colleague, James ole Sinkua. Last year, we all visited Olepishet as a family as Ruth and I had a planning and curriculum development meeting with James (for more, see our November newsletter).
As usual, when I teach I have just as much of a learning opportunity as my students. Besides learning new Maa vocabulary, my students taught me this wonderful song, Irriwayioki ! (or “Send me!”). In the Maa Bible, in Isaiah 6:8, the prophet answers God’s call: “Irriwayioki!Send me!” While this hymn has innumerable verses, I learned five of them plus the chorus.
The first verse is especially powerful: Send me to our Maasai people, Send me even to the Agĩkũyũ … . The first phrase is a call to evangelize and disciple one’s neighbors, kinfolk, and fellow countrymen. But the second phrase asks God to send the singer to the Kikuyu! This is significant because traditionally the Kikuyu and the Maasai are tribal rivals.
(Properly speaking, Agĩkũyũ is the name of the people and Gĩkũyũ is the name of the language. In Swahili, Kikuyu is the name of the Gĩkũyũ language spoken by the Agĩkũyũ. From this Swahili usage, “Kikuyu” is commonly used in English to refer to the Gĩkũyũ language and “the Kikuyu” is used to refer to the Agĩkũyũ people.)
While the two tribes sometimes intermarry, often the Maasai and the Agĩkũyũ are about as affectionate toward each other as are supporters of rival political factions in America. This song is a radical invitation, asking God to send us that we might join God in God’s mission in the world — not only to our friends but also even to our enemies.
Give it a listen, and scroll down for the lyrics and translation:
To those of you who saw our “Sing or Dance?” post from last month (20 February), accept my apologies for only having an audio file instead of a video file.
This recording has six verses. Here is the Maa translation, with English translation, of five of the verses plus the chorus. (When my students sang it for me to record, they added what is the fifth verse here, and for the life of me there are a couple of words that I just can’t hear. I didn’t have a chance to ask them to transcribe that verse for me. When I figure out that verse, I’ll edit this post.)
This translates «שִׁ֣ירוּ לַֽ֭יהוָה שִׁ֣יר חָדָ֑שׁ» (Hebrew) or «ᾌσατε τῷ κυρίῳ ᾆσμα καινό» (Greek). Some of y’all might know the King James: “Sing unto the LORD a new song!”
But the Maa phrase can translate into English as “Dance unto the LORD a new dance!”
Um, what?! How’s that?
If we’ve visited with you, you may remember the answer. The noun <osinkolio> means equally “song” and “dance.” The verb <arany> means equally “to sing” and “to dance.” Thus “arany osinkolio” can be translated four ways into English: ……. • I sing a song, ……. • I dance a dance, ……. • I sing a dance, or ……. • I dance a song. In the Maasai cultural imagination, singing with the voice without also dancing with the body (or is that dancing with voice while singing with the body?) is unimaginable, except for the infirm or lame.
While other African languages have different words for singing and dancing, as does English, this lexical insight applies across many African cultures.
Application: of COURSE we line dance during worship here. What else?
“to clean or remove charcoal
from the outside of the calabash gourd
after cleaning the interior of the gourd.”
The gourds — used as containers especially for milk and sour milk — are cleaned with a stick of wild olive wood (olóírién), the end of which is a live coal. This burns away any pathogens or other bad stuff and lines the interior of the gourd with charcoal, which has a filtering/purifying effect. It also gives your milk a smoky taste. So if you’re taking chai in the villages and your tea tastes a bit like smoked cheese, this is why.
So AMESÚTonly refers to the removal of olive wood charcoal from the outside of a gourd that’s just been cleaned on the inside.
Forgiveness and Justice are incompatible, right? Forgiving someone means foregoing justice, doesn’t it? Isn’t just cognitively impossible to think of pursuing justice and forgiving at the same time? That’s how the popular thinking goes … but that’s not biblical thinking at all.
Lamentation (and even anger) at injustice, the seeking of justice, and the practice of forgiveness are all closely intertwined. W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963) included in his book Souls of Black Folk a chapter entitled “Songs of Sorrow.” In one place he astutely notes that such songs of sorrow (such as the “Negro Spirituals”) offer hope, “a faith in the ultimate justice of things.”
Bryan Maier has written an excellent study that explores this relationship between lament for wrongs suffered and hope for justice. We can’t over-recommend his Forgiveness and Justice: A Christian Approach (2017). At just 160 pages, it’s a fairly quick read.
There’s nearly a cottage industry of books on forgiveness. Most contemporary teachings on forgiveness follow one of five models (though there are others) —
therapeutic forgiveness(the victim should forgive for the sake of the victim’s well-being, the state of unforgiveness only causes further injury to the victim, and may cause the victim to risk damnation),
forensic forgiveness (forgiveness as a transaction — the cancelling of debt, granting clemency from deserved punishment),
relational forgiveness (transactional forgiveness plus possible reconciliation of a ruptured relationship),
unilateral forgiveness (forgiveness is a one-sided action, all on the side of the victim, and it doesn’t matter whether the perpetrator repents), or
dispositional forgiveness(having a forgiving or conciliatory spirit).
All of these have some merit but tend to either try to say too much or too little.
Offering an alternative (and more robustly biblical) course, Maier lays out three boundaries delimiting forgiveness.
“Boundary #1: Forgiveness Is a Response to a Moral Violation”
“Forgiveness, in order to make sense, must presuppose that an offense has been committed; otherwise there would be nothing to forgive.” Forgiveness is only required when there has been a moral violation, an offense that is inherently unrighteous/unjust.
“Boundary #2: Forgiveness Is Not a Cognitive Reframe”
This cognitive behaviorism may have its place, within appropriate limits, to offer a fresh perspective — life has handed me a bunch of lemons? No problem, I’ll just make lemonade! Clearly, perception does shape behavior. Changing our perception can help us not to get stuck in resentment.
But forgiveness is something different. Defining forgiveness in this way can blur the lines of reality, foster gaslighting, and confuse such concepts as
condoning, excusing, justifying, and showing mercy.
Often cognitive reframing can ultimately call evil, good — see, God can bring good out of that situation, so what happened to you was really good after all!, and you should praise God for this abuse! (NB: We — Joshua and Ruth — have both, separately, heard this type of thing many times over the years.)
As a result, this type of focus ultimately makes victims more vulnerable to future acts of injustice and harm.
“Boundary #3: Forgiveness Is More Than Empathy”
Maier notes that “many forgiveness authors suggest some kind of empathy with the perpetrator as a means of ameliorating the resentment” which a victim feels as a result of the moral violation he or she suffered. Of course we know that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But we must also recognize that “that if the victim’s sin cancels out the sin of the perpetrator, then the whole basis for justice collapses. If we are always guilty in some kind of morally equivalent way, then we can never charge our offenders. If a victim must be totally free of any sinful behaviors or thoughts before the offender can be addressed, justice would never occur. In the classic passage on confronting a brother (Matt. 18:15–20), the victim’s sin (which we know is present from the rest of Scripture) is never mentioned.”
Maier then outlines “four contours of a Christian approach to forgiveness,” asking a series of questions that we must answer to reach a biblical definition of forgiveness on the foundation of the three boundaries listed above.
“How does God forgive?”
“How does healing relate to forgiveness?”
“Is forgiveness primarily self-centered or other-centered?”
“Is forgiveness active or passive?”
After examining (in chapter 3) the relationship between resentment and repentance, he explores each of those four questions. Reminiscent of Bonhoeffer’s discussion of “cheap grace” in The Cost of Discipleship, Maier explains the hidden costs of the “cheap forgiveness” that many in the Church insist upon. With cheap forgiveness, because the offender has neither confessed for repented, “there is no agreement that what was done was wrong” and the victim remains unsafe, and the true reconciliation is impossible. It is appropriate to address ongoing resentment harbored by a victim once the offender has confessed and demonstrated signs of repentance, including where necessary some type of restitution to restore justice. And so, because “trust is the basis of true unilateral healing for victims,” if such “resentment poses a barrier to genuine forgiveness,” this should be dealt with. But often “resentment is merely an appropriate emotional reaction to sin yet to be addressed.” In such circumstances, “healing can only come by means of some assurance that one day justice will be complete and final.” This is not a desire for revenge and vengeance borne out of bitterness and rancorous resentment, but a godly and natural desire for justice and righteousness.
Our scholar friends will recall that both the Old Testament Hebrew rootצדק(tz-d-q) and the New Testament Greek root –δικ– (-dik-) are inclusive of our English ideas of “righteousness” and “justice.” There is no justice in the midst of unrighteousness, and no righteousness in injustice.
Of course, it is worth mentioning that it was after Israel named their daughters “Miriam”, or themselves “Mara” — names that mean “bitter” or “bitterness” — that God sent savior-redeemers (Moses, Boaz, and ultimately Jesus). God in God’s wisdom acted salvifically after God’s people recognized their bitter lot.
Maier has chapters on “authentic repentance”, “trusting God for justice”, “results of forgiveness”, and “forgiveness and justice in counseling.” Here is his exposition of what the simple statement “I forgive you” should mean:
Because of your repentance and the facts that the price for your sin has been paid (by God), the effects of your sin against me have been substantially healed, and your repentance has stopped the previously hostile messages to me, your sin can no longer damage me. Since you are taking responsibility for your sin, I no longer have to make up distorted reasons why it happened, and that is good for both of us. Finally, our relationship is now different and I agree to treat you in light of this new relationship.
We (Ruth and Joshua) recommend this book — Forgiveness and Justice: A Christian Approach — to any pastor, preacher, counselor, or missionary in any context. It’s practical, theologically robust but in everyday language, and firmly grounded in Scripture.
For that matter, we recommend it to anyone
who struggles with forgiveness,
who struggles with justice,
who is passionate about justice, or
or who is passionate about forgiveness.
We guess that covers most of us.
Note: We have this book in paper and in Kindle (it’s also available for Nook). We didn’t include page numbers as I (Joshua) was referring for the quotes to the digital copy, which sadly doesn’t include “real” page numbers. Bryan Maier’s Forgiveness and Justice is available from Christian Book Distributors, Joseph Beth, BooksAMillion, Barnes & Noble, or wherever fine books are sold.
Proverbs are delightful. They offer a window into a culture. I especially enjoy pairs of proverbs which seem contradictory. One of my favorite pairs is found in Proverbs 26.4-5. I’ll quote in Hebrew for our nerdy friends (and because Hebrew fonts just look cool) and in English.
A few months ago, I learned a similar pair of proverbs in Maa:
Ebaiki ninyor, nimiret.
Mebaiki ninyor, nimiret.
For those interested in such things, here’s the IPA phonetic pronunciation:
Ɛbáɨ́kɨ nɨ́nyɔ̄r, nímīrēt.
Mɛbáɨ́kɨ nɨ́nyɔ̄r, nímīrēt.
Perhaps you love him/her, yet you don’t help him/her.
It cannot happen that you love him/her and you don’t help him/her.
(My list of Maa pronouns includes over 200. This, of course, does not count the innumerable constructions which are possible through the use of pronominal prefixes and infixes. But Maa doesn’t distinguish between he/she/it — “ninye” does triple duty. In these proverbs, ninye isn’t used. Instead, pronominal prefixes/infixes indicate both subject and object.)
The initial verb in each of these proverbs is interesting; ɛbáɨ́kɨ / ebaiki is literally “it is reached” or “it is arrived at.” Idiomatically it is “maybe” or “perhaps”. The pronominal 3rd person prefix ɛ- is replaced with mɛ- in the second one. Depending on tone, this is either negative or subjunctive; here it is negative. Thus ɛbáɨ́kɨ / ebaiki introduces something that is conceivably possible whereas mɛbáɨ́kɨ / mebaiki indicates that what follows is inconceivable and impossible.
Ebaiki ninyor, nimiret. Perhaps you love him/her, yet you don’t help him/her.
Within human relationships, it is quite imaginable that we profess love for someone and yet there is no actual demonstration of love. We say “we love you” but don’t help the supposed beloved, and in fact we often harm instead (whether by sin of commission or sin of omission).
Mebaiki ninyor, nimiret. It cannot happen that you love him/her and you don’t help him/her.
Thus our actions (or inactions) will belie our words. “The proof is in the pudding,” as the old English proverb states.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.”
Show me your faith without works
and I will show you faith by my works.” (James 2.18, NET)
Love does no harm to its neighbor.
Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
(Romans 13.10 NIV-1984)
If we claim to love while either actively harming or simply refusing to assist, our actions prove that we do not, in fact love.
Mebaiki ninyor, nimiret. It is not possible to love in merely word or sentiment. Love helps those who are loved.
Mara Rianta CCC (Community Christian Church), part of the Mara North cluster of CCC congregations along with Endoinyo Erinka CCC (we lived in Endoinyo Erinka in 2007-2008), is hosting a women’s conference. Mara Rianta is on the Mara River, on the road between Aitong and Kawai in TransMara.
I have just learned that we have lost another giant. The great John S. Mbiti of Kenya, professor and theologian and philosopher and mentor, passed from this life a couple of weeks ago, 6 October 2019, a bit before what would have been his 88th birthday.
If you are interested in — . • African culture or religion or philosophy, . • Christian theology, . • hermeneutics, or . • African Christianity —
then you should read his works. His monographs African Religions and Philosophy (1969) and Concepts of God in Africa (1970) were seminal and remain classics.
I can’t claim to have known him personally, but I was honored to meet him a few times, to have heard him lecture a couple of times, and to have had one delightful one-on-one conversation with him. He was a gentleman and a scholar … and a true Christian.
This picture was taken at a Centre for World Christianity event in Nairobi in March 2018. Those pictured include Professors Mark Shaw, Jesse N. K. Mugambi, John S. Mbiti, Andrew F. Walls, with Dr Ingrid Reneau Walls & Dr Kyama Mugambi.
Some of you haven’t heard of John Samuel Mbiti before. For an excellent though short introduction to Prof. Mbiti’s work, see Francis Anekwe Oborji, “John S. Mbiti – Father of African Christian Theology: .A Tribute,” Journal of African Christian Biography 4/4 (October 2019): .3-14.
The issue is available online at the Dictionary of African Christian Biographyhere.