In the course of my priestly ministry few years ago at Christ the King Catholic Church, Ilasamaja, Lagos, I acquired the sobriquet, “Fada Swagger.” I was wont to encourage the warm and friendly parishioners to ginger their “swagger for Jesus.” If you heard Terry-G in that, you’re right. Why not. After all, God does move in mysterious ways.
Some people wonder what a priest like me is doing associating himself with swag and popular (if not street) culture. Well if they know where I’m coming from, they’d understand the why of the association.
First, I’m a Jesuit. And Jesuits find God in all things. As one wise Jesuit once wrote: Jesuits are in show business showing off for Jesus. Bill O’Malley, SJ was writing about Jesuits engaged with the world and working in the media, theater, and cinema. A prolific author (of 37 books), Father O’Malley is best known for playing the role of Father Dyer in the 1973 blockbuster film, The Exorcist. He is said to be the first Catholic priest to portray a priest in a commercial movie.
Second, it doesn’t take much to figure out that SWAG is an acronym for Saved With Amazing Grace. We can’t thank God enough for the grace of salvation—a gift of his unconditional love.
Third, and here’s where my usage of swag differs with the two above. Back at CKC, I’d tell parishioners that “our God smiles”—at us and with us. Therefore, they should keep smiling. But why is a smiling God important for me? Because my most enduring image of God is that of a compassionate God. He’s so compassionate he forever gives us a second chance—to get it right, whatever it is we are not doing well. I can’t imagine such a God who doesn’t smile.
So, when I talk SWAG, I mean Smiling With All-compassionate God. For all-compassionate, you can substitute almighty, amazing, awesome, all-kind, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-merciful, all-forgiving, all-loving. The list goes on.
How dare you say you smile with God, someone once asked me. Why not, I replied. He’s my father, right? Jesus called him Daddy, Abba. What dad does not smile with his child?
Even at that, my interrogator continued, why do you keep saying he smiles always? Are you not aware that there’s so much pain in the world? How can God continue to smile in the face of that, he asked. But dear friend, I said to him, evil does not diminish God or his love. Otherwise, he’d no longer be God. Does he stop loving us because there’s evil in the world? Of course not. All the more reason why his smiles remain with us to keep reassuring us of his constant, loving presence, especially through our most trying times.
But, is the idea of a smiling God truly a scandal? What can be more scandalous than God becoming human in the first place? He assumed flesh and was born among us. For the Greek philosophers, that was unthinkable for did not their great thinker Aristotle say that God was the Thought thinking Itself?
But then again, the story gets more interesting. God not only became human, he also allowed himself to be killed. He actually died. He was nailed on the cross and, and…Well, we know the rest of the story. When St. Paul narrated that to the Greeks in the city of Athens, they laughed. But Paul did not join in their laughter. We can only imagine the look on their faces. Like, seriously, Paulos? Exactly, Paul insisted. Oya, nwoke m, si ebea puo, they told him. In the words of Francis Odega: Gerrahere, mehn! We will hear you on that some other time. Imagine this guy oh, they said in disbelief.
For the Jews who had allowed the rest of us Christians to share from their understanding of God, the idea of God dying borders on absurdity. As if that’s not enough folly, Christians added that God was hung on a cross. What?! These Christians sef. Did they not get the memo from Moses warning that accursed is the one thus hung?
Now, if God is able to accomplish all that—death on a cross—and still remains God, what is smiling with us for him? And to think that he did not hesitate to create us in his own image and likeness. After creating us, he took a long look at his handiwork, content with its beauty, and said with a warm smile: Behold, it was very good (Genesis 1: 31).
It’s Christmas my people. No matter the challenges we’ve had to go through during the year, God still smiles on us. He is born in our world and in our lives that our smiles may be complete.
No matter the challenges, let us in all things and at all times, smile, and give thanks. For God himself assures us, he will not only rejoice over us with gladness and renew us in his love, he will also sing joyfully because of us, like on festival days (Zephaniah 3: 17-18).
There you have it, the why of my smiling God. God himself will rejoice, will dance, and will smile on the account of his blessings on us. He will dance yori-yori. He will dance shoki. He will dance skelewu. He will dance to whatever beat of your choice, as long as the beat brings you smiles in thanksgiving for God’s smiles.
So, keep gingering your swagger for Jesus because na Godwin. While you are at it, smile and keep smiling. Yes, our God smiles.
Merry Christmas and a Smile-filled New year!