Tag: silence

Hear the Sound of Silence: The Story of John


By Canon Francis Omondi

      Doing God’s will may lead to a tragic end. Not the end you would desire. But that is not ALL, since God must fulfil his will in his world.

Mark 6:19-26 tells the story of John the Baptist being beheaded while in prison. Reading this narrative of John’s last days, one gets swallowed in the two most conspicuous aspects of the narrative:

Herode’s and Herodias proclivities, abuse of power… And the brutal execution, through beheading, of John the Baptist. These twin towers overshadow the nuances, and the gist of the narrative. John’s turmoil and agony in prison. In silence.

Herod silenced John in prison. That is why the Sound of Silence ought to be heard. I borrow this title from Music by Paul Simon (1964) The Sound Of Silence:

And in the naked light I saw: Ten thousand people, maybe more: People talking without speaking: People hearing without listening: People writing songs that voices never share: No one dare: Disturb the sound of silence.

Commentators have well articulated the reason for his imprisonment. I should not belabour that. But I will revisit it to reinforce his agony.

John had rebuked Herod Antipas for his blatant sin. Herod divorce of his wife, to marry his brothers’, Philip, wife- Herodias. This was a nasty act, in that some suggest it was like incest, breaking a Jewish law of Leviticus. But what irritated Herod was that John spoke in public about his sin. John also talked of this sin in private. He never stopped referring to the ill of their leader. This irked Herodias, who questioned John’s audacity, courage to question the king.   

John was reputed in Israel for his courage. Although his work among the people was popular, leading many to repent and find their way back to God. here was an obstinate Herod who was not only was evil but had power and evil courage. With his immense power, Herod imprisoned John to silence him. Yet in feared the people. For a riot in Galilee would have ended his rule. Herod knew how the Jews revered John. As a righteous and holy man.

Photo by Cameron Casey on Pexels.com

While in prison, his disciples, his confidence in God’s call, and God himself abandoned him:

1.    His disciples abandon him

For this hour he had to face alone… John the Baptist was alone in prison without his disciples. The soldiers were not afraid to obey the order to kill him. Paul, having fulfilled his mission, says only Luke is with me and everyone has left him (2 Timothy 4:10-11).

2. The confidence in his calling abandoned him.

John began questioning himself. Had he fulfilled his calling? What was it?

Here, John sought to confirm his call. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ (Luke 7:27) 

He sought Jesus’ reassurance:

So, John called two of his disciples and sent them to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’”(Luke 7:18-21)

In his response, Jesus wanted John to listen to the sound of silence. Not the voice in scriptures but in the ordinary day-to-day life of the Kingdom:

At that very time, Jesus cured many people of diseases, sicknesses, and evil spirits, and granted sight to many who were blind.So, he answered them, “Go tell John what you have seen and heard: The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news proclaimed to them. Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Luke 7:21-23)

Again in Paul Simon words:- v.5

And the people bowed and prayed: To the neon god they made: And the sign flashed out its warning: In the words that it was forming: And the sign said “The words of the prophets: Are written on subway walls: And tenement halls: And whispered in the sounds of silence”

It is possible, under pressure, to doubt one’s calling. The calling of God doesn’t get to us with a bang. We hear it in whispers, sounds of silence… that are only heard by those who hear it. The voice was meant for these ears. 

John’s example was to go to Jesus. He was called by Jesus to look out for the ordinary day-to-day life, where God is dealing with humanity.

Seeing and hearing God’s work among humans should allow us to situate ourselves in God’s grand plan. In the middle of pain, we get fulfillment in seeing God’s intervention in human life.

3.    John abandoned by God:

When you are in God’s will, why then does He disappear?

An enormous sense of abandonment griped John about God’s silence and abandoning him. John had done what God wanted him to do. He did what was right. With courage, he had spoken against injustice, had rebuked Herodias for marrying Herod Antipas.

John’s hour of trial came after Salome, the daughter of Herodias, danced and asked for the head of John the Baptist. Herod offered her half the kingdom; or whatever she dreamt about. Why would she want a man’s head on a platter? What she asked for was not what she really wanted. Salome did not know what she was saying. But when she spoke, she was speaking in strange tongues. She gained her mother’s language of treachery and revenge. In helping people in the communities, we insert our wishes and present them as though these were theirs’s. An aid worker said, “Why put my words in the mouth of people when it’s my own gain?” 

John’s head was chopped off and God did not prevent it. Nor did God respond. 

If one may think that God picked on John, One must read the scriptures deeply to see how God treats those he has called into this prophetic ministry. John was not the only one who experienced it.

Soon, Jesus will have to face a worse kind of abandonment. Jesus Himself, having done what God wanted, is abandoned by God on the cross, and cries out, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani.” (Mark 15:34)  

The tragedy in the book of Job is that he did everything God expected of him. What he was afraid of just happened to him. He was righteous, but disaster hit him, and hit him hard. But God was silent. Job then tries to reach out to God to ask him why. 

Why that when we have done well, does God suddenly disappear?   

The hope that we had of fulfilling God’s work hits us and we ask, “Did I do right or wrong? Was I deceived?” There is a feeling of being deceived. Jeremiah prayed, “You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived.” (Jeremiah 20:7). He had clearly explained to the people the disaster that was coming, but God did not change His mind even in response to sincere prayers. God does not draw near to His disciple, but leaves him in a vacuum.

Where was God in Auschwitz, during the Naiz’s?

In the affliction of the Jews during the Nazi regime, many lost the sense of faith in God. For they asked where was God in the gas chamber?

“In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.” Isaiah 63:9 ESV

Perhaps you may feel that God does not affirm you. And there is no one to share our burdens with.

It hurts when you haven’t accomplished the thing that made you leave home. You may ask:

 Is God’s will still guide us? Is God with us? 

You will feel the sense of abandonment, but it is not yet over. When we have done God’s work and then He abandons us, only God can find us, he comes to us in resurrection. 

It is not how we survive… we do not have power. It is possible that we are already sinking out. You are earning your marks you will soon display before God. What has God asked of you? What have you done with what you were given? What did you do with it?

South African author Alan Paton wrote a story about a school principal in Soweto, where the 1976 uprising began.

The principal was a gentle guy, not controversial, not one who goes to protests. He had friends in the white community because he didn’t talk politics at their tea parties. He was reasonable.

One day, the whites saw him sitting on a stage at a rally. Then the next time they saw him and he spoke at the rally. Then he was in the front, leading the march.

And they said to him, “What has happened to you? We depended on you! Now you are making things worse.”

He responded to them: One day I will die and the Great Judge in heaven will ask me, “where are your wounds?” And I will have to say, “I don’t have any.” And when I say, “I don’t have any,” the Great Judge will say to me, “Was there then nothing to fight for?”

Where are your wounds? You must work for the kingdom.

“I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater98 than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he is.”(Luke 7:28)

The least in the kingdom bears the mark of struggle for the Kingdom. They have wounds.


We need anger and courage.

Anger or holy rage on seeing what is happening to humanity and being disturbed by it. And courage to be reckless in acting to solve these ills.

But I would say- courage. No, even that is not challenging enough to be the whole truth. Our task today is recklessness. For what we Christians lack, a holy rage- the recklessness which comes from the knowledge of God and humanity… a holy anger about the things that are wrong in the world….

To rage at the lie that calls the threat of death and the strategy of destruction peace. To rage against complacency. To restlessly seek that recklessness that will challenge and seek to change human history until it conforms to the norms of the kingdom of God.

And remember, the signs of the Christian Church have been the Lion, the Lamb, the Dove and the Fish… but never the chameleon.” Kaj Munk, a Danish priest, spoke these words before the Gestapo killed him in 1944.

 In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! AMEN.


Rev. Canon Francis Omondi is a Priest of All Saints Cathedral Diocese of the ACK, a Canon of the All-Saints Kampala Cathedral of the Church of Uganda, Adjunct Lecturer at St. Paul’s University, Limuru, and Research Tutor at the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life.


Silent Church in Corrupt Kenya

By Rev. Canon Francis Omondi

The church struggles in silence while endemic corruption ravages the public and private sectors of the country. It brings to mind the famous lament of the prophet Jeremiah when he cried against the appalling behavior of his people. He asks, “… is there no Balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why is the wound of my people not healed?” Jeremiah’s words inspired a Negro spiritual that gave an answer: “There is a balm in Gilead to heal a sin, sick soul…”

Wounds inflicted by corruption in Kenya will need a more “potent balm”, yes, more than an “expert physician”. For neither the laws enacted so far nor the commission instituted to deal with corruption has proved effective.

The law is clear: corruption, active and passive bribery, abuse of office and bribing a foreign public official are outlawed under the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act 2003. Further, they are reinforced with the Bribery Act of 2016, aimed ostensibly to aid in the fight against the supply side of corruption. Comprehensive enforcement of Kenya’s anti-corruption framework remains a challenge because of weak and corrupt public institutions.

But in choosing silence in the face of this obscene level of corruption, is perhaps taking the counsel of the English poet Thomas Carlyle (1831). He wrote, ‘Silence is Gold’. Or we have the American rock song by the Tremeloes (1967): “Silence is Golden, but my eyes still see”, the Kenyan church is abdicating its unique and vital role in this society.

What has become of the once-vibrant church leaders who challenged the draconian Moi rule, risking their lives for a just cause? In those days the church took a brave and radical approach. It was not afraid to say, like the prophets of old: “Thus says the Lord…” These church leaders had clarity of mind on matters of national importance affecting the people, unlike the church today, which is even failing to define its mandate.

Pope Benedict XVI is emphatic on the role the church should play in society. Writing as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on Politics, he defines the church’s role in the political sphere as primarily education (understood not as schooling, no matter how important that is): “The church must awaken man’s receptivity to the truth, to God, and thus to the power of conscience. It must give men and women the courage to live according to their conscience and so keep open the narrow pass between anarchy and tyranny, which is none other than the narrow way of peace.”

Ratzinger highlights the need for society, both local and global, to recover the divine element in our humanity, which includes moral consensus, without which society flounders and humanity is endangered.

There are some though, who would rather have an aloof church and turning its back on contentious matters of public concern. Stephen Carter the Yale scholar, in his book, The Culture of Disbelief, laments that “our public culture more and more prefers religion as something without political significance, less an independent moral force than a quietly irrelevant moralizer, never heard, rarely seen”.

Could it be that the dearth of the prophetic voice is a sign of a church struggling to define itself and societal role in the post-2003 era?

Kenya needs to hear what the church is thinking and saying on corruption. The church cannot extricate itself from politics because it cannot refrain from the task of reflecting on the implications of its faith within our political context. It must ignore being construed political, for it has reason to intervene, for we cannot afford the hemorrhaging of this country through corruption.

A report released by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in 2016 indicated that the rate of economic crimes in Kenya is 25 percent above the global average. It further revealed that every record set against stealing is broken. In the year 2015 alone, economic crimes rose to 61 percent from 52 percent in 2014 and maybe worse today.

Philip Kinisu, a retired auditor and a former chairman of Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) in an interview, told Reuters “Kenya is losing a third of its state budget – the equivalent of about $6 billion (Sh608 billion) – to corruption every year”.

Our plight did not escape the notice of the former United States President Barack Obama during his visit in 2015. He rightly criticized Kenya’s corruption, inequality, and tribalism before an audience, which included President Uhuru Kenyatta and his cabinet at Kasarani Sports Centre. Obama quoted a study showing that every year corruption cost Kenya 250 000 jobs. He said rising prosperity in the economy was leaving out the vast majority of the people. The burden of which is borne by the poor.

This is the same point made by Sam Paul of the Public Affairs Centre in Bangalore, in his 1997 study, Corruption: Who Will Bell the Cat? He found that in five Indian cities poor households were much more likely to pay more for public services than households in general. Consequently, when access to public goods and services requires a bribe, the poor may be excluded. Given their lack of political influence, the poor may even be asked to pay more than people with higher incomes. Furthermore, when corruption results in shoddy public services, the poor lack the resources to pursue options such as private schooling, health care, or power generation.

The Kenyan public is livid at the multi-million dollar scandals that have failed to result in high-profile convictions. They accuse politicians and top government officials of acting with impunity and encouraging graft by those in lower posts. Again Kinisu opines the real drive to stamp out corruption had to come from public pressure for change. Yet in an environment of fear and intimidation by the corruption cartels and politicians, it becomes nearly impossible to set any social movement against corruption.

We can learn from what Galia Sabar, former Professor of African Studies at Tel Aviv University, observed during struggles of the 1980s, that limited political association paralyzed the process of transforming information and ideas into action. As such, gave credence to the emergence of informal individual activism and the culture of defiance that was growing day by day. On the frontline of individual church activism were Bishops.

In earlier years Henry Okullu, Bishop of Maseno South Diocese of Anglican Church, Bishop Alexander Muge, of the Anglican diocese of Eldoret, Bishop David Gitari, of Mt. Kenya East diocese, and Rev. Timothy Njoya, a moderator in Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) were much-needed advocated of change in the country through their political engagements.

Finance Magazine of February, 1990, Sabar in “Politics” and “Power” in the Kenyan Public and Recent Events: the Church of the Province of Kenya, said: “Irrespective of how much we might belittle their social standing, the clerics represent the most cohesively structured, the most firmly organized and the most solidly unified institution in the country [the Church].”

Stephen Kapinde, a Lecturer at Pwani University, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies observes how the vitality of the pulpit as a stable platform for change and the sermons of Gitari were heard at a time when the state had censored nearly everyone and proscribed gathering of more than three people. They gave credence to the whole church in political discourses. The prelate with his colleagues like Njoya, Muge, Ndingi Mwanazeki and Okullu developed a culture of resistance through the pulpit.

Professor Robert Press in his book, Peaceful Resistance: Advancing Human Rights and Civil Liberties, offers more insight into this culture by observing that: “Individual activists can only do so much in their role as ice-breakers in the reform process. Organizational activists build on their advances but need the presence of members of the public at their events to make a serious bid for reforms. The public, in turn, needs the forum for the activists to express their discontent. Together the resistance sends signals to the regime, the public and international officials and agencies that the demands for change have substance and visible public support.”

For this reason, the clergy blazed the trail for democratic reforms from their pulpits. Amazingly, such activism was thought by many to defiled the pulpit, while in essence, the clerics used the space to liberate the people of Kenya thereby living up to their calling to be “salt” and “light” in the world.

The contrast is huge today. Our pulpits are not as sacrosanct, neither are messages from them as dreaded, as they used to be. The frequency with which politicians have graced churches with goodies from corruption, coupled with the silence of clerics is troubling. For instance, the Deputy President William Ruto has been a darling of churches during funds drives. Notwithstanding the fact that he has been named in a litany of corruption-related scandals to the extent that former Kenya’s Prime Minister, Raila Odinga in 2015 described him as “the high priest of corruption in Kenya.”


The Anglican Church has also fallen into this widespread habit of inviting public figures as guests of honor at fund-raising, understood by many people as giving the undue prominence to politicians in the church where they are not members. This ignored the church’s long and explicit stand on the practice. Following the Anglican’s Provincial Board of Christian Community Services consultation on The Theology and Philosophy of Development held at St. Julian Centre, 11-13 May 1983, the Church issued protocols to protect the likely erosion of the Church’s prophetic role in the society: “Church leaders and especially bishops are strongly urged to correct this situation. Inviting public figures as guests of honor at Church harambees or giving them prominence in a church function merely because of the money they bring is not in accordance with our Christian principles. It tends to silence the prophetic voice of our church leaders  (A report of the CPK Consultation on Theology and Philosophy of Development, 1989: Recommendation B: 2, p. 5, ¶4)”.

Regrettably, several Anglican Churches have overlooked this protocol and also indulged the said politicians their pulpits thus quenching their prophetic voice. How can they avoid the tag of being an accomplice to corruption? They should have heeded Joseph Kamaru warning in his song, J. M. Kariuki: “gûtirí múicì na mùcudhìríria“(there is no difference between a thief and a mere observer).

Here is some guidance from the British Evangelist and theologian G. Campbell Morgan: “Sacrilege is defined as taking something that belongs to God and using it profanely. But the worst kind of sacrilege is taking something and giving it to God when it means absolutely nothing to you”, then the church would have committed double Sacrilege in this indulgence: Knowingly giving platform to sanitize corrupt money in the name of God who commanded that “thou shall not steal”, and perpetuating delusion that, that is investing in heaven.

How do I explain my friend Joe’s query: “what does it mean when the church goes quiet or turns a blind eye on corruption to the extent that a politician like Ruto can claim that his contributions to churches to be “investing in heaven”? The church, in indulging in questionable money being “invested“ in its programs, undermines its own ability to stand up to the corrupt. The very politicians, who should use their vast powers to stamp out corruption, are instead using it to accumulate obscene affluence, meanwhile pushing the majority of the country’s population into abject poverty.

Investing in heaven is investing in Christ. St. John Chrysostom (347-407AD), one of the greatest Early Church Fathers of the 5th Century, warned: “Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups when he himself is dying of hunger? First, fill him when he is hungry; then use the means you have left to adorn his table. Will you have a golden cup made but not give a cup of water? What is the use of providing the table with cloths woven of gold thread, and not providing Christ himself with the clothes he needs? What profit is there in that?”

How about using one’s position in government to save the 250,000 jobs lost annually to corruption? Wouldn’t that give many Kenyans opportunities to feed their hungry, and not to leave them to stare hungrily at church tables embellished with gold? Investing in heaven would mean putting to proper use the $6 billion lost to corruption to provide for proper health services and housing for the homeless Kenyans.

It is not freedom from corruption, but it is freedom to take a stand toward the corruption that we must all pursue. A curious episode in J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Fellowship of the Ring, is instructive. It depicts our challenge on corruption: “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”.

If the church is to retain its credibility and relevance, then it will have to recover its earlier prophetic fervor for the sake of the public good. I believe the church is still eminently placed to influence public opinion on matters affecting the nation. I would like to believe that, sooner or later, the church would regain its prophetic zeal and provide the moral leadership we so desperately need today.

Canon Francis Omondi is a Priest of All Saints Cathedral Diocese, of the ACK. Views expressed here are his own not of the Church.

Also published at https://www.theelephant.info/features/2018/07/12/an-ode-to-silence-the-churchs-abdication-of-its-role-in-society/

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén