For Bishop Lazi and his ilk, Ash Wednesday, which was observed last week, is a particularly sacred day in the liturgical (worship) calendar, for it marks the beginning of Lent.
You see, for some of us in traditional churches, Lent — which is both reminiscent and seemingly a re-enactment of Jesus’ 40 days and nights in the Judaean Desert, where he was unsuccessfully tempted by the Devil to abandon his heavenly mission and embrace earthly comforts — is similarly about re-asserting and recommitting to a life of virtue.
For the uninitiated, Lent marks the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Holy Thursday — the beginning of Easter.
It is about self-deprecatory penitence.
It is about alms giving to the less privileged.
And it is also about fasting, which in itself ordinarily represents nourishing the spirit through denying the lustful pangs of the flesh.
Overall, for us Zimbabweans, this also assumes an added earthly reverence and relevance, especially this year as we celebrate 40 years of freedom and self-rule.
One of our enduring age-old rites during Ash Wednesday is to use ash — usually made from ground, burnt palm leaves — to emblazon the sign of the cross on believers’ foreheads, and reminding them of the imminence and inevitability of death through incanting Genesis 3:19.
It reads: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
Nothing spooks human beings more than death and dying.
In fact, confronting death is the ultimate test of courage or lack thereof.
It only takes a gun-toting thief to break into a prayerful congregation to understand what I am talking about: the same believers who, in one moment, will be professing their undying love for God, who they are ostensibly prepared to die for, would be obscenely scampering for the nearest bolthole for dear life in the next. Kikikiki.
God is dead!
Last week, the Bishop explained why he was, and still is, intrigued by UK philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ provocative work on religion.
However, there is an equally provocative work by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), who once proclaimed that “God is dead!”
Essentially, this chap claimed that God did not really exist but was an ideological construct contrived by idealists in order to tether humanity on the transcendental ideals of truth, justice, love, beauty, nobility and virtue.
On an individual level, he claimed, these anti-nihilistic ideals provided meaning, purpose and drive to life.
These were quite abominable words coming, as they did, from the son of a Lutheran pastor.
Were this to be true, it would contemptuously repudiate religion as we know it today.
Nietzsche, however, could not fathom a nihilistic life, where there was no reason or purpose to life.
He also opined that the enlightenment that was borne out of scientific enquiry made faith — which is the quintessential foundation of religion — meaningless.
Bishop Lazi thinks that however provocative and nonsensical Nietzsche’s views are, they are pricelessly invaluable insofar as they invite critiques to interrogate his propositions.
This is exactly what philosophy is all about: exploring both the mechanics and meaning of life, and questioning the workings of the world.
The Bishop thinks that perhaps the most valuable observation that was made by Nietzsche, which is relevant to today’s sermon, was that human beings are “undetermined animals” that are impressionable, malleable and fickle enough to be easily refashioned or influenced, which is true.
Indeed, human beings can only find meaning in life by believing in certain ideals or a set of principles or values that anchor their life purpose, without which they become directionless and hopeless.
This is why in our culture totems are important to defining identities and community-hood.
This is why the historical symbol of Great Zimbabwe is an inspirational architectural work that demonstrates the capacity, craft and statecraft of our people.
Further, this is why the narrative of the 16-year war of liberation, which successfully upended colonialism, is an enduring symbol of our irrepressible and indomitable spirit.
These are some of the defining values on which our identity as Zimbabweans is tethered.
However, we are in danger of losing this storied narrative that has always defined us as Zimbabweans through the stereotypical narrative of the West that defines our leaders as clueless, geriatric dictators, and our countries as irredeemably backward.
Sadly, this unfortunate narrative is being latched onto by some hopelessly totem-less millennials, who are the “undetermined animals” that Nietzsche talked about.
They say our leaders are old and should give way for the youths, yet if you look at the leadership contest in the United States of America, you would be forgiven to think it is for leading an old people’s home than the presidency of the world’s most powerful nation.
Mr Trump, the Republican incumbent, is 73 years old. His rivals in the Democratic Party, who intend to replace him, are similarly old. Michael Bloomberg is 78. Joe Biden is 77 and Bernie Sanders — who is considered as the clear favourite to represent the Democrats — is 78 years.
In Europe, we were told 42-year-old French President Emmanuel Macron was a posterboy of youthful politics since his election in 2017, but he has been calamitously wrecking France ever since, as violent demonstrations have become a common feature.
Statistics from French journalists indicate that 325 people have suffered head injuries, 25 people lost their eyes and five lost their hands during the protests, which began last year.
Clearly, leadership is for the mature and old, as is the case in America, not young, impressionable, malleable and easily influenced youth — the “undetermined animals”.
In Nelson Chamisa we have our own Macron, who believes in confrontational politics rather than the politics of engagement, which is making our politics toxic, unproductive and counter-productive.
Had a mature politician such as Tsvangirai — may he rest in peace! — been alive, our post-November 2017 politics could have been different altogether.
Even President ED acknowledged as much at a rally at Murombedzi Growth Point in November 2018.
“When I entered Parliament, the opposition party legislators remained seated, going against the clear rules that when the Head of State enters everyone rises . . . but the Speaker of Parliament chucked them out and they left . . .
“Their late leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was very mature; despite our differences, he would always attend Parliament, not these ‘chicks’ we are now seeing.” Kikikiki.
If we knew the stories, values and ideals that define us as a people, we would all shun the temptation to divide our nation into balkanised political tribes, which is paralysing our developmental aspirations.
Corruption, incompetence, slothfulness and violence does not carry a political party tag.
We should all work towards a common good united by our common values and national interest.
If our country fails, we all fail; if it collapses, we all suffer; and if it succeeds, we all win.
For couch potatoes who were addicted to the television series “Game of Thrones”, which tells the story of succession, Tyrion Lannister — a dwarfish sage of sorts — made a powerful speech in the season finale on what unites people.
“What unites people?” he asked. “Armies? Gold? Flags?” No! It is stories. “There is nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it. . .”
As Zimbabweans we have numerous stories that give our life both purpose and meaning, and we should hold onto them, and build on them to establish a unitary, prosperous nation.
The stories that unite us are more than those that divide us.
But, for now, polarisation has trapped some people in our country into a world of senseless nihilism and cynicism, and their “God is dead”.