Shithole Countries: Trump’s latest remark have hung him out to dry

Mr. Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States has been an inspiration to far too many all over the world and the best part of it all is, true to character, he has absolutely no idea the effect he’s having. The conversations around dining tables, kitchens, family rides and or any other place families get together to share a moment all over the United States – and I dare say, all over the world – might have been centered on Donald ever since he was sworn in as the President of America. “If He [somebody like that] could make it up there, then you too [my little darling] can also make it.” You can imagine parents telling their young ones.

He’s not been one shy of controversy; always making silly headline-grabbing remarks on sensitive issues of international importance or engaged in a literal who’s-got-a-bigger-dick twitter back-and-forth with Kim Jong Un – the supreme leader of North Korea, or calling all media outlets who muster the courage to punch holes into his often incendiary [in]actions “Fake News” or … something childlike like those.

160503_POL_trump-president.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2

I must say, at times, its been a joy to watch Americans twitch and bury their heads in their palms whenever Mr. Trump picks his phone, opens the Twitter App and steps into character: yet another shocking, immature and frankly humiliating 280-character rant with the relish of a schoolmarm passing on facts of life to her brood. He’s been a national embarrassment Americans would rather the rest of the world never saw.

Sorry lads! You voted him into power… Haha!!! Deal with it.

For the first time in American history, it’s become commonplace to have somebody question a sitting President of America’s mental health and Trump keeps doing very little pull the plugs on his drivels and his ever-decreasing approval ratings. He has zanily called himself a genius on an odd number of occasions in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary which, were he not so klutzy, would have noticed by now.

Out of his carefully selected deliciously inventive panoply of insults, Mr. Donald Trump on Thursday (Jan. 11, 2018), in a meeting with senators and House members on immigration, asked this: “Why do we want all these people from ‘shithole countries’ coming here?”

…and Yep! He said “Shithole Countries” – apparently in reference to countries in Africa and Haiti. And that was a new all-time low. Heck, even by Donald Trump’s unbelievably low standards.

I honestly feel the maddening part of someone like Trump calling Africa a ‘shithole’ isn’t necessarily the fact that he called African countries shitholes because really, these countries all have their peculiar and not so peculiar problems. That is instructive to note. I’m not really concerned about semantics and diplomatic talk especially in relation to Trump because let’s face it, he probably hasn’t cracked open a dictionary to find out what diplomacy means in his life. I would have been so bothered, were it not for him. That’s fine.

His shithole descriptor isn’t insulting absolutely but it is the fact that if Trump started where my parents started or where many first-generational African immigrants started, he could never have accomplished what most of them have accomplished in their personal lives never mind step into the oval office.

He has been educated above his intellect: for someone with the intellect of a remedial sixth grader, earning a college degree would have been unthinkable were he not so white and privileged. Everything he has has been given to him on a proverbial silver platter. He has been intoxicated by the numbing comforts of entitlements; emblematic of white privilege – the fact the world allows certain people to live with far lower standards than everyone else and then hold others to very high standards. How on earth would an African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American or any other demographic become a President of the United States of America with such poor written or spoken vocabulary and reasoning?

US-President-Donald-Trump-speaks-during

So the real insult is the fact that someone like that gets to dehumanize African immigrants in such a derogatory manner. Someone who’s not had to fight for a single thing he has and [has] no idea of what it is to struggle.

I don’t think the conversation should be centered on the ‘Africa is beautiful too’ narrative where we start to posture and take a few images of Trasacco valley, Airport Residential Area in Accra, Victoria and Banana Islands in Lagos by jumping on the ‘Africa the media doesn’t show you’ bandwagon. That simply is not accurate and it absolves most of the poor leaders of these countries of any blame.

The truth of the matter is, Africa is more of a shithole than it’s not. Those photogenic places you capture to swing the argument to the other side of the pendulum make less than 5%(conservative estimate) of the actual cities they are in and are hardly representative of the general state of the said countries. Also, those who lead the conversation from the west are mostly privileged Africans who lead relatively luxurious lives over their often-short vacations in festive seasons and are insulated from what the average African who lives in Africa experiences on a daily. Life for the majority of Africans in Africa isn’t what life really is supposed to be. It’s tough out there. These politicians can’t nitpick these convenient moments of outrage and pretend all is well in their countries. Fix up, Sirs!

That being said…

The real conversation should be the fact that African immigrants have a record of excelling in the US. African-Americans have been statistically proven to be the highest educated demographic in America. The average Nigerian-American over 25 years has two degrees and earns more than the average White-American. Africans emigrate to the States and excel in Engineering, Law, medicine, and commerce – their shithole descent notwithstanding.

Africans immigrants from shithole countries often do far better and are more capable of brilliance and making a positive contribution to the fabric of American life than Donald J Trump ever would.

America has a well-documented record of immigrants from ‘shithole countries’ doing well but unfortunately, they have President who isn’t only intellectually inept and morally bankrupt but is deeply ignorant and flawed in his thinking… and worse still, there are people who buy into his thinking.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

Thomas Jefferson  

The United States of America has always been a nation of immigrants and in that, prides itself as the greatest nation on earth. It is a nation that derives its strength from its diversity. This was underscored in the declaration of independence: Land of the free, home of the brave. Donald Trump’s latest statement betrays the very core principles on which America was founded and maybe … just maybe, his words have finally hung him out to dry.

Advertisements

Own Goal: Messi’s Brilliance may have let Ronaldo back into the ‘Greatest Ever’ debate

Just in case you’ve been living in a bubble for the best part of the last decade, please be informed that the rivalry between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi is a pretty serious affair, to the extent that it even has its own dedicated Wikipedia page — uh-huh, that serious.

Few are certain exactly when it all began, but the first whispers of a grudge must have been heard when the pair flanked Brazilian Kaka for the 2007 Fifa World Player of the Year prize. Back then, Messi was that kid with the hair that fell to his shoulders while Ronaldo was still some way off from being the impressive physical specimen he currently is, but almost everyone could tell the foreseeable future belonged to them. And it has.

kakamessironaldo-cropped_1js04z5mcq44w10i0u629pis0s
Where it all began | Kaka, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo pose with their Golden, Silver and Bronze balls respectively in 2007

Since that night at the Zurich Opera House, official recognition for the planet’s finest footballer in whatever format — Ballon d’Or, Fifa Player of the Year, the version that resulted from a brief romance between those two awards, or the latter-day The Best Fifa Men’s Player — hasn’t gone to any other footballer but them. As has become the norm, if Ronaldo doesn’t depart with a satisfied grin at the end of an annual awards gala, Messi would. It’s been that simple: a straight two-man fight with no third parties involved.

It gathered momentum when, shortly after the pair clashed in the final of the 2009 Uefa Champions League, Ronaldo made a long-anticipated switch to Spanish giants Real Madrid. The move seemed perfect for the rivalry’s fast-growing following. Having both players in the same league, playing nearly the same opponents each season, and featuring either side of a fine line that would vividly highlight their many contrasts — the arrangement couldn’t have been more ideal.

Initially, though, it was no fun, at least for one faction. The first few years of their stay together wasn’t much of a contest; if anything, it was a gross mismatch, one that swung heavily Messi’s way. Three consecutive Ballons d’Or/Player of the Year gongs (henceforth referred to in this article as ‘BPY’) were grabbed by Messi, with Ronaldo looking a little less pleased each time he stood next to his nemesis playing bridesmaid. And that isn’t mere assumption on this writer’s part.

“I’m not going to hide from you that I was sad and angry,” Ronaldo confessed to Ballon d’Or organizers France Football regarding that frustrating period, after winning the latest edition of the prize. “I went to the award ceremonies and I never won. At one point, I was even demotivated. I had no desire to go. To be there for the photo didn’t interest me.”

Lionel-Messi-and-Cristiano-Ronaldo-main
Lionel Messi and Cristiano have dominated World football’s most valuable individual awards for a decade now

The ‘best-of-our-time-or-just-maybe-best-ever’ debate seemed well and truly over even at that early stage, with the petite Argentine delivering the knockout to claim a seemingly unanimous decision. But just when all — especially the pro-Ronaldo fans — were off to bed, the tall Portuguese stepped up with one last card up his sleeves. Actually, it had been handed him by Messi — or, to use a phrase more apt in a poker setting, Messi showed his hand.He did so in the 2011/12 season, by some distance his most prolific as a footballer. Barcelona won neither La Liga nor Uefa Champions League that term, but Messi netted 73 times to win the BPY, going on to finish with an unprecedented 91 goals for the calendar year. So celebrated was that feat, it might just be the most outstanding of Messi’s many achievements. It was a statement, too, perhaps a golden signature to put the argument to rest once and for all. For Ronaldo, though, it was his cue — an inspiration to consider the battle, regardless of the 4-1 deficit incurred at the time, just started.

You see, between Ronaldo and Messi, one is generally considered the better footballer, while the other is deemed little more than a scoring machine — I’d leave you to decide who is tagged what. Or rather, to arrive at the crust of this article quicker, I’d just point Messi out as the former and Ronaldo the latter so we can move on. Goals had always mattered in this particular match-up, but Messi’s 2012 haul took them to all-new levels of importance. While admirably raising the bar, Messi had unwittingly reduced the feud to a matter of goalscoring, something Ronaldo had a reputation for doing slightly better. The watching world had taken note and, surely, Ronaldo couldn’t have failed to do same.

Over the years, he’d likely also learned that goals matter, not just in their numbers nor for their aesthetic value, but for sheer worth. Until that point, Messi’s had won Barça lots of titles, while Ronaldo’s had only propelled him through the scoring charts at the Santiago Bernabeu, with little reward for his employers. Since then, however, he’s roared his way back into the competition, bridging the gap and finally drawing level with Messi this year on five BPY crowns apiece. With four BPYs in five years (Messi got one back in 2015 to maintain some relevance), it’s quite fair to say Ronaldo has dominated the latter half of his rivalry with Messi in much the same stunning fashion the Rosario-born held sway earlier on.

It’s certainly helped that Ronaldo has outscored Messi in three seasons out of the ensuing five (hitherto, he’d never managed that feat even once in the duo’s stay together in Spain) but, more decisively, he’s turned up big in the most significant games. He’s been instrumental, the chief goal-getter, in each of Madrid’s last three European conquests. Last season was a classic example. Messi had been the more consistent scorer in the Champions League right up to the crucial quarter-final clash with Juventus, only to fizzle out in both legs as the Italians romped to a 3-0 aggregate triumph. Ronaldo, on the other hand, had been uncharacteristically blunt in the earlier rounds but sprung to life toward the end, hitting 10 goals in the last five games of that memorable run to glory, including two in the final’s drubbing of Juve. The trend has continued somewhat this season. While Messi’s chart-leading 13 goals in the league have Barça top and are nine better than Ronaldo’s surprisingly paltry tally thus far, the latter’s return in the far more esteemed Champions League is way higher (nine already, including strikes in each of the six group games contested) than Messi’s. Should Ronaldo keep scoring, doing so especially when the platform is biggest and the lights are brightest, Messi would struggle to keep up?

631276-cristiano-ronaldo-ballon-d-or-2017-afp
Cristiano Ronaldo is now tied with Lionel Messi on 5 Balon D’or awards each

And it wouldn’t be anyone’s fault but his. Messi might still score the more reel-worthy goals, have a better comprehension of the team ethos, and even actually score more, but Ronaldo’s ‘selfish’ streak in the final third and greater ability to rise to the occasion would still tick the most boxes in the ‘goals’ column and grant him an advantage.

So if ever, after a Ronaldo BPY coronation (and one can’t help but feel there’s more of that on the way for the former Manchester United man, even at the ripe age of 32), a Messi fan insists the argument is really more about who the ‘greatest’ footballer is than about which forward has mastered the art of [effective] goalscoring better between the two, do remind him that their own little sweetheart changed the rules and lost the edge with that landmark scoring feat of his six years ago. He couldn’t help himself at the time as he was in the form of his life, of course, but, hindsight, he didn’t really help himself. Messi inadvertently aided Ronaldo instead and, after his freshly awarded fifth Ballon d’Or, the Sporting Lisbon graduate couldn’t be more grateful.

Once King; Now President: George Weah finally gets the Big Win with Liberia

Till date, he remains the only African to have won the coveted Ballon d’Or and Fifa Player of the Year prizes, and on Thursday, December 28, Liberian football great George Weah added to his enviable collection of feats.

Later this month, (January 2018) when Liberia’s new president is sworn in, there’d be a new name splashed on the door of the Executive Mansion’s top office: Weah’s. It’s an honor due him — only the third footballer to lead a country and the second from Africa — after he won the run-off of the 2017 presidential election. Success comes 12 years after he first contested the seat, and he’s spent the period following that loss to incumbent Ellen Johnson Sirleaf earnestly raising his stock: earning his first academic degrees, temporarily taking his political ambitions down a notch to vice-presidential level (also failed), and triumphing at senatorial polls.

But now Weah is here. In the big time. Finally.

Liberians won’t find it too difficult adapting to the idea of ‘President Weah’, once ‘King George’; they elected him after all, and by quite a margin. For the rest of the planet, though, the idea of Weah walking the same corridors as the Trumps, Mays, Putins, and Zumas of this world is a strange one that would definitely take some getting used to.

maxresdefault
WEAH | He has never been afraid of the extra challenge

Indeed, for the rest of the planet, Weah would remain what he’s always been: a global soccer icon — Africa’s biggest yet, surely — and a living testament to football’s ability to transform lives for the better. Weah, the kid raised by his grandmother in one of the poorest parts of Liberia’s capital, rose to be ranked among the very best, most formidable footballers on the planet in his time. At the peak of his powers — circa 1995 — there was none better, as the achievements mentioned at the outset suggest. However, Liberia itself features little in any story written of Weah’s career and would be reduced to something of a footnote on his CV. Watch any highlight reel of ‘Weah’s Greatest Hits’ and chances are you wouldn’t see too many clips of him strutting in a Lone Stars shirt. He’d be remembered more for starring at AS Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan, and — even in the final laps of his run at the highest level — Chelsea/Manchester City/Olympique Marseille, but the grandest he ever came close to accomplishing for his country was qualification to the 2002 Fifa World Cup. In the end, he and his team came agonizingly short during the said quest, missing the train to Japan/Korea by a single point.

It certainly wasn’t for want of effort. Few players would ever influence and carry their national team as heavily as Weah did Liberia. Captain, coach, and even benefactor when circumstances demanded, Weah was as big a figure for Liberia off the pitch as on it. There really was little else he could do for his country that he didn’t and, to his credit, Weah never held back. His stellar career ended in 2003, but Weah hadn’t given up on achieving some form of success with Liberia, even if away from the field. Just two years later, he made an audacious bid for the presidency, on the ticket of the self-led Congress for Democratic Change. Incredibly, he won the first round (though not by enough votes to secure victory outright), beating the more experienced, Harvard-educated Sirleaf — only to suffer a reversal of fortunes in the second round.

Weah bitterly disputed the decisive results but eventually resigned himself to reality, withdrew a little into the background to construct a bigger profile for himself, and returned for a second bite of the cherry this year. This time, though, there was to be no surrendering his first round advantage, defeating Sirleaf’s No.2 Joseph Boakai quite comprehensively.

1790f672b2632cc8c154c871dc237ebd
WEAH | Captain, Leader, Warrior, King… Now President

And so Weah is president-elect — now what?

Well, Liberians would certainly have high hopes, despite concerns about his ties with the former head of state and warlord — now incarcerated in Britain but still very powerful in the realm of his nation’s politics — Charles Taylor (Taylor’s ex-wife Jewel is Weah’s running-mate). Football and politics do share parallels, but Weah would be delusional to think excelling in the latter is as easy as leading 10 other men in the former. His new responsibilities would test every muscle of his, stretch him more than any game of football ever could. In a venture that has brought out the worst in even the very best, potentially plummeting the approval ratings of even the most popular, the patriot in Weah and his fame alone wouldn’t be enough for political success.

He need not be told just what would be required to deliver. He asked for this — his big chance to finally win big with Liberia.

He certainly has it now.

Nigeria’s Art of Flowery Language

In a series of letters from African journalists to the BBC, novelist Tricia Adaobi Nwaubani touched on the art of Nigerian verbosity.  First published on BBC Africa on February 5, 2017.

By: Tricia Adaobi Nwaubani

My friends in the international media are perplexed by the flowery language often used in press releases from Nigerian officials.

The pretentious diction, dying metaphors, and padded sentences would make George Orwell somersault in his grave.

Take, for example, this paragraph from a press release by the Nigerian parliament:

“The seminar is aimed at making good the promise of the National Assembly that we are on the same page with the President Buhari led administration and in line with the legislative agenda, that there is a synergy between the National Assembly and the Presidency in the fight against corruption.

“It is to reaffirm the point that you cannot clap with one hand. It is our way of saying that there must be a legislative strength to back the anti-corruption stance of the present administration.”

Here is another example, this time a paragraph from a Nigerian military press release:

“The Nigerian Army in synergy with other security agencies under its constitutional mandates… acted responsively in order to de-escalate the deteriorating security scenario in-situ.

“Instructively, the military and other security agencies exercised maximum restraints against the odds of provocative and inexplicable violence that were employed against them…

“It is rather inconceivable for any individual or group to have decided to inundate the general public with an anecdote of unverified narratives in order to discredit the Nigerian Army in the course of carrying out its constitutional duties despite the inexplicable premeditated and unprovoked attacks…”

Such long-winded passages can also be found in the local press, which commonly use expressions such as “the remains of the deceased have been deposited in the mortuary”, “men of the underworld”, “hoodlums” and “tantamount to insubordination”.

question-mark-2123969__340

Foreigners wonder why Nigerian government officials do not opt for simpler language.

Are they intentionally trying to confuse the public or to conceal information?

Well, these press releases are simply following an age-old Nigerian tradition of verbal ornamentation.

For us, important information has always been best conveyed with grandiloquence.

Writing a love letter

Back in my teenage years, long before the era of texting and sexting, there was only one way for a Nigerian boy to prove his sincere feelings for a girl: By writing a love letter.

Any boy serious about catching the attention of the girl he fancied knew better than to do it in simple English. He had to find the right big words.

exam-success

If his vocabulary was lacking, there was always that nerdish classmate of his who, for a fee in cash or kind, could take on the role of scribe plenipotentiary.

Either that or the boy could copy verbatim from a love letter already written by someone else.

And so, the typical love letter that many of us Nigerian girls received went something like this:

“My dearest, sweetest, most magnificent, paragon of beauty, I hope this letter finds you in a current state of sound body and mind.

“My principal reason for writing this epistle is to gravitate your mind towards an issue that has been troubling my soul.

“Even as I put pen to paper, my adrenalin is ascending on the Richter scale, my temperature is rising, the mirror in my eyes have only your divine reflection, the wind vane of my mind is pointing north, south and east at the same time.

“Indeed, when I sleep, you are the only thought in my medulla oblongata and I dream about you…”

If these sweet nothings were from a boy in whom you had absolutely no interest, the thing to do was to set his letter ablaze, enclose the ashes in an envelope and promptly return to sender.

Nigeria’s notorious 419 internet scammers adopted this same tradition of using high-sounding words.

Persuading gullible foreigners to part with millions of dollars and pounds is serious business, definitely not a task for everyday words and simple sentences.

A typical excerpt from a 419 scam letter reads something like this:

“Dear Sir,

“I do not come to you by chance.

“Upon my quest for a trusted and reliable foreign businessman, I was given your contact by the Nigerian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. I hope that you can be trusted to handle a transaction of this magnitude.

“It is risk-free, as all modalities have been put in place for a smooth and successful conclusion.

“Thus, I crave your distinguished indulgence and honest cooperation to guarantee that this mutual transaction will be executed under a legitimate agreement that will benefit you and lend credence to my humble belief in your honesty and trustworthiness.”

Like the 419 scammers and the love-struck lads, many Nigerian government officials choose the path of verbosity, expansiveness, and repetition in their press releases.

Of course, it is tempting to, as usual, blame the British for all this, for bringing us their English language and their pen and paper.

But then, communication was not any less complicated in the days before Nigerians learned to write press releases in English.

‘Wear out your listeners’

As veteran Nigerian journalist and author Peter Enahoro noted in his 1966 classic, How to be a Nigerian, the power of Nigerian oratory is measured by the strength of the speaker’s legs – and what better way to ensure that your speech never ends than to punctuate every sentence with a proverb or parable about the tortoise or the monkey.

According to Enahoro: “A sprinkling of logical conclusions is permissible but not vital… If there are two ways of making a point, one short, the other long, plug for the longer route… The idea is to wear out your listeners because the power of your oratory will be determined by the strength of your endurance.

“If your listeners save their sanity and survive you, then you have made a poor speech.”

Despite modern technology, the general rules of Nigerian communication have obviously not changed much since Enahoro’s observations.

Many still hold on to the ancient belief that complexity of message is proof of power, intellect, and influence.

That supposed proof is probably more important to the Nigerian government official than whether or not you understand what he is trying to say.

Now that the chips are down, Defiant Black Stars must earn their keep

No rally, no barrage, just a meek wilt, and surrender: The Black Stars have a lot of soul-searching to do going forward.

Defiance.

It’s not the worst tool in the box, but it could be when wielded wrongly.

Three years ago, Ghana’s senior national team misused it spectacularly, defying the powers-that-be — and logic itself — in holding the nation to ransom at the Fifa World Cup in Brazil, refusing to play a minute of football till huge appearance fees owed them were paid in full.

It was a show of defiance the boys would get condemned for by their countrymen; an ill-timed, ill-advised display of guts they’ll pay for till this hurt and scarred generation is replaced by the next. The Black Stars have tried all they could in quest of redemption: they’ve been contrite, resolute, even brilliant on occasion. Heck, they even attempted winning the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations — coming desperately close, in fact — just to reclaim some love!

Black-STARS111

What they hadn’t tried, though, was the one thing which got them entangled in this mess in the first place: defiance. They had a couple of chances building up to this failure to secure a World Cup berth in Russia next year to right their wrongs and perhaps warm their way into the hearts of Ghanaians again; the first – most probably the biggest – of which came against Rwanda in their final Afcon 2017 qualifier. It wasn’t an opportunity they were expecting, however, only one afforded them unwittingly by the Ministry of Youth and Sports’ reluctance to provide the usual luxuries on offer when international assignments were due.

Armed with the excuse that Ghana’s place at the following year’s Nations Cup in Gabon had already been booked, and that the result versus the visiting Amavubi would be no threat to the hosts’ position as Group H leaders/winners, the State arbitrarily decided to withhold funds allocated to be spent on the players’ ticket fares from their respective stations overseas (reasoning that such expenses could be spared if local players were called up instead, for the game) while slashing the usual winning bonus in half.

Were the already invited foreign-based professionals going to be coughing up their own travel costs? And were they even going to bother being at their best in a game which offered so ‘little’ in any actual gain (financial or otherwise)?

Well, to their credit, they did — and an expression of bloody-minded defiance was key, though for all the right reasons this time. The boys didn’t just show up against the Rwandans. They came with intent to win — even if Grant didn’t exactly put his strongest team out there, perhaps in assessing what alternatives he had with respect to squad depth ahead of an upcoming Russia 2018 qualifying game — and only a late equaliser from the east Africans robbed Ghana of a third straight home win in the Afcon 2017 qualifying series.

Not everyone was impressed, of course; an overwhelming majority of Ghanaians probably still considered the team a bunch of spoilt brats ever so willing to have their way. Still, they’d won some over, hadn’t they?

One venue the Black Stars felt they commanded a fair bit of goodwill was the Tamale Stadium which was going to be the ground the team was hoping get their World Cup Qualifying campaign off to a brilliant start. It wasn’t to be, as the doggedness of their first group opponents – the Cranes of Uganda – coupled with the harsh afternoon sun as one would expect at any venue in Northern Ghana – temperatures topping 37˚C as some points – meant the best Ghana could get from that game was a goalless soulless draw.

Not the kind of result you’d expect from a team with any fighting chance of making a Mundial more so, when Egypt – also housed in the same group and have been absent that the world stage for nearly three decades – was breathing down their necks, hellbent on wrestling that sole ticket the group had to offer from Ghana. A subsequent, almost inevitable defeat to Egypt in Alexandria were all the signs the Nation needed to realise situation was dire and that the time had come for everybody to put their shoulder to the plough and rescue our ‘beloved’ Black Stars from the quicksand it was in however traitorous we feel the team had been in the past.

FBL-AFR-2013-BUR-GHA-MATCH30

The nonchalance and a resolve not to forgive the players by a large section of the Ghanaian media and the general populace might have overstayed their welcome and probably left a tad bit too late when the final nail was all but driven into the Stars’ coffin after yet another damning draw at home to group minnows Congo Brazzaville. Now, with nothing to play for, a new-look Black Stars’ fight and defiance in Kampala in the penultimate group game won a few more admirers and left many feeling they could have done a bit more to help the team fight. Ghana has now finished the 2018 World Cup Qualifying series in third place – behind Egypt and Uganda – drawing four, winning one and losing the other.  Now the chips are down. Time to dress the wounds and pick the best balm to soothe and bring some relief going forward.

If the team’s rebelliousness in the past implied they didn’t give a damn about national interests, they’ve now oozed the same trait to show they do care after all.

With so many more battles to be fought — versus a fandom which remains largely skeptical of the Stars’ motives, a sports ministry growing increasingly hostile towards the team, and an FA caught in-between — in going forward, they’d have to ooze some more of that.

Defiance.

Teach Us To Number Our Days Oh Lord!

Being unable to cure death, wretchedness, and ignorance men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things.”(1)

It is a rare gift, in this age of distractions, to have five minutes to rest and reflect. Recently, I had the opportunity to take an entire afternoon and do nothing. I was sat in the botanical gardens of the University of Ghana, Legon, Accra surrounded by huge trees, and the singing of birds. As I looked out over the contrasting horizon of azure sky and the green earth, I was struck by my own insignificance—something I rarely allow myself to think about as I routinely fill my days with a kind of busyness to make me feel important. That topography of sky and bird and the greenery had been there long before I arrived and would surely remain long after I had departed—both from my visit and upon my departure from this world.

14132568613_881f048539_b

Despite this more sobering thought, the gift of undistracted space nourished me. I could revel in the symphony of songbirds all around me; marvel at the cataclysmic forces of nature that formed the mountains and valleys around the globe. I could wonder at my place in the vastness of the creation and feel my smallness and my transience. Having this kind of time to sit and to reflect is a rarity, and was just as fleeting as the birds that flew around me.

Though writing hundreds of years ago, Blaise Pascal serves as a prophet for this contemporary age. With the transience of life and the specter of death facing all, most seek lives of distraction. Whether or not we recognize that the fear of death is an underlying, albeit unconscious motivation, we nevertheless recognize how often we fill our lives in order to obscure these realities. Whether it is in juggling endless priorities, the relentless busyness of our age, or perpetual media noise, our lives are so full that we rarely find space or time to reflect honestly about anything. Particularly in this day and age, mindless consumption numbs us to the eventuality of our mortal condition and our finitude. The advertising industry is not unaware of our propensity to consumptive distraction. Marketers spent over 295 billion dollars in total media advertising in 2007.(2) Perhaps they know that humans mistakenly equate vitality with the ability to consume.

It is easy to understand how the fear of death and suffering would compel human beings to live lives of distraction. Yet, the cost of that distraction is a pervasive and deadening apathy—apathy not simply as the inability to care about anything deeply, but the diminishment for engagement that comes from caring about the wrong things. Kathleen Norris laments:

It is indeed apathy’s world when we have so many choices that we grow indifferent to them even as we hunger for still more novelty. We discard real relationships in favor of virtual ones and scarcely notice that being overly concerned with the thread count of cotton sheets and the exotic ingredients of gourmet meals can render us less able to care about those who scrounge for food and have no bed but the streets.

The ancient Hebrew poets, while meditating on the brevity of life, prayed: Teach us to number our days that we may present to you a heart of wisdom. It was the inevitability of death that motivated this prayer for wisdom. This was a wisdom that didn’t try to hide from the realities of life—be they joys or sorrows—but rather sought to keep finitude ever before it. Indeed, the poem ends with a cry for God to confirm the work of human hands. Whether a cry of despair over finitude or a cry of affirmation, numbering life’s days can lead to meaningful engagement in the world and in human work—and this was the mark of wisdom.

end

As I pondered the beauty around me, I thought of dear loved ones, both family, and friends, who will not look on this earthly horizon anymore. I counted myself among them for one day my own eyes will cease to behold this kind of earthly beauty. Despite the temptation to disengage or distract myself from the pain of these thoughts, contemplation reminded me that I too must number my days. In dealing with significant loss and pain it is certainly understandable how one would long for escape, but facing mortality and attending to it is the way to develop a heart of wisdom. Only then can one be open to the possibility of meaning and confirmation.

Jesus, himself, faced his own death with intention and purpose. “I am the Good Shepherd…and I lay down my life for the sheep… No one has taken it away from me, but I lay it down on my own initiative.”(3)

READ: MAKING CHRIST KNOWN

The way of wisdom demonstrated in the life of Jesus gives flesh and new possibility to the ancient psalmist’s exhortation. As he numbered his days, he calls those who would follow to engage mortality as a catalyst for purposeful, actual living. While following Jesus insists on laying down our lives in his service, it can be done in the hope that creation’s abundant life is truly made new even in the darkest of places. For the one who laid his life down is the one who was raised. He is the one who declared, “I am the resurrection and the life; the one who believes in me will live even though he dies.”

 

 

(1) Blaise Pascal, Pensees, (New York: Penguin Books:, 1966), 37.
(2) As referenced by Allan Sloan in “Fuzzy Bush Math,” CNN Money, September 4, 2007, money.cnn.com, accessed October 15, 2009.
(3) John 10:14a-18.

Making Christ Known

Author John Stackhouse describes the discipline of “apologetics” as the Christian work of commending the faith as much as it is about defending the faith.(1) Commending the faith, he argues, is something the Christian community does wherever it is—with one another, with neighbors, with the world. Consequently, it is also something the Christian community does whether they are aware of it or not.

14404-jesus-sky-easter-three-crosses-sunrise-sunset-dark-wide.1200w.tn

In his sermon before the Areopagus, the apostle Paul commended the gospel with reason and rhetoric that would not have gone unrecognized. This is the good news, he professed, and the good life depends on it. To the Athenian philosophers, he commended the gospel in terms that mattered deeply to them. “Since we are God’s offspring,” he said quoting an Athenian poet, “we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.”(2) For on the contrary, he told them, the real and present Deity is now calling people everywhere to turn around and come near.

The apostle then followed this bold notion with a proof that would have caused as much, if not more, commotion in first century Athens as in hyper-rational modernity and cynical post-modernity. We know that God is the true creator, sustainer, and friend, he reasoned, because God “has given this proof… by raising [Christ] from the dead.”(3) Paul is telling the story of God in the world here, but he is also telling his own story. This Deity he commends to the Athenian philosophers is the risen Christ who appeared to him on Damascus road, who became friend instead of foe, and turned his own philosophy and consequently his life around.

Paul’s use of the resurrection as proof of all he has proclaimed to the Athenians is interesting on several levels. To begin with, while the apostle clearly sought to ground his Mars Hill message on a common foundation, he ended with a proof that must have seemed to some like a foreign tidal wave. For the Athenians, resurrection of the body was absurd and unreasonable, as much of an obstacle to them as the scandalizing cross to men and women of Jerusalem. While the philosophers of the Areopagus may have believed in the immortality of the soul, the body was what confined and imprisoned this soul. In their minds, there was a radical distinction between matter and spirit. Bodily resurrection did not make any more sense than a god with a body. For the Athenians, and indeed for all of us, this very proof required a radical turn of heart, mind, soul, and body. For some, this babbler’s new teaching was immediately labeled absurd. When they heard of this resurrection of the dead, reports Luke, there were scoffs and sneers.

 

Yet Paul’s apologetic, which was carefully researched, powerfully worded, and respectfully delivered, was not here ending on a careless note. On the contrary, he was ending with the chorus itself. For Paul, all of the words uttered up until this point would merely be noise had they not come from this very refrain. For if Christ has not been raised, both preaching and faith itself is useless, as he said elsewhere. Though it would have been a foreign language to the crowd at the Areopagus, Paul commended the resurrection as the very proof of his apologetic—for the entirety of his message was authoritative only and specifically because the resurrection had indeed occurred. Authors Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon note the central task of commending the Gospel: “Our claim is not that this tradition will make sense to anyone or will enable the world to run more smoothly. Our claim is that it just happens to be true. This really is the way God is. This really is the way God’s world is.”(4) For Paul, and for the apologist, the important Christian act of finding common ground must never involve burying what is real and living: Christ is risen from the dead.

319fb5b6643b4edecfa4622a2a2e3eb3

This single event is the theological core of Paul’s identity and his highest apologetic. It is also the very pillar which makes abundantly clear that the true work of apologetics does not belong to Christians. Writes Stackhouse, “Spiritual adepts throughout the ages warn us that mere argument accomplishes little even within our own hearts.”(5) No one knew this better than the apostle Paul, who would never have otherwise considered Jesus anymore than one to despise: the work of conversion belongs to the Holy Spirit.

Thus, there were many at the Areopagus that day who sneered at Paul’s philosophical conclusions. There were also many who responded in the same manner they responded to any teaching considered at the Areopagus—namely, with fascination, with discussion, and with barren hearts and minds. But likewise, there were a number who believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.(6) By the grace of God, the risen Christ was commended and the obstacles that kept him from sight were overcome.

Slice of Infinity RZIM

(1) The discipline of apologetics derives its name from the Greek word apologia, meaning defense. “Always be ready to give an answer (apologia) to anyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).
(2) Acts 17:29.
(3) Acts 17:31.
(4) Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989), 101.
(5) John Stackhouse, Jr. Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 82.
(6) cf. Acts 17:34.