Sunday, May 23, 2010

HOMELAND, the Memoir of George H. Obama

My most recent “Kenya read” is Homeland, An Extraordinary Story of Hope and Survival (by George Hussein Obama, Simon & Schuster, 2010. It introduces five year old George playing football on a Nairobi playground. A sweaty, dirty, little kid meets a dignified American Senator who comes to meet him--Barack Obama--half brother.

It tells the story of a son of Kenya raised by an attractive black mother, a nominal Catholic and a widow by virtue of her husband’s automobile accident (Barack Sr). For ten years George lounges in the benefits (?) of an affluent white Frenchman--unmarried stepfather that affords him domestic security, and all that status and influence can buy.

En route to becoming “somebody, George discovers his stepfather (Christian, his name) gone--3 cars, possessions, everything. An angry, rebellious and troubled George crashes and burns. He fails miserably in his education, falling into a life of drinking, smoking hashish, carousing--his detour to gangland and crime--eventually prison.

At 20 he was arrested for a crime he did not commit (not just an excuse). He and his 3 best buddies get buried in a Nairobi hellhole--Kenyan jail, where graft and corruption reign supreme. Almost miraculously, he represents himself and his 3 friends and the judge “finally” allows justice to prevail. He throws the case out and George walks into freedom--a (self) changed man.

After winning his freedom, George again meets his American stepbrother and draws courage and strength from his brother’s successes. He turns his life around, choosing to live in the Nairobi ghetto that had become home - helping kids overcome the challenges of the ghetto (inspiring).

“My brother has risen to be the leader of the most powerful country in the world. Here in Kenya, my aim is to be a leader amongst the poorest people on earth--those who live in the slums” writes George. Obama, 28, lives and works in the ghetto under the auspices of the Huruma Centre Community Youth Group and The Mwelu Foundation, established by another rehabilitated reformer who uses photography to renew kids lives.

I had many reactions to this book. I see a young African challenged by the success of his older stepbrother, President Barack Obama, after nearly destroying his life. I read with a jaundiced eye his growing up in a religious home (mother a practicing Catholic and unmarried, and a white Frenchman that would live with her 10 years then disappear.

I understood the savage anger George nurtured but disapproved his life of crime, which he freely divulges. I saw two grown individuals claiming to be something they really were not, raising a child to whom they gave everything except what he needed most. I am also sensitive to children of divorce (broken marriages); I have experienced the resulting anger and see it as terribly abusive to children.

I recoiled at his rejection of God, then of his turn toward Islam, the “nominal” faith of his father (you can be a Muslim and be nothing whatsoever as long as you perform the 4-5 rituals and confess Allah, you can even be a terrorist). However, I respect George for rehabilitating himself as a human being: I am only sorry he short-circuited his faith journey by returning to “the faith of his blood father.”

It hinders him from coming to the kind of peace and personal transformation that goes beyond what one can do for one’s self as it relates to the God (Arab word is Allah) who revealed himself through the resurrection of Jesus and who relates within the transformed person as the Holy Spirit. I pray that it will one day happen.

As for big brother, Barack, political extremists still slander him as a closet Muslim et al, but he is a self-confessed Christian and I find much to admire him for, although admittedly I have not questioned his theology, and I definitely disapprove of his beer drinking and cigarette smoking--both nasty habits that destroy many lives, even if they may not condemn him to the pit--poor, poor stewardship.

Wow! This has gone on and on and I still have Gordon Bailey’s verse via Assist News Service. Bailey, from the UK, asks the question How different am I? Bailey says in verse what I would like to say, but he says it so much better:

I see other people and look at their life-styles,
their passion to own as they buy;
their joy as they see they're surpassing the Jones;
and ask 'Just how different am I?'
Their clothes are designer, they worship their motors,
they cherish their money supply;
I see they take pride in their homes and their gardens,
and ask 'Just how different am I?'
They say they're as happy as might be expected
of those who work hard and aim high;
I notice how tightly they hold their possessions,
and ask 'Just how different am I?'
They point to disasters, to warfare, to suffering,
to cancer, to AIDS and ask 'Why?'
I ponder their doubting, the ways they are thinking,
and ask 'Just how different am I?'
I say I am different, that I'm a believer,
I study the scriptures each day;
I gather together with others to worship
and bow in respect as I pray.
My faith is my hallmark, I'm deeply committed,
for God and his purpose I choose.
Yet all I have said I admit can be said of
the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Jews!
I say I'm a Christian, that Christ makes a difference;
what difference does Christ really make?
If there is no difference twixt me and a Hindu,
is my faith in Christ a mistake?
Will it be the intimate friendship with Jesus
that sooner or later shows through,
in gentle concern and consistent forgiveness
in all that I say and I do?
Or is it my faith in the Christ who lives in me
that helps me step out of His way,
so others will see, as they notice what's happening,
that Jesus is now on display?
His freedom for those who are caught in sin's bondage;
His healing for every heart-break;
His love for the outcast, the drunkard, the stranger;
are the differences Jesus will make.
Christ's love is unfailing, His joy is transcendent,
Christ's peace is beyond all degree.
I need to trust Jesus so others will witness
His differences shining through me (© Gordon Bailey 2010).

from Warner’s World,I am

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