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.

 

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…

The Great Mandela is now at peace

Mr Mandela, sadly, you have now left us. I want to thank you for all you have done for your people; for avoiding a civil war and allowing peace to reign. But I also know that if it were not for you, I would not have been allowed, as a black woman, to emigrate to South Africa in 1994. I had the pleasure of living in your beautiful country for two years, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

You will be missed and you will never be forgotten. Go and enjoy your well deserved rest and may the Almighty Father bless your wonderful soul.

Review of The Gospel According to Cane by Courttia Newland

I’ve just finished reading The Gospel according to Cane by Courttia Newland. A heartrending story about a woman, called Beverley Cottrell of West Indian parentage who has her son taken from her some twenty years ago. She is educated, previously married and taught English in a prestigious private school, a woman who seemed to have everything but as a result of this tragic action, the experience leaves her damaged, single and withdrawn. We meet her presently living in a house alone, teaching kids at an after school club and attending therapy sessions until one day, a young man comes knocking at her door claiming to be her son. She receives this son named Wills gladly but does it repair the damage done to her, to Wills?  The Gospel According to Cane

The prose is mature and juxtaposes nicely with the street slang spoken by her son, and the children she teaches. The characters whether it is the protagonist or secondary characters, are nicely drawn. In fact one of the characters, Ida jumps to my mind. She is so real. A woman of a certain age who probably was born after the second world war; she is happy to entertain Beverley in her home, happy to bake her a cake but is still ambivalent about the black ‘youth’ and black people and  when there is a kerfuffle on the landing between Beverley, Wills her sister Jackie and her husband Frank, she remains hidden behind the ‘blankness’ of her front door and retreats into her reserve. Then there is Frank. We don’t see him too much but when he appears with his dominant and bitter wife, Jackie, you like that he is there, acting as a go-between between the two sisters, attempting to play down the tension which exists between them. Also Newland subtly establishes the fact there are segments of the black community that are middle class i.e, they are aware of Arnica and they shop at up market supermarkets and are concerned about speaking English, properly. This is shown through Beverley, who finds badly spoken English irritating.

Newland deftly handles writing of woman in a very convincing way; it simply shows how sensitive and how understanding he is of women. The book has no chapters but initially it is interspersed by descriptions of pain although from the middle of the book to the end you see no more of these descriptions. Throughout the story, these small explanations on pain make us realize that it is, almost a facet of life. We can experience sometimes, all sorts and levels of pain and realize how time can be a proper anesthetic. In the main character Beverley, this is clearly shown. She journals regularly, as a way of expelling the pain and in return, she achieves some cathartic moments. It’s funny. Prior to me buying this book, my husband purchased the  book Singularity is here by Ray Kurzweil. It is about how our intelligence will one day become ‘trillions’ more intelligent and increasingly non-biological. On top of that, time, whether the past, the present, the future, will become one. Singular. Then reading Newland’s book I come across this paragraph, thoughts of  Beverley :-

People say time is relative, a point with which I agree. …the nature of time as experienced by human beings is the amazing ability to occur simultaneously in the past, present and future. Everything on the planet, from the tiniest amoeba to humankind, has been is being and is also becoming. That we exist cocooned within an unseen element shifting faster than we can comprehend, that no sooner than we enter the present it is already the past and we are always, without pause, speeding full throttle towards the future. Ponder this, if I lift my finger and touch the end of my nose, I am touching my nose in the present, have touched my nose in the past and about to lower my finger from my nose in the future. All exist at once.

I don’t know if Courttia was/is conscious of this concept whilst writing his novel but it is profound and in keeping with all things to do with Singularity.  Overall, this was an interesting read: I loved the beautiful prose, the descriptions of the characters but if I have to make one criticism it would be the ending. However, Newland is definitely a chronicler of the Black British experience; I believe this is the fourth book I’ve read by this author and trust that he can write our experiences honestly, with maturity and with sensitivity. I can’t wait to read his next book.

Blue plaque unveiling for Bernie Grant.

Today I attended the unveiling of the plaque of Bernie Grant. A number of us stood outside what was formally the town hall and listened to key people talk about the work the man did for the community. The clocks had been put back the previous night by one hour and strangely enough the weather had dropped a few notches in temperature quite dramatically. I scolded myself for not bringing my gloves. When the speeches were over, we all took our time strolling towards the Bernie Grant Centre, waited for sometime before we were allowed into the auditorium to take our seats. I was happy to be standing near the door as I was one of the first who had entered and chose a seat, only to watch the seats fill quickly.

It was not only good seeing familiar faces from my past but once the MC finished with their introductions, seeing ‘old’ faces such as Geoff Schumann, Judith Jacobs, Carol Thompson etc – it was good to know that these guys are still around!

The choir from Gladesmore School was magical and Bernie’s old friend from George Town, Guyana, gave a sparkling anecdote that had the audience virtually falling over themselves in laughter. The poet Zita Holbourne, recited some poems; all were lyrical and very powerful, that I would have loved to have heard some more.

Bernie’s sisters got up on the stage and talked briefly about their life with their brother and that as theirs was a large family; family was considered to be always important. There would be regular family gatherings. At this point, Bernie’s sons went out onto the stage. One of them talked briefly of running his pub with his wife in Hampstead, and reiterated the importance of family and discipline. One of the sisters said that she did not want to comment on her brother’s politics but how she was impressed by his commitment to the Tottenham community and Haringey as a whole.

All in all it was a great evening and I’m sure I can speak for all those who attended: we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The only thing I would say is that I found out about this event by accident so I think it should have been promoted more widely and not to be seen as a ‘black’ event. Bernie Grant was elected as MP for everyone who lived in Tottenham and not elected just for a certain group of people. As the current MP, David Lammy, Lord Boateng and other prominent personalities were all present, it would have been good if they had stuck around with the crowd after giving their speeches but they were nowhere to be seen! Oh well, such is life.

Malcolm Wicks – MP Croydon North West (Croydon North)

Browsing through today’s British Observer I read that Malcolm Wicks, the MP for Croydon has sadly passed away. He died of cancer on 20th September.

There was a time I used to live in Croydon and had a problem with the headmistress of a school in the area.  My son who attended the school was wrongly accused of stealing and the head was not particularly helpful or supportive. After ringing social services, legal people etc I eventually contacted Mr. Wicks.  When I wrote the letter to Mr. Wicks, the cynical part of me was feeling it was a waste of time. Would he actually respond? About three days later I received a phone call from his secretary inviting me to meet with Mr. Wicks.  I was surprised.  I went to his office and what immediately came to mind when I met him was his genuine caring attitude. He listened to what I had to say and then apologized for what had happened and said he would write a letter to the education department to follow-up my complaint. I was really surprised.  Was this an actual MP? He completely went against the grain of what one would expect of an MP! A week following that meeting I received a letter from the educational department who said that after investigating the matter it was found that my son was wrongfully accused and apologized for the error. I wrote to Mr. Wicks thanking him for his time and effort and how we all appreciated what he had done.

My time with Mr. Wicks was short but from what I saw, he was sincere, compassionate and considerate, and he will not be forgotten.  My condolences go out to his family.

Out Of The Ashes by David Lammy: Review

 

I’m almost coming to the end of Out of the Ashes, the book written by the MP for Tottenham, David Lammy.  Firstly I have to say that I am surprised, really surprised. But why should I be you may ask? Is he not Harvard educated? Or have I been totally bowled over by the rumours that the man is a ‘sell out?’ The truth of the matter is that David can write and the man is passionate about his area. On concluding this book he has made me to realize that, like most things, it’s so easy, sometimes too easy to be dismissive as Lammy is not just some mere simpleton. His style is lucid, sensitive and accessible, and when needs be, he is still able to serve up hard statistical facts which does not interfere with the style of his writing. You believe that he cares about his constituency and his constituents and that no matter what is said of him or has been said about him, he is for Tottenham. Like myself, who was born in Tottenham, grew up in Tottenham and luckily educated by the borough, I’m aware that there are lots of cynics who say: Well! After all he is a politician, what do you expect him to say? That maybe, but one can also argue that the ‘riots’ gave Lammy the opportunity to dispel the rumours that he’s just a ‘careerist’ and the opportunity to get his hands dirty, for once.  Lammy and Clegg in Tottenham

I managed to get hold of the second edition that came out July of this year where in the book he answers all those questions that were ringing in my head: he wrote the book so quick after the riots (that’s because he was already writing the book and then the riots took place); he did it so that he could make some money (any profit from the book will be donated to charities connected to Tottenham).  So the book talks about the riots, immigration, and reform.  It explains how the underclass in Britain came about and what should be done about it.  Lammy places his argument within a context; he goes at length to explain his case cogently but he does not lecture or preach. He looks at the root causes but knows what should be done regarding the symptoms. And although I was overjoyed that he has all these incredible ideas, I couldn’t help but feel his hands are strongly tied by the forces that tower over him.  This is shown in a tiny instance when Lammy was Minister of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills and Gordon Brown became Prime Minister.  Brown requested meetings with the ministers.  Lammy complained to Brown about the increase of knife crime in Tottenham and how it was a regular complaint from the mother’s who attended Lammy’s surgeries. They wanted something done about it!  Brown listened then said the solution to the problem was ‘tax credits’ and then asked Lammy if there was anything else he wished to discuss!

Lammy also manages to weave in some touching biographical details i.e., his fear that he could end up in prison and how some family members also lived in Broadwater Farm; how his father abandoned the family and left for the US and Lammy’s success in winning a chorister scholarship at a cathedral school. It just goes to show that not all is bad in Tottenham.

Although I enjoyed reading this book, I hope it goes some way in putting away the rumours that Lammy is not really interested in the area. If there are truths in the rumours, then I hope he uses this opportunity to show that he is for Tottenham and I don’t mean just being vocal on the betting shops invading Tottenham High Road but making sure he constantly touches base with his constituents and that it’s done with concern and sincerity.