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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Reinterpret power

image

This is an illustration my comic book Bible. A day after casting my vote I’m reading when I find myself stuck and struck simultaneously by what I’m looking at.  The picture has a well defined, symmetrical, and handsome man beneath the purple robes: the illustrator’s perspective on Jesus I think.    Looking beyond that, I note that what is beneath the robes is the same that made the universe.  The same that destined the fingers that are placing the robe, accessorised by ridicule, on his skin – sore from the whipping he’s just received.  The discipline that focuses the destructive potential into love is awe inspiring.  Power here is expressed fully in it’s application, or seeming inaction.

I saw here Ultimate power; Absolute power; Universe creating power. Alongside it also a real Response-ability, gentleness and self control. This was here a pattern – a template and challenge – for how to hold power. There really wasn’t anyone more powerful thus no other pattern other than this has any authority and authenticity: this was a lesson from the source. Those who thought they had power actually had none and he who seemed powerless and bound actually had it all.

It gave me solace in the face of my post election dispair – I lamented the system not the outcome. Here in this picture I saw the indictment against human structures and the power they claim to have. I saw clearly the truth that in the man Jesus only was there the combination of power and responsibility: a combination neccesary for the complete redemption of humanity. This task was, is, and will always be beyond us. All I can do is respond: surrender, repent, anticipate, and bear witness.

#reflection

One Stone!

Bones upon bones, upon bones, upon bones,
Strewn across the land
where swords unsheathed have sprouted –
are sprouting – like flowers

‘Not one stone will be left a top of another
all will be thrown down’

Blindness, upon the hour of thy visitation.

When the earth laments
it spews up limbs
like slowly dropping, stubborn, thick, viscous tears.

‘Not one stone.’

What, one stone?

These are not the dead
They are the dying
They are our dying
Covered in dust but refusing submersion

They are the flesh you ask us to leave
That with fine sinews cleave onto our resurrecting
emerging from our tarrying
unclothed and Spirit-less.

‘All will be thrown down’

Bones upon bones indeed,
Bones upon bones in need
Called away but staying slain
With spades harvesting the swords
Harvesting death from death.

‘Not one stone’

‘One Stone!’

© Denis Adide 2014

 

“Let the dead bury their own dead…”

 

Crown Him

May you always be set upon your throne
May you always be set upon mine –
This I say reluctantly
Urged on by my pride
(Did you set a king within me
or am I just in the ruins of my forefathers
from the loins of their forebear?) –
Set your place in my hearted furnaces
where my resilience reigns
and into whom I have cast
All desires for you,
To burn alongside the knowledge of the crown
that it – my desire – holds
while boldly proclaiming that you
(for whom long life is assured)
Should wear.

Walk among them so that I may see,
Unconsumed in the burning,
The hope that pokes at my stubborn heart
Shouting in its emptiness
for a kingdom and a king
it doesn’t want but desires.

Doesn’t want
But desires.

© Denis Adide 2014

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”