Drive down one of Abuja’s many crowded streets and you’ll be visually inundated by church billboards. One speaks of healing. Another, of God’s redemptive power. Still others, promises of divine spiritual presence.
Then, you take a glance across to the other side of the road. A mosque, clearly competing with the glitzy, yet run-down, church chapel just a stone’s throw away. A few more hours and they’ll be performing the day’s second call to prayer.
Drive one block farther and you see the burnt-out remains of a once-thriving neighbourhood, each house torched and hollow. You know people died here. Children lost fathers. Whole families were likely butchered. Livelihoods were destroyed, the perpetrators having made sure that normal life here would not be resuming anytime soon.
But here’s the rub – I really can’t be sure whether this devastation was caused by ‘Christians’ or ‘Muslims’. In a land so fraught with ethnic, religious and historic tension, it’s often hard to discern one ‘side’ from the other. Sure, one’s building might have a cross above it, and another a crescent moon and star, but that’s kind of irrelevant when your whole neighbourhood is about to be razed to the ground by the ‘other side’.
In a land of such discord and volatility, playing a sort of tit-for-tat on steroids isn’t exactly a roadmap to peace.
Now please don’t get me wrong – this is not a religion-bashing piece where all I really end up saying is, “peace and love, maaan!” What it is, however, is a piece where I’m asking something more along the lines of, “Okay…so what?!” You can claim to know God, but what does that actually produce? If all of this religion leads to nothing but elusive promises of individual success, to violence on a national scale, and to strife between neighbouring communities, then what’s really the point of any of it?
What’s really the point of saying that I love Jesus without also loving my enemy? And, though you really don’t need to take my word for it, here, the concept of ‘enemy’ is far more than a mere theological truism. In a place where there are such clear lines of division in society, Jesus’ call to love your enemy, to do good to those who spitefully use you, and to return good for evil take on a whole new significance. Here, more than anywhere, we need the real Jesus.
Now, correct me if I’m wrong (actually, don’t – I really can’t be bothered to argue this one anymore!) but I reckon we see Jesus far more in any act of self-giving kindness than we do in a well-crafted sermon. You can see Jesus in the gratitude of a Muslim widow provided a wheelchair so that she no longer has to crawl through the dust. You see Jesus in the faces of orphaned children given a home and an education where they would otherwise have nothing. You see Jesus in the smile of a former terrorist, freed from a life of murder and hatred, now trying to bring peace back to his community. You may even see it in the willingness of an Imam, working with you to bring education and running water to his impoverished village.
You see, all those billboards and posters mean absolutely nothing in a world where we don’t actually cross the divide, give selflessly to the ‘other’, and, who knows, maybe even make the world a better place because of it.
I heard of a guy who once did something a little like that….