Thursday, June 16, 2011

An African tale of 1974... read in 2011

I'm still haunted by this tale, by John Mbiti, told in 1974.

He learned German, Greek, French, Latin, Hebrew, in addition to English, church history, systematics, homiletics, exegesis, and pastoralia, as one part of the requirements for his degree. The other part, the dissertation, he wrote on some obscure theologian of the Middle Ages. Finally, het got what he wanted: a Doctorate in Theology. It took him nine and a half years altogether, from the time he left his home untill he passed his orals and set off to return. He was anxious to reach home as soon as possible, so he flew, and he was glad to pay for his excess baggage, which after all, consisted only of the Bible in the various languages he had learned, plus Bultman, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Brunner, Buber, Cone, K√ľng, Moltman, Niebuhr, Tillich, Christianity Today, Time Magazine...

At home, relatives, neighbours, old friends, dancers, musicians, drums, dogs, cats, all gather to welcome him back. The fatted calf are killed; meat roasted; girls giggle as they survey him surrounded by his excess baggage; young children have their imagination rewarded-they had only heard about him but now they see him; he, of course, does not know them by name. He must tell about his experiences overseas, for everyone has come to eat, to rejoice, to listen to their hero who has studied so many northern languages, whyo has read so many theological books, who is the hope of their small, but fast growing church, the very incarnation of theological learning. People bear with him patiently as he struggles to speak his own language, as occasionally he seeks the help of an interpreter from English. They are used to sitting down and making time; nobody is in a hurry; speech is not a matter of life and death. Dancing, jubilation, eating, feasting-all these go on as if there were nothing else to do, because the man for whom everybody had waited has finally returned.

Suddenly there is a shriek. Someone has fallen to the ground. It is his older sister, now a married women with six children and still going strong. He rushes to her. People make room for him, and watch him. "Let's take her to the hospital," he calls urgently. They are stunned. He becomes quiet. They all look at him bending over her. Why doesn't someone respond to his advice? Finally a schoolboy says, "Sir, the nearest hospital is 50 miles away, and there are few busses that go there." Someone else says, "She is possessed. Hospitals will not cure her!" The chief says to him, "You have been studying theology overseas for 10 years. Now help your sister. She is troubled by the spirit of he great aunt." Slowly he goes to get Bultman, looks at the index, finds what he wants, reads again about spirit posession in the New Testament. Of course he gets an answer: Bultman has demythologised it. He insists that his sister is not possessed. The people shout, "Help your sister; she is possessed!" He shouts back, "But Bultman has demythologised demon possession."
[This story is entirely fictional and is not based on the experience of a real person]
Fantasy? No, for these are the realities of our time.....


Reading this tale in 2011, I wonder... Has anything changed?
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Musings.....