We are perennial people.
I don’t have many things I believe to be true, absolutely, but I believe this. At the end of the day, whether we are pre-modern, modern or post-modern, whether we are Anglo, Asian, African or Latino, whether we are young or old, men or women, we have the same hopes, the same dreams, the same longings—sons of Adam, daughters of Eve that we are.
A week ago I was asked by someone who has spent 30 years in Nairobi, Kenya, if I would meet with two of his friends, a husband and wife. He described them as “leading the effort in Kenya for a vision of ‘values’ across the spectrum of social life.” They had read something I had written for a New Zealand journal, an essay “The Culture is Upstream from Politics,” and wanted to talk. And so we did.
They had never eaten Thai food, so we enjoyed the wonderfully-imagined and beautifully-presented cuisine from that very different part of the world. And we talked for a couple of hours, about their visions and my visions, their work and my work.
Thoughtful, articulate, passionate, they have given years to understanding their society. They long for Kenyan individuals and institutions to flourish, and realize that without a renewal at the heart of the culture, there will be no truly good life. What to do?
That was our conversation. We dreamed dreams together about common work to be done. Could we collaborate on shared projects, ones that are true across the board, whether with Africans or Americans? We agreed that what was true there is true here, so that their work is in some profound sense our work.
They have chosen a word, Unngwana, to capture their vision. It is Swahili for “doing the right thing,” for things being as they ought to be, for life to be rightly ordered so that humans flourish.
In our eerily globalizing world, “Just Do It!” doesn’t begin to get at what they sense Kenya needs. Nike offers no context, no contours, for understanding what is to be done, and why. These Kenyans know better, and are determined to find creative ways to address their culture, politically, educationally, socially, even seeing the church as “the hermeneutic of the gospel” as Newbigin did. It is a remarkably far-reaching, more seamless vision, longing as they are for common grace for the common good will thread its way through the fabric of Kenyan culture.
From Nashville to Nairobi, from Mombasa to Minneapolis, from Kansas City to Kisumu, we are perennial people—even and especially in the very globalizing 21st-century that is ours.