Converted at the Dinner Table
We bow our heads dutifully. A few words are said calmly. We are ready to start eating.
Someone has to say those words, more so the young ones who are forced to stick the vowels, the coma, and the full stop into their innocent heads.
It became ingrained in my life. Without much consciousness, it becomes a routine that shapes my foundation.
As a young boy, I hated two things: bathing and going to church. I could manage to hide until my mother leaves home for a service and bear with receiving an eyeful when she comes back.
It had more to do with a young, rebellious attitude of trying to discover things for myself. But the call always came when my rumbling stomach brought me back into tune. My mother would get me then.
It was long ago. I must have been very young. I remember being helped to wash my hands in a small blue dish.
That is how I was initiated into Christianity— “at the dinner table”. We never ate any of our three main meals without praying. I was not alone. There were many households that stuck to this ritual.
Though in some respects, it reflected the depth of religious belief in the aunts, uncles, and parents that raised it, in others it did not. Praying before eating instills discipline.
It showed gratitude to whoever the provider was. It also influenced the religious route when independence into adulthood eventually came.
Whether you became a true Christian, a half-baked follower of Christ, or chose to follow another way of spiritual life, you would always carry a piece of religion in you. That was the first cut, and it had its roots in me.
Perhaps it also had to do with the environment.
As much as African Tradition and Religion were part of my life, they had earned notorious condemnation as heathen. Christianity earned the civilization card.
Indians and their Hinduism or Buddhism were scarce in Zimbabwe.
You could count them on your fingers, especially with their well-known cluttered properties and retail or tailoring businesses that they ran in various towns and cities.
Islam was sparsely scattered.
I would see Muslims wearing their turbans attending domed buildings, only to know later they were mosques, where the bell tolled at certain intervals of the day and men would go there. The discipline with which they did it was impressive.
But for me, the process of Christian development went on. God became the centerpiece of my life. He was the closest I could identify with my wishes, dreams, and problems.
While on this route, I found the attraction of buying literature and clothing depicting the image of God inviting.
It has become natural, I should say. I smile at a sticker on the bumper saying ‘I love the Lord’.
When visiting friends or relatives, I measure their belief by their affinity for Christ, as indicated by the message on their key holder, a wallpaper, or a start-up message on their cell phone. Though at times they may not have faith in the religion.
My own cell phone has its own message too: ‘With God, nothing is impossible.’
Differences Mean Richness
“It is not about being holier than thou”.
Over time, my understanding of the church has broadened. There is also an element of maturity in looking at religious life.
What is wrong with being an orthodox Christian? It is not an offense to be Jewish. Neither is it barbaric to be Muslim.
As a journalist, I was in an international journalism class in Europe. Surrounded by European architecture but primarily studying Europe and Islam.
It was four years after the September 11 bombing.
The heartwarming part was the teacher, not a Muslim but a European, who was unpacking the general belief that had been spread ad infinitum that every Muslim was a potential terrorist. There are many good Muslims.
Religion is part of the solution to the world’s problems. Conflicts will arise as people fail to follow their religions to the letter.
Do you know my favourite part of Christianity?
No, it’s not how my cream Salvation Army uniform snugly fits me on a Sunday afternoon. Nor is it the church’s military-derived jargon used to call office-bearers in the church.
No, my pride is in the ease that I feel whenever I enter any house of the Lord. It is the room of respect that I give to Muslims when they get to the Mosque for their prayers.
When William Booth founded the Salvation Army in 1865, he was bent on breaking the chains of injustice by freeing the captive and oppressed, sharing food and home, clothing the naked, and carrying out family responsibilities.’
When Booth led the march of witnesses to the streets and open-air meetings, I saw Islamic mirrors and reflections when they practiced their religion. Where is the difference? Tell me.
Now, sadly, religions have become a source of people’s boiling internal hatreds. People fight over which is a better religion: more affluent or superior.
Some fight merely to spread their religious and intellectual knowledge. Others say it’s all to do with the ego. But I think it boils down to understanding to whom we pray.
And for me, my little daughter also prays before we eat. She knows that we should pray. Call it preparing the next generation for posterity, but I am not worried if she wakes up and converts to Islam tomorrow.
The ways of living might be different, but we still honour the same God. That’s the beauty of the world.
This article is from our archives.