Saturday, August 18, 2007


REWARD - by Vincent NNANNA

For a reward to be truly rewarding, it has to be manifold in its manifestations. It has to impact lives apart from that of the beneficiary alone. Its end result ought to be to magnify or bear testimony to the grace and glory of God. This multifarious expression of a single act of gratitude coincides with the picture as conveyed in the first Epistle of Peter, chapter 4, verse 10, which says: "As every man received the gift even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." I have highlighted four key phrases which clearly define what should be our attitude in the giving and receiving process.

Webster dictionary defines manifold as a whole that consists of many diverse elements. That is to say, a reward, like the single word it is, consists of one whole attitude that contains diverse elements. Bearing that in mind, it is important to look beyond what we would receive as reward and try to discern its component parts.

Not long ago, a surgeon friend of mine says that what gratifies him most is not the fees paid by his patients. In the save vein, he has never felt any regret by the inability of some of his clients to pay their medical bills. In each case he does maintain an equilibrate state of mind. His attitude lies in the understanding that he is only a tool in God's hand, that the manifold blessings he receives do not always come from payment of medical bills. He went further to say that the fact that most of his patients do open their mouth to outpour their feelings of gratitude to God, is always a great reward that money cannot buy. He is always elated by such simple expression like: "The Lord has done it;" "I thank God for your life, doctor;" or still, "I don't know how to thank you for what you have done to my life." To him, the honest acknowledgment of wellness humbles him beyond expression and constantly reminds him of the faithfulness of God who says: "I am the Lord that healeth thee." (Exodus 15:26b). I am persuaded by this gentleman's attitude to believe that giving does not impoverish us, neither does withholding make us richer.

In trying to comprehend the import of reward, it might be rewarding to take a cursory look at its opposite, denial. Denial has to do with withholding something that one had looked forward to receiving knowing well that he had laboured enough to deserve it in return. I do not know of any normal human being who would pretend to be cheerful in the face of apparent denial. It is natural to express anger and disappointment. These feelings only serve as escape valve for some emotional combustion that denial could build in us; they do not make amends for the denial. Often times, the reaction would vary according to the magnitude of the object or the degree of attachment, nay the premium on the reward. It is usually difficult, if not impossible to look the other party in the face and say: God bless you! Neither do men walk up to the pulpit to testify before the body of Christ as to how kindly they have been treated by someone who denied them of a reward. Like its opposite, denial also could give rise to various emotional, mental or physical, but nonetheless unpalatable reactions. It is an ill wind that blows no one good - both the perpetrator or the offended person. Rather than cement or solidify the bridge of friendship between persons, denial creates a gulf that separates even the best of friends or blood relations. It therefore, beats me hollow to understand why some outwardly serious-looking Christians would fall prey to the temptation to deliberately prefer to deny others their legitimate rewards. In so doing, they inadvertently deny God of the opportunity to receive the glory due to His holy name. When God blessed man and gave him power to subdue, as contained in the Book of Genesis, chapter one, verse 28, does that mandate include the authority to subdue and dominate or deny our fellow human beings? Maybe, we need to seek a better interpretation and understanding of our bounds and limits with regard to that command.

Without risking overflogging the issue, it might be of immense help to appreciate some of the adverse consequences that might result from denial. It can and does give rise to a feeling of discontentment; a feeling of an unexpected vacuum begging to be filled. It leads to loss of confidence. A measure of trust that took many years to cultivate, could crumble in a twinkle of an eye. Disillusionment would make someone who had held another in high esteem to begin to doubt his integrity or moral rectitude. It could make one to wonder just how much of a hypocrite a professing Christian could be.

History is replete with violent reactions resulting from denial of one sort of another. Strong empires have fallen with huge loss of lives. Micro family units and business relationships have been torn apart. The list is inexhaustive and so are the consequences. In most cases the effects have been disproportionate to the original cause.

My system always runs riot and I tremble much at the prospect of struggling daily to live up to the spirit of the Golden Rule in a positive way. I however, obtain my consolation from the Messiah's admonition immediately following the Beatitudes; Luke 6:38: "Give and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again." From the foregoing, it is clear that the reward phenomenon is preemptive. That is to say, we must first engage ourselves in some noble deed before expecting to be rewarded. This sounds like another injunction of Jesus regarding where we should store our treasures. Alas, how much we resist being meted with the same measure we have doled out to others, let alone having it shaken, pressed down and overflowing. One would have taken pitched tent on the loophole if this text had only stopped at "measuring unto you." But it categorically states that "shall men give into your bosom." This, to me, implies that what we will receive as reward will have great impact in our innermost part, the heart which is the vital organ of every human being. It goes beyond scratching on the surface. How often do we hear some aggrieved person remark that the wrong someone did had touched their heart? Were it possible that men could borrow even one phrase from the Epistle of Peter earlier referred to, such as "ministering as good stewards" in our relationship with other, there would be a world of men with manifold blessings pressed down and running over. A world where there would be no room for lack or want. Who says we cannot have absolute satisfaction in life? This is attainable because it had been our original state from creation. It is only by implicit obedience to the Scriptures can a sure return to the promised land be made possible.

Let us give impersonally and impartially. Let us act as good stewards of Him who is faithful. The Scripture says that our left hand should not know what our right hand is doing. My understanding of this passage is that we should not behave like the Pharisees who stand by the road side to sing their own praises. We ought to give without expecting anything in return, especially from our benefactors. According to one celebrated American author and religious leader, "The rich in spirit help the poor in one grand brotherhood, all having the same Principle, or Father, and blessed is the man who seeth his brother's need and supplieth it, seeking his own in another's good." (Science & Health with key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy). This appears to sum up the attitude of my surgeon friend, and is supposed to be the attitude of every man made in the image and likeness of God.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Human Right Violations in your neighbourhood

If we look back to what were considered traditional values, and the violations they imposed on certain individuals, it would not seem inappropriate to call for truth and reconciliation panels to seek redress for the victims. Obviously, some of those practices were instituted on misconceived or selfish premises. It has since become common knowledge that some of the so-called oracles that had to be consulted for pronouncement of certain impositions were themselves mere conspiracies of charlatans and criminal-minded rulers. Most of the laws were designed to keep enemies and/or suspected competitors at bay. Was it not ignorance, suspicion and fear of the unknown that prompted the oracle in Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" to decree the cold blooded murder of the white missionary and to bind his 'iron horse' to the tree lest it ran away to tell?
My mother was 12 when she had to be betrothed to a 40-year-old king from a neighbouring clan, just because she was a princess and the two kings wanted to consolidate their political treaty, using the innocent girl as a token. The cruelty she had to suffer from both sides was better imagined. On the one community, it was forbidden to accept back a female child once she had been married out. On the other, it was a taboo to keep a woman that delivered of twins. My mother was trapped between the two barbaric traditional practices, for no sooner had she settled into premature motherhood than she delivered of a set of twins. Because she was the King's wife, they did not have to carry out the prescribed custom to the letter. Otherwise, both mother and the twins would have been killed immediately. The oracle had to be consulted. The charlatan who had been eating my mother's food by virtue of his being the King's personal physician and fortune-teller had the audacity to pronounce that the twins must be killed. My mother, who had endeared herself to the King's heart, proved very stubbord for once. She had insisted on keeping her twins or die with them, knowing very well that her husband would not want to loose her either. While the controversy lasted, another consultation had to be made to see if there was a way of pacifying the gods. Unfortunately, precedents had already been set with previous elimination of many sets of twins and their mothers; and the law is no respecter of persons. This particular case proved very knotty because there was another custom that forbade any son of the land from shedding blood of any member of the royal household. Any violation of this law attracted death by sacrificing the culprit to the shrine. This impasse re-echoed the question of "who will bell the cat?" After protracted consultations amidst murmuring by impatient members of the community, the oracle reluctantly came up with a verdict of banishment of mother and the twins into the evil forest. This was a piece of land that had not been explored or exploited since time immemorial. It was there that unwanted property of dead people had to be deposited in case they would need them. People who had had to pass through that forest at noon or by night claim to have heard sound of clattering of utensils or pounding of mortar, which reinforced the notion that dead people actually carried on their activities there. Paws of wild animals like hyenas and wolves had been identified by hunters along the foot track. Only very powerful native doctors did venture into the inner parts of the forest in search of rare herbs and barks of medicinal trees. They, too, had testified to the existence of ghosts in the forest. Some even talked about a pond of fresh water which could pass for a lake. Water drawn from that lake was believed to cure stubborn diseases. But drawing from that source was not easy because all those wild animals and pythons did go there occasionally to bathe and drink from. It was into this evil forest that a teenage mother and her twins had to be banished, wearing only a piece of wrapper and nothing else.
The fact that she survived four days and nights in that jungle cast a shadow of doubt over the authenticity of the stories surrounding its evilness. She had found shelter within the cavity of a tree trunk. Her food consisted of palm-nuts, wild manioc tubers and fresh familiar leaves. She recalls that at one time during her incarceration, a pregnant antelope had ventured onto her abode and layed by her side as if to comfort her and her twins. She had felt really comforted because that was the only time she could manage to take a nap during which the neighbourly antelope had wandered away. By her third day in the forest, she had woken up to find the uncovered twins stone dead as a result of exposure to cold and insect bites. She had dug a shallow grave as far as her strength and bare hands could go and buried them. Tears and sweat from that task and the sorrow it entailed had soaked her cloth so much that she could squeeze out enough to douche up herself later. By this time, she had decided that she had no reason to remain in that god-forsaken solitude any more. Going back to her parents was out of the question because of that obnoxious custom that forbade the return of a daughter once married out. She had to risk wandering along the path to see where fate would lead her. It was at that juncture that she encountered one young man who was returning late from farm. The sorry sight of an unkempt lady who wore the distinguishing royal bead on her neck and wrist aroused the young man's curiosity. This farmer was not in the habit of passing through that road, but on that particular night, he had to because in spite of the mystery surrounding it, it was closer home, and he needed to get home fast. As they entered into conversation, it had become clear to him that she was not yet another ghost that had assumed human form to entice an unfortunate and unsuspecting victim. Her story evoked so much compassion that the young man could not resist the urge to offer her shelter even for some temporary period of time. It had been decided between them that she concealed of her regal paraphernalia in order not to attract attention and to save the young man's head. Days ran into weeks, and weeks into months, until I was born. Today, my modest bungalow is standing on the very spot where the tree that housed my mother and her twins had been. There are a dozen of other houses within the one-time evil forest. The rest are very fertile farms. One would wonder where those ghosts had moved on to. Or was it only a myth?
Now that some of those belief systems and practices are on the verge of being dismantled - thanks to religion and civilisation, what manner of restitution can adequately compensate for the wrongs they had inflicted? I do not expect an answer except to open our eyes to the fact that more heinous practices than my mother's unfortunate ordeal still abound all around us in the likeness of child slavery, forced marriages, dedication to deities, debt bondage, sex rituals purported to cure epidemics, perpetual female confinements, female genital mutilations, and a number of human right abuses; all in the name of upholding traditional values. In all these scenarios, women are the most vulnerable. I am therefore, inclined to quote a nineteenth century American writer and human rights activist, Mary Baker Eddy: "In olden times it was the Amazons who conquered the invincibles, and we must join hands with their daughters to overcome our allied enemies of evil and to save us from ourselves." (Pulpit & Press, 1925) Italics mine.