Race, geography, identity and the dreaded ‘where are you from originally?” question.

Eve-in-paradise-lost-crop

The idea of borders were not a colonial construct. It’s not as though the tribe of my ancestors and their neighbours didn’t know the limits of their abodes/territories. From the days of caves human beings have known the boundaries of what was ‘safe’ or ‘theirs’. They have been able to identify, not only the sacred spaces that helped forge their communal identity but the margins that began the stretches of what was either unknown or sacred to someone else.

It isn’t the case either, that those boundaries were never breached. Our human history is an explorers history. There have always been some among us whose feet itch for the horizon, whose hearts aren’t satisfied within the boundaries of what is ‘known’; and for whom home was ‘beyond’.

If the story of the fall of man is to teach us anything, it is that this same curiosity to which we owe much of our progress – which in fact forms part of our mandated nature – will test/reveal our inner nature to us. Those who were once naked and unashamed in each other’s presence, enjoying an intimacy beyond our present understanding, very quickly made the ‘other’ of each other once outside the boundaries of their tribe.

As Eden determined the tribal identity and inner story of the first couple, so too did exile spell a loss of the same.

I use this analogy to say this: an objectively understood boundary (God determined), delineates the space for maximum flourishing of all members of the human tribe. The moment the subjective (individual – without full tribal consent) march into the unknown begins, loss of self-hood is sure to follow. One enters into an abstract space (wilderness) and must then attempt to bring some order to the chaos – apart from the order already objectively determined in the previous chapters.

Interpersonal intimacy and geographical boundaries were so intertwined. When the boundaries were heaven set, intimacy was possible. When the boundaries became human set, intimacy was lost. Interpersonal exile, and geographical exile were joint consequences: the chief expelled the members from the tribal lands because they opted out of the unitary tribal identity by defining their own boundaries.

If the expansion is a joint venture, then the tribe stays one and the space with which to ‘populate’ becomes an expansion of the sacred – identity forming space: the chief and subjects are on board. This is the appeal of empire: an increase of the sacred space correlates to an expansion in the tribal (individual) self image.

The Genesis story, however, extends to us the idea of complex ‘selves’ in a dynamic interaction. When he ‘other’s’ Eve, Adam carves out an autonomous space (geographically) within which to become: this is the loss of intimacy (selves in shared space, and resultantly shared identity) and the birth of autonomy. It is verbally violent, emotionally violent, and physically violent.

For the tribe, the path to individual identity meant the holistically violent expulsion of the one being ‘othered’ from the shared sacred space. The shared self-understanding (which is the individuality of the other) is assaulted and diminished by its violent expulsion so that the aggressor can become. The expulsion of the other, in order for the self to become, is an imposition of an unnatural (non-objectively consented boundary) upon them. This perhaps is the worst kind of violence because it severely deprives that individual of the ‘natural’ space (geography) within which to authentically become. With no footing, the ‘othered’ one is permanently exiled – left to wander the chaotic space, wounded by the violence with no space within which to even begin healing.

It is for this reason the concept of race as a geographical identity marker is particularly harmful. The violence of being racially othered leaves one wounded in exile – in non-geographical chaos. If the land’s essence is tied to a particular subset of the tribe at the expense of another, then there is left no avenue for the ‘othered’ persons to become.

Let’s get personal.

The loss, for me, begins in the realisation that the boundaries with which I have defined myself are violently imposed ones. What I mean when I say I am Ugandan is this: I have formed my identity within the boundaries violently imposed upon my ancestors by those of the same human tribe who – to expand their sense of self – othered all who they encountered. It is no wonder those boundaries that make for ‘Uganda’ have played home to the chaotic struggle of self realisation for a people who were left traumatised in a wilderness – having experienced a (seemingly permanent) holistic violence. For so long as those lines on the map that demarcate Uganda, are imposed on those lands, the narrative of being for me (and the people’s who call those lands home) will be textured by the violence with which those lines were drawn. I will forever struggle to answer the ‘who are you?’ question because I am a victim of my tribesman’s self-expansion. The coordinates that would frame my answer are complex and overlaid with violent lines and histories.

Here is where it gets interesting.

Those lines that made that space ‘Uganda’ simultaneously also made that space ‘Britain’: ‘Britain’ being the self-identification of those whose expansion meant an imposition of said lines on the map. The resistance of the ‘othered’ people’s to this new demarcation eventually resulted in independence but, alas, by that point the damage had already been done. The line that demarcated the outer region of what it meant to (geographically and thus essentially) be Britain now encompassed that space called ‘Uganda’. If not for Britain, I am an Acoli from that part of that continent. This self-identification now diminishes in efficacy because my passport – that identity marker that grants me passage through spaces – was Ugandan (or, in other words, within the violently enlarged boundaries of ‘British’).

By the end of empire, at the beginning of ‘independence’, the withdrawal of ‘British’ from those lands couldn’t heal those lands of those lines: wounds from the incredible and holistic violence we call conquest/colonialism. We’ve tried to understand this tie between the two spaces with terms such as Commonwealth e.t.c, all the while ducking the difficult question of a violent unification of space at the cost of the identities that occupied the unwounded – natural/pre-colonial – landscape. The ‘before-Uganda-ness’ of that space will never be re-discovered while those lines lie on the map. The earth is still bleeding, and its peoples are still in exile until self-determined lines are drawn: this is geographical independence.

Is it even possible? I don’t think so. Too much has been built upon the scared lands to return it to the state necessary for reconstruction of former identities. The wounds are now born by sons to the fourth generation, the benefits by sons to the fourth generation. I walk the streets and see edifices built by the blood, toil, and lives of my forefathers while still experiencing the deep and holistic violence from the ungrateful and wilfully uninformed ‘natives’.

Here is a truth we all know but some amongst us won’t admit for themselves: the road ahead is a choice between further violence or deeper intimacy. A negotiation of right’s to space – a new sacred – is afoot. We both know the identities we cling to are insufficient and can either face each other in battle for the space – in order to establish ‘ourselves’ at the expense of each other – or share the sacred space: allowing it to narrate for us a new becoming.

In truth, the tribal lands were always finite: we live on a small orb. The idea of exile was always going to be absurd and the non-space to which the one being othered is cast an illusory abstraction. Eve would always contend for the space in the ‘them’ of humanity. This space is hers and not Adam’s to take, though he protests. The ‘othered’ one is forced, by the violence incurred, to expand out from their beginning into something greater. Their desire remains a rediscovery of that which has been snatched: the objectively assigned/agreed boundaries of being. The aggressor, watching the futility of their efforts to force their victim away from the real into that absurd/illusory space of exile, is now forced into humility: constriction into their primary state of being. Humanity is a shared essence and a shared space: ‘male and female he created them’.

So…

Though ‘where are you from originally?’ remains a violent question, it is now devoid of meaning at the negotiating table. The addition of ‘originally’ speaks to a way of understanding space and identity that has been empirically proved false. The subject will no longer be ‘othered’ for the absurd wilderness has made them immune to its venom. Any attempt at ‘othering’ only serves as evidence of the increased boundaries that the subject can now occupy. Expansion made all spaces touched sacred to the souls encompassed in the new boundaries: the old lines bear no significance. In a twist of events, the ‘othering’ has in fact made us simultaneously ‘natives’ to the mother lands of our former colonisers, and natives to the wounded lands of our ancestors. And wherever, within the redrawn map we choose to be, we can – and will – call sacred and ours.

What next then?

ps: I owe a lot to Willie James Jennings!

Untitled Lament

Untitled Lament

Oh what shape the noose now takes
Oh what shape the noose now takes
Oh what shape the noose now takes
Oh what shape the news now takes
Oh what shape the noose now takes

Once, it was quaking knees
rattling close to rapidly beating hearts
hiding in huts as torches cast shadows on the mud walls.
Those were the days when kings and queens
were mauled by greed
bound and turned to either build kingdoms
or feed the seas

Oh what shape the noose now takes
Oh what shape the noose now takes
Oh what shape the noose now takes
Oh what shape the noose now takes

Shackled hands and feet,
steel bangles,
ornaments rusted from the many previous trips,
Salty sea water mixed with excrement,
anointing the blood sore wrists,
ankles, throats and hips:
Rough cut wood makes for bad seats –
a feat impossible when crammed skin to skin between the slits.
Still, these ships never were.
Rocking along in sickness and stealth, till death us does part.
The deep crying out in horror as they borrow her winds
Sails assailing the state.

Oh what shape the noose now takes
Oh what shape the noose now takes
Oh what shape the noose now takes
Oh what shape the noose now takes

But when came the defacing?
when the placing of breath beneath bended knees?
when the pleas for Justice stilled
and the songs of hope abolished,
policed into the old abyss?
When the years long tears,
now gathered into salty seas
anointing blood soaked wrists as mother’s hold deceasing sons?
When the jogger judged and bullets free’d?
When sister’s at child-birth left to bleed?
Pharaoh slaughters chosen seed
as victim’s chained watch hate succeed.

Old terrors,
torches,
burning crosses,
ropes hung around trees,

Old terrors
lights,
sirens,
for handcuffs freeze.

Old terrors,
line ups,
highest bidders please

Old terrors
may I see some ID

Oh what shape the noose now takes
Oh what shape the noose now takes
Oh what shape the noose now takes
Oh what shape the noose now takes

Eroded now, the excuses,
Exposed by the steady light shone
On the stones upon which thrones still stand.
An eternal silence in the face of weeping sands,
Falling from one jar to the next
As the defacing proceeds.

Dirges for the living,
Sung from kitchens tucked away
As meals are served by unseen faces.

Doors to cars and cars to doors,
Glass for walls and floors – our ceilings –
Deployed to sell false dawns
As unofficial widows attempt to share seats at tables with the keepers of the keys.
Smiles masking the ease with which
The puppet strings are weaved.
The old mother deceived
As father, diseased from bonds passed on when conceived, watches.
And as the salesmen speak…
Sons take knees and fail to breathe

Oh what shape the noose now takes
Oh what shape the noose now takes
Oh what shape the noose now takes
Oh what shape the noose now takes

Must we, then,
Weep, strive, survive, and teach?
Must we, then,
Feeling the whip still listen, translate and speak?
Must we, then,
Alone forge peace amidst the great violence reeked.
Must we, then,
Be first to turn the cheek
Shining brightly when times are bleak?
Must we, then,
Lamma Sabach Thani;
Bare the thorny crown and preach?
Must we, then,
Practise hope amid deceit?
Must we, then,
Speak love when knees restrict the breathing?

From whence cometh our help?

Oh what shape the noose now takes
Oh what shape the noose now takes
Oh what shape the noose now takes
Oh what shape the noose now takes

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

He said, “Go and tell this people:
“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
    be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’

Make the heart of this people calloused;
    make their ears dull
    and close their eyes.[a]
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”

And he answered:
“Until the cities lie ruined
    and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
    and the fields ruined and ravaged,

until the Lord has sent everyone far away
    and the land is utterly forsaken.

And though a tenth remains in the land,
    it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
    leave stumps when they are cut down,
    so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

© Denis Adide 2020



The Beggar: Marrakech

The first time I walked past him he was in a half squat with his hand partly stretched, his elbow nestled between his groin. His right hand was out, his left hand covering his chest – holding his cloak in. His back was supported by the pinkish wall behind him – they all had a shade of pink and were virtually indistinguishable. 

It was just after lunch and we had, having placed our bags in the hotel, left with eagerness and purpose to begin some preliminary exploration of the souks. The mosque, which he was perched opposite, had emptied and the business of the narrow street had resumed. It seemed as though there was an endless stream of the noisy motorcycles just waiting for you to begin trying to navigate your way before hurtling down the narrow streets. And the maps, those blasted maps, never made any distinction between what was quite obviously an alley to the foreign eye and what was a street: how self-centered. Needless to say, we eventually got lost. 

Sometime before leaving London, I had been sent by a colleague to offer a homeless man some soup. He had frowned as he saw me coming and lifted his palm to me like a gate, demarcating the area I was not to enter. It’s no excuse but (the excuse is) I had up to this point encountered ‘the professional beggar’ plenty of times. This had made me weight the scales in favour of distrust and away from compassion.

We walked past this one. 

“To the least of my brothers” He said.

Mrs Fergusson (A response to a letter)

Mary and John

(She folds his head into her bosom,
His blood drips down onto her dress,
Her eyes like an arm reach out onto mine
And this is what they say,)

“Come, Sit, Wait with me while he dies
Wait with me while I die and yet still live
Wait with me while I live the dying
And still wait with me as I suffer surviving
Come, sit, wait with me.

Place your knees beside his unfolded feet
Stretch out your hand and feel as the heat escapes,
As the fading breath ferries my sweet;
The Son of woman away.

Don’t leave, don’t fall to sleep,
Don’t slumber while I attempt to slay
The rising sorrow with feeble words heaven bound.
Pray on my behalf, for I cannot say the sounds
My tongue is in shock for the wounds perfectly here portrayed;
This body; this one that in my arms now lays
Carries the stains that will wash away
But not the stains that remain
Asking you to stay… with me
Asking you to wait… with me
To wake… and die yet still live,
And live the dying…
And suffer the surviving…
And sit… and wait… and pray… with me.”

(Then with his eyes open as her eyes close, we meet… he speaks…)

“Here is your mother”

(And breathes his first).

© Denis Adide 2014

Samson

Leave

Like Samson,
The chains were locked back on Django while he slept.
Slumber swept away the freedom he’d dreamt.
Time, like a lit candle in the black
Meant Samsons mane grew back…
But he was never again as free as at first.

How deep need it be?
Look down and up your streets,
See what the sweet honey coated slogans breed,
A hunger for money that never feeds,
A thirst that busy families never quench.
And what’s left is the loneliness of the silver years
And the rivers of tears from economic widows
And orphans looking through stacked windows
Watching their men run away…

“Go out in force and vote for me today!
Watch me change the state
And veil the things that make or break your lives
In honey sweet slogans
Plastered on bus sides.
never admit the system’s broken,
Then sleep, Like Samson:
locks cut away,
Eyes chained by the newspapers I pay”.

Let him who has ears hear.

© Denis Adide 2016

The Walker

john the baptist

“Where are you going?”
Said the boy to the walker.

“I go to the horizon
to find the place where the sun emerges,
Rising when it’s darkest
So with the first rays I can harvest
the hope of things to come.
It sinks into the dew
and evaporates when the light is brightest”.

“But you have neither bag not basket,
How do you keep what you harness?”

“Peace demands I take no bag,
Courage that I take only the shirt on my back,
I shake the dust off where there are mountains
And drink where there are streams.
As for the quarry I seek, these feet,
soaked in the mornings joy,
feed the heart I follow
to the visions that keep my soul warm.

Besides,
I placed my bright mourning flower on the widow’s window,
Put my loaf of bread at the door of the new parents,
Gave my bag to the beggar for his first belongings,
And my water jar to the unpaid servant.

So all I have is me.”

He then watched the thoughts
shoot through the young boys mind,
Watched as those fresh eyes
noticed the closed doors
and flickering candle lights
just about piercing through the gaps
of the boarded up windows.
He watched as the perked up ears
noticed soft whimpers
in between the quietening bird song.
He watched as the the blood
drained from the unguarded face,
the beating softening
as the realisation grew
that though all was not gloom,
it had left little room for much else.

Then knelt the walker,
Gently taking off his shoes.

“One day,
When these fit you,
You will chase the horizon too.
Perhaps towards the setting sun
To mine the hums of the cooling breeze
For the gifts of the seasons:
Reasons to keep going
in the face of encroaching darkness.
Between us maybe
we can feed the trees to fruit again.”

With that he handed them over,
Smiled,
And carried on his way.

© Denis Adide 2018

With special thanks to Peter Duckworth.

Hold on to me.

download (1)

Hold on to me,
for my claws lack strength,
and my will is to the contrary –
to the separating,
toward the hopeless dying.

Hold on to me,
for a I feel the winds coming
and have no roots to stem the tide.

Clasp my heart beside yours
so that my rebellious hands find no anchor,
and my flesh with thine be twine,
and your blood be mine.

Hold on to me,
as the rotting parts fall away,
those I thirst for that never quench,
those I feed to the hopeless dying:
with rusty nails on rough wood.
Graft me permanently in,
till resistance turns to rest,
and circumstances to peace,
empty branches to fruit
and wandering feet to roots.

Hold on!

Saviour!

Hold on!

© Denis Adide 2019

Joseph: A father’s song.

joseph-father-of-jesus-2 (1)

The words chimed on the wind like a soft breathed whisper,
then lingered lazy – full of as much meaning as a seaside sunset –
and yet,
what thoughts it triggered weren’t new but old,
untold and not faced since we first visited the city:

“Rising and falling of many…”

Sustained they were by a heartache fore-felt,
despite valiant efforts to forget,
and the unfulfilled thirst to whisk you away
forsaking the path set.

I did it before once,
when the drums were rolled
and chariots scolded the roads to us;
when spears were wielded
and swords throttled new sons.
I knew then we had to flee
but from this… from this… I can’t keep.

I saw it, I saw it as I was sweeping,
sweeping sawdust –
which mixed with my weeping made for a somber evening.
My work was finished,
The table was made:
smooth and with carvings overlaid.
What remained were the three nails
nestled together at the centre
receiving and reflecting the bright midday light.

“Rising and falling…”

I beheld the sight
and the old fright gripped me to the core
you were mine but always more
and the road to be walked was yours –
I knew then that I couldn’t follow.

For a while my days were made hollow.
Drawn out evenings,
shallow mornings,
and skies coloured by mourning eyes:
The seconds for my pleading still wouldn’t relent,
you were, in my weeping: the son I couldn’t protect;
you were, for my keeping: the Son I couldn’t reject;
the one my heart could not forget
nor eyes evade when the time came.
And come the time surely would,
so said the whispers,
the nails,
and the wood that perfectly still –
though the days moved –
before me perfectly stood.

“Rising and falling”

The words chimed on the wind like a soft breathed whisper,
then lingered lazy – full of as much meaning as a seaside sunset:
three nails, and my little lamb on the table laid.
Softly said with an exhale
so that I would know that my failing
was simultaneously also my hope
and though I grope at strength to save you
what I need do is repent.

Son I love you,
so when comes the prophets day,
and your flesh succumbs to the slightest decay,
I like your Father wont turn away
it won’t be dismay but heartache…

and gratitude…
and pride…
and gratitude…
and sorrow
and gratitude…
and pain.

© Denis Adide 2018

Scriptures to ponder…

Isaiah 53, Luke 2:21-35, Matthew 1:8-25, 2:13-18, 27:55-56.

A Strange Story : Easter Day Evensong sermon at St Paul’s Cathedral.

West Doors

“What are we to do with this strange story? This strange story that seems to us to come from another world. A world different from our own. This strange story about a child born of a virgin, conceived of God; a child whose birth is heralded by singing angels, shepherds and kings; a child whose birth is foretold centuries before it happens; this child who in his youth teaches his teaches but is always obedient to his mother and father. What are we to do?

What are we to do with tales of water being turned into wine; of people born blind being given their sight again; of the paralysed being animated; of the lame walking; of the sick being healed; of leper’s being made clean by a touch; of the dead being raised to life again? It seems to us from another world. A world very different from our own. What are we to do?

What are we to do with the claims of this child, now a man, that he was there with God in the beginning; that he is God among us, Immanuel; that it is he that placed the stars in the places they occupy; that it is he who decided the numbers of hairs we would have and at which point some of us might lose a few? In a world with pictures of black holes, science and modern medicine, what are we to do?

My suggestion this day is that we follow the evidence. We start by asking why a fire in an old cathedral is a tragedy? If all we see is all there is then why lament the smoke? Perhaps there is more, perhaps that world from which our story comes isn’t that distant after all.

If the story-teller is the same one in the beginning as is at the end, if He is Alpha and Omega then maybe in the corridors of history he might direct Isaiah – a prophet in exile – to speak of the day when the true rules of this universe would be revealed; to ask whether when that day comes, people would understand the gravity of what they witnessed.

If He is who he says he is, maybe he might allow humanity to throw their best at him. Beat him, force him to carry a log up a hill, nail him to that log and mock him as he dies. Maybe he might allow those who think death is the best weapon to bury him in a tomb and sleep soundly in their success: enjoying the grief written on the faces of his friends, soundly in the knowledge that the rules hadn’t changed. Soundly in the knowledge that might was right; you survived if you were fit or lucky enough; the sword would always win and bombs in churches would silence heaven.

Medicine tells us that blood and water from a pierced side only flow from someone who is dead.

History tells us that A Roman guard would never fall asleep on duty because it would cost him his life.

Science tells us that more than one person can hallucinate at the same time. But for two to have the exact same hallucination is extremely rare.

Where does that leave us when it comes to the three women at the tomb; or the 11 or more in a room they had locked from the inside; or the 500 who saw him alive; or the billions who have since encountered him in person by his spirit.

Today we strongly celebrate the reality that the rules did change. The tomb sealed to keep a dead man thrown wide open by a God who for compassion had come to the dust of the earth to make of them his children. The swords placed in soldiers hands to ensure he stayed dead were scattered by the display of what might really looked like. The earth shook. The way was paved for the women, considered the least, to come and find hope instead of continuing grief.

Death has lost its sting, evil its greatest weapon. Humanity has gained victory.

Ye though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil. For our shepherd – the good shepherd – has gone before us. Laying a table for us in the presence of our enemies. Giving us shalom, peace with God – the only sure foundation for joy.

Alas its is indeed a strange story, but not from another world. Granted perhaps it is a collision of two worlds, God’s plan for heaven and earth. A plan so that the eternal song of heaven, the song of the saints persecuted to death is “Sanctus! holy! Holy! Holy!”. For they see the tapestry completed. And the song of the church on earth, “Allelujah, Our Saviour is risen!”; of victory over death is sung with a hope unquenched and a joy everlasting.

Perhaps as we depart this day. Let us in the power of the death conquering spirit, confident in this strange but true story, participate in this seditious and rebellious song of a church united in heaven and militant here on earth.

Sanctus! Sanctus! Allelujah! Allelujah

May God bless his word to us today.”

One more day

From the garden.

Gethsemane

One more day…

One more day…

The bread is still warm.
Calmly I dismissed him who heralds my harm.
They who this table charm
forget the scent of the embalmers perfume.
The echo of his fading footsteps resume
whenever there is a reprieve from the needless arguments:
and they praise unaware of the impending lament.

Oh Father,
Will you ascend the hill with me
And wait as I pray
Or will you sleep in my darkest hour
Saving souring flesh?

When the fangs pierce my heel,
And the serpent seeks to steal each exhale,
And hands impaled inhale impending darkness;
When the intended groom hangs naked
And the betrothed assails;
Will your gaze stay or fray?

Half buried I am by a friend’s betray.
Halfway ingested the cursed cup remains
Corrosive contents to stain my flesh.
I struggle to contain my distress
Too faithful to repent, let it all be spent
In a night…
And one more day. 

One more day…
For this the dungeon holds,
And for now the light still flickers.
Once these fingers did stars fling
And for them the rocks will sing
But tomorrow’s day and the life before
For a sting and a world restored.

How quickly from light to darkness,
Palm leaves to stones,
Reckless praise to insults,
Crowns to thorns,
Questions to stark impulses,
And chants?

The chants…
Foretold and known yet haunting;
Embodied now all’s daunting;
Anointed by their relentless refrain
For a long night in chains and then
one more day.

One more day…
The stones should have cried out
But they instead spewed the nails that await.
I and the tall tree are fated to die.
Naked for fallen leaves
and cursed for sour fruit.
The axe in myrrh was at out roots.
A lash for each wilderness hour
A rush to reach for what wilderness flowered.
To scour tenderness thrice tempted.

from this path I’m not exempt.

The Wine awaits

The bread must break

and when the nights partaken

it’ll be one more day.

© Denis Adide 2018