Pillar to Post: Black winter in the daylight

A) BARACK

I had only experienced this once before, the connection at this depth between what was happening in my heart and mind with what was taking place in a far off land. We had gathered in large numbers, then, in the university bar to watch the inauguration of the first Black president of the United States of America. The bar was heaving, the excitement palpable. None of us could fully articulate what had drawn us together, neither could we communicate to each other what we all knew was happening. A dream was being drawn from illusion to reality. This event, which was going to fast settle in our memories, was a vapour for the many who had gone before us. You could see it in the coverage of the crowds who’d gathered, tears on the faces whose joy wasn’t shown in smiles but in eyebrows that conveyed the deep seriousness of what they were about to witness. Their sense of privilege was evident, and so was ours.

What really hit home was the quality of the man upon whom this moment centred. As someone who was mocked for his accent and corrected for mispronunciation by people whose grasp of the English language was impoverished, I found in Barack Obama a champion. The scars, marked by the new way of speaking I had chosen to embrace in order that my difference wasn’t pointed out each time, were being soothed at the sight of a man who looked like me – over the 4-5 years prior – demonstrate this gift of oration wrapped in intellect. My friends and I knew we were moving from being an exception to being a norm (or at least we hoped).

He stood, he spoke, we listened, we healed, we hoped and then watched the proceeding 8 years with pride.

There was a terror, however, lurking in the background. You could hear it in the voices of the many comedians, skillfully concealing the cold truth behind humour (or rather wrapping the truth in something palpable): there was a threat to this man, and all whom he represented. We all knew deep within that, as with child-birth, no new thing emerges without struggle: goliath never goes down easy and the idea of Black in power would always terrify any non-Black student of history (even that which is white-washed cannot conceal the horrors endured by my kin. Would vengeance be ours or the Lord’s?).

In the end we celebrated the simple things: a) he was alive, b) his family was intact, c) he had kept his integrity, and d) the bar he had set for Black in power was a human bar – one that all could aspire to. We celebrated the simple things because some of us had seen the growing undercurrent of vitriol and anger in those who couldn’t stomach the idea of equality, and equity with – let alone leadership from – a Black man (there is much to say about the intersection of gender and race within the landscape but that might have to wait). He bowed out and bowed into a select pantheon.

Then came 2016, and the months that preceded it. Goliath’s violent death-throws reminded those of us who hadn’t had their eyes open all along that symbols are not the reality they point to. America, like the globe, was still a stable breeding ground for racial injustice among all other modes of ‘othering’. Our symbol, alas, was an arrow pointing to a world that was possible. We, sadly, like the symbol itself, were anchored to a world that was quite some way away from making real what was possible. My heart had warmed 8 years prior, it shuddered this time.

B) George, Jacob, Bryona, and all the Martyr-Victims

We are at the limits of language.

More than martyrs

A martyr dies for their belief. This usually is something they have an option to denounce. Being and being Black are a belief. Being alive and Black is a statement of faith, confidence in something that the present state of play doesn’t acknowledge as actual. I dare to say, the present state of play doesn’t hold – systemically – that Black should be party to life. It, in fact, holds that Black shouldn’t live (if sentient life has any sense of self-determination and dignity attached to it). As a Black man, I find myself in a world that is geared to deny me everything on the spectrum of existence: it wills that I do not breathe and do not exhale.

When, in this world, is Black able to rest? Where, in this world, is Black able to exhale? The lands of our ancestry are scared by impositions of control, the stories of our ancestors un-coloured. The game of capitol is stacked so against Black that even the dream of settled descendants alludes. History is written in our blood, modernity built on the unburied bones of our ancestors – their yokes passed on to us for us to bear to the fourth and fifth generation at the least.

To utter the word Justice, thus, is to speak in faith – pointing in hope to what is possible but not real. It is to stand in resistance to dying. It is to breath in with a tightened noose and exhale with a weight on your chest – knowing how hard the intake of breath will be to achieve.

Therefore, to call them martyrs is to note the faithfulness of their choices to stand in the face of death and BE BLACK. It is to acknowledge that this faith isn’t one that can be shed but rather one that is as unshakable as the very skin they ware. It is to state that their saint-hood isn’t to do with whatever socially moral choice they made (and who can judge the living decisions of one whose very surroundings demand their lives of them) but an acknowledgement that they lived, loved, and sought life. It is to say that in the face of history, the global anti-black social contract, the boot, the words, the knee, and the bullet they lived.

More than victims

To call someone a victim is at once to acknowledge that there exists in place some rule by which the action happened upon them is a malefaction. It is to say that the order at present, states that their lives shouldn’t have been affected as they were. Is that the case here? Does the world where Black is afforded even the ‘living’ status upon which the idea of victimisation can settle exist? History speaks of a world where Black was considered cattle – existing for its resource – and the expunction of Black life worth as much shock as the death of cow at an abattoir. No consideration was necessary for the quality of life lived by the Black person other than that which would aid in its (and I use that intentionally) productivity.

The reality of the present is this, that attitude to Black life cannot be relegated to the past. It is present in the components that make up society. It is, in fact, the very bedrock upon which what we call society is built. There is no aspect of society that doesn’t adhere to that principle that denies sentience to all that is Black. Cast a lense on health and the principle rears its head. The same is true for education, politics, the judiciary, economics, housing and religion.

Therefore, to call them victims is to pretend that the world affirmed their right to live.

Black calls them victims as an act of faith. It does so because of the chains that bind it to hope. Hope because that world that would truly call them victims is a dream that the present has set itself to keep from becoming. The world where they are truly victims is a Black world and not this one.

And so…

We raise their names as banners in resistance to the world that is. We call them martyr-victims as a ritual to conjure into being the world we know can be but is not. We stitch our skin to theirs so that as they descend to the depths – to rest with our ancestors – they stay linked to the living – kept alive in rebellion against their executioners. We wear them on our sleeves to give Black life the sentience that it is denied, so that we who live my LIVE!

Here the sadness; hear the sadness.

To be Black and live is to act in faith. It is to believe in something that isn’t in rebellion against something that is. Goliath has been, and continues to be proficient. Therefore, to hope for the world were Black and Living aren’t oxymoronic is to harbour an eschatological hope that as yet has no anchor. It is to hope one day to wake up to a dream, and wrestle the reality one dwells in.

C) T’CHALA

It was about to happen again. I could feel my heart warming up from the deep thaw. The two preceding years had been hard to bear, and I was sure the ones to follow wouldn’t be easy either. The toxicity of the landscape had intensified and, like the rest of the people I was about to share the moment with, there was a deep exhaustion. We had seen an increase in racial insensitivity (ask Reni-Edoo), an emboldening of racial violence (see the blood of the martyr-victims), and a global swell of the kind of populism that made our anxieties increase.

But here we were, Black family under one roof. Someone had organised the tickets to that everyone in the room was connected to each other somehow. The friends I made in that theatre still impact my life today. Why were we there?

Wakanda

The kingdoms of our ancestors had been erased from memory. Their artifacts stolen to be displayed as exploits – denotations of another’s prevalence and power while simultaneously concealing the bloodshed and violence by which they were wretched out of the lands to which they belonged. Black had/has been made to feel as though it is incapable of poetry, governance, commerce/wealth, and civility (whatever that means).

Here the hope; hear the hope.

And so…

For once in the space where society suspended belief there was to be painted that dream that we – Black – knew was possible. Theatre’s such as these were one of the no-go places for the ideas about to be presented. And in the landscape within which we were living, with bigots in the places of power and authority, we were desperate for a dream. We embraced and high-fived; we applauded the opening credits and watched with bated breath – exhaling deeply in the presence of our Black family.

The film was eschatology being brought a step closer. In the world where Black couldn’t live, Black was now able to dream. The suspension of the tenets upon which the world we lived in (if you could call it living) was built, was no longer reserved for private conversations. Our hope – and in-fact our past – was now on the big screen and, perhaps, a globally shared dream: a tonic in the prevailing nightmare.

August 28th 2020

The trigger for this post was – on this day – the death of Chadwick Boseman. I’m sure I’m not alone in the wailing. As the waters engulfed, I allowed myself to sink till my feet found the floor of the ocean.

Hear the weeping; here the weeping.

Chadwick’s death was death and more. I grieve for his family; I grieve for his Black Family; and I grieve for me.

Suddenly I, like others, were confronted with the bitter coldness of what the earth has to offer Black. In cancer comes the truth that none of the ills in nature are somehow kept at bay from those of us for whom the noose of rotten humanity chokes. In the death of the character he so vividly brought to life (it will be so hard to imagine anyone else bearing the needed believe-ability for the tonic to be what it was), came the confrontation between the illusory nature of the eschatological landscape and the brutality of reality. What vestige is there for Black if both the dream and reality in the end assail? What hope can we anchor ourselves to if even in the land of rocks and trees diseases assault our kings?

If only our hope lived in the storehouses from which our tears came.

The king – like the rest of us – was already dead!

Selah!

The book of Barabbas

Chapter 1. (New Revised Standard Edition Anglicised.) 

Lamentation’s answer. 

1While an encampment that human beings had erected in order to survive their journey away from death was being torn down (because of external decisions), another – longer standing – encampment of human beings who journeyed in search of a better life was deciding its direction. 2The world that could choose was choosing, the world that could not choose was watching and waiting to learn if its future had hope or darkness. 3Beneath the discourse a slight whisper from the hearts of those who themselves couldn’t hear. 4Words, very clear and chilling to the ears of those who were attentive: “am I my brother’s keeper?”.

5Those who heard it, the same who hold the memory of blood from the shepherd’s head-wound dripping on the rock now dropped by his brother, wept. 6They wept alongside the tent pegs that had been left behind when the bulldozers came; 7they wept beside the old men, sifting through the rubble of the old city for signs of the lives they were in denial of loosing; 8they wept with the mothers of sons who were criminalised, lived under the threat of death and its worse sibling twins – incarceration and slavery, sons who were shot before tasting grey. 9They wept as their tears were projected onto the endless feeds as pictures that mocked justice by pointing to guilt that would go unpunished and unchallenged 10(for those with the power to act, didn’t react – the threat never close enough to warrant lifted hands). 11They wept bitterly, tears bursting the underdeveloped levies and washing away their home: 12how were they to call home the place that their stronger brother had claimed for his own – even without birthright?

13These were the days when judges were scarce; when prophets were silent and pharisees were loud; when the widows were hungry – portions served to false kings; 14and the fatherless uncovered – squatting in the shadows of hillside mansions. 15These were the days when no one noticed the wind – no vanes were erected nor sails raised 16and none with oars left the harbour and nets were swapped for fig leaves. 17These were the days when the third crow was unheard, heart unhurt, and stomachs stretched as far as the blood-soaked heaps of coins would allow. 18No one ventured into the wilderness, by the river where the death that saved awaited: opting rather to skirt the edge of the greens on the journeys from fortresses to fortresses. 19Those who bore the truth had arisen and headed to Tarshish by land leaving the outcry of the infants – whose blood also stained the sacrificial rocks – to rise. 

20Then spoke the Lord to the old soldier’s son,

“Gather your garments,

take off the sackcloth;

rinse your head and be clean.

21Cease from your weeping and rejoice,

for now you know my deeds –

my thoughts in the silence

22when with feeble knees I stood,

half alive from the lashes

wearing my crown of thorns

and my blood-soaked robes of glory,

23watching as they chose

to make Barabas their king.

24Come, stand with me in love,

and love from this place beside the tree

till darkness fails and every knee

bows”.

Let him who has ears…

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Catch up: Part 3…The Little Black Tourist

By the entrance to the crypt a sentry stood.

“I’m here for the ordination retreat”. I almost whispered.

Right this way Sir!”, the reply, with an arm extended toward the well lit hollow.

I lifted my bags so they wouldn’t hit the steps. Inside one of them was a bottle of Aardberg which I had been advised to take with me (as for the contents of that bottle, what happens on retreat stays on retreat!).

The last time I came to St Paul’s Cathedral it was for my confirmation service. I managed to find myself a seat upstairs and secured some for my family: who had come to support me. About five minutes prior to the service, my sister’s nose began to bleed. One of the vergers, who I came to learn later was a cannon (cracking Job title by the way) had let us down some steps into the crypt. That was my first time down there.

I had once, before writing Talitha Koumi, aired some of my frustrations about Christian  obsessions with buildings. Stone altars was the series of blog posts through which I  mused on the place of symbolic structures in the life of faith. At that point, as with now, I was passionate for people to know God as one who did not need the many buildings, and all the ornate things within them, in order to touch the heart. Because of this, the history of St Paul’s Cathedral and of all that was within its walls – specifically the crypt, weren’t a fascination.

Today, as the outstretched arm of the Sentry pointed me down into the crypt, I hadn’t lost that sense of non-wonder (and this has taken a while to understand). It wasn’t the building that I was walking into that had me trembling, it was the life I was leaving behind. Going down the steps felt like leaving the autonomy with which my journey had been peppered: I was one amongst many traversing the busy London streets. It felt as though with each step down my life was stopping being my own.

At the end of the ceremony to come there would be a prefix to my name. One that denoted my connection to the institution that this building represented. It would denote my connection to a whole plethora of people. I trembled because I knew how complex my own sense of identity was (#It’sComplicated). How could I then enter into the space of representing? Would I lose who I was and become something else? If yes, then what if I did not like who I became? There were too few steps and too many tourists going up and down them for any of these questions to have had answers by the time I got to the room we were supposed to congregate in.

Bags down I was glad to see some familiar faces. I was also glad to see some new faces, each with that Nicky Gumble christian smile. It was daunting, but somehow also safe. I could trace in each face I met – of the ordinands – internal turmoils of a similar texture. There was a quiet, subtle, undercurrent of care for each other which made – even the silences – a good thing.

About 40 minutes passed with us, the group of ordinands, doing things not worth the blog-space (apart probably from the pre-quasi-seminar coffee, which was good). When all had been said that needed saying we donned our cassocks to head up for the rehearsal. The cafe in the crypt went silent as soon as the door to the room we were in opened. Cups were put down, some even did the sign of the cross as we – in single file like soldiers – marched out towards the set the same steps that had ushered us individually in. Lifting my cassock so as not to trip on the steps I slowly ascended back out into the sunshine of the courtyard. The faces, now turned towards our cohort of oddly dressed individuals, were filled with wonder and confusion in equal measure. We went up the steps, through the side doors past the tourists into the nave.

Part of what we would have had to do in the service was walk in that same single file up the aisle to the front. There was a slight commotion in the nave as the many tourists who were in the building gathered around close to the font, where we were, in order to see what was going on. Our names were called out so that we will be in the right order when our march begun. Like a good schoolboy I listened attentively for my name, suppressing every instinct towards mischief (I know… it happened). When it came, resounding with echoes, I walked toward where I was supposed to stand: my stomach slightly churning. I lifted my eyes from my shoes and that’s when it happened; that’s when I saw him. I’m certain however, that he had been watching me a while now.

He was short, just tall enough for the rope that demarcated the ‘no access’ area to pass across his shoulders. His hair was combed, dark like his eyes – which were wide open. There was a look of wonder in his eyes that both confused and encouraged me. It was a look mirrored by his mother, who was standing beside him. Hers however, had a tinge of pride: the kind of pride that God likes; that expresses a gratitude mixed with joy and affirmation. No one else had the same look these two had. For most of those surrounding them, the look was more of surprise and intrigue. Somehow, within that moment, I had become his – a memory to savour. He too had become mine. Both our eyes glistened at the realisation that we were no longer just tourists, misfits in a place we didn’t belong. We represented each other from the other side of the rope: I could be him (in fact I was him once but in a life that – till fairly recently – was empty of the counterpart in a cassock), and he could be me. Once innocently colour-blind little black tourists in a sea of white, now priests to each other. Me, evidence of a new possibility; Him, a reminder of where I came from and the privilege I was now to hold: the privilege of who I was becoming.

Stopping short of going to embrace him, I nodded and waved. He slowly raised a hand, still with wonder in his eyes, and gently – almost with a tinge of embarrassment – waved back. With that we were called forward and I had to leave the scene.

Being an ethnic ‘minority’ (and I hate some of what that word might imply) had never really been a thing that I focussed on. Being and ethnic ‘minority’ in the Church of England was also not a thing that I had particularly focussed on. Being a Church of England ordinand from an ethnic minority was also not something I particularly mused upon. For some reason – and do think it is from him – God had somehow blinded me to the fact that I was usually one of perhaps two black guys in most of the churches I had been involved in. Looking back now, with the added experience of my sending church, I can see quite clearly the correlation between the affluence of the particular churches and their ethnic diversity (quite a sad thing to ponder really).

Only once during the discernment process had cultural mis-translation proved an issue for me: even then it was only slight. I barely noticed my ethnicity at my B.A.P (selection conference), and only slightly – on rare occasions – had it become a noticeable thing at theological college or in the placement churches. But this wasn’t because issues regarding race and culture weren’t alive in the undercurrent. No! It was because they were the aspects of my own experience that I had chosen, sub-consciously and consciously at times, not to reflect on. For so long as doors kept opening I kept walking through without pausing to ponder the scars and wounds from the journey.

This moment, then, was important because it helped me realise that I had a tourist’s understanding of my presence at the cathedral. Somewhere between church, the discernment process, theological training and all that had led to this point, I had suppressed the truth of my blackness and thus wasn’t really in the space to recognise the fact that I belonged where I stood. I had forgotten the wonder with which my eyes met my sending incumbent – a young black man serving as a priest. I hadn’t recognised the permission he had given me, permission in my deepest recesses to dream. He had given me the sight of a future I could occupy, like the sight I had here given the little black tourist. I had had the fortune, in the sea of middle-class white males (a generalisation, but also a kind of reality), to have found someone who looked like me, spoke like me, had a story like mine, who was doing what I felt God was calling me to do. My dream had possibility.

To recognise my belonging meant recognising the moments when I was a cultural outcast, smiling in groups when I didn’t understand the references or appreciate the same genre of music or films being used (unintentional exclusion by my God-loving peers). It meant recognising the loneliness of culture-centric pleasures and joys that I couldn’t share: they would neither be appreciated fully/ understood nor enjoyed. It meant having to recognise the struggle to find a barber shop that did afro hair while my colleagues had short walks to theirs. It meant recognising that I didn’t know how to begin to express my hurt when I was made a victim by a racist shopkeeper (my colleagues would have cared for me but they may not have understood the pain – real untranslated empathy heals in a way unparalleled). It meant recognising that I was going to be ordained as a black man.

If I didn’t allow the authenticity of my experience to kneel before the cross, I wouldn’t be healed; neither would the others from my background for whom our shared experience would be an avenue through which hope would flow. As Rev Azariah France-Williams (my sending incumbent) was for me, so I had to be for myself first, then for others. I suppose this was why Jesus had to be fully human, so as not to be a tourist but a priest.

The rest of the rehearsal was a blur: my thoughts overwhelmed me. I was occupied for the days of reflection that followed and have been since. The young boy ensured my commitment to a deeper reflection on the part my ethnicity plays in this great adventure God is leading me on. It’s not easy. Keep me in your prayers.

….

I couldn’t post this without this minor appendix….

In the diverse city that London is, I was the only black person ordained in 2016. There were a few from other ethnicities but in total we were a small percentage and I suspect didn’t represent the make up of our city. I don’t think this is an issue whose root rests solely in the majority male-middle class white clergy. What God blinded me to, other’s see and are afraid. Had I seen it myself, I might not be where I am. We must together share the burden of cross-cultural translation. I think it is at the centre of the term ‘incarnate’. Difference is not to be feared but to be embraced. Sin will mask our fear in apathy or the illusion that is the assurance of our being untouched by issues of race and culture: do not allow it to take root. Repentance, specific to this, looks like a real interrogation of the sub-conscious biases that exist within us. These are not just about race and culture but also include gender and age. Kneeling at the foot of the cross means just that, accepting that our minds need transformation and our whole lives conforming to be like the God who reached out to the uncircumcised.

(More can be said, more will undoubtedly be said.)

PS: Pontiff sed hi.

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Catch up: part 2…#Pilgrim

About a month had passed since the valedictory service. Some of the faces and memories are referred to in my last post was still fresh my head. I hadn’t quite began to miss things because it all sort of felt like an extended break. Somewhere within, I was convinced that things would resume at a certain point and the rhythm that I had grown accustomed to would return. This illusion was kept in place by the fact that we hadn’t moved from the house we had lived in while in Bristol. The place we were to take up during my curacy was due to be worked on – maintenance and repairs. What this meant was I would have to take my stuff for the ordination retreat with me all the way from Bristol and after the ceremony return to Bristol. This wasn’t particularly ideal: but that’s life. To be honest I was more daunted by the prospect of ordination than I was with the discomfort of travelling.

I suppose there is something about the pilgrims journey being the pilgrims journey. If one does not own the destination as their own, where does one draw determination and the hope to persevere – or even the courage to attempt the journey in the first place.

Close to 3 years prior, I set off from quiet house in West Sussex to make the three-hour trip across to Bristol to begin my theological education. I stress that ‘quiet house’ because it was empty. There was no one to share my anxiety and excitement; no one to encourage me; no one to pray for me – I had needed it badly. Then, and in this moment I am here reflecting on, it felt as though God clearly wanted me to understand my sense of calling as my own. In as much as there are so many people he had placed around me to nurture me and encourage me through the journey, it seemed important to him that I knew that it was my journey first. That it will be me that would be shaped, tested, carried, refilled, thirsty, bruised, strengthened, and approved. So when with the retreat beckoning I placed my bags in the boot of my Little VW, that sense of solitude – positive solitude – was one that I recognised. This journey was for me.

There is something about the M4 that’s both charming and frustrating. Over the time spent in Bristol I have had to make numerous trips to and from London. Both the night time and the daytime journeys always gave me time to reflect, time to dream – obviously not while asleep at the wheel, and time to ‘defragment the hard drive’. The morning  drive was east into the sunrise, the evening drive west into the sunset; and the night’s peppered by a cascade of headlights. One grows accustomed to the red of the rear lamps. (If you are doing the London to Bristol trip, the Membury services have a drive through Starbucks #BroTip). On some days you might be lucky and there are no roadworks slow you down. But on other days, most days are really, at some point you have to slow down to a creep because hundred or so drivers decided they wanted to have a look at what was going on the other side of the motorway. For the many trips I had taken, I had grown to know the different curves and distances between the junctions; and how many songs would get me to which point.

This journey was different. For some reason  It had a feeling of finality to it. Almost like the beginning of an end. This was more than just a ‘you will no longer live in Bristol’ kind of end. Or a ‘you will no longer be a student at Trinity’ kind of end. This was a ‘your life is about to change’ kind of end. A ‘brace yourself’ kind of excitement washed over me as I buckled in. I started the ignition as that kind of smile you smile when you see the lion in the zoo and recognise how small you are, washed across my face. Needless to say I was parked up and a few steps away from the train station in Chiswick when I realised that I didn’t even put the Radio on for the two hour road trip.

The headphones were in and the music soundtracks for the cascading scenes and faces as the train took me deeper into the big smoke. The same Waterloo station that I had frequented in my freelance days now took on a different sense of wonder. Light interrupted by rows of steel ushered me forward. I slowly walked past the National Theatre and the BFI keeping away from the river because I knew what awaited me. But with a sense of inevitability the buildings peeled away. I could see it across the water, that great survivor who had welcome me into her arms once before and now towered above all so she could do it again.

When Wordsworth talks about spots of time, I think it’s things like these that he refers to. The memory is etched, maybe seared in. I can almost count the contours on the stems of the trees that line the embankment, their broad leaves slowly swaying in the gentle breeze. In front of me the tourists with their big cameras trying to catch little scenes, little glimpses to take home with them. And then there are other joggers, pilgrims themselves; and those on benches unpacking their sandwiches. I must have fitted right in with my travel bag and cassock carrier.

Slowly, as I approached Millennium bridge, all other buildings began to shrink. The cathedral grew bigger with each step, and so did the tremor from within. I was hungry but knew I couldn’t eat. It was all made worse by the fact that I knew I was afraid, wanted to turn back but couldn’t: I just couldn’t. I should have bought the sugar coated peanuts from the vendor on the bridge. There were steps to ascend gradually as the paved path from the river to the courtyard opened up. I wished I had memorised a song of ascent: there was a song playing through the headphones that I can’t recall – in truth I wasn’t listening.

With one last look up the steps at those daunting West doors I turned left as had been instructed. By the entrance to the crypt a sentry stood.

“I’m here for the ordination retreat”. I almost whispered.

Right this way Sir!“, the reply, with an arm extended toward the well lit hollow.

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Left onto Stoke Lane

The sun shone brightly,
it’s warmth tempered by a deep cooling breeze.
The days weren’t as long as they had been,
the grasses were browning from summer’s green,
And I could see, as I drove in,
that the leaves were desperately clinging to the trees,
Soon all would fall and a new thing would begin.

It had been a quiet drive,
Serene and subtle deep,
The slower speed now meant I could perceive
the acorns and conker seeds
knocking in the wheel arches.

Left onto Saville Road from Parry’s Lane,
then right onto Stoke Road down the hill,
I’m sure its here I should turn in.

There are indeed some scenes that stick
like the big rocks at the bottom of clear streams,
or words vividly spoken mid-winter dreams,
that lay claim to a past and form the present’s meaning
while conquering future schemes,

She was one of these,
The tree’s – like her veil – did peel,
her brick work sealed by the gardens (Big up Dave Snell).

Intimidating, her beauty was to me,
Shyly I walked into her open arms
and within her embrace I blinked.

Then with a blade, dipped in love she touched me
Hurting to heal, healing to teach,
teaching to give me more than I had dreamed

There are indeed some scenes that stick,
like the big rocks at the bottom of clear streams,
or words vividly spoken mid-winter dreams
that lay claim to a past and form the presents meaning
while conquering the future’s schemes.

How indeed, will I now with eyes open
Full of hope release the grip of her embrace?
Even though the grasses are green,
and the flowers pristine,
And the trees themselves in bloom,
And my real calling is to serve her groom,
How will I, without tears, this very long journey resume?

Well, I must bid these faces adieu,
Treasure the spaces and rooms,
The calories burnt and consumed,
The songs sung in and out of tune,
The comedians, The d.j’s,
and the tears shed in the old swimming pool.
As they go from present meaning to past anchor,
securing my future schemes
as I turn left one last time onto Stoke Road,
and up the hill.

The light brightly shines through the clouds,
the sun they slightly shroud in drizzles will win,
His warmth, seeping in through the slight chill
will bless the new leaves and fill the trees,
And lay claim to a past, form the present’s meaning,
and conquer the future – once a dream.

© Denis Adide 2016

PS: All mistakes are on purpose, they frustrate those who notice. Those who notice… know!!

 

https://www.trinitycollegebristol.ac.uk/blog/kingdom-living/left-onto-stoke-lane-a-poem-from-one-of-our-leavers/

Behind: The unrecognised sublime

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“Awe and terror have a fine defining border. Nothing captures this more for me than the sea.  Every time my eyes reach for the horizon they are confronted with its impossibility: the truth of my own limitation in the face of ambition.  As I think on it, the waves break forth and the reality of a depth that surpasses the visible distance in scope terrifies. Indeed I’m once more a spec,  not even of as much consequence as the wind blown drop nestling on my eyelash. Before is beyond and I thirst for it hoping it would be my becoming.

The trouble is, this terror ahead – this awe – conceals by its drawing of my attention the truth of the vastness behind. I suppose this is the curse of ambition: never really taking stock of the unmastered past.  The land that my eyes ignore isn’t covered in my footprints yet has contributed more to my foundations than the seas with all their potential can”.

He draws breath. Scratches his head and pauses.

“I cut my hair bald for a decade.” The words emerge from darkness and disappear, like headlights on a country lane.

“I wonder what happened to them.  The faces that like my childhood memories irregularly haunt: showing up to confront what’s before in violent eruptions; claiming authority over the present; branding the eye; calling false all that is and is to come;  and howling as the wind blows them away – back into the abyss we share”.

A breath intentionally drawn once again.

“There are terrors both ways; awe both ways. One must turn his back to the seas now and again. To bask in the unrecognized sublime”.

Bricks

Ephesians 1:3-6

“I thank God every time I remember you, In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with Joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”

I always struggled with the term “coming to faith”. In my case it seemed disingenuous. Faith in the Divine wasn’t this thing or place that I happened upon during the course of my life. On the contrary, Faith was at the centre of my life from a very young age. This, partly I think, can be attributed to the manner in which my parents and relatives expressed their faith. More poignant however, is the recognition within me of a knowledge of an ‘other’, the thing I now understand to be Love. It has been a constant hum in the background as life ebbed, whispering the songs of selfhood and identity throughout my childhood – in this I include the adult and adolescent years of curiosity and discovery. God was never far enough for me to have work hard to find him. He was, in fact, close – within me – working to grow my eyes and heart into maturity: the ability to see, hear, recognise, and respond to Him and His love.

I found however, after my awakening, that life had more hurdles to overcome. It seemed as though the world I had occupied did all it could to spit me out – people I valued greatly couldn’t stay intimate with me as a result of the new direction my heart was being tugged. It’s almost as though in surrendering my life to God, I gave up the world. I was forewarned about this by wiser Christians and had encountered the same in scriptures, this sense of carrying a cross, of hardship, of rejection by the world, but was unprepared for it. For all the encouraging words however, I still felt the sorrow of loss. This was compounded further by everyone talking about having received “peace, joy, Love” etcetera. I, meanwhile, was in pain: it hurt to be – or at least feel – alone. Only one thing kept me walking in this new direction toward the known unknown, a deep sense that it was the only way I could go.

Jesus spent 40 days in the desert after He was baptised. He then returned to where He had come from.

Retrospectively, the world I inhabit now is no different from the one I felt sorrow for leaving. In fact, the Church has the same broken people within it – me being one. The difference is this, that after time spent separating myself – or at least trying and failing to separate myself – to and for God, there is a solidity within. This isn’t my doing. He led me out of my house into a storm and asked me to stand and call out to people without shelter while he built a stronger house around me. The more the bricks went up, the less the wind blew. This house is still incomplete but I’m beginning to trust in the pace of the work and the workman.

Take heart, persevere. He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion…

Easter Intercessions

World

Dying you destroyed our dying
In resurrecting, bring us into new life.

We ask that you – by your Holy Spirit –
Bring your heavenly kingdom
Here on earth.

Peace where there is conflict
Healing where there is pain and suffering
Freedom where there is oppression
Wisdom where there is authority
And Life where death prevails.

Your Kingdom come.

Church:

Dying you destroyed our dying
In resurrecting, bring us into new life.

On this day you made all things new
A bride you chose,
Washed her feet with blood and tears
Heart by your Holy Spirit
Spirit by your rising.
In this your church, may your will be done

Peace where there is conflict
Wisdom where there is authority
Humility where pride has shoots
Healing where there is pain
Freedom and love where oppression roots

Your will be done.

Us:

Dying you destroyed our dying
In resurrecting, bring us into new life.

By your stripes we are healed
By your wounds – holes in renewed hands –
We are brought into wholeness:
Into new life.

Grant your healing to all who are unwell
that they may be made whole in body, mind, and spirit.

Peace where there is a stirring
Healing where there is infirmity
and life
and life
and life

Cast your gaze upon us, look into the deep.
When we hunger, give us food that satisfies
when we thirst, quench us by your Spirit
Give us living water.
Wrap us in your love
and in your rising, raise us up

For the Kingdom, the power, and the Glory
Are yours.

© Denis Adide 2014

 

#Return

Ashes to the Penitent: Dust to the everlasting
#Return

 

The same hands that lay the palm leaves
beneath the donkey’s hooves,
Hammer the nails in,
Received the pieces of silver,
Unsheathed the sword,
Rolled the dice, and the stone,
Prepared with care the crown of thorns,
Received the bread, and the wine,
Counted the accomplished Baskets,
And thrust the spear into His side.

Can these same hands now put down nets,
and nails, and coins;
and foods, and altars, and stones
(from stoning each other,
from stoning Him);
Put these down to take up compassion,
to seek the one their hearts reject;
to stand alongside the One upon whom a cross,
nails, and a crown they placed.

Without Love, all is vain.

©Denis Adide 2014

“Remember that you are dust
And to dust you will return
Turn away from sin
and Look to Christ”

For Bones

And we feasted
Concealing the truth that our fasting taught us:
We were ultimately hungry.

We drank,
Away from the wilderness
concealing our thirst.

We made merry,
with songs,
With the sound of drums and lires,
flutes and harps; and horns –
Concealing our sorrow,
In wine diluting our tears

‘But this bread has no substance
It fizzles on the tongue
fading in taste before teeth touch’

‘And this wine evaporates
with no sweetness
Nothing but the knowledge of a deeper sustenance,
and greater satisfaction
in the face of truly empty plates,
and hollow cups.’

So our feet are delayed in jest,
Our eyes utterly deceived,
Led by our desires we hide
Behind garments of Gold
made with leaves from the tree of the uncovering:
Sails raised but empty:
At the rudder in a desert’.

“Have you not seen?
Have you forgotten?
The seat upon which
but for the blood of the Lamb
you couldn’t approach?”

“The gift is greater than the trespass”

“Bread for the soul,
Water for the spirit,
A Spirit for dry bones.”

And so may it come to pass –
as indeed it already has –
That the great LORD laid out a table,
Placed upon it a loaf,
And beside the loaf a chalice.
Then with hands from compassion stretched out,
He called.

He called.

He! Called!

To the thirsty, the weary, the week,
The hungry, the broken, the meek,
The bound, the wailing, the weeping,
The fatherless, the widows, the seeking,
And the enslaved.

Come!

Come!

At the sound of His voice the music stopped
Fading into the sound of deep weeping.
The chefs downed their tools,
And parched tongues followed their hearts;
Ears to the wind,
Sheep by the staff.

In droves they came.

The chalice overflowed,
And the bread was never consumed,
Though broken and shared.

“Happy are those who are called to His supper”

©Denis Adide 2014