Your Pastor – is it necessary for you to like him?

I was thinking of my Pastor the other day; thinking of how I found it difficult to reconcile the inconsistency of his spreading the Gospel and what I consider to be his disdain for his flock.  When I’m in church, I look around the congregation at the faces to see if they see what I see, but it’s either they are oblivious or believe it’s just typical human behavior.

It bothered me, this. My mind churning, telling me that it’s wrong to judge and depersonalise, it goes against the reason I go to church in the first place, but there are strong factors getting in the way that counters that.

It all started when I found the problems of my son were becoming too much. With a husband/father, who was abroad, it wasn’t always easy when a problem arose. My husband and I would Skype each other, but that would be several times a week. He could not do more as he was busy. So a member of the church, and a friend suggested that I should see the Pastor, Pastor John.  I went to see him and told him that for some time, my son has been experiencing depression; a talented writer, a polite person and for reasons unbeknown to me, dropped out of his final year at University. My mind picked all over to see what I had done wrong.

Pastor John listened and watched, as I held my head trying to understand.  The Pastor talked of how he saw my son walking ‘up and down’ the high street, which suggested his behaviour was odd considering the ‘good family he came from’.  It was not something he expected. Then he recounted how he led his own son from an episode of apathy towards his studies, where he ended up getting a good degree.  I looked up at his face, only to be met with a smile which tried not to be smug. Great, I thought, for his son but failed to see how this helped me with mine. Then I said to him something which quickly popped into my head, how my mother would always tell me that God does not always give you everything. He holds back on some things just so that you don’t forget what he has done for you. When a problem presents itself, you have to find a way of dealing with it.  I wondered why this comment did not enter my head before.  I raised my head and looked at the pastor; the look he gave was one of astonishment. Didn’t he think my mother was capable of meaningful statements? Our time was brought to an end and the pastor prayed about all that had taken place, and for my son.

I left the office, forlorn and worse than when I went in. all of a sudden, my vulnerability was apparent. I felt as though there was a glitch in my family leaving me with no choice but to feel embarrassed.

It was time to flag this experience as I reminded myself that I had experienced something like this before but dismissed it. About a year ago, I attended a bible studies group; there were five of us, plus the pastor.  After the meeting, we raised a sensitive subject about the progress of the church. I say ‘sensitive’ because the Pastor took it personally when you criticized the church. I said how the church has always been humble, something  I was proud to be a part of, but a few things needed to be changed. The Pastor smiled briefly, and then asked what I meant by ‘humble’. I had to stop and do a quick inventory. Did I say something offensive? No I did not, I told myself.

The church was built seventy years ago; it has a small congregation made up of predominantly elderly people who seemed to be at a place in their lives where the mortgage has more or less being paid, where visits to the Doctor are frequent, they see their grandchildren and hopefully they get a holiday once per year. I should add that in the years they have attended, they go with their partners but in the last three years, quite a few have lost their partners to ill-health.  For the widows and widowers, single parent families, the church plays an important role. If you go to the church, say, on a Tuesday morning, you can see them enjoying their game of cards or dominoes, keenly waiting for the tea break along with the sandwiches.

I also say ‘humble’ because unlike many other church services which uses PowerPoint to support the sermon and has a resident band, this church struggles. The church assistant struggling with the projector to find the hymn the same time the congregation is about to sing or, the music (The Music!!) is meagrely supplied by a sole musician, a pianist, struggling to make up for every instrument that is not there!  The choir which struggles to sing in unison rather than four point harmony. Perhaps I’m asking for too much but the point is no one complains, the congregation is happy with this. So yes, ‘humble’ it is, but I feel that it could do with some changes.

He said he was confused with the word ‘humble’. As far as he was concerned it was progressing, and up to date. But I added that perhaps the reason why the church failed to attract new people, young people was that it was just too…serious. I realised that it was superficial for a church to have technology in order to present itself as professional, but the church had reached a position that it did not want to leave, sort of trapped in its comfort zone. The other members looked on, thinking I had said too much. Pastor John shook his head wearily and made a frown. He said he would think about it and that we’d have another meeting to discuss the matter. As I said, this was a year ago.

Leaving the Pastor to get ready for the evening session, another thing that came to mind. A few people talked of when he or they are outside the church, say shopping or on the local bus, he has tendency to ignore them. I’ve not experienced this but then I realise I would not because my husband is a lecturer and he respects this. As I head towards my car, I pause and inhale this new revelation. I should have realised. When he subtly drops the hint of wanting to visit us, I always say, ‘Yes! Come around. I’m home most evenings.’ But he never does as he wants to be invited, and I’m not formal like that. I get into the car, start the engine, allowing the engine to run as I marinate these new thoughts.

I like my church, despite its humbleness. I like the people; some of whom I have known since school or they have lived in the area for some time. So I’m not looking to leave even though some people will probably feel that is my best option. But I go to church for a good reason: to hear the Word, to hear God’s message. Something that will help me to cope with the new, up and coming week or some ongoing problem.  Sometimes I win the jackpot where the sermon delivered hits it right on the nail i.e. I hear my message or answer. But there are other times, I go and I leave, empty.

As I find parking space just outside the house, I learn that what has become problematic, is seeing a side of the Pastor that I feel, should not be there. I hate that I’m aware of it to the point that I fail to realise he has been ‘sent’ to do a job; and I hate the fact that it is likely to get in the way of receiving the good Word.

It would make life a lot easier if I liked and respected him. But still quoting my mother: people are people are people. They may not be perfect but they were meant to strive, be good and to auto-correct themselves as they progress. I guess there is still a lot for me to do.

 

My favourite post in 2015?

 

I noticed recently that the above title was placed in ‘Hot off the Press’ before the year ended.  As the comments were  closed, it occurred to me that I could scroll through my posts and see which one was my favourite.

My favourite post  I wrote in 2015 was about Rachel Dolezal –  the controversial academic who pretended her way – by darkening her skin and braiding her hair –  into being somebody she was not.

I liked the story simply because it forced me to delve into an aspect of my past which I had completely shut down. It was a painful time. Lots of bullying, unsympathetic parents and more importantly, not understanding who I was or the environment I was in.  The quick response as to why this was, my parents shaped me into something they thought the world would find acceptable. If my P’s and Q’s were all in place, why shouldn’t I be able to get along?  But little did they know that it caused an offence to those in our community and others.  It seemed I was a stranger to them.  Having said that, moving around with or hiding behind a set of girls  I went to school with, made up for who I wasn’t.  It helped me to cope.  X amount of years on, there is a stronger sense of who I am and accepting who I am.   There are no judgments or forced questions upon myself.

Re-reading this piece, forces me to travel back and confront all that went on. It also gives me satisfaction and relief.  Maybe Rachel should be thanked for enabling me to do this.

Cilla Black

Gosh! Memories. I must have been just six years old when I heard Cilla’s Any One who had a Heart. I loved it so much that my father took me to the record shop in Stamford Hill and he bought it for me. It was the beginning of us regularly buying records. About a year later, my parents bought a radiogram, again, purchased from a large electronics shop in Stamford Hill and I played this 7” record non-stop.

Radiogram

It is difficult to know at such a young age why I liked this record so much: was it the passion she injected or the way it trailed off at the end? I was also too young to know that the song written by Burt Bacharach and sung originally by my mother’s favourite, Dionne Warwick was released first. But no matter, it was Cilla’s version that was truly embedded in my mind; that each time the song is mentioned or is covered by someone else, Cilla’s voice comes to mind.

Cilla

My condolences to Cilla’s family and may she rest in perfect peace.

7th July ’05 to be remembered

Yesterday, I watched on Sky News the service of those who lost their lives on 7th July ’05. 52 people died and over 700 people were injured.  The survivors and relatives of victims were at a simple ceremony at Hyde Park.  It was very moving and inspirational to listen to loved ones speak of how they have coped with loss. They were very similar to the families of the massacred African-Americans who lost their lives in the Charleston church shooting on 17th June.  Their sentiments, their strength and their forgiveness for those who carried out these atrocious acts.

I was in London when it happened but a friend of mine whose cousin’s son lost their life in the  London Underground explosion was present at today’s ceremony; and although at the time it happened, the son’s mother spoke very powerfully but today she sat, dignified and in quiet repose.  I am sorry for their loss and totally admire them for their courage and pray that the Almighty Father continues to give them strength.

Can living a lie be ‘passed’ off as living real: The Rachel Dolezal matter

The Rachel Dolezal story is an interesting one.  Her story forces me back to my past, the late 70s when I was a teenager growing up in Tottenham, North London.  For as long as I can remember, the black community would battle its way against racism as well as fighting to hold onto its self-respect and dignity.  The encounters it experienced from the host community were many, but the one which intrigued me the most were those who hustled to befriend you, that is, to be you. Dreadlock-Hairstyles

The girls I moved around with were black but there was a white girl, who also used to hang with us.  Her name was Norma.  She was pale in complexion, sported long blonde dreadlocks which she bunched up under a large tam bearing the colours of the Jamaican flag.  Ackee and salt fish (a traditional Jamaican dish) was her favourite meal; Jamaican patois poured from her mouth as if its origins began there. We’d all meet up after school and most times our activities would involve roaming from each other’s house to the next and purposely checking out the High Rd (just so we didn’t miss the opportunity of accidentally bumping into some guy we were hoping to meet).   Another one of our regular haunts was visiting the many record shops in the area.  Norma would show off her knowledge on the latest reggae ‘tunes’, and could tell you about the forthcoming ‘pre-release’.  Added to all these qualities was her relationship with black guys.  They liked her.  And if there was any resentment on our part, it was how we automatically melted into the background when she was around.  She acted as if it was all natural to her.  No one would confront her with any of this but we would discuss it behind her back.

There would be the odd occasion where she was challenged.  During her predatory moments, when she was interested in a guy, it didn’t matter on whose toes she trod. Girls, whose boyfriends she took, would face her at one of the disco’s or at the local park where the fight would take place. In fact, when she was involved in a fight, it would not meet its expected conclusion. Guys would get involved and break it up before any damage was done.  On another occasion, she was confronted by black girl named Rita from Stamford Hill. Rita had a reputation as a bully and she was also a good fighter.  At one of the discos, Rita confronted Norma about her identity.   black female dread

“And what do you look like?”  Rita scowled with contempt.  Norma just laughed with her locks swinging from side to side. Her blithe response was fearless. Rita, built like a tank could have floored Norma, easily.  But as with Rita and the rest of us, there was an assumed feeling like some sort of edict, that physically attacking Norma would result in her parents, our parents and the police descending on you. In the days where Child Line was yet to be born, getting ‘lix’ from your parents was a fear, far greater than other parents or the police!  Norma was sacrosanct: an untouchable, where she could do whatever she wanted and they’d be no consequences from us nor interference from her own community.  Just as a pretender who has usurped the throne from its rightful Queen and remains unsurpassed, was like Norma.  And just like a Queen holding court, she would ridicule her conquests and be untroubled by her defeats; she would inject and impose her opinions on top of our views while editing our experiences.

At times she would make it hard for us to criticise her when there were injustices. It would make her angry when young black men were being stopped and searched by the police or, pitied hard-working immigrants who could never satisfy the relentless criticism.  And just like anyone of us, she was also contradictory.  There were moments when her actions worked for us?  I remember an incident which took place not too far from the Gestetner factory on Tottenham Hale, when one of us were called names by an elderly white woman. I remember Norma charging towards the woman, snatching her hat from her head and hitting her continuously with it.  A crowd closed in as we all watched her belt the woman with suRachel Dolezalch fury.   It was incredulous to believe that Norma was doing this, on our behalf.  We told her to stop, as the incident was taking place on the High street somebody was bound to have called the police.   We dragged Norma away and the woman quickly retreated into one of the shops.  I remember seeing the woman again, a week later. Maybe she recognized me, I don’t know, but she took one look, and crossed to the other side of the road.

Years later, one of the friends in the group, Brenda, told me she saw Norma in Enfield Town.  She said Norma had married an English man and had two children.  With the dreadlocks and patois gone, she spoke in a Standard English accent about her eldest getting into university and wanting the family to move to a better area.  She appeared happy and satisfied but she did not ask any questions of us or the guys.  Brenda, tempted to ask for her mobile number to arrange a reunion of sorts, sensed Norma’s disinterest to be reacquainted with the past.  In fact, Norma wished her all the best when saying good-bye. ‘It felt final’, Brenda said ‘as if she didn’t expect to see me again.’

Brenda and I explored this.  We remembered she did not have a good relationship with her family and perhaps found sanctuary in the people she moved around with. Being us, or having another identity perhaps enabled her to escape the shackles of her own life. Our readiness to accommodate her without question is what she embraced.  Norma mimicking us or appropriating our culture, I did not see it as a threat because deep down, we all knew it wasn’t for real. How could it be?  You could not compare her to the level Rachel Dolezal took it. Norma heading the Race Relations board or becoming a lecturer on Black Studies at Middlesex Poly by ticking the wrong ethnicity box? I don’t think so.  I remember the time when we no longer saw Norma.  We wondered what had happened to her. We called at her home where she had lived with her parents (they said she had moved out and staying with a relative, which I didn’t believe) checked her last boyfriend and she was nowhere to be seen. I think somewhere within us all we were not surprised.  If I were to hazard a guess, perhaps black life was becoming too real. It was time to get rid of the disguise, since it had served its purpose, and head to the suburbs.white dreadlocks

As for Rachel Dolezal, she had given lectures on black hair, helped to fight some of the injustices faced by the black community.  You could say she had good intentions but spoilt it all by stating in one video that she is black. She used her make over, her knowledge to transition herself to secure a top job with the NAACP.   But as one African-American writer Alicia Walters writes, ‘the black identity cannot be put on like a pair of shoes’. Norma did this and Dolezal is still doing this.  I welcome Dolezal’s concern but I’m not sure whether pretending to be black or culturally nicking bits and pieces of a culture is the way to go about things. There are a number of white people who similarly hate injustices meted out to ethnic minorities but don’t find it necessary to pretend to be something they are not.  Also I feel the dishonesty reduces the seriousness of a people’s experiences as well as mocking them.

The other key thing whilst practicing Mindfulness Meditation, you realise that you eventually learn to embrace and love who you are. As someone who has struggled over the years against the pervasive, dominant images that I see from the press and print media, forcing me to rework my look, hoping that one day, the reflection in the mirror will return the ‘look’ I want.  Trying to exist in someone else’s image does not lead you anywhere. So whether I braid or relax my hair, I will always look like me.  Rachel, I hope you’re listening…

Faith Bandler: May God rest her soul.

FAITH BANDLER FILE
Faith Bandler

 

Some years ago I worked in a high-end department store in West London. It was a great experience working in an environment where the customers served never seemed to blink an eyelid at the prices of items sold. The majority of the customers were famous – whether they were politicians, Hollywood actors and actresses as well as the British ones’, and then of course the musicians – whether pop stars, opera stars or divas’.  But there was one lady I served, Faith Bandler, an Aboriginal activist who campaigned against the plights and sufferings of Aboriginals in Australia. She did not tell me who she was as I  recognised her from a documentary I’d seen on TV.

Ms Bandler successfully campaigned for the indigenous Australians to be recognised as full citizens and to be given rights under the constitution. She was totally humble, warm, intelligent, passionate and possessed a quick and easy laugh She was also curious about the black community in London.  I am really happy that she will be given a full state funeral by her country.  May her soul rest in perfect peace.

Becoming Mindful for 2015

2014 was sort of an okay year. I say this as it sped past in a single blink, and added to that, I’m guilty of not having done too much!  There has been the daily routine of work (I manage a shop), I attended several conferences, managed an exhibition, attended meetings, and travelled to London. The year ended with the family coming together for Xmas and the New Year, and each moment was a treasure which I thoroughly enjoyed (my kids study abroad). But I feel as though I should have done more.  So now that 2015 has begun, I’ve decided that I want to learn something, not something that will contribute to my work, but to me.

morning sunOf recent I’ve noticed how my mind likes to do its own thing. By that I mean, it likes to chat endlessly.  It likes to tell me what I can’t do, what to worry or whine about; it leads me to believe that I can experience my past, which has long since gone, or experience the future, which is yet to be.  It seems to feel threatened by the present and so far, has managed to convince me that happiness is obtainable, even though I know it’s a fleeting experience. It fights the belief, ‘nothing is ever permanent’ and therefore keeps you stuck in the notion that ‘things remain the same’. I get some relief when I’m with family/friends or at church.

It is said that ‘a mind can be a humble servant or a dangerous master’.  It is how you use it that will decide which direction it will take. If you don’t ‘direct’ it, you are just left confused and unfocused. There is a lot of information on courses where you can learn to study the mind such as Psychology or NLP; or you can learn to quieten it with Mindfulness Meditation. My rule for this New Year is that besides improving my health, I have to look after my mind. Has anyone taken a course in Mindfulness or NLP?  How did you find it?  If you live in London, which courses did you take and where?  I would love to know.

If 2014 was a great year for you, then brilliant.  But if it wasn’t, then I hope, for you and I, the New Year brings us what we want and surpasses our expectations.