February 2007


“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12. 

 

Last Sunday this was one of the passages used by the Pastor during his sermon. It got me thinking… “yeah, where are the “greater things” that those of us who have faith in Jesus are doing today?” This was not a wish, a hope or even a command. It was to be a literal fact. Jesus said it was the “truth” of what we “will” do. Therefore it begs the questions: Have we been raising the dead? Have we been healing the sick? Have we been making the crippled whole? Have we prayed over those who are visually and hearing impaired, and healed them? Do those who know us, believe that they only need to touch our clothing or have our shadow pass over them, to be cured of their diseases?  Have we been casting out demons? Have we been occasionally feeding thousands at one sitting? Have we walked on water in the middle of a storm to save others? Have we called out to hurricanes and tornados and proclaim, ”peace be still”, and they have stopped? Have we stepped in front of the accusing crowd and admonished, that those who are without sin should cast the first stone at the guilty? Have we turned water into wine to keep a celebration from ending prematurely? Have we done any of these things which Jesus did, much more the “greater things” that He said we would do?

 

Jesus stated: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. Mark 16: 17-20. 

 

I know that these signs were not to be an end to themselves. These signs are to be a confirmation of the truth and power of His word. They are to lead others to Christ and to worship the glory of God. I understand that by and through His word we are to heal the spiritually sick; feed the spiritually hungry; give the water of life to the spiritually thirsty; raise the spiritually dead to life; help the spiritually blind to see and the spiritually deaf to hear; etc. But again I ask: where are the “greater things” that we do which signifies our faith in Christ to the world, or was Jesus a liar?

  

“I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20. 

 

Is it faith as small as a mustard seed that we lack? 

 

Let’s make the impossible, possible!

 

Asabagna

 

My sister in the cause Professor Zero read my previous post, Into the Heart of Darkness, and was moved to post further information on Vulture Funds  on her blog page.  Not only is she committed to raising awareness on this issue, but she also added a link to Oxfam, a charity, development and advocacy organization for the poor and oppressed. They have more information on their web site on Vulture Funds and the Zambian case in particular. Oxfam also has an email campaign directed at Michael Sheehan of Donegal International, telling him to do the right thing and not force Zambia to pay this outstanding debt.  Here’s the link. There is also this link to email Gordon Brown, Chair of the International Monetary Fund Finance Committee. Please take a pause for the cause, fill them out and send them off. It’s may be a little symbolic but it’s the least we can do from a place where we have so much.

Thanks. I appreciate it.

Asabagna    

I remember reading the Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad many years ago after seeing one of my favourite films, Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppella. The theme of the film is said to be based on the primary concept of the book, regarding the increasing darkness of the barbarity of the “white man”, as he descends deeper into the proverbial “jungle”. The book explored this journey utilizing the backdrop of the so-called “Dark Continent”: Africa – and the effect it had on the souls of the civilized Europeans, who sunk into the evil, primal side of their psyche, symbolized by how they treated the native, i.e. African population as they rushed to rape the continent of it’s riches. Kurtz, is the primary figure within the book who personifies this descent into darkness (also the name of the character played by Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now). Interestingly, he is an ivory purchaser for the government. He is the ultimate exploiter. No conscience. No empathy. No sense of humanity or the ideal of the brotherhood of mankind. The dollar is the bottom line.

I read a news piece in the BBC News online this week about Zambia losing a “Vulture Fund” case in Britain. I had never heard of this term before. Basically Vulture Funds, as defined by the International Monetary Fund, are companies which buy up the debt of poor nations cheaply when it is about to be written off, then SUE for the full value of the debt plus interest. WHAT!? I had thought that the effort to forgive African nations of their debt to western, particularly G8 nations, was to provide them the opportunity to use these funds for social, economic and infrastructure development. In theory this was to be a positive step towards breaking through the chains and cycle of the pandemic poverty in the continent. Bono, the lead singer of the band U2, went around the world imploring western leaders to jump on board. There was even a Live8 concert in 2005 held in a number of western countries to mobilize grassroots support in an effort to put moral and cultural pressure on their governments for this initiative. It became a big fanfare and publicity event when during a subsequent G8 summit, they had agreed (with Tony Blair serving as the spokesperson), to forgive these debts and also provide finds for A.I.D.S. prevention and treatment. At the time I had thought that this was certainly too good to be true. I couldn’t understand why western governments, “white/European/American” governments, would do anything to aid African, without any benefit to themselves. Sad to say, but I now seems that I was right. 

According to the report, in 1979 the Romanian government lent Zambia money to buy Romanian tractors. Zambia was unable to keep up the payments and in 1999, Romania and Zambia negotiated to liquidate the debt for $3m, but before the deal could be finalized, a firm called Donegal International (DI), which is part owned by a US-based company, stepped in and bought the debt from Romania for less than $4m. DI then sued Zambia for $42m, which includes the cost of the debt and interest and then had the country’s assets frozen. They recently won their lawsuit but economic experts believe that the judge will order Zambia to pay between $10m and $20m, less than half what DI sought.

There are obvious concerns that such funds will erase the benefits which international debt relief was supposed to bring to poor countries. This situation with Zambia is one of many such lawsuits. According to a Zambian official, $42m was equal to all the debt relief it had received last year and they were planning to spend this money on much-needed nurses, teachers and infrastructure projects. 

Reading this story brought me back to the novel, Heart of Darkness and it’s central theme. When it comes to dealing with Africa, the so-called “Dark Continent”, the oh-so civilized and compassionate “White West”, looses any sense of morality (maybe a more fitting moniker would be the “Wild West”). They easily sink into the darkness of barbarism. As one looks at all the issues Africa is facing, while it struggles to gasp for it’s breath: the breath for responsible governance; the breath for education; the breath for economic development; the breath for health care; the breath for food and clean drinking water; the breath for personal safety and security…. as it clings to life and fights to loosen itself from the clutches of death, a new colonialism has reared it’s ugly head. Arms dealers, pharmaceutical companies (I strongly recommend the movie, The Constant Gardener), debt collection companies and even China, are now circling and  ready to swooped down like vultures to find any opportunity to feed on Africa’s live corpse.

Like Kurtz, they have become the ultimate exploiters. No conscience. No empathy. No sense of humanity or the ideal of the brotherhood of mankind. The dollar is the bottom line.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9.

Asabagna

               

A couple weeks ago when former NBA player John Amaechi “came out” and stated that he was gay, I thought to myself: “so what?”…. “what’s the big deal?” For me it was a non-event. I saw it as a second rate player who was trying to promote his book, “Man in the Middle”, so he could get paid. Whoever someone loves is a private affair, between him or her and the other person…. and their God (if they believe in one). I couldn’t have been more wrong! In light of another former NBA player, Tim Hardaway’s comments, I felt I needed to do a post. The part of Hardaway’s comments that I found so troubling… and I would even go as far as to characterize it as disgusting were: 

“You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.” 

TIM, YOU HATE GAY PEOPLE!?

                   

Now I am a born-again Christian and as you may guess, I have some very definitive and strong views about homosexuality and homosexuals. The first is this: Christ died on the cross for heterosexuals, as well as for homosexuals. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Yes I consider homosexuality to be a sin and God hates sin, but NOT the sinner. 

 

“The world can be a terrible place, NOT because of the evil that people do, but because of those who stand by, watch, and do nothing….” 

 

I am not sure who made the above quote, but silence in the face of such comments by Tim Hardaway is unacceptable for me. It made me angry. It is not so much that it is narrow-minded and ignorant, but that it is simply hate speech! It’s a promotion of hate! Hating someone or a group of people simply because of their race, religion, culture, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation/preference etc., comes from the realm of the spiritually evil. History has also shown, that once you are allowed, in the face of no opposition, to demonize a group of people who are different from you, you feel empowered, justified… and yes even permitted by those who are silent, to mistreat, oppress and kill those “others”. 

 

Tim Hardaway does not have my permission. 

 

Tim Hardaway has been banned by the NBA from taking part in their All-Star Weekend events. 

 

Tim Hardaway has subsequently apologized for his comments. 

 

Asabagna

 

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 

 

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 

 

If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 

 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

 

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Taken from “1 Corinthians 13”

How beautiful you are, my love, how very beautiful! 

 

Your eyes behind your veil remind me of those of a dove; your hair makes me think of the black, wavy fleece of a flock of the Arabian goats which one sees trailing down Mount Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes which have come up from the washing, of which all are in pairs, and none is missing among them. Your lips are like a thread of scarlet, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil. Your neck is like the tower of David, built for an arsenal, whereon hang a thousand bucklers, all of them shields of warriors. Your two breasts are like two fawns, like twins of a gazelle that feed among the lilies. 

 

Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away, in my thoughts I will get to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense. 

 

O my love, how beautiful you are! There is no flaw in you! Come away with me from Lebanon my bride, come with me from Lebanon. Depart from the top of Amana, from the peak of Senir and Hermon, from the lions’ dens, from the mountains of the leopards. You have ravished my heart and given me courage, my sister, my bride; you have ravished my heart and given me courage with one look from your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. 

 

How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine! And the fragrance of your ointments than all spices! Your lips, O my bride, drop honey as the honeycomb; honey and milk are under your tongue. And the odor of your garments is like the odor of Lebanon. A garden enclosed and barred is my sister, my bride–a spring shut up, a fountain sealed. Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates or a paradise with precious fruits, henna with spikenard plants, spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh, and aloes, with all the chief spices. You are a fountain springing up in a garden, a well of living waters, and flowing streams from Lebanon. 

 

I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my balsam and spice from your sweet words, I have gathered the richest perfumes and spices. I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk. Eat, O friends, feast on, O revelers of the palace; you can never make my lover disloyal to me! Drink, yes, drink abundantly of love, O precious one, for now I know you are mine, irrevocably mine!

 

Taken from “The Song of Solomon”

I was reflecting on some of the events in my past recently and I remembered this episode which I’ve had a burning desire to share. Back in the day, when I returned to Toronto, Canada from Jamaica in my late teens, there was a guy in the neighbourhood by the name of Johnny Denton. Now Johnny was known as the “bad” guy of the ‘hood. Not so much as a “thug” in the way it means today, but a guy you didn’t mess with. More importantly, you never, and I mean n-e-v-e-r messed with his family, especially his sisters. There was a story that he beat a guy to a pulp for hitting one of his sisters, but I don’t know if this was true.

 

First off don’t get it twisted. This was your typical Toronto neighbourhood in the late 70’s, early 80’s. It was a clean, safe middle-class neighbourhood, mixed with all races and cultures. There was no violence, drug dealing/using, rival gangs or racial/cultural tensions among us. Everyone just hung out, played sports, raced our bikes, listened to music, and we were just starting to get interested in the opposite sex. Johnny was much older than the rest of us, in his mid to late 20’s, about 6’ 4”, over 200lbs, dark, muscular and always had a scowl. I don’t ever remember seeing him smile or laugh. He didn’t really hang out in the neighbourhood that much, although he lived with his Mother and other siblings. He drove a Cadillac and the word on the street was that he was a pimp and a drug dealer. He never did any of this rumored business in our neighbourhood, so I don’t know if this was true. However, he had a reputation and that was enough for us not to mess with him or his blood. One of his sisters Patricia and I were in the same grade, so we studied a few times together, but there was nothing romantic between us. It wasn’t because I had a fear of Johnny…. we were just cool like that and assisted each other with homework. I don’t ever remember having a conversation with Johnny back in those days. I would greet him with a “wassup” nod and he would return one as an acknowledgment. A couple of years after I was in Toronto, his brother Huey “came up” from Jamaica to Toronto also and we hung out for a minute. But Huey wasn’t into school and studying as I was back then, so after a while he dropped out and hung with Johnny. It was rumored that he also got into the pimping and drug game with his brother, but I don’t know if this was true.

 

When I went to university, I lost touch, or to be honest, lost interest, in what Johnny and Huey were doing. After a couple years of university life, due to personal and family reasons I had to drop out and I started drifting into the wild party lifestyle. I had a dead end job as a short order cook and was living with a buddy of mine named Walter and his girlfriend. Walter and I were hard, and I mean h-a-r-d partiers. We also worked at the same restaurant, so our normal routine would be to work from 4pm until around midnight, then party until around 5 –6am, sleep during the day and head back to work for 4 pm. We would do this practically 7 days a week. At work we would take “smoking weed” breaks. Sometimes after work we would head to this after hours bar, a “speakeasy” that opened at 1am. It was like the ones you see in movies, where you had to knock on this steel door, a window would slide open and if the bouncer knew you or someone who could vouch that you weren’t Five-0, then you could come in. Walter and I would go there, drink, smoke weed and dance to music all night while hanging with the pimps, hookers, drug dealers and other hustlers. Every so often I would see Johnny and Huey there. I would nod to Johnny, while Huey and I would talk for a moment and/or share a joint. I remember having this uncomfortable feeling on occasion when I would nod at Johnny. He would give me this “hard” look and then after a while give me a nod. I didn’t dwell on it though and dismissed it quickly as I partied on.

 

One night when I was in this speakeasy, I saw Johnny Denton and did my customary nod “hello”. I was just about to spark my joint when he walked up to me. We had a conversation which went something like this:

 

J.D.: What you doing here?

Asa: Hey Johnny. I’m here with my buddy…. we’re just hanging out.

J.D.: Why you hanging out here? This is not the place for you to be.

Asa: (incredulous look and silence)

J.D.: I remember you from the neighbourhood as a smart guy. You studied with Pat (his sister) and I know you got brains. You’ve got something I don’t have and a lot of other people here…. an opportunity to make something of yourself…. and you are wasting it hanging out here. I never would have thought you would be wasting your life here. I always thought you would be a success and I am disappointed seeing you here. Hanging out with these hustlers, pimps and doing drugs isn’t what you should be about…. you’re better than this. So I don’t want to see you here again…. and if I never see you again, that will be a good thing. I will know that it’s because you are doing okay, better than this….

Asa: (hanging my head in silence)

 

He then walked away. I told Walter that we had to go. I never went there again. In time I turned my life around, stopped partying, went back to school and accomplished some positive things in my life. 

 

Many years later I saw Johnny Denton at a clothing store. He was with a woman and some young children who I assumed were his wife and kids. I don’t know if he saw me or would have even recognized me. I didn’t go up to him. I don’t know why. I had heard that he had found God and had become a preacher and was doing positive things with troubled teenagers in the black community. I don’t know if this was true. But I do know this. Looking back, my life started to change for the better, after Johnny Denton spoke to me for the very first time…. on that night.

 

Blessings.

Asabagna. 

One of my favourite blogs to visit these days is SmuloSpace by John Smulo. He certainly gets me thinking and brings a whole different perspective to the “Christian” experience. He has a post, “Be like Jesus” that I want to share with the readership. 

Be blessed. Asa.   

 

I don’t watch a lot of t.v, but one of my favorite shows is HARDTALK on BBCWORLD. Today I saw an interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somalian feminist and a former Dutch parliamentarian who now lives in USA. She has gained worldwide notoriety for her fearless criticism of Islam, the religion of her birth. During the interview, although she now claims to be an atheist, she stated her continued commitment to confronting the “evils” of Islam which she believes is inherent in the religion. Especially in it’s treatment of women and girls. I have tremendous respect for her and she is an inspiration as someone who stands for her beliefs even though it has placed her life in constant danger.

 

Interestingly enough, I attended a seminar today on understanding the religious and cultural aspects of Arabs and Muslims. I found the overall tone of the speakers, who were from the Muslim and Arabic community, to be apologetic towards the violent aspects of Islam and playing the blame game. Blame U.S., European and Israeli policies, as well as the western media for creating and fueling the religious based extremism and terrorism associated to Islam. I don’t buy that these factors are the root causes of Islamic based terrorism, although I do accede that they do have an influence. However, I contend that there is a dynamic within the religion that easily lends itself to those who today, wish to use it as the basis to justify acts of violence in general and acts of terrorism in particular. More so than any of the other religions. I am still working this all out in my own mind, but my opinion is not the theme of this post.

 

I read this quote by Ms. Ali on Bookers Rising and it moved me. It is from a speech she gave on January 15th at the Congress of Racial Equality’s 23rd annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., where she received CORE’s International Brotherhood Award.

 

“Human beings are equal; cultures are not. A culture that celebrates femininity is not equal to a culture that trims the genitals of her girls. A culture that holds the door open to her women is not equal to one that confines them behind walls and veils. A culture that spends millions on saving a baby girl’s life is not equal to a one that uses its first encounter with natal technology to undertake mass abortion simply because baby girls are not welcome. A culture with courts that punish a husband for forcing his wife to have sex with him is not equal to a culture with a tribunal that decrees a young woman be gang-raped for talking to a boy of an allegedly higher caste. A culture that encourages dating between young men and young women is not equal to a culture that flogs or stones a girl for falling in love. A culture where monogamy is an aspiration is not equal to a culture where a man can lawfully have four wives all at once. A culture that protects women’s rights by law is not equal to a culture that denies women their alimony and half their inheritance. A culture that insists on holding open a position for women in its Supreme Court is not equal to a culture that declares that the testimony of a woman is worth half of that of a man.

 

Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of racial equality has become a reality for some and remains a dream for many. It has become a reality for the few people privileged enough to live in this culture that values the human individual regardless of race or gender. It is this culture that provides me with the vocabulary, the legal tools, the material resources, the platforms, and most of all, the opportunity to meet like minded individuals who will stand for the rights of those fellow girls and women who haven’t been as lucky as me or you. It is within this culture that it pays to fight for equality. Unfortunately, it is this culture that is under threat today. Many of those born into it take it for granted–or worse, apologise for it. So dear men and women of colour, and dear women of all colour: Let’s join together to protect this culture of life, this culture of liberty, this culture of “ladies first.”

 

You can read the entire speech here.

 

Asabagna

“Asa, I have enjoyed reading about your spiritual journey, and your quest for peace and fulfillment. Honestly, I wish I could go there with you, but I am still too gnostic in my belief system, and still too filled with rage. But hey, I am trying.  Peace.” The Field Negro. 

This comment from my brother, the one and only The Field Negro, was in regards to my series on the commitment to my spiritual transformation for this year. I read it as I was comtemplating what the essence of the content of my blog on character development would be, in relation to a 3-day personal development workshop that was included in a supervisors course I had recently attended. This program, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, by a Dr. Stephen Covey, focused on character as opposed to personality development. As I was trying to assess my feelings and organize my thoughts on the themes of the workshop, the above comment moved me into a different realm. Did my quest for peace and fulfillment mean that I could not be filled with rage? If that was the case then my quest had already failed, because I am constantly filled with rage and it is a growing rage. AND the very basis of this rage is due to my character and it’s continual development. 

Before I continue, let me make a comment on this statement Honestly, I wish I could go there with you, but I am still too gnostic in my belief system…” I am not one who believes that “peace and fulfillment” and/or character development for that matter, is only achieved through a spiritual process, particularly Christianity. There are many people who are on their own personal journeys towards these goals (or have already reached them), based on religious, spiritual, political, ideological or some other esoteric beliefs system. Yes, even a “gnostic” one. I pray that I stay humble on my own quest to never lose sight of this truth.

Nevertheless, I don’t believe that being a Christian automatically means that one should not have rage. I read in the Bible where Jesus at points was filled with rage. During his clearing of the Temple of the moneychangers and other sellers (Mathew 21:12). His rage was evident when he addressed the religious leaders of His day by the terms, “Vipers, Hypocrites, You are of your father the Devil” etc., in regards to how they mistreated the people. Paul states in Ephesians 4:26: “Be angry, and yet do not sin….” The issue is what causes your rage and how you channel it. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were motivated by the rage they felt due to the mistreatment of Black people by American society. Mahatma Ghandi was motivated by the rage he felt due to the mistreatment of native Indians by the British. Fidel Castro was motivated by the rage he felt due to the mistreatment of his fellow Cubans by the oligarchs led by General Fulgencio Batista. Mother Teresa was motivated by the rage she felt by the mistreatment of the poor… the untouchables in India, by the wider society. I could go on and on with other examples, but the point here is that these people and many others, both famous and ordinary, channeled their rage into doing something positive for the less fortunate and oppressed around them (and yes I do include Fidel Castro!). What is it that all these people, then and now… today… and those tomorrow have in common? CHARACTER! 

So let me now go to “Character vs. Personality”. “The Purpose-Driven Life” by Reverend Rick Warren provided me with the basic understanding of the difference between these two concepts. Books and seminars on “Personality Development” usually are about “self-help” concepts and strategies. They approach the subject from a self-centered” viewpoint: “clarify your values; figure out what you are good at; set your goals; believe you can achieve your goals; etc. The “Dress for success” and “the look good and you’ll feel good” mantras are preached along with these tools for success. There is nothing wrong with these concepts and they can be the basis of personal development and material success. However they have nothing to do with Character Development.

 

Similarly, according to the Covey principle, one has to imagine a tree, where the “root”, that which is not seen… under the ground… is character. What people do see… what is above ground, is our personality, i.e. our image, techniques and skills we portray. Personality can influence our success but the real source of lasting effectiveness lies in a strong character. This was the one thing of great value I got from the 3-day Steven Covey workshop and it can be summed up in his quote:

“Our first energies should go to our own character development, which is often invisible to others, like the roots that sustain great trees. As we cultivate the roots, we will begin to see the fruits.” 

The fruits. There are many reverences in the Bible to the fruits that are seen, which are produced from the roots of spiritual character development. Jesus stated in Mathew 7:17 and 20: “Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. So then you will know them by their fruits.” Paul in Ephesians 5:9 tells us that the fruit of the Spirit “consists in every form of kindly goodness, uprightness of heart and trueness of life.” I think it is also significant what Paul didn’t say, i.e., that the fruits were produced from religion!    

Let me end by returning to the comment by the Field. My spiritual transformation, which is the basis of my character development, does stimulate a rage within me. A rage against injustice and the mistreatment of the political and economic powerless. This is not only normal and expected, but according to Jesus, what I do with that rage, how I channel it, the fruits it produces, will be the basis upon which He will judged me (read Mathew 25: 31-46). 

So Field, like you I am trying. Pray for me and I’ll pray for you, that God will transform our rage into the wisdom and strength to be fruitful.

Peace.

Asabagna.  

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