Friday, February 10, 2012


The paintings of Jesus portray comforting images – a shep­herd, a healer of children, and a suffering servant. There is one painting we rarely see – Jesus kick­ing over tables with a whip in hand while he drives from the Temple livestock and merchants. In our con­temporary world we can imagine Je­sus as we listen to one preach before thousands, see a doctor heal the sick, and watch a leader suffer for his people. Yet, where in our contempo­rary world do we find it acceptable for fundi to kick over tables with his gum boots and to continue the con­versation with a stick in hand?

The skeptics of religion find many failings of the people of faith. How­ever, one jumps out over and over again. It is the failure to feel and express outrage at the appropri­ate time. Our outrage comes in two unacceptable extremes. The first is the destructive outrage of offended pride. Someone has slighted us and we express our frustrations. Many times our perceived slights are just that – perceived and not reality. Oth­er times there is a historic wound or just contemporary banter that has some measure of justification. Yet, our human tendency is to take a slight, nurture our wound into rage, and then either overtly or through passive/aggressive behavior seek to destroy another.

The second unacceptable extreme is to be so dulled by religion as a sedative that outrage is never felt. Nothing offends. Nothing is nur­tured, hoped for, and protected. The quaint pictures of Jesus as a shep­herd dull one’s sensibilities. Some­how, the contemporary images of a herdsman’s earthiness are too much to behold. A herdsman carrying both medicine and a weapon is too much for those whose sensibilities are dulled by the narcotic of religion.

Into the world of contemporary religion in Palestine came Jesus of Nazareth. Nothing would remain the same. Most of his time was spent in the villages, but he several times made trips to the capital. On one such occasion, at first the crowds cheered for him while not under­standing the nature of His kingdom. The praise of the children in the crowd was too much for religious profiteers.

They had a thriving business. The temple had various courts. The outer one was for those who did not share Jewish ethnicity. An ethnic minori­ty’s concerns are easy to override for personal profit. The religious lead­ers set up their own personal dukas in the Gentile Court. They took over the area designated for the ethnic minority and made a handsome per­sonal profit doing it. The scale of the commerce defies the imagination. One scholar estimated that 3,000 sheep were traded in a day.

The Old Testament communica­tors who were gifted with profound moral insight and exceptional pow­ers of expression had proclaimed over and over again that the temple was to be a gathering point for all people. Ethnic discrimination for personal profit in the name of reli­gion was repulsive to them. Howev­er, their voice had not been heard in hundreds of years.

Enter Jesus of Nazareth. The gum boots are put on. His strong legs kick over tables. He picks up a stick and drives out the livestock. His bold­ness and audacity strike fear in the marketers and they flee.

Where today do we find a Jesus follower with gum boots on kicking over tables and carrying on the con­versation with a stick in hand?

Yesterday, Leon Mugesera arrived in Kigali to face charges of making a speech in 1992 that incited the geno­cide.

Why in 1992 did no follower of Jesus have the courage to offend authorities with outrage that any mere man could compare others to cockroaches and scum? All men are made in God’s image and worthy of infinite dignity.

I suspect the answer to my ques­tion starts in much more subtle ways as we try to negotiate away outrage.

I remember reading an article in a newspaper in Uganda in 1993 comparing Rwanda women’s geni­tals to their noses. I was too cow­ardly to write a letter of outrage to an editor. Outrage can be costly as it means we may alienate our most trusted friends and family. My blog, column, Facebook, and twitter hab­its today partially reflect repentance for a lack of appropriate outrage in the past.

Approximately a year ago, a few friends of mine with whom I share a common nationality, faith, and passion for building Rwanda’s edu­cational network were in gum boot and stick mood. They had been for­tunate enough to have friends at universities in the USA willing to give Rwanda’s brightest students scholarships. In many ways with a cooperative university and a coop­erative MINEDUC it was just a de­lightful journey of helping friends talk to one another. Then came the gum boot moments – attending a university in the USA requires a visa, the visa requires an on line ap­plication, and that is followed by an interview. For the sophisticated ur­ban Kigali youthful Facebook addict it is an almost painless process. For the bright Rwandan student from the village it is a nightmare. My friends concluded that the internet system was designed to frustrate and the interviewer was simply rude and disrespectful. My friends wrote a few letters and had some point­ed conversations. They lost friend­ships among their countryman, but rested in the favor of God. I believe they represented Jesus in gum boots with a stick in hand. I’m thankful for friends willing to take the risks of Je­sus like outrage.

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