24 06 2010

I was a third year at The University [of Virginia], or who most colleges would deem, a junior.  Super-excited about this class that would unlock a door to my ancestors’ religious landscape; I soaked in every word my professor spoke.

He knew so much.

And I marveled.

Because he was a white man.

His white skinned had graced my continent and my country more times than my dark skin had. 

His Western-white accent had had many more conversations with my people than I had.  Even though I knew more of them than he did, he had spoken and lived amongst many more.

“Yoruba Religion” the course was boldly named.  This course would teach me everything about me, everything about my ancestor’s religion before Christianity, everything. I was excited, but mostly about learning when my ancestors finally “got it right” and became Christians.

We learned about many orisha, or gods in Yoruba tradition. We learned about “Esu”, the mediating god. We learned about “Shango”, the god of war who could possess someone with extreme strength. We learned about “Osun”, the goddess of water. It all fascinated me. My parents never taught me this and it was refreshing to learn a little bit about the history of religion for my people.

We learned about the minor deities. We learned about the diviners, the priests. We even learned some detail about what we being posessed, claimed, changed, affected. We learned about everything and everyone except for the One I was waiting for.

So I waited and waited for Him, for Jesus. We learned that “Oludumare” or “Olorun” was God. I kind of knew that from home. My professor spoke of “Oduduwa” who helped established the first Yoruba kingdom and from whom Yoruba people descended. So I assumed, that he was the One I was waiting for.

I assumed he was the Jesus figure. I wanted him to be the Jesus figure. Because Africa needs Jesus. Their gods need to be erased so that Jesus can be.

“So if Olorun is like God, who is Oduduwa like?” I asked my professor.

“Well, he’s Oduduwa. He’s not really equated to anyone.”


“Yes. He is his own legend.”


And then it hit me. The colonizing affects of Christianity had taken hold of me and I hadn’t even realized it. I was so focused on converting these orisha into the right Christian parallel, that I minimized their significance on their own.

Why couldn’t I let Oduduwa be his own legend?

Do I follow him, no. But why must I colonize him?

Jesus is Jesus and “Oduduwa” is “Oduduwa”. Maybe I should leave “Oduduwa” to be part of the religious history of Yoruba people and leave it at that. Maybe a Christian urge to eliminate Yoruba religion is that colonizing Christianity I hate so much. Unfortunately, to many Jesus is a murderous force who came with guns, and weaponry, and  language of mastery and intent to colonize.

So maybe some Yoruba feel better believing in “Oduduwa” or other orisha. I can’t blame them. And I hope that one day they will see that Jesus isn’t clothed in the colonization that He was presented in. Maybe I will shed my ignorance and stop trying to equate Jesus to a Yoruba legend and this notion that He can forever replace history, culture and legend.

I don’t think Jesus came to erase history, but to correct it by shining a light of gentle love on those who are like and unlike Europe or the West.

A Panel of Hearts/My Mouth

3 06 2010



My heart is both full and strangely empty.

I just came from the panel of amazing leaders from all over the continent of Africa: from the Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, and Sudan. (at the panel “For Such A Time As This” during the Center for Reconciliation’s Summer Institute)

And their hearts were just pure. And honest. And full. And mine was empty.

I knew not of their countries hardships. Sure I heard about some of it. Sure I see when my white friends post it on their Facebook statuses. But my heart doesn’t react. And usually has a hole. But now the hole has been plugged up and I’ve realized that my heart is full.

Of pain. Of agony. Of weariness on behalf of my brothers and sisters fighting to minister, let alone exist across the Atlantic. But what I received as pain they conveyed as a bridge to hopefulness.

Africa is not lost. Africa is not a place to pity. It is a place to invest hope in for surely everyone will receive a return.

Their hearts are honest and ours longing for something. Ours being the audience…those who got to watch, soak in love, soak in justice and repent in our silent tears we wiped away. At least I did in the silent tears I quickly wiped away before anyone could see them.

These quotes and points say it all.

– Africans tribalize denominations. They are ready to die for them when no one really knows what Methodist or Presbyterian is…one’s denomination is not their Christianity.

“In forgiveness is justice.”

“How do we give up the right to revenge? Forgiveness, that is giving up the right to revenge.”

“Forgiveness is the beginning, Then begins the process of healing.” Father Emmanuel Katangole

“Pain that is not transformed is transferred.” Violet

“I think people get it wrong when you want to do something instead of just being. It’s not about ‘what you can do’ but ‘how can I come and be with you?” Celestine

“To learn the country is to learn the language.” Michael

There it is.

Sit. Listen. Be with people. Love them. Bless them because of the sheer fact that you are blessed.

An African-American minister asked what could African-Americans do to help. They all suggested friendship and partnership, coming and just listening to each other. They suggested that Africa had some things to say that the West has never asked, including African-Americans. They suggested that African-Americans can be a bridge of sorts (in my mind, I jealously wondered why I as a first or second generation Nigerian couldn’t be that bridge…the answer to come later)

THEN, John Perkins said what I’d been wanting to know. Basically he asked if African-Americans have had any type of impact because he knows that black ministers like to hear their own voices and their people feed their egos but they don’t do anything truly productive.

My sentiments exactly. Except I wasn’t thinking that black people did it but that I did it. Often. And that I can say something catchy or smart and the comments and accolades I receive all feed my ego but do not feed one hungry child who may speak the language my ancestors spoke. But I stay well fed. Gluttonous.

And my gluttony is a reflection of a sick heart.

I’m working on my hard heart. But maybe I don’t have to. Maybe God will work on it through panels of leaders who have practical requests that our churches, ministries, personal wallets and bank accounts refuse to alleviate. Maybe my mouth can be used for something other than wise sayings. Maybe it can actually do some real work and ask genuinely, “How can I be with you?”

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