Chris Nsubuga Mugga – Author

Chris Nsubuga has been one of my closest friends for 23 years. We met while we were both students at Kings College Budo. We bonded over our love for music and he is one of the people that was most instrumental in my decision to move from being a nominal Christian to becoming a committed Christian. 

But more than our shared faith or our shared love for music, the one thing that I enjoy the most Chris is his open and analytical mind. He has the ability to take the numerous experiences of our human condition and synthesize them in a way that makes sense. In our relationship, I am the one who wildly swings from one emotion to another and from one theory to another. I am the flaming liberal pushing political and social boundaries trying to shock him out of his good-boy natural tendencies. He is the one who takes it all in stride, rides the emotions with me, while at the same time keeping an even keel and an eye out for what is really important 

Don’t get me wrong. He cuts loose like the best of us, but he never stops analyzing things and he has a memory for detail like very few people that I know. 

But above all, we are friends because we do not have to act with each other. I can be exactly who I am with him – warts and all – and I suspect that he feels the same way about me. 

One of the best things I did with Chris was introduce him to my family. My mom, dad, sisters and brother took him in like he was one of us. It helped that he was over at our home a lot. 

He also shared his family with me and his mom and brother just smothered me with love. In fact we hung out so much that people started asking me whether his big brother, Ronnie, was my blood brother. 

As you can imagine, having been friends for so long, there is no end to the stories that I could tell you of the adventures that we went on. And because of this strong and long-lasting connection I have with him, I feel that what I share with him is much more than friendship. It is even more than GOOD friendship. It is brotherhood. 

Chris recently became an author, which I think is so cool! He has just finished a book called “The Gold In Fathering” and he was kind enough to send me an advance copy.

I. LOVED. IT. !!!!!

He weaves together all these incredible stories from his formative years, his young adult years and his time as a father of his two kids – Lemuel and Sinza. And in the pages of the book you can see his mischief, his passion, his emotion, and his analytical mind all rolled up in one. 

A highlight for me in this book was reading about his interactions with our family. I particularly enjoyed reading about the respect and love he has for my father, who is like a surrogate dad to him. It filled me with such pride to know that God used my friendship with him to bring into his life my dad and I am so glad that I got to share my father with my dear friend. 

But the thing that I love the most about this book is the delicate balance between honesty AND the honour in every chapter. I knew about Chris’ troubled relationship with his own father and did not know whether he would gloss over it or speak candidly about it. Chris is somehow able to separate the good from the bad and while he speaks candidly about his complicated relationship with his own dad, you never get the sense that he is using this book to disrespect him. Far from it! 

If I were asked to write an excerpt for this book, this is what I would say: 

The prototype for fathering on the African continent generally looks like the character Okonkwo in the acclaimed Chinua Achebe book, “Things fall apart”. Angry, aloof, detached, disinterested, volatile. This is not the case for every african man, but it certainly describes the relationship that most Africans have with their fathers. It is against this backdrop that “The Gold In Fathering” book by Chris Nsubuga Mugga is written and in it he makes a compelling case for a different model of fathering that is based in the best examples of men that have fathered him over the years. This book is refreshing, candid, analytical and yet somehow manages to be a page turner. I would recommend it to any man that wants a better fathering prototype. I thoroughly enjoyed it and WILL be a better father for having read it!
– Paulo Mugarura 

The Social Justice Prototype

Luke 10: 25 – 37

Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”

Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

“A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”

“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.

Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”

On the surface it seems so simple… THIS story seems so simple. The next time you see somebody hurt, stop and do something about it. Or at least help the people that are trying to do something about it.

As a nation, we are better than most at it. If you want to raise financial support or manpower for a justice cause locally or internationally, Canada is one of the best countries from which you can gather people. So even in the church, it is not a hard sell to rise up in this manner. We get it, we really do.

But is there more?

A scholar who is well versed with the mosaic law asks Jesus if there is anything that he should do to get eternal life. And Jesus turns the question on the man. What do you think the law and the prophets are really pointing to? How would you summarize it?

And he says: Love God and love your neighbour.

Jesus was like. Good! Go do that. But the scholar, like most scholars is not impressed with the simplicity of the answer. So Jesus launches into a story.

Looking at the story, you have to wonder if the priest and the levite who pass the beaten up man on the road are representative of the scholar. You have to wonder if Jesus was trying to help the guy questioning him see himself in the two religious leaders that SHOULD HAVE KNOWN to help the robbed, injured man.

If you did not know it, the whole idea of social action and social justice is actually woven into the ancient mosaic law. But as much as they were a deeply religious society concerned with following the law to the letter, Jesus is exposing the fact that there is a difference between knowing what the right thing to do is, and actually DOING it. The scholar knows what the right thing to do is. In the story, the pharisee and the levite know what the right thing to do is. But there is a disconnect.

This is the simpler lesson in the text isn’t it? You know what to do and you can even speak eloquently about it and debate it ad nauseum. But when it gets down to it, can you translate your actions to words? When it really counts, can you slow down enough to help somebody? Yes, it is an inconvenience and will throw you off your schedule, but when it counts, can you take the time to be the difference maker in the life of somebody that has been beaten down by the things that life throws at us?

The thing that must have been astonishing to Jesus’ listeners is that the person who does the right thing comes from a race of people that the Jews despised – the Samaritans. Those ethnically tainted people! Those second-class people!

The hero of the story cannot come from THOSE people. In fact, you can see at the end of the story, the scholar cannot even bring himself to say “the samaritan”.

Look at it

Jesus asks him: Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?” and the scholar responds, “The one who treated him kindly.”

Seriously??

“The One”??

The story is multi-layered. Jesus is not simply asking his listeners to make sure that their words line up with their actions or that they put their hands and money where their mouths are. Jesus is pressing the matter. Could you help somebody that you dont like? Could you help somebody that has treated you like scum your whole life?

Jesus is asking: Will you help “the other one”? In our world of fear mongering where we are pitted against each other, will you help somebody on the other side of your racial, economic or ideological divide? Some of us might stop long enough to help somebody like us, but because of the constant stream of fear messaging in our world today, chances are that we will not stop to help somebody that is not like us

You know, it is so easy to speak about this stuff, but when the opportunity comes to help out, it is a lot more difficult than you might think. It is difficult because it takes time. It is difficult because you’ll get dirty trying to help somebody that is in the dirt. You’ll get blood on your clothes trying to get the beat up, robbed person cleaned and set up in a place that they can heal for a while. There is no way to actually get into the hands and feet business of helping people without getting yourself dirty. And perhaps this is the real reason why we may pull back from helping when we can. Maybe it is the reason why it is easier to spare dollars than to spare the time.

I believe that God would like something more valuable than our dollars. I think he is asking us to spare time. I think the charge is to move beyond being socially conscious… to move beyond verbal advocacy. I think that Jesus’ charge to those that would listen is to allow his compassion to fill our hearts so much that we are available to him to help those that are like us and those that are anything BUT like us.

It is only when we take it this far that we become most like Christ, after all, that is what Christianity is all about – becoming like Christ. Christ sees the injustice of sin and instead of waving a wand as an aloof wizard, he takes on human flesh, lives as one of us and then takes on the sins of the world, paying in full the debt of sin – death. Jesus is the ultimate social justice prototype and his call on our lives is to follow his example, and not simply intellectually acknowledge his teachings.

Of Zombies And Worldviews

Maybe its halloween or something, but I was thinking about zombies the other day.

I love zombies. I love zombie movies and TV shows. I used to be a vampire guy, but about 3 years ago as I was watching “28 days later” for the 28th time (I think) I started to realize that my love for vampires had faded and that I was a zombie guy.

The thing about most zombie movies or TV shows is that the coming of zombies tends to precipitate an apocalyptic world. Because of the infectious nature of being undead, zombies tend to overwhelm civilization and overturn everything that we’ve so carefully constructed. And as you look at the portraits of the characters that emerge out of the ensuing destruction, they all have one unique trait in mind. They all possess a “me-first” mentality, no matter how unassuming or benign they look. It seems that this “me-first” mentality is the one that sustains them and keeps them alive.

And as each of these zombie stories unfolds, you discover over and over again that in these shows, the characters who think of other people first, or even DARE to try to create a group or a situation that is not self serving, eventually die. They are going to get killed by the zombies, or killed by one of the surviving humans who perceives their “weakness”.

There are parts of the world where there is such a collapse of civilization, that it might as well be a zombie apocalypse. There are places in the world where it seems like people who are dead on the inside, are going around in hordes decimating and destroying neighbourhoods and cities.

There have been times in our history where whole civilizations have been destroyed by marauding hordes. And it is in those times of war and extreme danger that the worst in humanity comes out. The me-first mentality rears its head in spectacular fashion and the narrative that persists in those situations seems to suggest that you have to have a me-first mentality if you are going to survive.

Indeed, in the pop culture of our peaceful society, we have a terrible joke about being chased by a bear. We say, “ If a bear comes chasing us, I don’t need to be the fastest runner in the group, I just need to be faster than you. Ha, ha, ha!” And we all laugh at the joke not realizing that it is a betrayal of the worst possible attitude in each one of us. It is more than just an instinctive need for survival. It is a worldview that simply says “I’ve got to think of me first!”

If your worldview says, “I’ve got to think of me first”, then the way that you view God, yourself, your place in the world and relationships with people in your world are all skewed by this thinking. If you have a “me-first” mentality, then the way you make sense of pain, suffering, the problems in the world, good and evil will be through this lens.

This is why it is not so difficult to see that in our fictitious versions of a dystopian future – no matter if it is a future threatened by war or by zombies or aliens, there always seems to be one underlying thread:  The only way to survive is if you have a “me-first” mentality. The people who get caught up with trying to save other people WILL NOT SURVIVE.

Now, this is the point in the blog post where I turn a corner and tell you about an alternative worldview that we are supposed to rewrite in our hearts isnt it? I know that you’re smart enough to figure it out on your own… and you are right!

A me-first worldview has to be replaced with an others-first dispensation.

There is something truly awesome about losing your life for something bigger than yourself. It is in these acts of self sacrifice – these acts of losing your life – that you are most complete. You are your best and most complete self when you are laying down your life for somebody less fortunate than yourself or giving up your life for a pursuit of an ideal that is greater than the mundane stuff.

We’ve all evolved, been designed, been created with an intrinsic understanding of the fact that the stuff you accumulate is worthless once it has passed through the fires of death. Nobody really remembers the wealthiest people, the selfish people or the “I’ve got to think of myself first” people. The people that we really remember, the ones in whose memory we build monuments and after whom we name our children are the people who gave their lives in service of one kind or another.

I think that the thing that the dystopian tv shows and movies based around war, zombies or alien invasions get wrong is this: you don’t need a me-first attitude to survive the apocalypse. You need an others- first mindset.

Why?

You need to look into our collective history to see it. The only way that people have been able to recover and rebuild from the ruins of marauding hordes is by thinking, not just of themselves, but of others too. The only way that people have been able to  effectively resist violence, oppression and injustice AND rebuild any modicum of civilization is through appropriating the golden rule – treating others as you would like to be treated. And so in truth, the best way to survive is not by having a me-first worldview, but rather by having an “others-first” worldview.

So my conclusion is just as you suspected. Exchange an “I’ve got to think of myself first” worldview with the golden rule – an “others-first” dispensation. Easier said than done, eh?

I think the work starts in the small things and eventually works its way outwards.

To quote a first-century religious thinker that many of us follow today,

Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life will find it

Celebrating Sanyu (Angela) – 1 Year Late

About a year ago, a dear friend of mine released her debut album. I’ve never been more happy or proud for a musician as I was for her. I had the opportunity to interface with her greatness for about 8 months in 2001 and 2002… a really long time ago… I know… but her talent and musical vision made a tremendous impression on me.

Halfway through the third song – a beautiful R&B, neo-soul tune, I might add – she sang this verse that just stopped me in my tracks:

Looking in the mirror, who do I see?
I see God in my big brown eyes
I see God in my double a cup and my beautiful curls
And the loveliest legs that you ever did see

He knows, he sees, the image of a king rejoicing over me in sweetest song
To you Oh Lord I lift my eyes ’cause I trust you
You are my light and you make me see I am beautiful

You can listen to the whole thing HERE

There were so many things that struck me as I heard the lyrics. The delivery was incredible. The honesty of the lyrics was refreshing. The journey of a young woman struggling with self image and seeing herself exactly the way God made her – beautiful – was encapsulated so well.

I’ve wanted to write a review of her album – not because this blog is about album reviews – but rather because I wanted to share my dear friend’s talent with the world. It IS a creative album. It is very well written and executed AND even recorded, considering it was all done in Uganda. I’ve wanted to write a review, but I’ve failed because I could not find the words to say how much it meant that she put herself out like this until it finally dawned on me what the underlying thread behind this album was…

GRACE

Every song on this album has the quiet theme of a life transformed by grace. A faith ignited by grace. Forgiveness received because of grace. Body image and self esteem struggles massaged away by grace. I know Angela… erm… Sanyu… better than most people do because she is one of my best friends in the world and this album brought tears to my eyes because I saw how God took this precious life and filled it with passion and fire that could only come from one place – grace. HIS grace.

I want to celebrate Sanyu – albeit one year too late – and her incredible achievement on this album. It is a well-produced, well-executed piece of art. This album makes me so proud of all the music that is coming out of Uganda. It draws heavily on R$B and neo-soul influences and in it, you’ll hear Angela’s story telling, incredible vocal and instrument arrangement, but most of all, if you listen very closely, you’ll hear the grace of God calling out to you.

Rushing To The Lessons – Part 2

In my previous post, I talked about the fact that there is a tendency to force people to rush to the lessons of life prematurely when they are going through tough times. We want to do our best to help them make sense of a difficult situation, but in truth, none of us really knows what the lessons are or what they will be in time and how God will use the pain and the pleasure in our lives to make sense of it all in the end.

As a pastor, people are always looking to me to say something to them that will help them make sense of the world they are in. Now, I am blessed to be a part of a church that knows me well and knows that I am not a wise sage possessing all the answers to the questions of life, so they generally do not pose me with such questions. But outside our little congregation, I occasionally find myself in conversations with people that have just found out I am a pastor and are unloading their lives on me. They are walking through an inexplicably difficult time and are hoping that in my position as a spiritual leader, I might have some insight into the situation that they are walking through.

In those moments I wish I could be as self assured as the pseudo gurus that live on our TV screens using their bad psych 101 on their TV audiences or guests with total confidence that they know how to solve their problems. I wish I could be more like the bloggers and the podcasters with their biting wit and well-researched solutions to the questions of life. But I am not. And I have started to be OK with the fact that I am not.

I am starting to understand in small part the reason why we should not rush TO the lessons. I’ve started to understand that there is value in being present in the moment instead of suspending reality in the false hope that it might all mean something in the end. I think that if you live in the reality of your NOW – whatever difficult time you are walking through – you might have the ability to find something even better…

JOY

The inexplicable joy that comes, not as a result of understanding the deep cosmic reason for the crap that you are currently dealing with, but rather as a result of an assurance inside of you that can only come from God. A joy that is not dependent or related to outward circumstances, but rather built on an inner fortitude that can only come from the image of God in you touching the eternity of the God of the universe.

And perhaps JOY is a more worthy pursuit in the trying times than THE LESSONS are. Because lessons can be forgotten, and frankly, not all of us are smart enough to learn them. But “joy” is something that nobody can take away once you really have it.

So today, don’t rush to the lesson. If you are walking with somebody that is going through an incredibly difficult time in their life, resist the temptation to make them feel better by finding the lesson. Go for something better…

JOY

Rushing To The Lessons

Every summer I think back to one of the most difficult seasons I’ve ever had to live through – my first year back in Canada in 2003. I think about it every summer because the summer was the hardest. As much as the weather is spectacular in Ottawa and there are so many things to do, and so many places to go, I was walking through an incredibly difficult personal time.

The thing that was making my summer difficult was the realization that, even though I had arrived here with many hopes and dreams for my future, they were most certainly not going to work out. Almost every immigrant to Canada faces an incredible amount of difficulty adjusting to life here.

But it goes deeper than simple culture shock.

Even though many immigrants are allowed to arrive here because of their education and work experience, the fact that this education and work experience was not accumulated in Canada means that you arrive here with nothing except the pennies you’ve saved up and the clothes in your cases. It’s even tougher for immigrants that arrive here as refugees, because as much as they arrive here fleeing tough situations in their countries, they too are proud people that have been abruptly uprooted from the lives that they knew and are basically told to scrape a living together without any real tools for the journey that is laid out before them.

And so like many immigrants before and after me, I spent my first summer living through the decimation of the dreams for my future that I had before I arrived in Ottawa. Everybody that has lived through the destruction of a dream knows how painful it is. The realization that your romantic life is not turning out the way you had hoped, or the family you thought you would have is not going to happen is tough. The realization that your career is going nowhere, or that you are bleeding money faster than you can make it, is painful. The realization that your friends are moving on from you, or that your family secretly thinks you’re a disappointment is devastating. It really is. In fact, many people cannot stand the pain, and live in denial about the reality of the situation that they are living through.

In the summer of 2003 I was struggling with the realization that my education and work experience amounted to nothing. I was really, REALLY bugged by the outright refusal of the worship leader at the church I was attending at the time, to include me on the worship team. He gave me some BS line that I took many, MANY years to forgive. The closed doors and the constant refusal to let me get involved in anything meaningful was so tough for me that my self esteem took a hit that I have not fully recovered from to this day.

As if it was not enough to be living through my own personal difficulty, there was an terribly annoying soundtrack in the background. There were always people trying to make me see the “lessons” for the season that I was walking through. God must be trying to teach you something. The universe must be trying to say something to you. Blah, blah, blah!

The fact of the matter is that NOBODY knows the lessons that are to be learned. While you are walking through the pain of watching your dreams die, there is no way that you can know what the life lessons are till you’ve had the perspective of time and reflection. In fact, in my case, I am STILL learning stuff about that time in 2003 TWELVE YEARS LATER!!!

I know why people ask those questions or say those things. They are trying to make you feel better. The hope is that if you understand that your pain has some higher purpose, you’ll feel a little better walking through it.

But they could not be more wrong!! (…and I just pounded those words into my keyboard)

In truth, I do not know what the lesson is for a parent that lost her child in the mediterranean trying to illegally cross into Europe. I do not know what the lesson is for a starving teenager in South Sudan. I do not know what the lesson is for a mom in Mexico who just had to bury her children that have been gunned down by drug lords. I do not know what the lesson is for the mom who desperately wants a child of her own but cannot conceive. I do not know what the lesson is for the single young, successful woman who would like a partner but cannot seem to find one. And my guess is that YOU DO NOT KNOW EITHER!

So instead of trying to make the situation better by saying something about the universe or God trying to teach a lesson, how about you just sit long enough to see the real pain that your friend, or your family member is walking through. How about we take a pause from rushing to the lessons and get into the real, messy business of actually living through the reality of the pain. Chances are, that’s what your friend/family needs from you

Returning to the blog

One of the things that has happened over the past year as I have settled into my role as the chief communicator at our little church in Ottawa is that my blogging has gone out the window. I started blogging initially as a way to communicate with people on my worship team and to disciple them in my thinking about all things worship.

Over time as my audience expanded somewhat, I started writing about larger ideas concerning worship. And last year as I transitioned to actually leading a church and not a ministry within a church, it became a way for me to share my messages in a way that was not simply specific to our little congregation, but also, hopefully, useful for people outside our congregation.

I must confess, however, that when I saw that there was not much traction on those posts – probably because they are pretty long – I kinda lost my way and started to wonder about the purpose of this blog. Should I continue writing with my worship hat on? Should I continue sharing my messages and meditations with people? Should I make it about something entirely different?

I do not know for sure what this new blog will become, but I think what’s going to happen over the next few weeks is that it is going to be the place where I say the things I wish I could have gotten round to saying in my messages, or in worship, or in some other forum that I provide speaking or leadership. I hope that there is somebody that still reads this blog and finds my perspective interesting, refreshing or annoying. And if there is something you’d like me to write about, I’ll see if I can!

So… here I am again. I hope you enjoy the upcoming content!