Saturday, January 30, 2010

Beauty and Spirituality

Beauty and Spirituality

The expression of beauty, aesthetics, design, culture, attitude and anything that carries with it the pleasuring of the senses especially the eyes must also bring into view the need to contextualize spirituality. As spiritual men we are commanded to avoid the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. Does this mean we cannot appreciate, conceptualize, materialize or understand the aesthetics of life? Can I be a connoisseur and yet remain spiritual and be known as ardent disciple of Jesus Christ? I ask these questions because I find I am a connoisseur of beauty. Must I make a choice though? Is an attempt at balancing some innate gift for ascribing some qualitative value to objects and sceneries and life and living a simple exercise in carrying unnecessary baggage through the narrow gate of spirituality? Can my appreciation of beauty in clothes, beauty in architecture, beauty in furniture, beauty in art, beauty in people, beauty in accessories etc just be a carnal fancy with no spiritual benefit for the life now or hereafter? Simply put am I just indulging myself? I am unashamedly a connoisseur of all things beautiful. In other words, if there be any beauty I could be very well found looking or you might say thinking on those things. And, you know what? The list is endless. And believe it or not it even includes beauty in watches, beauty in pens, beauty in hotels, and of course beauty in prose and dare I hope – beauty in good governance. Oh how wonderful that would be! The beauty of an ordered society where the respect for the dignity of our fellow man and of creating context for normal aspiration is simply put – beautiful. What about beauty in vision and beauty in dreams? If there were one club I would love to promote it would be called the “Club For The Art of Beautiful Living.” Long name I guess, but what else could I call it that would capture its ethos? It would seek to create a benchmark not just of excellence but also of beautiful excellence. But herein is a dilemma for as we are wont to say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Does that therefore put paid to this seeming flight of fancy? Certainly not! Rather it throws up the real issue. We need to ask the question what is beauty and what is spirituality? Perchance answers to these questions will provide a glimpse to our worldview and not just our worldview but how our views of life shape our choices, values and attitude to the material, inanimate and metaphysical aspects of life. Now let me disappoint you by refusing to define either. Of what use would it be to seek to foist my views of what constitutes spirituality and beauty upon you? Little at best! Why? Because beauty is in the eye of the beholder! When Jesus met a woman by the well of Samaria, it was in the conversation and insight He had into her circumstances that led to her to exclaim “come see a man who told me all things, could this not be the Messiah?” Her exclamation and question in one breath where the result of Jesus addressing her peculiar circumstance. So she found a spiritual dimension to life that singularly addressed her. Spirituality from her worldview was finding the Messiah, in other words finding her Saviour.

Now if this woman’s story provides one person’s account of discovering the spiritual dimension of life and perhaps a definition of sorts to maybe a few, what about beauty? History tells us that the great Italian renaissance artist Michelangelo spent 4 years painting the story of creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Michelangelo was so prodigious and prolific in various art forms ranging from sculpture, to painting and in the sciences too as an Architect and Engineer and believe it or not he was also a man of Letters famous for being a poet. Today that man’s quest to express beauty has enthralled many. Lovers like me I may daresay of all things beautiful. He is famously reported to have said, “If there is some good in me, it is because I was born in the subtle atmosphere of your country of Arezzo. Along with the milk of my nurse I received the knack of handling chisel and hammer, with which I make my figures.” Perhaps for Michelangelo it wasn’t just an expression of beauty but of an expression of the necessary fusion of beauty and spirituality.

So to my mind the central issue it appears is the prism through which views are shaped. Michelangelo’s view kept him at the ceiling of the ceiling of the Sistine chapel’s as he sought to express the story of creation from the Book of Genesis. Jesus’ shaped the beauty of the woman’s heart for the end she found that worship of God was in spirit and truth. Mine seeks to add to what she found the beauty in men find worth and self esteem in my country and pursuing destiny regardless of creed, race or tribe. What beauty are you beholding, or better still what beauty are you shaping?

Kemela Okara

Akodo, Lekki

30th Jan 2010

Servant Leadership for the 21st Century

I find this to be one of the most difficult things to write about because I don’t want to create the impression that I have learnt all there is to learn about this subject. I am still learning, the truth is I am like the man on the edge of an ocean of much learning to discover. However some useful experiences are worth sharing for co-travelers who seek to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

I have often wondered why humility is a subject of immense importance to God. One reason I think it is important is because it is completely antithetical to the pride of life. If you think about it the pride of life is one significant reason why many may never become true disciples of Jesus. Plainly put, the pride of life is pride. Pride led to the fall of Lucifer and pride still goes before a fall. History is replete with tragic examples of the folly of pride. In the church today one of the commonest examples of pride is a grasping for position and prominence. Another example is abrasiveness and a lack of compassion for those who fall short of “our” standards. Yet another example of pride is an inability to celebrate the grace of God in the life of our brothers and sisters. Yet still pride shows up when we want to out do others in our mastery of oratory and knowledge. It may surprise you to know that pride can show up also in a denigration of someone else’s gift because it makes you feel insecure.

One of the big tests of humility is whether we can find peace and harmony with God during times of apparent insignificance. Can you stand being alone and unrecognized? Does your sense of esteem require constant affirmation? Is ministry competition with others? Do you feel you must do what is necessary to gain human affirmation or approval? Can you applaud your brother or sister even when it perpetuates your sense of insignificance or worse still irrelevance? Do you compare your church to other churches in terms of size, offering, congregation, programs etc? If you are confronting these issues then be encouraged because you have illustrious company. Jesus confronted much more in that being equal with God, He did not consider it robbery to be constrained by becoming a man. Now if this didn’t require humility on His part I wonder what else could have required it!

Peter exhorts all believers to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God because in due season, God always exalts those who have humbled themselves. Whilst for the proud what they face is God’s resistance! I have resolved therefore to see whether in my times of crisis, challenges, seeming insignificance, irrelevance or whatever else, God’s humbling hand is not at work. Once I discover that it is perchance God’s hand, I relax under the weight of His process of humbling me because in due season He would elevate me for all to see the glory of God in me. Paul put it succinctly when he said “my light afflictions which are for a moment, work in me an exceeding weight of His glory.”

When we fret, worry, struggle for recognition and approval what we are doing is following the path of Lucifer and doubtless God will resist us. The danger is we may have the approval of men but nevertheless be resisted by God. Jesus is the best example of humility. He was subject o His parents. He worked as a carpenter and most of all when it came to the time when He was to be arrested, those who came to arrest Him could not distinguish Him from the disciples who were with Him. Can you imagine that the Captain of our salvation was indistinguishable from His disciples?

Our challenge today is that our Pentecostal brand of Christianity exalts the office of the “Set Man” such that the friendship, fellowship and brotherhood that comes from having many operating as a team is difficult to find. Worse is that very few if any Pentecostal leaders have peers within their local assemblies who can speak frankly and openly without fanning the flames of insecurity or seeming insurrection. We need to re-discover humility and the truth that the best of all men are still men and not God.

Kemela Okara

November 2009

Friday, January 29, 2010


Watching Obama make his victory speech that memorable day in November 2008 will forever remain etched in my mind. For one I can’t remember the last time someone’s speech made me cry. Compared to the familiar drone of politicians nearer home I am reminded vividly of the stirring and transformative power of words. So far it’s all words, but somehow buried in his words were the passion and the dawn of an era like never before. So the tears flowed, whether as a result of the words, the enormity of the occasion or the sheer joy of a man like one of us in words, values, color or age is difficult to say.

Perhaps I cried because I was witnessing the result of a daring, seemingly unachievable dream become reality. Perhaps I cried for the many times we fail to dream because of the deemed unassailable circumstance of our immediate milieu. Perhaps I cried for myself; for missed opportunities. Perhaps I cried because this strange man-child with the wiry frame of a nascent adult but the tough inner core of a man of destiny seemed to have surmounted not only the apparently murky politics of Chicago, but had gone on to emerge as the democratic frontrunner and now president of America.

Now I have cried; I trust that the tears have been cleansing, redemptive and re-invigorating. Perhaps I will dare to dream again because of those words – “Yes we can” ringing in my ears. Better still I may now seek to redeem the time remaining for who knows … And perhaps as is evident passion and conviction can instill in the most wiry frame the heart and frame of might to overcome all odds.

Also I must now find words that resonate within my milieu. Through the ages, words have been the platform, the conveyor of the hopes, aspirations, dreams, fears and insecurity of mankind. Words have driven many to the pits of despair and others to the heights of exhilaration. Words have led men to die for causes they knew little of and others unto the precipice of an unknown future. Perhaps in the midst of my colorless drone of reluctant leaders, avaricious predators I may find the words that can stir and transform my generation. Perhaps I will find words that reach into an inner core of being beyond the receptacle reserved for familiar platitudes. Perhaps, if I can’t articulate the words I may find someone who can, who will.

I want to cry again, but this time because in my backyard that once in a lifetime historic socio-political event is taking place. I want to cry witnessing truly passionate, transformation desiring, seeking leadership stir my heart with words. Perhaps words of hope, words of change, words of compassion and words evoking true leadership. Perhaps I should stop desiring and start acting. Prior to Obama, the last time I cried was 14 years ago watching Nelson Mandela walk out of prison hand in hand with Winnie. Before that it was watching the “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King many years after his death.

One thing I have resolved: I must dream. I heard a lady recently say and I am paraphrasing – the mind was not meant to be filled with facts that can be recorded but rather it ought to be given the space for imagination, dreams and perhaps words for crafting a future that must be seen and embraced. Trained as a lawyer, this goes against the grain but in my desire to dream and perhaps find the words that would resonate with my time and my context I cannot but agree that I must free up space in my mind to dream.

There are many dreams that I want running in my head. Question is which dream do I start with? Is it the dream that in my lifetime, the story of epileptic power supply will be the stuff of socio-economic and political commentary of a bygone era in Nigeria? Or is it the dream that young able bodied men would not have to undergo impromptu maniacal sprints alongside cars and the ubiquitous “okada” in heavy traffic literarily risking life and limb all in the name of making a precarious living. Young men whose human capital worth in the prime of their lives is pitiable; especially in a world whose shift to the power of knowledge for success is now firmly established. Or perhaps I ought to dream about something on a lower scale of achievability, perhaps of a ban of mothers and children traveling as passengers on okadas weaving through heavy Lagos traffic with the ever present risk of being maimed for life. Perhaps of all the dreams in my head I should dream of a time when every child irrespective of economic status would have access to qualitative education.

Whilst I choose among my many dreams, which to start with, I would like to imagine that the same selective process has started in your mind too. Perhaps the collection of our dreams and our (at least my desire) desire to cry would lead to something more. Perhaps like Obama we will find our own words to convey our dreams with sufficient force that culminates in the cry that overwhelms us when we are living witnesses to our own epochal events.

Kemela Okara

Victoria Garden City


1st February 2009