Kum Ba Yah

Syria. Egypt. Afghanistan. Russia. The illegitimate so-called Islamic State. North Korea. European nationalism and neofascism. Resurgent American militarism. It’s a dangerous world out there, and full of violence and potential violence.

The song “Kum Ba Yah” has come down to us as the epitome of head-in-the-sand hippie flower power, a sort of desperate “give peace a chance” denial of reality while all around the bullets are flying. The modern equivalent of “‘Peace! Peace!’ when there is no peace”. A milquetoast refusal to confront evil combined with an unrealistic appraisal of the likelihood of everyone putting down their guns and just being nice to one another. Hello; this is the real world calling.

In our modern cynical age it’s fallen distinctly out of favour, but it actually started life as a Christian song.

“Kum ba yah”, as I was told in ye olden days when we occasionally sang it at school, is some kind of African dialect for “come by here”; the song is a prayer for God to show up and do something. Someone’s crying, Lord. We need You.

There’s injustice happening. People with needs unmet. Prayers apparently going unanswered. Danger, famine, nakedness, sword. We need You, God; You’re our only hope.

Someone’s singing, Lord. Things are good right now, but we still need You. But for Your grace it all falls apart.

Oh Lord, kum ba yah.

And really, it sounds hippie and unrealistic, but what’s actually wrong with people and nations being nice to one another for a change? Couldn’t we all do with a bit more niceness in the world?

People that don’t just try to get whatever they can for themselves. Institutions that don’t act like the problem you’ve gone to them about is a real pain in the arse? Nations that act based on justice, respecting their neighbours and trying for a win-win solution to international problems. People the same, with their interpersonal problems.

Niceness may be underrated as a rallying-cry, but we all appreciate it when we encounter it.

Kindness. Peace. Patience with our weaknesses and failures. Not bringing the hammer down for something we may not have been fully able to help. Love, in the broad sense, not necessarily sexual or romantic.

And now this is looking a little more like the fruit of the Spirit and less like a Sixties hippie commune. Maybe – no, probably – that’s why the hippie movement failed; trying to gain peace, love and understanding by human effort rather than the Spirit of God; but you can’t deny that the impulse is a good one. Give peace a chance. Put down the sword and the gun and the tendency towards violence and oppression. Let’s all just try to get along.

Oh Lord, kum ba yah. We can’t do it without Your help. What we’re longing for in our dealings is the evidence that You’ve been at work. We confess that we’ve been infected enough with the cynicism of the age that we don’t hold out much hope for peace and justice in international affairs, but we believe You are the King of kings. You overrule the nations. The movers and shakers aren’t actually in control of world events; You are. You’re the Prince of Peace; extend Your influence not just in our lives but among the nations.

Kum ba yah.

Palm Sunday has just come and gone; the annual celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the incongruous mount of a donkey. It was a fulfilment of Scriptural prophecy of the Messiah, but more than that: the donkey symbolically stood for humility and peace, counterpointing and opposing the martial pride of a stallion or chariot. Your King comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey. The world was pretty messed-up if you were a Jew back then, just as it seems to all of us now. Evil pagans oppressing God’s people. Where are the Godly leaders? Who can make our nation great again? It wasn’t for no reason that the people shouted out “Hosanna!”

But the King being lauded isn’t a proud warrior lord, a rebel who will overthrow the evil government oppressing us and return everything back to the way it was in the good old days; He’s a Prince of Peace, humble and gentle, who will give His life to save us from the evil within us and return us to how we were meant to be in the very beginning.

Hosanna. Save us. Kum ba yah. Come, Lord.

We need You. You’re our only hope.


A Reason For The Hope

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” I Peter 3:15.

As Christians, we often think we’re pretty good at this. We have our answers, our “reasons for hope”. We’re more or less prepared to give those whenever anyone asks. But they never do, for which we’re both disappointed and relieved.

Or we’re prepared to give them whether anyone is asking or not. Blam! Another drive-by witnessing.

But on coming to this verse in my regular Bible reading, I was struck by how the context isn’t quite what I had thought it ought to be based on the spin I’d normally heard given to this verse.

The wider context is about social relationships. Slaves and masters, husbands and wives, how to relate to society at large. The particulars may vary, but the general message is to be eager to do good in order to show to the world that those who want to portray Christianity as harmful do not have a leg to stand on.

In the contemporary master/slave relationship, that meant masters being considerate and good to their slaves, and slaves being eager to obey even a harsh unbeliever. It’s not a justification of slavery, but advice on how to live like a Christian in an anti-God social system.

In the contemporary patriarchal family structure, it meant husbands behaving considerately towards their wives, and wives behaving submissively towards their husbands. Again, not a justification of patriarchy but advice on how to live like a Christian in it.

In the wider social context it meant being eager to do good. And by doing good to silence those who viewed Christians as opposed to the social order, kin to terrorists, Bad People.

The immediate context is about suffering for doing good. The bridge is “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for doing what is right, it is commendable”.

Because there are people out there who are going to persecute and oppose, even if Christians are doing good. The point is to show those who are less inherently opposed and more open to reason that followers of Jesus are people who do good. In other words, to do what Gandhi did to the British Empire: yank the moral high ground right out from underneath.

Into this context comes the instruction to “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. To not let persecution and opposition drive you away from your relationship with God in Jesus the Messiah. And only then follows Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have”.

In this context, it makes sense of something that’s always puzzled me: why do so few ask?

But in the context of a church being persecuted, harmed and killed, that responds by doing good…

Yeah. I can see how that would provoke people to ask why.

“But do this with gentleness and respect”, the verse finishes. The bit we often leave out when we quote. There should be no place in our faith for behaving like gits when we tell the truth and stand up for the Gospel. Consideration, gentleness and respect, not demonising our opponents or making gratuitous personal attacks.

Showing grace by the way we tell the truth, in other words.