Author: Lawrence M. Muuna.
Nola; USA, October 9th, 2019.
I write this essay to be in solidarity with my country and all the religious communities in Kenya. Being born and raised in Kenya, I understand the true reality regarding their genuine hunger for a better economy, genuine religious aspirations and a new narrative that can give them hope that seems to be elusive. Therefore, as pertains the Catholic bishops’ gesture of repentance and appeal, which in this essay I call the Ministry of Prophetic Imagination, I will state the issue a little more theoretically. I will give centrality to the question, what do the bishops want us to do? My deep conviction is that for Christians, the same question is about God’s intentions for our nation and all the religious communities in Kenya and our collaboration with God’s intention. I will truly discern this question as the bishops’ proposal for the radical need to evaluate our past story, the present story and open up to an alternative story through a radical decision making and transformational thinking, reflective theology/practice and contemplative methods to dismantle systemic corruption. My point of departure is Prophetic Imagination that reawakens us from the dominant practices to a proper formed and educated conscience.
The October 5th Subukia Declaration
Along Nyahururu-Nakuru highway is a place for religious experience called Subukia Shrine also referred to as the village of Mary. The shrine is under the Catholic diocese of Nakuru in Kenya but belongs to the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB). It has an ever-flowing spring from the hill that is believed to be miraculous and holy. The water from the miraculous spring is believed to have the healing power to both physical and spiritual illnesses. On this shrine the narrative goes that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared, and she continues to make appearances. Catholics and non-Catholics visit this sacred place with their sacred quests to experience the divine and the Maternal love from Jesus’ mother. Groups, individuals, churches and families visit this shrine with hopes of receiving peace, healing and reconciliation. Some of the Catholics who visited the shrine feel that it offers an environment for discernment, prayer, holiness, Eucharistic celebration and faith renewal among other spiritual benefits. On the morning of October 5th, 2019 Catholics from different Dioceses in Kenya flooded the shrine as their regular annual pilgrimage of prayer, communion and religious experience.
On this day all the Catholic bishops being ready to accept the absolute newness from God and a fresh attitude for themselves and their flock, they made a clarion call emerging from their Prophetic Ministry of Imagination. First, they admitted that we are at the crossroads of the monster of corruption in the country and therefore all Christians, leaders and every person of good will need “One Spiritual Truth”: To make a RADICAL DECISION of dismantling the unjust and corrupt systems and social structures. Second, through the education of individual and society conscience they will make their flock awake to the reality. They will also lead their flock and all people of good will to accept that there is a forgotten reality that can change everything we see, do and hope for. These bishops made a declaration which they called “Subukia Declaration”. With this declaration they are reminding us that God is never tired and will never be tired to restore us to the wholeness again by his grace and therefore, Christians must examine their conscience to come back to the wholeness and holiness that results to deep joy, coherent beauty of the church and the nation to a true version of ourselves.
With this clarion call, what are the bishops proposing? Are the Catholic bishops suggesting a modus Operandi? Are they inviting some type of reflective activity? And if so, what draws them into this unique, prophetic and alternative strategy? In Kenya public life and faith are in tension and the situation invites a distinctive form of both reflection and practice. All begins with weak democracy that has facilitated dishonest public and religious practices. This is a lived experience in a country where public life and faith correlation has shown some reflection of the way most people think about their faith, sacrifice, religious worship and public responsibilities. We have experienced a domineering strides of public life leaders hijack the pulpit, the sacred spaces and gatherings and not to share the amazing grace of God experience, but to push their political agenda. The style of declaration that the bishops have adopted emerges from this experience and rooted on the context of war on corruption in the country. By itself the declaration will not answer all the questions on corruption, but it gives a pastoral approach that aims at the recovery of what the bishops value and prefer in order to achieve a radical transformation and “One Spiritual Truth.”
The bishops with the Subukia Declaration want to engage us to accept that there is a forgotten reality that can change everything we see, do and hope for. They have come to a point of the prophetic in honouring the ministry of imagination. Of course, yes, if they don’t imagine prophetically who else will do that? The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture. In Kenya we are already experiencing a dominant culture of systemic corruption that is consuming the country. The bishops are evoking alternative consciousness that must be nurtured from the grassroot which in the case of the catholic church is the small Christian community and the hierarchy. On the other hand, their declaration serves to criticize the weak democracy that has seen the growth of systemic corruption into a gigantic monster menacing to wipe away the hopes of the future generations and the religious credibility. To that extent, they are engaging in rejection of the present ordering of donations in the church. In doing this, all the Catholic bishops of Kenya serve to energize persons and communities in faith, conscience and public leadership and integrity by the promise of another time and situation the church and the nation as a whole may move. Certainly, the bishops are breathing to the country a fervent breath of anticipated newness that God promises in his word when he says through prophet Amos:
“On that day, I will raise up the fallen hut of David, make good the gaps in it, restore its ruins and rebuild it as it was in the days of old for them to be master of what is left of Edom, and of all the nations who are called by my name, Yahweh declares, and he will perform it… the days are coming…I shall restore the fortunes of my people Israel.” (Amos 9:11-14)
The October 5th Subukia Declaration will enhance the newness of understanding the spectrum St Paul the servant of the mystery underscores when he says, “The purpose of this was that now, through the Church, the principalities and ruling forces should learn how many-sided God’s wisdom is…grow firm in power with regard to your inner self” (Eph 3:10,16) . The possibility of newness anticipated by the bishops of Kenya is echoing what the answering song of Zechariah in Luke 1:68-79 is and that it can become ours now. It is a song of new possibilities given late, but not too late possibilities of deliverance, light and peace. The old order has left nothing but enslavement, guilt, darkness and hostility but with the bishops’ ministerial prophetic imagination, that can change and something new come up. As we imagine and hope for the newness, we must be ready to face the tension between change and our ability to stand for the whole. Our imagination of the desired newness and the memory of the past allow us to recall, reflect, relive and reorganize. Edward Chambers sees how imagination can help us understand the gesture of the Catholic bishops that challenges us to look back how the country has been and where it is today, how politics and religion have been closely connected and are connected in Kenya until today. Highlighting on the importance of this imagination against the emphasis of intellect and will, he says, “Although dismissed as mere fantasy since the Enlightenment, which sanctified reason and will, imagination is what allows the tension of living between the two worlds to create newness, first in our minds and body and then, through our actions, in reality.” My conviction is that Catholic bishops took the bold imaginative move towards newness that every person would want to experience and live. My question is: Is every Christian and the religious leaders imagining the same? Are the bishops chasing the wind? Can we call the Catholic bishops in Kenya the “African Qoheleths” but in this case with a positive view of public and religious life in Kenya? The systemic corruption in the country has shown interest and raised concerns that has reawakened the church’s search for historical consciousness that could be lost when we lessened our imagination for newness. With their declaration against corruption, they presume that in such a lively and competitive economic environment, full of risk, a somewhat rapidly changing world, newness will be realized.
In their prophetic ministry of imagination, the bishops are insisting that our sociology as the church and the country, must derive from a reflective practice. They are in fact, inviting the people of all faiths and walks of life to reflect on their public, communal and individual practices. Borrowing from their reflective theology which in other words can be called Pastoral/Practical Theology, the Shepherds have noticed a concern that must be addressed to foster and sustain discerning hearts of every individual Christian and citizen to anticipate that promised newness and paradigm respecting our free will and promoting just and compassionate society. They are calling upon us to ponder that there is no freedom of God without justice and compassion. Therefore, these Shepherds are not asking if their vision can be implemented. The questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined first. Hence, the need to reawaken our consciences without delay. Imagination must come before the implementation. Kenyans live a culture that is competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing. A prophet is the one who keeps people on their toes to imagine, carry their memory and reflect on their actions. By their October 5th Subukia Declaration, the Catholic bishops want all sons and daughters created in the image and likeness of God to freely relate with their God using the many blessings they have received from the same providential Father without interfering with the freedom of their brothers and sisters and the justice of God.
They have realized the need to express their educated gift of prophecy which they acknowledge that it has gradually been compromised and without it, God almost always becomes imprisoned and is made inaccessible leading to shame of many people and guilty while keeping the church business in speculation, and the lack of informed consciences of those engaged in the public life, and consequently, bringing the church into a negative story line. Through their prophetic proclamation of God’s love and forgiveness, they are also telling Kenyans of the magnanimous nature of divine love that is on Kenya as a nation. The love that can liberate Kenyans from the chain of the evil of every form of corruption and specifically systematic one, setting us on a journey that never stops: Restoration, forgiveness and freedom.
The Catholic bishops, therefore, have attempted to offer to all Christians, citizens and people of good will an alternative story. The story they are seeking to offer is filled with metaphors of true sacrifice of the heart, right prayer or practice that is right in the divine courtroom. It is true that Christians can offer to God the sacrifice of Abel, it is possible even today with economic anxiety, aggravation and exasperations. This alternative story is as well the transformational thinking story. It is transformational in the sense that, it will help us with our vision of God as the true God who scrutinizes our hearts and transforms our donations into self-offering and sacrifice, and therefore, engage in worship within the realm of second order activity. The alternative story seeks to undo the deeply buried model in most Kenyans brain stem that corruption is the only dominant story to power, success and our own identity.
With this alternative offer, bishops are reminding us that we live in a web of relationships of being in solidarity with those who are marginalized or oppressed, religion, nationality or even our political and social class. The shepherds are making a clarion call to become aware of how far these relationships have been destroyed and continue to be destroyed while living in pretense that we can almost implement anything but failing to imagine anything. The story encourages us to appreciate that imagination is normal and valuable. That it can lead to newness and transformed thinking, web of relationships with God and human beings, reflective life and we can together explore contemplative confrontation methods and authentic resolute voices and pride in sharing our new story. The new story which will emanate from the alternative story proposed by the bishops, is only possible through the imagined relationships that we can discern what kind of service is really needed. If we can imagine the purity of God, we can then only offer him pure sacrifice of the purity of our hearts.
In the end therefore, “Prophetic Imagination” is not simply a good idea. It is a concrete practice that is undertaken by real believers who share the conviction of the grief and hope that escapes the dominant culture. Thus, at the end of my essay I am at liberty to propose concrete practices in response to the bishops’ prophetic imagination. Of course, there is need for the church in Kenya to have a concerted voice in dismantling the evil of systemic corruption. The catholic bishops must listen to sub church communities that are easily compromised by politicians. By listening to them they will share in their grief and hopes. The Church must help communities of faith and especially the laity to understand that their prophetic witness is also equally important by saying no to corruption and yes to their expressed faith in public life. Sunday school, high schools and colleges can be the setting for the church’s prophetic ministry. It’s too early for me to guess what the historians will say in twenty years from now about this battle. But in the meantime, those who care about the Catholic Bishops’ October 5th Subukia Declaration, the mutual conversation continues.
Lawrence M. Muuna has master’s degree in Pastoral Theology and social justice from Loyola University in New Orleans, USA and he is a Doctoral Degree Student in Pastoral Theology with a focus on Pastoral Leadership and administration. Muuna is also an ordained minister in the Catholic Diocese of Meru, Kenya where he engages himself with laity faith formation and catechesis, youth ministry, small Christian Communities development and leadership development which can be tracked here https://www.minsccs.org. In USA, he is involved in University Chaplaincy and Parish administration. He is a member of the AMECEA (Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa) training team. You can reach Lawrence M. Muuna on email@example.comfirstname.lastname@example.org