Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

I’ve been struck by a number of things in Luke’s gospel that I would never have noticed or would never have got the full force of without reading them in this context with East African brothers.

  1. Food. In the West, often food is a matter of fuelling – like putting petrol in a car. You can grab a sandwich or packet of crisps on the go or eat at your desk. Only very special meals like Christmas or a first date have really serious relational significances. But here you don’t eat just because you’re hungry. You don’t ask, “Have you eaten?” when a guest arrives at 2pm (as I once did). You give them food. And you don’t really start talking until there’s food (or at least tea) on the table. Food says, “We are together, we are relating”. So now I start to see the huge shock of Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners (Luke 5:30) and the beauty of the many eating scenes throughout Luke.
  2. Naming and tradition. In Western cultures you can call your child pretty much anything you like. Some names might raise an eyebrow slightly (e.g. Green, Leviathan or Cheese) but only for a moment. The surname tends to be pretty constant but even this is increasingly flexible as women maintain maiden names as business names etc. But in Africa, many communities have a very strong tradition of naming – taking names from relatives in a precise order, rotating names or naming according to day of the week or weather conditions. I remember as we read through Luke 1:157-66 (the naming of John the Baptist) and a Kenyan sister related to the shock that the relatives felt that Elizabeth and Zechariah were breaking tradition and going against the naming of their culture, it came home to me what a big thing this was.
  3. Honouring parents. Many western cultures (I realise parts of the US are quite different) have moved towards pretty casual relationships between parents and their children. Respect, honour, authority are not valued. Fear and reverence would be widely seen as laughable or pathological. Furthermore, there is little sense of ongoing obligations of children to parents. In traditional African cultures though there is something much closer to traditional middle eastern culture. So when I was reading through the story of Jesus failing to go to the door when his mother and brothers arrive (Luke 8:19-21) the guy I was reading with was completely stunned by the offensiveness of it and genuinely troubled that Jesus could do such a thing. And then you get to Luke 9:59-62 where Jesus calls a man away from burying his father (and there you get the added weight of responsibility to the dead) and another from even saying goodbye. And then you get Jesus talking about dividing families (Luke 12:53) and most extreme of all, that anyone who does not hate father and mother, wife, children and brothers cannot be his disciple (Luke 14:26). Shocking anywhere but in an African context this is dynamite (but then for Muslim background believers the truth of these things might well be more evident). Against this backdrop you can appreciate all the more the shocks and joys of Luke 15:11-32 too.

Collected resources on Luke:

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There is a good deal of debate about the use of ‘Daddy’ as an appropriate translation of ‘Abba’. Do we run the risk of a flippant, casual approach? Are we in danger of reading too much of our modern cultural understandings and feelings about daddies into a very different culture? Well for a bit of historical perspective, here’s a puritan commentator from 300 years ago…

Whereby we cry, Abba, Father. Praying is here called crying, which is not only an earnest, but a natural expression of desire; children that cannot speak vent their desires by crying. Now, the Spirit teaches us in prayer to come to God as a Father, with a holy humble confidence, emboldening the soul in that duty.
Abba, Father. Abba is a Syriac [Aramaic] word signifying father or my father [or O father (vocative)]; pater, a Greek work; and why both, Abba, Father? Because Christ said so in prayer (Mk 14:36), Abba, Father: and we have received the Spirit of the Son. It denotes an affectionate endearing importunity [persistent demanding], and a believing stress laid upon the relation. Little children, begging of their parents, can say little but Father, Father, and that is rhetoric enough. It also denotes that the adoption is common both to Jews and Gentiles: the Jews call him Abba in their language, the Greeks may call him pater in their language; for in Christ Jesus there is neither Greek nor Jew.
(Matthew Henry’s Complete Bible Commentary, Romans 8)

A couple of challenges:

  • For those of us who think, What’s the big deal? Of course we can say ‘Daddy’ – we need to repent of our narcissistic entitlement mentality and get a much bigger vision of the God of the Bible. We need to read the last few chapters of Job and see an indescribably majestic Creator and Judge. We need to read some big chunks of Ezekiel and see the blazing fury of a jealous God. And then we need to be utterly gobsmacked that we can come to this God as Abba.
  •  For those of us who are nervous of using words like ‘Daddy’ in prayer and fear an over-intimate or over-bold approach to such an awesome Creator and Lord – then a) perhaps we need to question whether our own negative experiences (or lack) of fathers is feeding into our image of God and b) certainly we need to take a look again at the almost-unbelievably-good gospel – that the white-hot holy King of the Universe should come to love us as intensely and perfectly as He loves the Son of God himself (John 17:23). See what manner of love the Father has given unto us…


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lego movie

A great post from a good friend, Nived Lobo:

Niv's Reflections

(or, how to see complexity that might not be there in children’s films)

I finally got around to watching ‘The LEGO Movie’, so you know what time it is! Indulgent-thoughts-from-another-film-translated-into-a-rambling-blog-post time!

This film had oodles going for it. Will Arnett and Liam Neeson are two voices I will gladly listen to for hours. The jokes were charming. And there was unexpected depth here, too. Which got me thinking about creativity. (Spoilers are going to follow, so if that’s a big thing for you, stop reading…now.)

I think the biggest questions this film raised were that of creativity and the creator. Essentially, there were two creative forces in the film: a child, whose imagination drives his playing with the pieces, and then his adult father (for whom the whole pursuit is rooted in nostalgia), ‘the Man upstairs’, who is all about boundaries. Each set belongs together, and the toys are more…

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From Job 32-37, the long speech of Elihu, we started to see how suffering is a far more complex issue than the ‘comforters’ had made it, with many possible purposes beyond punishment and linking to God’s concerns to speak to us, perfect us, call us to himself and above all his glory.

Discussing marriage and parenting (Ephesians 5:22-6:4) we saw many striking differences between the gospel-shaped family and the more common models in our cultures. We agreed that the husband’s role, laying down his life for his wife like Christ for the church, is the more challenging one; we thought about what it meant for practice for Jesus to serve the church including suffering and shame (and going into the kitchen!); and questioned the common assumption that submission in marriage is mutual (does Christ submit to the church?).

With Sammy we looked at how to stay mission-minded, servant-hearted and Steadfast in the workplace. Including questions like ‘Can a Christian work for a brewery or tobacco company?’

As the second year apprentices discussed the challenge of liberalism the two big issues that came up were women in pastoral ministry and divorce/re-marriage – the latter seeming to be increasingly common even among pastors.

In all these things the big challenge was – do we go with our personal experiences, our culture, our feelings or ‘logic’ or do we honestly look at the Word and stick with that.


Also today:


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At iServe Africa we’ve been thinking for a while that there’s a gap in the market in Kenya for a magazine that:

  • engages issues of gospel ministry & mission, faithful Bible teaching & preaching, gospel content & gospel impact on all of life,
  • does so in a thoughtful and careful way with an emphasis on listening hard to the Scriptures, going beyond some of the lighter, more motivational features in circulation in our context,
  • stirs up Scripture-searching, thinking and quality conversation  in churches and on campuses, as we remind each other of the gospel and work through together what gospel living and gospel ministry look like in our context.

First issue is due out 5 April 2014.

  • If you’re a praying person please pray that this would be a successful, helpful and Christ-honouring thing, used in some way to contribute to a movement for revival in our context.
  • If you have experience in Christian magazine production/design/editing do share your wisdom and advice on how to sustain a long-lasting product.
  • If you’re in Nairobi do come to the launch on 5 April. Contact here for more details. Karibu sana.
  • Check out the accompanying blog – Conversation Magazine – and start the conversation…

Conversation banner

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Even non-Anglicans might be interested to know that there was a large world conference of orthodox Anglicans (they do exist!) in Nairobi last October. A few resources that are well worth checking out:

  • William Taylor preaching from preaching from Ephesians 5:1-6:9 (full text) – very strong on not being in partnership with certain people, on what it means to be filled by the Spirit, on the basis of Christian ethics, and brilliant on marriage (see esp. pages 8-11 and 25-42).
  • Mike Ovey on The Grace of God or the World of the West (video & full text) – brilliant analysis of the Western church, Western society, cheap grace, entitlement, narcissism – important for us here in East Africa to the extent that Western culture is impacting and being absorbed here (increasingly).
  • The main GAFCON website.
  • The never-dull blog, waanglicana, is worth checking out too.

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