When the last light goes out in an African bush camp, the moon becomes a vandal. With a palette of dusky greys, and murky blues, it paints lunar graffiti across the face of every flat surface. Silhouettes of the surroundings are intensified in the ashen light, and translucent tent walls become make-shift projection screens like temporary canvas bush cinemas magnifying the shape of every object. Backlit shadows of acacia thorns are transformed into javelins the size of whaling harpoons and augmented reflections of grass stalks are exaggerated into giant swaying trees. Faraway in a secluded place where fog settles late at night, a baboon barks. His voice is louder than it is, bizarrely amplified by resonate ricochets bouncing off the hardwood surfaces of mopani and teak trees. Like a banshee with a bullhorn, he screams out his raucous call. I lie silent – motionless in a flimsy cloth shelter made of false security and fiber poles – cradled in a shallow bed of Kalahari sand – mesmerized by a private performance of God’s midnight matinee. C. S. Lewis once said that believers are created to amplify God. He described us as “adjectives” fashioned for the purpose of modifying the great “Noun” of the universe.1 Christians are commissioned to do this through words of testimony and lives of action. We should be like the official “praise-singers” who laud the tribal chiefs and kings in the traditional Bantu cultures of Southern Africa. Among the African tribes these individuals are called, “izimbongi” (Zulu) or “sikapeto” or “sikuyabila” (ChiTonga). They live for the sole purpose of bringing honor and acclaim to the African monarchs. It is the privilege and duty of the “izimbongi” to walk before the king, leading his royal procession from the kraal. They salute him and address him directly, referring to him through images that highlight his bravery, skills, greatness and other positive attributes. These “singers” use descriptions drawn from the local environment and from the universe to bring adoration to the sovereign.2 The “sikuyabila” is literally, “one who shouts praises.” As a young man, I once heard the harsh rattling tinny sounds of an early 70’s rock and roll band described as sounding as if the lead guitarist was using “a tin can lid for a pick.” In contrast, I envision a day in eternity when the Lord will privilege me to strum chords of praise using Polaris as a pick to pluck the strings of the Milky Way. But until that time, it is my conviction that I should bring honor to God through spoken and written communication using the best words and tools that I can discover, imagine, or employ. In Psalm 34:3 David challenges us, “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.” The purpose of a Christian is “to magnify” the Lord. “To magnify,” of course, does not mean “to make something bigger.” It means “to make something appear bigger.” Since God is infinite, our words cannot enhance Him in His Person. But they can enhance Him in the eyes and hearts of those who see and hear. That is our commission. That is our call. That is the supreme reason why the Christian should live.
1 Lewis, C. S., The Problem of Pain, (New York: Macmillan, 1944) p 75.
2 Opland, Jeff, The Imbongi Nezibongo: The Xhosa Tribal Poet and the Contemporary Poetic Tradition, (PMLA Vol. 90, No. 2, March 1975) pp. 185-208