Sunday, 19 February 2017

My Theological Journey: For Mission and Environmentalism

"Ignorance is the mother of all superstition, not devotion" - A.H. Strong

This year has already been a very eventful one for me, occasionally depressing yet assuring. No matter what life throws at you, sometimes if you are still fighting then it means you are gaining some grounds. Though am writing this in February, I believe 2017 has been my toughest year so far since my full adult life began. It is needless to sugar a pill and half; it's been a hectic first two months. But fighting while wounded on the battle field, I have still gained some grounds— my first book would be released next month, a vision I began nurturing 5 years ago.

Cover Design by Perk Pomeyie
But the best decision I believe I have made this year is to take 10months off active activism to study Theology. I chose to enroll in the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture because they were offering an MA in Theology, Holistic Mission and Development, and I felt that was what I was looking for as a foundation for my long term interest in combining Environmentalism with Apologetics. It wasn't a tough decision to make considering I knew I had to build and develop myself to communicate my faith coherently to make my activism relevant. Moreover, I wanted an opportunity to think, and think justly and I found one within walls of the Institute.

Theology as you know in this part of the world and age, is easily dismissed as another ivory tower of academia—rigidly intellectual and tacitly anti-spiritual and dangerous to faith. So theology is often packaged neatly in a box and stored away somewhere safe, while spiritual reality is pursued as a daily endeavor. This thought and practice is equally erroneous. Study is a spiritual discipline—so theology both intellectuality and spirituality. Indeed God commands us to love Him with our minds in scripture (Luke 10:27) so combining heart and mind to think is according to his will. Maybe, that is why we don't send our best to theological schools today. Centuries ago, theology was described as the 'Queen of the Sciences' and only the best and most brilliant students pursued it. It was theologians who thought for the rest of society.

The Global South is now the centre of gravity of Christianity, Africa is a Christian heartland in the 21st Century and this is the time to respond to culturally rooted issues and questions of faith and how to live it out in society. We have already been dispossessed both in culture and heritage and there is a need for a valid knowledge of how the self-disclosure of God through His son Jesus Christ shapes our entire existence and influence in society towards justice for all of God's creation. Once a while, you bump into people who reject Christianity because they claim it's a religion passed on by colonial masters. This is invalid. In fact, there were Christians in Africa—leading apologists for that matter between the 2nd and 3rd Centuries AD. That was before European Christendom as a matter of fact. That said, the Reformation was in the 16th Century, the Missionary Movement, 19th Century.

Tertullian (c. 160 to c. 225) an African lawyer had an enormous impact on Western Theology, a prolific author who produced an extensive corpus of Latin Literature. We can begin to re-think about how to respond to social issues of rights and justice when we gain a deeper understanding of the opportunity we have as African Christians in shaping global worldview as the Early Christians did.

We live in a society where injustice triumphs; perpetrated by the echelons of media, academia, judiciary, government, organized religion, politics, etc. But we have all looked on and watched the poor and voiceless and oppressed suffer and the environment decimated while we pursue our own prosperity and progress. This is in stark contrast to the Gospel. In fact, Jesus Christ came down on earth as a man to establish God's justice on earth. That is the Gospel—the Theology that challenges yours. 

In Luke 4, Jesus returned to the synagogue in Nazareth after being tempted by the devil. The book of Isaiah was handed to him and he read his mandate on earth (Isaiah 61). After that he closed the book and with everyone's gaze fixed on him, he declared, "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your ears". My theology is the Gospel justice for God's creation. What is yours?

The Youth Meeting: The Future of the Commonwealth Through Our Lens

"This is why we collectively revere the RCS as a platform that young people can use to give relevance to the Commonwealth"

The 2016 International Meetings of the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) took place in London from October 3-7. The meetings were hosted by High Commissions of various member countries and brought together members from pan Commonwealth branches and networks to share experiences and plan for the future.

The Youth Meeting, held on the first two days to precede the Branch Meeting, in my personal opinion was the highlight of the meetings. 60% of the 2.3 billion total population of the Commonwealth is under 30 years of age. It is on the heels of this youth constituency and the power they wield in leadership, innovation and technology that the Commonwealth will thrive on in the coming years.

The youth acknowledged that the Commonwealth represents diversity of membership unparalleled even at the global stage— a unique cultural tapestry bound together by common values and aspirations. However, the youth perspective and outlook of the Commonwealth largely has been a network that has little or no relevance to younger generation, but rather a relic, significant to older individuals still romanticizing colonial events and their linkages in this modern era.

This is why we collectively revere the RCS as a platform that young people can use to give relevance to the Commonwealth.

The youth agreed at the meeting that they have a role to play in the current RCS structure. We will add youth perspectives to Commonwealth conversations, promote the RCS through our activities, initiatives and events, and offer skills and expertise to branches in our home countries. The Associate Fellows (AF) themselves believe that they are an asset to the RCS and agreed to serve as Commonwealth ambassadors to give the network visibility in their countries. We will do this by connecting to people who share common values with us, serve as role models and mentors for younger generations and build a network of leaders and professionals from diverse fields to influence national policies and shape global issues.

The RCS on the other hand was discussed to have a role and responsibility towards the youth. The organization is expected to help raise the profile of youth by providing the platform to promote their work and give visibility to their social action initiatives. It should also provide opportunities to Associate Fellows in training, capacity building and funding.

In going forward into the future, the Youth Meeting reached a consensus that the common niche for the RCS to pursue is Youth Empowerment. This means more engagement with youth, more interaction with them, more connectivity through social media and more capacity building to create change. Ultimately, we believe in a Commonwealth of change that is relevant to our communities and transforms the lives of people at the grassroots.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

VRA Deserves Applause for Choosing Wind Power over Coal

Earlier this week, the environmental movement in Ghana was thrown into frenzy, following the announcement by the Volta River Authority (VRA) of its plans to construct a 150MW wind power plant to supplement power generation in the country. The project to be completed in two phases is said to be under the Renewable Development Programme of the organization, Ghana’s main electric power utility corporation.

A wind farm in Kenya
The Ghana Youth Environmental Movement (GYEM) and other campaigners and supporters of renewable energy took to social media minutes after the media announcement to celebrate the impending and inevitable victory of clean energy over dirty energy— demonstrating the underlining relevance rather than a superficial reveling, considering the Ghana government, just a couple of months ago was advancing plans to build a 2x350MW coal fired plant in the Ekumfi Aboano with coal imports from South Africa.

The fuss here is about the VRA’s sharp U-turn on the subject of coal and now wind power. Before campaigners from GYEM took on the idea of importing pollution from coal into the country with coordinated street campaigns in support of renewable energy, notably solar and wind power, the VRA’s position on dirty energy was unequivocal: the country needed to diversify it’s existing energy portfolio with a cheaper, proven and reliable technology to help optimize hydro resources and they believed coal power was the way to go.

In a statement announcing the 150MW wind power project, their position seemed to have been altered incredibly in just a few months in favor of renewables. The Principal Engineer for Renewable and Integrated Resource Development of the VRA, Mr. Ebenezer Antwi declaring that “technology in renewable energy had matured and the cost declined over the years, making it cheaper, therefore the need to consider wind and solar energy to ease pressure on hydro power generation”.

The most relevant point here is that the government acknowledges that the cost of renewable energy is tumbling incredibly at an unprecedented pace globally that it makes the mantra that fossil fuels are cheaper pretty underwhelming and factually fraudulent.

A recent report by Bloomberg indicates that renewables are beating fossil fuels 2 to 1. It indicates that “while two years of crashing prices for oil, natural gas, and coal triggered dramatic downsizing in those industries, renewables have been thriving. Clean energy investment broke new records in 2015 and is now seeing twice as much global funding as fossil fuels”.

This is a fact not open for argument and one will wonder why it took the Government of Ghana that long to notice it. But this is why the VRA deserves applause. They have recognized that politics is about policy and policy is about the search of alternatives— outcomes that are better than others. Wind and solar will keep expanding at record rates and we have to plug ourselves into the opportunities they offer to transition into a low carbon economy and towards climate resilience as outlined by our National Climate Change Policy (NCCP).

It is now or never!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

A Wounded Planet in Need of Love

Almost eighteen years ago, Julia Butterfly Hill embarked on a non-violent tree sit for 738 days, from December 10, 1997, until December 23, 1999. Luna, the tree she ascended unto, a thousand-year-old red wood tree, 180 feet high, in the Headwaters Forest in Northern California was under threat of being logged together with other trees in the area. Julia’s enduring example and extraordinary activism was deeply rooted in her ‘acute vision of a wounded world in need of a nonviolent healing’.

She had a vision above the scope of fine narratives, beyond the teas and committees of business as usual. Hers was indeed to also symbolize a respect for the sacred, atop Luna, separated from the rest of a world driven by greed and exploitation, from a generation lacking profound disposability consciousness. “By not allowing my feet to touch the ground once during all this time, I’ve separated myself from the world down there.”

In December 2008, inspiring activist Tim DeChristopher disrupted an illegitimate Bureau of Land Management oil and gas auction by outbidding oil companies for parcels around Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Utah. An unprecedented trial ended in his 21 months in jail. His experiences of the systemic evil in prison and subsequent enrollment in Harvard Divinity School after his release on April 21, 2013 transformed his activism in diverse ways. The core of his message deeply rooted in the embodiment and reflection of love to heal a wounded planet.
With Tim DeChristopher in Montpelier
Whether it’s Butterfly Hill whose deep connection with the sacred espoused healing for a wounded world or DeChristopher who preaches joining our collective divinities to confront the climate crisis, this proposition is true: that any question about solving the problem begs for an answer with an intrinsic value found within a person. So how did we even get into this mess in the first place?

Al Gore in his book ‘The Future:Six Drivers of Global Change’ brilliantly describes how our dilemma began from a philosophical text book centuries ago after the launch of the Scientific Revolution by the thinkers of the times:

“Francis Bacon, who more than any other emphasized the word “progress” in describing humanity’s journey into the future, was also among the first to write about human progress with a special emphasis on subduing, dominating, and controlling nature-- as if we were as separate from nature as Descartes believed the mind was separate from the body........ By tacitly assuming our own separateness from the ecological system of the planet, we are frequently surprised by phenomena that emerge from our inextricable connections to it".

Centuries later, this philosophical error has driven insatiable greed, deceit and exploitation of the planet in search of profit and progress. They have been in shapes and forms that confound our thinking and begin to question how indeed civilized we are as a civilization.

For example, reporters at the Los Angeles Times, the Columbia Journalism School, and the Pulitzer-Prize winning Inside Climate News, revealed that ExxonMobil knew all about climate change in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. But they not only lied about it but also funded individuals and institutions to deny climate change and fight against climate action. And when I provided direct support for  Bill McKibben, the founder of at an ExxonMobil gas station in Burlington, Vermont a month ago to stage a one-man #ExxonKnew action there, it finally dawned on me that the answer lies within the transformation of the human heart by a transcendent love for our planet.

Providing direct support for Bill McKibben in Burlington
Our cumulative wisdom, intellectuality and technology do not match the daunting challenges of our time. Our planet doesn’t demand our saving it, it needs we loving it, for indeed we are only loving ourselves in the process. We believe in Nonviolent Direct Action dismantling strongholds such as capitalism but ultimately it is love that changes the human heart; even legal binding agreements and laws do not. Love is the greatest ethic, the peak of all intellectual and religious debate, it is where our common humanity converges.

Feelings and experiences cannot be tested for truth, only words and propositions are. And we would agree to the fact that given a planet in need of a nonviolent healing it begins with the reflection of the love that inextricably binds us to our ecological system as one. The proposition is true and the practice would ultimately heal.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

How Egg Frying and 4th Graders in Vermont Transformed My Thinking

Strange things are happening in my kitchen these days, this month of October -- my culinary skills are becoming predictably questionable. I cooked a soggy rice last week which I literally had to force down my own throat for dinner. Then I  watched the koko (Ghanaian porridge) paste I purchased from the African market to mix for breakfast thicken on the fire into a miserable banku of a sort.

I added cups of water, carefully stirring the mixture with a ladle, to reverse the reaction back into a thin consistent porridge. Maybe putting into practice fleeting high school Equilibrim lessons. The exercise wasn’t only fruitless and futile, I was worn out, totally spent fixing a 5mins harmless breakfast. I accept that life isn’t always fair.

But the last straw that broke the camel’s back and lost me a confidence and half was an attempt at frying some eggs a few days on. It went terribly bad, a downgrade of scrambled eggs gone wrong. Never in the history of cooking in any Vermont kitchen, documented in college text books has life been daunting like in our kitchen on Spring Street. Frying eggs were the least of my troubles, I execute it effortless on countless occasions. So how on earth did it become a mission today?

But this experience puts into parenthetical focus a reality in life that we unconsciously ignore until prompted, trumpeted brilliantly by Mark Twain-- “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." This rhetoric is reiterated by the poet, civil rights activist and teacher Melvin B. Tolson, “nothing educates us like a shock”. And so when I entered the classroom of the 4th Graders at Bishop John A. Marshall School (BJAMS) in Morrisville to present to the children on climate change and how they can take action in their school, and was once again jolted by this reality, it left an indelible mark on my thinking. Hold your assumptions lightly!

With my co-presenter Collen Hanley at BJAMS
One of the 4th Graders, Natty, wielding an unrehearsed articulated diction blew my mind about his knowledge and awareness of global warming. At the beginning of the interactive lesson, the smooth speaking lad had explained to his colleagues the problem of carbon pollution and the warming effect it has in the atmosphere, with precision and concision. With a dropped jaw, I watched in disbelief as little Natty delivered a Climate Change 101 lesson. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying children cannot be that smart, but hey,for the sake of Albert Einstein, adults like yourself grapple with climate science. Are you smarter than a 4th Grader? No please!

Two days after the presentation, their teacher wrote us an email: “Thank you for a wonderful presentation. My kids and I loved it. Indeed we have been talking about it ever since you left. They have actually created inventions to reduce the production of CO2 - I can take pics and share”. And as if this wasn’t enough, the  4th Graders sent a thank you letter through the mail box with additional questions on global warming and solar energy.

Hitherto, being impressed by the kids of the Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes, I had earmarked them as my favorite school in Vermont. But with the display by Natty and his classmates in October, I blink my mind’s eye and exhale, ‘hold your opinions lightly’.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Of Al Gore, Vermont Schools and Mushroom Soup

If you are in chicken stew bondage, I have good news, mushroom soup is liberating. I had been eating chicken stew for the first 5 weeks of my stay in Burlington; not out of necessity but a sheer lack of motivation to try something new. I finally got my independence when one of the volunteers of my host organization 350VT decided to give me a life of options. Since then, my life has been beautiful. Mushroom soup at August First restaurant has turned my life around. I have always had mushrooms in Ghana in soups but not mushrooms as soup. What a discovery!

But one thing about Vermont restaurants that I find entertaining is how the portion sizes are so small especially when the food is actually tasty. In Ghana, I’d sacrifice variety for portion sizes in a single meal without apology. So when I told the waitress at the Mexican Restaurant on Battery Street to serve me only rice and beans so she can enhance both portions, I added a sentence-- “I hope it’s not a weird request”. She returned a smile and half.  

Vermont hasn’t only entertained my now inviting taste buds, I have had a wonderful month of September visiting schools and presenting on climate change. And in the coming months, even more appointments. Having been personally trained by former US Vice President Al Gore to deliver the Climate Reality presentation that communicate the basic science, impacts and possible solutions of climate change, invitations by schools to my host organization to share slides with students have been very exciting. That reinforces how progressive the Green Mountain state is.

Hanging out with the boys in Plainfield

And when I had told middle school children to ask me lingering questions about the presentation, they have rather asked more questions about Ghanaian culture-- food and language et al. The sheer innocence in the stew of voices of children probing to probably know more about the presenter than the presentation not only interests me. It also opens my mind to the reality of how telling an African story to a swell of American children has long term real life consequences on their perception, perspectives and assumptions.

I have been fascinated about questions indirectly phrased about whether Africa is a country or continent. Well, assumptions are either challenged or confirmed, but how beautiful it is to hear these genuine inquiries and give answers back to drown doubts and stereotypes. What a breath of fresh air it was. At this stage, I believe it isn’t far fetched to write to Al Gore seeking permission to insert into his climate presentation a slide or two about ‘cultural awareness’. While that request may be exclusive to me considering my local circumstances, I’m quite sure Mr. Gore will consider it with a grin. At least my climate reality presentations wouldn’t metamorphose into a one credit cultural studies class.

September wasn’t just about chicken stew sorry stories. I had a great time at Earth Walk in Plainfield, spending the whole day with a bunch of awesome staff, children and teens. It goes into my archives as the best day in my entire Fellowship so far. I enjoyed the time in the woods cooking, telling authentic ‘earth stories' and carving my own spindle and fire board for a bow drill.

I believe October would even be better. Guess what? I get to see Al Gore speak at University of Vermont. And off course, chicken stew, I wouldn’t smell you in my fridge again. Mushroom soup has taken your place in my heart.