“Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain”
Psalm 127:1 (NIV)
Here we are over 3 months after the lockdown got fully going in the UK, the 132nd of March (31+30+31+30+10) as some wisecracks have put it. Had it not been for delays finding and buying and moving into a house and then the lockdown we had hoped to get to Nigeria again in March. In many ways Elizabeth and Helen in particular seemed to be ready for that in March (and so was I), but God had other plans, so here we are.
Kai! (Exclamation) We have been away from Nigeria for too long!
It sometimes just strikes me. One way I notice is that when I call up translators on the phone or sign off to friends in Nigeria I have to work just a little bit harder to remember all the correct greetings. And the funniest thing happens. I find that I forget the most recent language I’ve been learning & using (Ishɛ), fumble around and maybe even forget the right Hausa and then find myself wanting to use C’Lela which I learned in NW Nigeria in 2001, or Gworog, which I’ve hardly touched in the last 4 years. Memory is a funny thing.
But at least today we got a little taste of Nigeria as a mostly Scottish-raised Nigerian lad got married to our minister’s daughter at church today (online). Somehow or other they managed to have not just photos, but some videos of traditional Tiv dancing complete with black-and-white striped traditional fabric and stripy face-masks! While some people outside of Nigeria have heard of the sizeable Igbo and Yoruba tribes, and some may even have heard of the Hausas and Fulanis, not too many have heard of the Tiv, but they’re a pretty substantial tribe in the central south-east of Nigeria. We have some Tivi colleagues in Jos who are working as missionaries with us, and who have introduced us to some of their traditional dances and traditional dresses. So for us it was especially meaningful to see some Tiv culture, hearing some good Nigerian cheering and ululating from family on the livestream, and it reminds us of our second home that we’re missing, even while we are in our Glasgow home.
In many ways this was a complement to a wedding of our colleagues Richard and Anna in Nigeria a month and a half ago. As Richard told me they did the culturally unspeakable thing of getting married without either family present in person!
This COVID season has stressed us and forced a lot of us to think through again what is really important about what we do. While we would have loved to be at weddings in person the fact that they have just gone ahead with a handful of people in person, and most of us online, stripped down to almost bare essentials, speaks volumes.
What matters isn’t impressing people, or having a big fun party, or getting the seating plan just right, but a public commitment and promise to each other in the sight of God. All the extra cultural expectations can sometimes obscure what really matters and the fact this is wild, crazy, dangerous and good.
Julie and I loved the fun of My Big Fat Greek Wedding,* but maybe “My Slimmed Down Covid Wedding” is even more meaningful. The real wedding feast is still to come.
(* Some Northern Irish people may recognise a few familiar aspects)
Two weeks ago, shortly after protests began over the gratuitous public murder of George Floyd, the chapter of Bible to read with my daughters was Numbers 35. It couldn’t be more relevant for contemporary America… and actually the whole world.
“ ‘If a man strikes someone with an iron object so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. 17 Or if anyone has a stone in his hand that could kill, and he strikes someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. 18 Or if anyone has a wooden object in his hand that could kill, and he hits someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death….20 If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at him intentionally so that he dies 21 or if in hostility he hits him with his fist so that he dies, that person shall be put to death; he is a murderer… 30 Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. 31 Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. He must surely be put to death…33 Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it.’”
which I take to be a nicely indirect way of reminding us that we have statues of God everywhere — living and breathing human beings. That’s why God refused to allow any idols to be made representing him in wood, stone or metal.
We all do well to remember that.
Those are the statues we should defend; especially those living and breathing statues God has sent our way to care for.
It’s hard in these coronavirus lockdown days when loved ones die and you can’t be with them at the end and when funerals can’t happen. Christians know it doesn’t really matter for the dead, but for the living. Some funerals are being live-streamed, but every attempt falls short. What can be done?
It occurred to me that a rural community in NW Nigeria might teach us something.
If Leviticus is the deathbed of many a read-the-Bible-in-a-year resolutions, I reckon Job is generally just ignored or never reached, which is both a pity and quite understandable. Happening to read it in the last month or so with my 11-year old daughter Rebekah, I’ve really been struck, however, by its relevance as wisdom for our time… and not just the first couple of chapters, a few memory verses in the middle and the last bit.
Let me back up. Reading the Bible with Rebekah is quite interesting; there’s always some good interaction, even if brief. Having directed what we read for most of her 10 years of hearing the Bible, I’ve let her have a bit of limited choice in what we’ll do and she’s interested in getting into hitherto uncharted territory.
“If God had wanted me to die thinking I was a clever fellow, he would not have got me into the business of translating the Bible.”
…and even more so when you’re working outside your own culture.
I was reminded of one of my own humbling moments as I read some helpful tips on translating the tricky word πνευμα / spirit / ghost Some time in late 2012 I think, I was working with an enthusiastic, impatient and somewhat struggling Ninkyob* translation team, we came across various spirit-related words in Luke’s gospel and I didn’t want to fall into the trap of relying completely on an English gloss given by the translators to understand the words they were proposing for the Ninkyob translation. After all, when you’re discussing key spiritual or unusual terms through a second language there’s a distinct danger of getting trapped in catastrophic circular reasoning that simply conceals and reinforces misunderstandings. So I thought it would be clever (and useful) to step back a bit and talk more generally about how Ninkyob people discuss ‘spiritual beings’.
As a committee we adopted “mercy seat” for a number of reasons, but we recognize that “propitiation” is also supported by many, and we list “propitiation” or “place of atonement” in a footnote.
By this point, if you’re a Christian who gets very excited by these kind of things you may well be interested. At the same time, I’m just trying to imagine myself actually using any of these terms in actual conversation about the issues Paul raises in Romans chapter 3. I suppose the choice of terms all comes down to who you think is going to be reading your translation and what they are going to do with it. The committee rightly point out that whatever term they choose it’s not supposed to change the meaning. Whether you choose propitiation, mercy seat or atoning sacrifice or something else, it will only actually mean something to someone who has already been told what is going on here.