“Like clouds and winds without rain
is the man who brags
about gifts he never gave.” ~ Proverbs 25: 14.
I have always been attracted to things that are a little quirky, off center, not the norm. I blame my father, he was the one who taught me to see life from a slanted perspective, recognizing that things are not always as they appear, there is always more than one way to understand a story, a human experience. My mother on the other hand was straight forward, a blunt instrument, less subtle in her identification of human flaws and weaknesses. She also had clear ideas of right and wrong, of appropriate behavior and standards. So I ended up with high expectations of myself and others, but an appreciation of those who don’t follow norms, who dance to the beat of a different drum.
It was in Jamaica that I first fell in love with the rhythms of Africa transplanted to a Caribbean island. Whether it was dancing the ‘ska’, that syncopated, arm pumping, music that made you move your feet; or hearing the drums from the ‘Poco’ church on the road down the hill from our house, I felt the thrill of an ancient language, one that spoke to my soul. The Pocomania (little madness?) Church relied on ritual and mysticism. I have never been inside one. The closest we got was watching Rex Nettleford’s ‘Kuminah’, a beautiful dance which portrayed the robes and elegance of an African tradition, with hidden meanings and sacred, worshipful moves, punctuated by proud gyrations and stomps. But we heard of services that came from long tradition, featuring foreign tongues and involuntary outbursts. It was unclear whether they prayed to God or Gods, to the white, bearded God of the Europeans, or the exotic variety of Gods that their ancestors had worshiped since the dawn of time. Growing up in a Christian household I did not ask many questions about the tantalizing sound of drumbeats that ascended into my room at night.
But it was a Christian household, and my father was a seven day Christian, one who didn’t have to beat you over the head with the Bible, but tried his very best to live by the tenets of Christian faith. Not to say that his wicked sense of humor didn’t sneak through. Not to say that he was impossible to live with. But he had that quiet faith, and a genuine love of people that they could feel in every encounter.
The title Christian, and especially in this country at the moment, Evangelical Christian, has definitely lost its luster. There is a singer in Jamaica who teased about the ‘one-day Christians’, the type who were prim and proper and holier than thou every Sunday, but for the rest of the week they back-bit and gossiped and carried on with unchristian-like ways. But come Sunday they were clean faced, loving the Lord again.
It is very hard to recognize anything Christ-like about the current batch of ‘Christians’ who can align themselves with a man of no principles, who can ignore the current travesties being perpetrated upon people who these same ‘Christians’ appear to see as lesser human beings. Perhaps they can love their neighbor as themselves only when their neighbors look exactly like them. They can turn the other cheek if it is one of their own kind. But where are they when children are taken from their parents and locked in pens like animals? Where are they when black men are hunted down and treated as guilty by reason of the color of their skin? They can forgive their own for heinous crimes against the young, the defenseless, but others are to be killed without being convicted of a crime.
I am a little mad now, myself, trying to figure out the madness of this world. But the other day I heard a Bible quote I didn’t remember hearing before. Although brought up in a Christian household, I have been fascinated in adulthood by many other ways of viewing life, so I don’t hold the Bible as close as many would like. But this verse from Romans (13:10) says: “Love never does anything that is harmful to its neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the Law.”
If it was one thing I learned growing up in Jamaica, a white kid transplanted into the country parts, it is that Jamaicans (and I would have to add, people of African descent anywhere) are a loving people. And perhaps it is this ability to love others, to forgive the unforgivable and be the better person, that tendency to invite the oppressor in to your house and feed him, that has always made white people crazy, and heaped coals of fire on their head. It is a lot easier to keep up the war with people who hate you. What are you going to do with an enemy who shows you love? Peaceful protests cannot be respected, let us meet them with gunpower and hate. Masses of people, marching arm and arm, chanting unity; let us ram a car into them, teach them a lesson. Is that it? Is it the love that frightens them the most?
The hardest lesson that I ever learned (and one I am still not completely comfortable with) is to love myself. I was well over 50 when a friend (my beloved Elsa) pointed out that the other important Christian tenet of loving your neighbor as yourself begins with loving yourself. I had been loving my neighbor more than myself! Taking care of myself and my own needs last. She shook my lifetime of ingrained habits when she made me really think about the statement. How can I love anyone else (or be loved) if I don’t love myself?
This Friday morning I am hearing Bob Marley asking ‘could you be loved’ and wondering if this is indeed the secret. MLK Jr warned that only love can drive out hate, and that men hate in others what they recognize in themselves. Can we do this? Can we show love to the unlovable and unloving? Can we find that generosity of spirit that Africans on the continent, and Native Americans on this land showed the white man, before he showed what he was capable of? Can we love one another, right now?
Have a wonderful weekend, Family! And if you are near a computer, fire up Flexxfm.online tomorrow night to join the South Florida Clarendon College family as we burn up the airwaves with good reggae music, and party together though we’re apart, to raise funds for Clarendon College students struggling to keep their education going during these challenging Covid times.