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.

 

Is Humour a one-sided affair: The Paris bombing.

As stated in other blogs I was born in London of West Indian parentage.  I now live in Nigeria and have done so for a number of years.  When I lived in London, amongst friends and family members, I would make jokes and people would laugh.  This did not make me a stand-up comedian but I knew I had a quick wit, a sense of humour and a sense of timing, and was able to make a joke out of a situation. I guess as a result of living in the UK and being exposed to the humour that I saw daily on TV, especially the ‘put down’ variety, was something I had gotten used to and therefore did not question.  I felt it was normal to use this same kind of humour when making jokes. But when I got to Nigeria I realised my humour was not seen as funny. My ‘jokes’ were considered acidic and unkind. I eventually got the message when I was at a function; getting carried away telling one anecdote after the other, when the couple at my table got up and sat elsewhere. On another occasion, someone who was a friend actually stopped talking to me because she couldn’t stand my ‘jokes’.  I was surprised.je suis

I had to take two steps back and realise that ‘humour’ can be a one sided affair.  After all, how can a joke be funny and inclusive if people did not get it?  And really, I should know better, that is, not getting the joke or more to the point, when a joke is mocking me.  If I dig into my past and relive some of those toe-cringing experiences, it would be similar to going to a theatre house, where I am the only black person seated amongst a white audience, and on walks the comedian say, Jim Davidson or Bernard Manning, where a large chunk of their material is making jokes about black people etc. I laugh, but with some element of shame at the fact that I am the butt of their jokes! The rest of the audience is satisfied that I ‘see’ the joke but when everything comes to an end and I’m left with my thoughts; I feel humiliated, demeaned, disarmed and powerless followed by the emotion of anger. I’m not, as I said, a comedian nor satirist; I don’t have key contacts or belong to any institutions that can support or protect me. Of course, I can take refuge with family and friends, who gives me the needed support but at the end of the day, they are just as disarmed and powerless as I am.

To make it worse, when I complain to my white friends, they fob me off as suffering from the classic case of ‘chip on my shoulder’ syndrome.  So therein my resentment remains firm, simmering and waiting until a time comes when I can express myself. I understand that the role of humour is to let off steam, release tension.  Laughing at something that deep down is found to be threatening, humour can be the antidote that removes the sting out the bite. For those who find the whole business about immigrants/immigration threatening, humour perhaps, can give them some space between what they feel and the reality of the situation.

What happened in Paris is absolutely tragic. I feel for the journalists who were killed in the bombing and my sympathies goes out to their loved ones.  My understanding is that the magazine where the journalists worked – Charlie Hebdo – was satirical in its content and was well renowned throughout the country.  But I wonder if they went too far, in putting out their brand of humour?  Yes, freedom of speech is at the heart of democracy, but upon seeing a few of the cartoons I can understand why Muslims would be offended. However, I’m relieved that they found it abhorrent that extreme violence was used as a way of ‘correcting’ the problem. They realise, as we all realise, that no amount of provocation can ever warrant or justify violence.

I implore France to do what is right and not allow the histrionics of the Far Right to dictate the fate of the country and not see what has happened as a ‘clash of civilizations’. The New Year has just begun, but it is clear we are living in dangerous times, (as I write this, a bomb exploded killing a number of people in Baga, North East of Nigeria) we should all court tolerance and strive towards unity, if we hope to make it!

Readers visiting my blog about Scotland – for the wrong reasons!!

Wow! I’m getting so many ‘reads’ on my Experiences: Moving to Scotland which I wrote some years ago. I guess readers are not just visiting because of the referendum that is taking place as I write this but I’ve received a number of visits as readers (in the past and present) are keen to see if my article is about the business of meeting black women in Scotland. A dating site? hmm! I don’t think so! But I’m sure as they read the blog or when they have finished reading, they realise that my article has nothing do with ‘dating’ but just as the title of my site states, it’s about my experiences of life, generally.  The blog is about the time when my family and I lived in Cambuslang in South Lanarkshire, just outside Glasgow.

We didn’t spend a long time there as I had a longing for London.  However, I was impressed with how friendly the Scots were and the embarrassing thing was I went there with the notion of not expecting anything, dare I say, of a standard ie., at the back of my mind, Glasgow would look ‘inferior’ to London but it did not.  Living there was a great experience but it still did not match my London.

And while talking about Scotland, I wish them all the best, especially, if it’s a Yes.  If it’s No, then I guess Alex Salmond has to go back to drawing board because I don’t believe he will give up.

 

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.

Relaxed hair verses natural hair

As a young girl growing up in Tottenham, my mother used to ‘press’ my hair. Because it was unusually long (I’m quite dark skinned so it was considered an anomaly), it didn’t make me popular amongst my black peers and of course, to white girls I was still black. But my mother insisted that I should ‘straighten’ my hair because it was time consuming if it was kept natural, and because she wanted to show me off to her friends. And in those days you didn’t challenge your parents. I was supposed to be proud of being blessed in this way but I was not. It just left me miserable. The key thing is how we, black women, so much despised who we were and our looks and wanted so much to be white – I included, even though I was not exempt by having long hair. However I do remember teachers, and some white girls commending me that I had the ‘best looking hair that they have seen a black girl’ but ‘compliments’ could only take me so far.

And of course there are the practicalities of having long straightened black hair: running out of the rain or keeping away from anything that resembles water; retouching the virgin bits of hair every three months; hair gradually falling out due to chemical left on too long or the weight of the hair being too heavy (??); when they style that you’ve worked so hard to resemble (in those days it was Farah Fawcett-Majors just ends up looking too dry and sticking out, then the whole thing is defeated.

Some thirty years on, I constantly keep my hair in braids/extensions and really love my look (after all black skin does age well). But the fight now is to convince my daughter that she should keep her hair in braids but she wants to relax her hair and look like Raven! I guess it will always be a fight to make sure that black skin/hair is fairly presented along side with long flowing curls.