Monday, August 8, 2016

My First Twenty-Four Jobs

'So what do you want to be when you grow up?'

I remember being asked that so many times.  And the answers I heard from myself and from others were usually rather standard:  'I want to be a doctor!'  I want to be a teacher!'  'I want to be an astronaut!'  'I want design software and become a zillionaire!'  Well, maybe not in the 1960s.

The expectation behind such a question was that one would grow up and have a career.  Which means one would get hired and work at the same place until one retired.  Or one would train for a profession and then go and do that profession until one retired.  So one could legitimately say, 'I am a doctor', or 'I am a national park ranger', or 'I am a librarian' or 'I am Marlin Perkin's sidekick Jim and will be shooting scenes of Wild Kingdom until one or the both of us can't chase lions anymore.'

There are still many people who find themselves doing what they were originally hired to do, or doing what they were trained to do in college.  But more and more, there are people like me.  I just compiled a list of all the jobs I've had.  I is sobering to think that people have actually paid me money to do these things.  Here it is, more or less in order:

Bag boy and Stock boy at Grocery Store (A&P in Anderson, SC)
Encyclopedia Salesperson (World Book (!) in Anderson, SC)
Printshop delivery truck driver (Campus printshop, Duke University)
Offset Press operator (Curry Copy Centre, Hilton Head Island, SC)
Math-Physics night shift librarian (Duke University)
Motel Maid (Aspen, CO)
Bookstore clerk (Chapel Hill, NC)
Campus Minister (Chapel Hill, NC and Williamsburg, VA)
House Cleaner (Ipswich, MA)
House Painter (North Shore area, MA)
Gardener and Lawn care guy (North Shore area, MA)
Handyman (North Shore area, MA)
Presbyterian Minister (Pilot Mountain, NC; Reading, PA)
Cambridge Summer School of Theology Administrator (Cambridge, UK)
Missionary (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Nairobi, Kenya)
College and post-graduate lecturer (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)
Megachurch Pastor (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)
Graduate School Lecturer (Nairobi, Kenya)
College and Post grad lecturer (Limuru and Nairobi, Kenya)
Receptionist (YMCA, Crozet, VA)
Front Desk Manager (YMCA, Crozet, VA)
Gardener (Waynesboro, VA)
College and Post grad Lecturer (Nairobi and Limuru, Kenya)
Personal Secretary (Nairobi, Kenya)

When people go off to college or head out to get a job, more often than not, they are thinking to themselves that they are training for their 'career move'.  That's what I thought when I left home and went off in search of a degree and qualifications and experience.  But a career track was not to be, for me at least.

Many others share my experience.  And it provides a fascinating window in how not just our economy has changed in 40 years, but how our society has changed as well.  And it's not something one can blame on the rigours of underclass life, or the lack of education or opportunity.  Many of us with a plurality of jobs are, if anything, over-educated.  So there I was, little more than a year ago, with a PhD from the University of Cambridge, sitting at the front desk of the local YMCA answering phones, wiping down machines and cleaning toilets.  It happens.

Just to say, much in our society is changing, in flux.  Nothing actually remains the same for long when you think about it.  The world that my grandparents, even my parents understood as their unchanging context simply does not exist anymore.

All of which raises the challenge, to me at least, that with the demise of career, what comes into sharper focus is vocation, or calling.  Or to put it differently, the job may change, but the vocation - the calling - remains the same.  It enables one to be just as comfortable preaching to 1600 people week after week as one is pulling weeds on a hot afternoon in a quiet corner of someone else's beautiful garden.  Satisfaction comes not from the position or the recognition or the perks, but from the doing.

I'm grateful for all my different jobs, and the opportunities I had to learn new skills and work with different people.  Ok, all of my jobs except one.  I loathed trying to sell encyclopaedias.  The only benefit I derived from that job (and a significant one, at that) is the realisation that I could never, ever be a salesperson.  Other people do it well.  Not me.  But all the other ones?  I'd do them all again in a heartbeat.  Even being a maid.  Especially if it meant I could live in Aspen again!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Final Exam

I've been teaching a course called Theology and Society to six MDiv students and tonight I am invigilating their final exam.  Darkness is falling over Nairobi where we are sitting in a small classroom in the high-rise building that functions as the downtown campus of my university.  We are situated directly across the street from the Memorial Garden, the site of the former United States Embassy that was blown up in 1998 by al-Qaeda in a massive truck bomb blast that killed more than 230 and injured more than 5000.  Tonight, as I watch my students write their essays, it's just the normal rush hour Nairobi traffic sounds that I hear through our open windows.

I had to construct this course from scratch.  The reading that I came across tended to be much too abstract than useful, and I found that almost nothing was written with an African urban context in mind.  So I led the class in seminar mode,  telling provocative stories or describing realities which I then used to jumpstart a discussion on how to think Christianly about the particular issue of the evening.  Amongst the issues we tackled included corruption, domestic violence, sex and Kenyan youth, money and the churches, racism and ethnic violence, among other things.  Let's just say our discussions were usually rather lively.

So tonight they are having to choose four questions from the following six and then write essays in good form to answer them:

1. Describe the similarities and differences between rural and urban societies in Kenya.  Demonstrate how Christian theology engages the concerns of each kind of Kenyan society.  What, if anything, should local churches be doing differently to better engage the society of which they find themselves a part?

2. Bus and matatu drivers and their assistants form a well-known part of Kenyan society.  Describe the context and challenges faced by these people.  How might Christians and Christian theology more effectively engage them with Christian hope and new life?

3. Prostitutes and other sex-workers are shunned by most Christians as reflecting a lifestyle that is considered sinful, even though very few of these people would pursue this way of living if a better option were available to them.  Examine Kenyan Christian's attitude towards prostitution.  How might churches more effectively reach out to these people?

4. Examine the evidence for materialism that exists in Kenyan society.  What is a realistic Kenyan response to materialism?

5. Imagine that you are part of a new church being started in Kibera [a notorious and vast Nairobi slum].  What should the ministry priorities be?  What steps, if any, should be taken to address and engage the Kibera context?  What might Christian-inspired transformation look like in a context like this?

6. The Christians living in Lamu face the challenges of being a minority living in a Muslim majority community.  There have also been several al-Shabaab-inspired violent attacks against Christians and churches in recent years.  How should the Christians there respond to the threats against them?  What guidance does the Bible give Christians living in minority or threatening situations?  How should Christians live in the midst of the Muslim neighbours?

The purpose of these questions is not just to gauge what my students learned this past term, but by the act of answering them to get them to unabstract their theological thinking and stretch their minds to encompass realities that exist all around them but which they have never brought a Christian perspective to bear on before.

So if you were to take an exam like this, how might you do?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Systems, and the Practical Atheists They Produce

I was taught that the Scriptures could be studied and boiled down into discreet facts about God.  And that these discreet facts about God could be organised and systematised and that what gaps remained one could use God-given reason to colour in what missing puzzle pieces might remain.  The Scriptures, and the theology that was distilled from them, was the truth.  I grew up as a Christian in the safe confines of these tight systems - systems for doctrine, systems for church practise, systems for right and wrong, systems for In the Beginning and systems for the Last Days.

Systems are comfortable.  They exist ‘out there’ without me having to do anything about them.  They give one something to adhere to, a cause to which to belong, a movement to identify with, a mission to sign up for, a church to call home. But I learned the hard way and over many years that such systems are not what Jesus set out to establish.  Such systems are not the kingdom of God.  But they do go a long way to explain why there is such a disconnect in Christianity today between what people claim and what they actually do.

A couple of examples.  Students of mine, as part of an apologetics class project, were asked to get to know and interview people considered by Evangelicals to be outside the sphere of Christianity.  I wanted my students to go beyond the traditional boundaries of what passes  for apologetics and uncover what the real issues were keeping Kenyans away from Christianity.  In this case, I was totally blown away by what my students discovered.

This group of students was tasked with interviewing prostitutes in downtown Nairobi as to their attitude towards Christianity.  I’ll spare the story of their challenges in finding prostitutes to interview, as well as the ‘Yeah sure, that’s what they all say’ response they got from the women they finally found when they said, really they weren’t interested in sex because they were theology students.  What unfolded, when they finally sat down for a conversation (the students paid the women for their time since they were being kept from work), was an astonishing story.  It turns out that both of the women my students found to speak with were single parents.  Both of them had husbands who subjected them to abuse and who finally abandoned them.  Both women had no education and no means to support their families and turned to prostitution as a last resort.  When asked about Christianity, the women asserted that they were members in good standing of one of the large Pentecostal churches on that side of Nairobi.  When asked why they didn’t reach out for help to the church, they women said that Christians condemn women who no longer live with their husbands.  They were afraid of being kicked out of the church.  Not only that, one of the women claimed that one of the pastors had become a regular customer.  The church was so large that the pastor did not know that this woman he was paying for sex was actually one of his church members sitting in his congregation week after week.

Whatever else may be said about Pentecostals, they do have very strong and tight systems of doctrine and how one is supposed to act or at least appear to be (in church, at least), and can often take stands on morality, dress and behaviour that seem almost like American Fundamentalism redux to these Western eyes, at least.  But these systems exist ‘out there’.  Adherence brings membership, and membership brings belonging and identity.  But none of this touches the heart, nor does it touch relationships, or how one treats another person, or character.  So long as the offence is out of sight, one apparently need not worry.

A second example.  A young Christian husband found his attempts to accommodate his blustery, strong-willed wife by subsuming his desires to her strongly asserted preferences and by self-consciously taking a servant’s posture towards her in the hope that she would remember the same Scriptures and reciprocate.  Reciprocation never occurred. Instead the need to control and dominate began increasingly to characterise her interaction with her husband.  This often took the form of rages and outbursts of temper, during which the husband would be accused of being selfish, of being incompetent, of not caring for his family.  None of this was true, but sadly, as this was the only input he was getting and coming from someone whom he thought cared for him, the man began to believe what he was being told.  Confronting the abusive behaviour head on led to more conflict and only made it worse.  So he tried to stop the abuse by accommodating.  His psychological perspective was limited at the time, and by trying to avoid conflict he paradoxically became the enabler of his partner's abuse.  Accommodation seemed to work.  It would quiet the storm for a week or two, only to see some small inconsequential issue blown all out of proportion signalling the onset of a renewed blizzard of verbal blows.  The constant verbal pummelling kept him off balance and nearly drove him mad, and finally lead to increasingly severe depressive illness.  What was perhaps most terrible about what was happening in this family was that the man felt he had no place to turn.  He had agreed to marriage counselling at one point, but discovered in the course of the ‘counselling’ that his wife had persuaded the counsellor that she was right and that her husband was a jerk and the cause of all their problems.  This experience understandably turned the husband off from seeking more ‘counselling’.  The husband was repeatedly told that he was the one who needed to change.  Only the problems he was supposed to fix were never specified and were a constantly moving target, like goal posts suddenly shifted just as the player is kicking the ball.  As the years went by and the treatment he received at the hands of his wife only got worse, the man felt he had no recourse but to gut it out.  He belonged to a conservative Christian mission that sent couples home who were exposed as having marriage troubles.  He was part of a conservative Christian faculty that would not tolerate that kind of trouble.  And so for fear of the consequences he chose not to seek help, until he experienced a major episode of his depressive illness.  This time he reached out for help and found it in a very gifted psychiatrist.  It was under her care that he began to understand what was happening in him and to him.  First, he began to understand all of his wrong ways of coping.  He had tried to avoid conflict, and then he had self-medicated when the pain of that conflict felt too great.  One of the great problems is that for most of his life he had felt that his self-medication was the problem.  He never allowed himself to think that his relationship problems with his wife were the actual root, first of his melancholy, then of his wrong efforts to cope, and finally of his depressive illness.  Having grown up in a broken family, he simply could not allow himself to admit that his own family was failing.  Sadly his wife, not willing to admit that she bore any responsibility for how this marriage went, excoriated him for admitting to his attempts to self-medicate his pain, calling them grounds for divorce and then later making them her justification for kicking him out of the house.  He was never allowed to return.  And while he took the initiative to seek a divorce (seized on by his former wife as evidence that she was the true victim in this marriage!), he did so only after multiple attempts to engage his wife on what he felt were the real issues facing them both in their marriage led to further abuse and ridicule.  All of this was going on even though the husband and wife were members of solidly Evangelical ministries, both with impeccable theological credentials, both were ordained ministers, both educated at the highest levels and both missionaries.  But not a single one of those systems did this couple or their marriage any good.  They were both able to exist as part of these ‘Christian’ systems without allowing a single one of them to touch their hearts or their marriage.  The former wife has carried on in Christian ministry, totally convinced of her rightness, with a devoted following, totally oblivious to any perspective on the matter but her own.  The former husband, as he emerged from his depression and began to understand the dynamics that had so shaped his life, experienced a crisis of faith.  While still a Christian, he abandoned the systems that provided such misleading security and is pursing a spirituality that is helping him to heal his battered heart and to learn anew how to love God and love his neighbour. 

A third example.  I am often given the task of teaching Systematic Theology.  Given my issue with Christian systems, the fact that I am regularly given the responsibility of teaching them I find bemusing.  Nevertheless, my goal is to help students find out what they believe, and to ask enough hard questions that they are forced to think about not just the good things, but the short-comings of a particular doctrinal perspective.  All of my students come into the class with systems, whether they acknowledge them or not.  And more often than not, they leave with the same system intact, though hopefully they have been challenged to think more deeply about what they believe.  These same students, at both institutions where I teach, when given the opportunity to write a research paper will, more often than not (at least according to my most recent experience with research papers), cheat.  Whole paragraphs, even whole sections, and sometimes entire papers are downloaded from the internet and presented as if the work is the student whose name is on the cover page.  Thirty two of forty students in two of my classes egregiously plagiarised their papers last January.  Fifteen of twenty-two students at my other school took varying amounts of material from the internet without giving due credit for it.  These are all Christian students, who all go to their respective chapels, sing their respective songs, prayer their respective prayers, and then go about their studies as if their Christianity has nothing to do with how they actually behave.

In all this I am trying to get my mind around the vast difference that seems to exist between the systems to which Christians so ardently adhere and their actual behaviour -their lives as they are lived.  Except for the gazillion churches that exist everywhere in Nairobi, one might not ever guess that such a thing as a ‘Christian’ actually exists here.  The same is true throughout the US.  The term I’ve used before is that we are ‘practical atheists’.  We live as if God doesn’t actually exist.  For all the noise about the Bible among the more conservative Christians, I’m increasingly convinced that most have never actually read it, and certainly not taken what they have read to heart.  Is it too harsh to say if they had, we’d be living in a different world, we’d be going to different churches, we might be living in different marriages?  And that’s just among those who profess to have a ‘high view’ of Scripture.  Again, another example of a comfortable system that actually doesn’t touch how we live.

My examples are admittedly dark.  And discouraging.  It is sort of where I am and where I’ve come from and what I struggle with.  I more than anyone wish it were not so.

Never too late?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Paradise Lost

I am feeling the need for some grief work.

Rambo - the body of a Rott, but the brain of a happy Black Lab

It was only three years ago.  We finished our term of teaching.  We packed our bags to go back to the States for our ‘home assignment’ of visiting our donors and friends, of reporting on what the previous two years had been for our ministries.  We lined up people to stay in our home while we were gone, made sure our dogs were taken care of.

Our Cottage - How things looked after I first arrived in July 2008.

Our house was rather shambolic and small, but it was home.  The glory of the place was the garden.  Building on the efforts of the families who had lived there before, I had made our garden into a little paradise.  Beds with beautiful flowering shrubs and succulents, forty or more hibiscus of different colors and sizes, beautiful ferns in huge pots.  But the wonder of my garden (or the garden whose stewardship had passed to me) was the trees.  There was the huge mugumo tree on which we hung our swing.  I put a bird feeder underneath it and was in constant awe of the ever changing variety of birds that passed through.  We had a patio just outside our door, facing the mugumo tree, on which we put a table with a shading umbrella and chairs.  I would sit at that table and pretend to read, but really I was looking at the birds, at the flowers, at the huge poinsettia trees.  A blue (Sykes) monkey would sometime pass through the stand of huge trees that lined the fence by the main road.  And when the Tree Tomato fruits were ripe he would come and sit in the top of the little tree and help himself while my two dogs Cinnamon and Omega nearly went wild underneath.

What one does in the garden.

There were other huge trees over past the tin shed that served as my carport.  One of them, my favorite, towered at least 120 feet and its bark was covered by thousands and thousands of sharp, Hershey kiss-shaped and sized thorns. These thorns meant business as I discovered one day when I tripped and fell backwards onto one of the thorn-covered radiating roots and sliced my forearm up nicely.  One of the fantastic things about this tree was the colony of weaverbirds that lived in its top-most branches.  Always garrulous, always busy, their bright yellow feathers always made a splash at my bird feeder when they decided to visit, which was regularly.

The Hershey Kisses Tree trunk

Up close!
There, in the back right, the Hershey Kisses Tree in it's glory

My garden had a grassy lawn where children could run barefoot and where we could play boules.  We had parties where we ate out under the stars, under the stretching branches of the mugumo tree.  Our best friends would come join us for a pot-luck Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners to die for, and we also tried to make sure that colleagues or students who didn’t have a place to go could come and feel at home and celebrate with us.  Such good, good memories.

Christmas dinner!  Kids outside, grownups inside. Everybody happy!

There was sadness in my garden, too.  Rambo, the part-black lab and mostly Rottweiler that I inherited from the previous occupants, was not just in charge of our security, he became my friend.  But as is often the case with big dogs, he developed an increasingly debilitating case of hip and elbow dysplasia, until I knew and he knew that he just couldn’t get up and do it anymore.  With a lot of grief, I called the local vet, who came and put Rambo down.  I would say in my arms, but Rambo was a giant of a dog.  And his head lay in my lap as he breathed his last.  I buried Rambo in my garden.

Rambo  love.

The aforementioned Cinnamon and Omega were the dogs I got to replace Rambo, as we needed to have dogs as a security deterrent.  I got these two dogs from the local animal shelter intending to get only one.  But they were in a pen together and it turns out they were litter mates. Their previous owner had to leave the country and return home unexpectedly, so they found themselves at the shelter.  I really liked them and they came home with me.  Turns out they were rather eccentric.  I took to calling them Thing 1 and Thing 2.  They decided that our huge garden was not big enough, so they took to working their way through the wire fencing along the road and having a nightly jaunt to who knows where.  Every time I patched a hole, another appeared somewhere else along the one hundred meters of fence.  After a while, I gave up and decided not to notice.  It was one Thanksgiving when we were all abustle getting things ready for our midafternoon feast that I noticed the dogs were unusually excited.  So I walked through the garden to discover what all their fuss was about.  Turns out they had dispatched a huge bush rat and were about as proud as they could be.  Had I left it there, I’m sure they would have dragged the thing up during our festivities to impress the guests.  I made sure the bush rat had a more private ceremony and burial.

Playing with Omega under the Mugumo tree.

When I sat reading under the big canvas umbrella, I would watch as the tiny iridescent sunbirds went from hibiscus flower to hibiscus flower, sipping nectar.  Bee eaters would zing about.  Male Flycatchers, with their ruffled plumage, were constantly trying to impress their would-be mates.  And on special days, there would be a glorious red-winged turaco in the tops of the trees.  In the Hershey Kisses tree, a Kite and her mate built their nest and for five years returned again and again to raise a new brood.

Hibiscus flower just waiting for another Sunbird.

When we left in June of 2013, I assumed we would be back as usual in September.  I had no idea that as I walked through the garden and said goodbye to the dogs on the way to the taxi waiting to take us to the airport, that my stewardship was over.  I would never call this little paradise home again.

With family enjoying breakfast in the garden in 2012.

Meanwhile back in the US, it became increasingly apparent that our time in Kenya was over.  Even worse, it became increasingly apparent that my marriage had died.  Because we left all of our things in Kenya waiting for us to return, we had to make a difficult trip back to Karen in February of 2014 to break up our old home and sell off our things and make an end to what had been our life there.  That was really hard.  Because I was staying someplace else, I never made it back to our former home, except a rushed trip to make sure the things that needed to be sold were out of the house.  I noticed with gratitude that Alfred the gardener had managed to keep things going in my absence.

My garden in bloom.  Poinsettias in the background.

Since those sad days, I have managed to return to Kenya.  It feels strange to be here alone.  As an Orthodox Christian, I would not be welcome to teach at my former school or to live at my old cottage with its astonishing garden.  So I’m living in a different place.  And my busy schedule has meant that I have not had many opportunities to return to the campus that I called home for six years.  I have heard that the school administration is experiencing a financial crisis.  And then I heard that our former neighbors who lived in other sections of the house where we lived, were ordered to leave because the school was selling the property in order to raise money.

The glorious mugumo tree (aka Strangler Fig), which is actually many trees
growing around a long gone host.

This past Thursday I was tired of the challenge of running through the neighboring slums and decided I would go back to Karen, back to the campus where I had lived and worked, and run one of the routes I used to take when that was home.  I parked at near my old driveway and ran seven therapeutic miles through the surrounding neighborhoods.  I got back from my run, and I decided to visit my house and my garden and see what had happened.  It has been less than 2 ½ years since I was there, but I couldn’t recognize the place.  Our driveway and our gate were gone.  In its place was an ugly cinder block wall built much too close around the old house.  And the house itself was being gutted and rebuilt.  But the garden, my garden, is gone.  The beds have been obliterated, with only a few overgrown succulents to suggest that anything beautiful and cared for had ever been there.  The hibiscus were gone.  The poinsettias were gone.  There is a naked, bleeding gash all the way to the fence where all those towering trees had been.  I looked in vain for the Hershey Kisses tree.  And then I saw the huge piles of cut up logs, and then the huge stump, and the vast emptiness of sky where the kites had nested and the weaverbirds chattered.  Only the mugumo tree remained, but in the midst of the desolation it looked shell-shocked and exhausted. The place was unrecognizable.  There were two large standing pots of uncared-for ferns standing forgotten under the mugumo tree, bearing mute witness that something else, something better, something beautiful had been here before.  But it’s gone now.  A paradise that lives only in my memory.  I grieve that others will not ever share the quiet joy I had in that place.  But I am grateful that I could take care of it for a time.

Sisel in my garden.

Sometimes it seems that this life is just one loss after another.  My family, my home, my garden, my former life – gone so fast and so completely I can’t breathe.  But that little house, that little garden, they were never actually mine.  I was just passing through, trying to do the best I could, to nurture the plants and trees and birds and animals into something pleasing.  And I think I succeeded while it was in my power to do so.  Turns out my family was never mine either.  And now the garden serves as a parable to me of all the time and energy and quiet desperation I poured into somehow making my family work.  And to my utter disorientation, it wouldn’t.  And then everything was lost.  I may wish I could go back home, but that little patch of paradise exists only in my mind now.  That home, that safe place, that family, that garden I poured my life into exists now only in my heart.  I feel, I grieve deeply the losses.  The beauty that was, that so delighted me, that I could reach out and touch and which touched me in return, has vanished, never to return.  Whatever happens from here will be different.  I understand a little better why all creation is yearning for God to bring His salvation project to completion and finally make all things new.  And somehow, along with Paul, I can only hope that all of this will work out for the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose.  But sometimes, when one is standing in the midst of all the destruction, good is hard to see.

My driveway, lined with blue fireworks flowers and several large
avocado trees the monkeys would visit in season.  I left down this driveway
in May of 2013 never to come back home again.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Kenyan Orthodox Pentecost in the Land of 'Health and Prosperity'

Yesterday was the Orthodox Feast of Pentecost.  I was asked to preach in my Nairobi parish at the conclusion of Divine Liturgy before the start of the special Pentecost Vespers service.  My words are my attempt to address our context and the situation in which we find ourselves as Orthodox Christians in Kenya.  May God cover my shortcomings and somehow bring glory to His name through us His Church.

We don’t hear Orthodox Christians talk very much about Pentecost or the Holy Spirit.  If you were here for Orthros this morning, then you heard us sing a couple of hymns.  And maybe, just maybe if you are lucky, you will hear a priest brave the briefest of homilies about this being a special feast day, about celebrating the birthday of the Church, stuff like that.  After all we have yet another service, Pentecost Vespers, after this one is over.  But to hear anyone talk about the coming of the Holy Spirit and what the Holy Spirit means for you and me today?  Good luck.

Theres good reason for this avoidance.  On the one hand we are surrounded by all this noise made all the louder by loudspeakers, made by men and women who claim to be prophets, who claim to be apostles, who claim to be bishops, who claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and therefore claim the power to heal, to prophesy, to speak in tongues. to speak - no, make that shout Gods Word.  And you know, people around us are so desperate for some sort of hope, for some sort of help, for some sort of divine intervention, for some sort of truth, for some sort of authority, for some sort  of assurance, that they flock to these so-called men or women of God and these so-called churches like children to the promise of candy.  And these preachers find a verse in the Scriptures that says what they need it to say and then promise their listeners that if they just have enough faith, God will work miracles in their life, too.  God wants to bless you, they say.  God wants you to be healthy, he wants you to prosper, he wants you to succeed, he wants you to be the best you you can possibly be!  And these preachers succeed in attracting a huge following.  And many of these preachers do become very rich, because they encourage their people to give offerings as a demonstration of their faith that God can bless them, too.  And who controls these offerings, but the pastor, who is suddenly seen driving a huge Toyota Landcruiser and living in a huge house, claiming all the while that God has blessed him, when in fact he is becoming rich off the offerings of the poor.   It should not surprise anyone that the most popular book sold in Kenya to Christians is by a health and prosperity preacher, the very rich American health and prosperity preacher Joel Osteen.  And if Mr. Osteen is the author Kenya’s Christians (those who read, at least) prefer to read, then God save the churches of Kenya.  You know, the Prophet Ezekiel in chapter 34 says that God is watching what these so-called apostles and prophets and bishops and shepherds – what these mega- ‘successful’ pastors are doing to His people, these false shepherds who fleece their flocks so that they themselves can grow fat and prosper.  Their day is coming, says Ezekiel; but we have to leave that for another time.

On the other hand, we Orthodox tend to avoid the whole issue of the Holy Spirit because we are very much in the minority here.  Kenya, indeed all of sub-Saharan Africa, has been swamped by Pentecostal teaching.  Even the so-called mainline historic denominations in Kenya are full of people whose starting points are not John Calvin or Thomas Cranmer, but John Wimber and TD Jakes. The Health and Prosperity preachers have simply followed the logical progression of their Pentecostal context.  But the root of it all is the same, what I call Classical Pentecostalism.  Pentecostalism as a movement began in Los Angeles in the US in the early 20th century.  And the Pentecostals taught, and still teach, that there are two experiences every Christian must have.  First, everyone must be ‘born againor ‘saved,as they say, by believing in Jesus and his cross for the forgiveness of your sins and you will be given a new life in Christ.  But God wants to bless everyone with a ‘Second experience, and that is where Pentecost comes in.  God wants to give every Christian supernatural power to live the Christian life.  God wants to give the gifts of the Spirit to every believer.  And just like the first Christians experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in their daily life, so we are able to experience that same power if we receive the Holy Spirit into our life or, as they put it, are baptized in the Holy Spirit.  And the sign that one has received the Holy Spirit is that everyone receives the gift of speaking in tongues.  This is not the same gift as at Pentecost, but is what they call a prayer language.  So if you can speak in tongues, youve received the baptism of the Spirit, and if you cant, you havent.

Now this is a sermon and not one of my theology classes, so I dont have time to go step by step through the Pentecostal arguments and show where theyve gone wrong.  Let me just say that at several crucial points, they twist Scripture to justify something they believe rather than allow the Scripture to mean what it means in context.

My point in mentioning all the noise coming from the health and prosperity preachers and what the Pentecostals teach about the Holy Spirit is to say: We Orthodox have become intimidated.  We look at their huge ginormous worship palaces that attract thousands of people, like the one right next door, we watch their programs on TV, we hear all their claims, we have their praise and worship music thumping in their ears, we see their slogans on matatus, and we have no answer.  Is it any surprise that we lose our young people to churches that seem more exciting? Where you can go to church and shout and sing and dance all you want? That seem to offer such relevant and helpful programs?  Who doesn’t want to become rich, or successful, or experience healing?  Their messages are so seductive, and many of us are seduced. And what are we doing?  What do we offer in response?  Pretty much nothing.  And the silence is rather deafening.

Today of all days, when we celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, we must realize that this intimidation on our part, this apathy concerning the work of the Holy Spirit on our part, this indifference to God’s agenda on our part, doesnt need to be this way; in fact it cannot continue to be this way or, if I may be honest, we will die, as a parish.  We will just wither away into total complete irrelevance.

I have three challenges for us.  First, Sts. Anargyroi parish - reclaim your inheritance.  Dont let the Pentecostals and the Health and Prosperity heretics intimidate you.   Don’t let them steal your inheritance – your Holy Spirit from you.  What the Scriptures actually teach is so much more wonderful than what these people are trying to offer.  The Holy Spirit doesnt come to make us rich.  The Holy Spirit comes to make us Jesus.  Thats what God is doing with us, with our Church – God is transforming us and empowering us to do what Jesus would do if He was standing right here.  God is empowering us to love one another, to love our neighbor, to love even our enemies the way Jesus loved.  God is sending us his Holy Spirit to make us like Jesus, so that when people see us, they see Jesus.  Reclaim your inheritance!

The second challenge is this:  you and I really need to decide to be serious.  Many of us think that attending Liturgy on Sunday is what being an Orthodox Christian is about.  But Jesus hasnt set up some religion for you to participate in.  Being an hour late for Liturgy and still thinking you’ve done your religious duty by showing up simply demonstrates that you have no idea what real, New Testament, Church Fathers, Christianity is all about.  Jesus is calling you by name to be His disciple, His follower, to stop the way you are unseriously living your life, and instead to deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow him.  It means quit fooling yourself that your lackadaisical way of coming to church is enough.  It means learning more about the Lord and His agenda by studying the Scriptures.  It means joining with others and finding ways to express the love of Christ through the different ministries of the Church.  It means instead of waiting for the Church to give you another handout, you start giving sacrificially to support the ministry of this place.  There are as many ideas of what we can do as there are people in this place.  But nothing will happen, either in your heart or in anyone else’s or in this place, unless you decided to be serious.  Unless you decide to take Jesus seriously.

Lastly, ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit.  But dont do this if you dont know what you are doing, if you arent serious about being a follower of Jesus.  Because this is spiritual dynamite.  And its a prayer that God loves to answer.  Because just like at Pentecost, the Lord has given us a call to be his disciples, a charge to be His presence – the presence of Jesus – right here in this place, and a mission to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.  And who is equal to any of this?  Thats why God sends us His Holy Spirit.  God wants to empower you, and me, and all of us, to be His People, to be the Followers of Jesus He is calling us to be, to be the presence of Jesus in this place, to take the gospel to our neighbor and our community and to everyone who has never heard or understood.  The Holy Spirit is the gift of God that makes this happen, in your life, in my life, in our church right here.  And the Holy Spirit has come to give each one of us the spiritual gifts and the spiritual power to make it happen

So whos voice have you been listening to right now.  Is it just that American preacher that we have to struggle so to understand his accent?  Or could it be that the Holy Spirit has been speaking to your heart, opening your eyes, helping you understand what God really wants to do in your life and in this place?  So, Reclaim your inheritance. Get serious about your relationship with Jesus.  Be filled with the Holy Spirit.  And, by the way, Happy Pentecost!

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.