Only recently I came across an interesting news item on the current longest living humans. They currently happen to be all women. The writer’s interest, of course, was the key to their longevity. From the comments of these women, I was struck by the significant place of rest, food, and faith. None of these women suggested any intentional desire or obsession on their part comparable to the modern obsession among some for ‘healthy’ living.
Health and healthy almost everything is like a mantra these days. And it is not uncommon to find flyers advertising seminars where food therapist (and they are many) are minting money to tell us what we ought to already know – for instance the importance of healthy feeding of Children’s brains and what foods they should eat. It is ironical that in a rich nation as ours we have to now invest in ‘food therapy’ to get our young ones and ourselves fed a diet that is healthy.
Now this health craze and the language around it, is not removed from Church. Besides a healthy church handbook, there are conferences such as ‘healthy leaders, healthy churches’ with titles that read like a health fix – the full and complete works at some well-known health spa. Everything one needs to know about ‘healthy teams’, ‘healthy future’, ‘healthy leaders’, ‘healthy mission’, and ‘healthy church’ among others, are served up with ease. I must confess that ‘with my unhealthy church habits’ I am simply turned off from these ‘healthy’ mantra that come my way. I prefer transgressive habits, even if other label them as unhealthy.
The obsession (my take) with ‘healthy’ everything in church-life suggests to me a movement in an unhealthy direction, as well as the nurturing of unhealthy habits. Let me highlight of few areas in which what are being proposed under the label of “healthy” may be “unhealthy”. It is certainly unhealthy that all the keynote and significant presenters (at the ‘healthy leaders, healthy churches’ conference) are only of the pale shade and largely male. I also find unhealthy the ways we deploy the category of healthy and its relationship (either by implications or directly) with that of unhealthy. My sense is that it runs into the danger of perpetuating unhelpful binaries, and consequently setting up one against the other, rather than seeing the complex and intersecting relationship between and among categories. History is replete with examples how polarising categories are.
Finally, a comment on the category of ‘healthy leaders’: Recent scandalous revelation of tax evasion by high flyers in our society and the connection of a priest who was a significant banking voice and consultant reveal a worrying state of affairs in church and society. Even more worrying is that this very person chaired the group that produced a significant report for an established ecclesial tradition on leadership, training and formation or as one colleague puts it the church’s ‘talent management programme’. The colleague goes on to compare that report to an ecclesial version of The Apprentice noting that “the church is looking for help from a sector that has proved time and time again to be morally vacuous”. (Anderson Jeremiah).
Churches need to carefully interrogate its leadership practices whether it is about representation, integrity or an allegiance to the ways of empire/Babylon. One can only hope that in any conversation on ‘healthy leaders, healthy churches’ such interrogating and confessing would be reflected in the conversations as we strive to embody and model well-being in the midst of all the ambiguities that constitute us.
© jagessar February 15, 2015
The pen, pencil or quill, we are told is ‘mightier than the sword’. It is not insignificant that the saying was coined in Great Britain, who with her other European neighbours, used both sword and pen to claim, colonised, and devour lands far off and to caricature the heathens who lived there. The pencil, pen and quill were used to make fun of and represent the natives as heathens, monkeys, apes, naked savages and much more – grudgingly sub-humans in some natural state, with hot desires to be tamed and to be eventually made civilised. That is, almost human, for as history shows, we are never humans like our colonizers Of course, swords and others weapons were used to slaughter and bring to the knees whole populations who were rightly resistant to having their space, land and lives invaded by greedy people in the name of civilizing, commerce and Christianizing.
Things may have changed, but with ‘colonizing in reverse’ (Louise Bennett) and so many from the former colonies now themselves English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and German – one may ask what has changed given the ways Arab-French, Asian/Black-British, Moroccan-Dutch, Turk-German or African/Black–Portuguese continue to be represented today! Ever since Ben Johnson the Canadian sprinter was done for steroids, suddenly becoming of ‘Jamaican ancestry’, every French, British, Dutch, Belgian and German born citizen of an minority ethnic origin know that they are just ‘bidding their time’ before being reminded where home actually is for them. And then, we have the audacity to want to theorise as to why British, French, Dutch or German born citizens of a minority ethnic background are not patriotic to their place of birth!
After the recent bombardment with the idea that we can defeat the evil of terrorism (whatever the shapes and forms it may take) with sharpened pencils and ‘by our refusal to stop mocking islam’ [Corey Oakley (January 11, 2015)], it may be time to consider the contradictions between the power of pen/pencil and the ways we act as powerful nations. If pen is more powerful than sword why have our nations been agents of death, violence and destruction through the machinations of our war instruments? Umbrellas may have made China and Hong Kong quake, but it is certainly not pens, pencils or crayons that continue to kill, destroy and displace millions across Arab nations, Palestine and in Africa. Tell these people and those of colonial times that we fight wars with ideas and pictures or pens and pencils, and they would literally ‘die of laughter’.
Let us not fool ourselves: we have seen the power of pencil, pen, quill and computer keyboard to make a mess of lives and the ways in which we view each other with fear and suspicion. Just think of the ways that these writing instruments have been used to stir up hatred, drive fears, feed prejudices, make 2nd and 3rd generation children of migrants strangers in their country, destroy innocent lives, rewrite laws to close borders and to lock up people in the name of terror and security! The language may have changed but the tactic is old!
Of course pencil, pen, quill and keyboard have been and can be used to ‘make fire in the belly of the beast’ – to advocate the right to protest, to dissent, to strike, to object because of conscience, to refuse to buy into the neo-liberal view of economic growth, to make uncomfortable the lives of greedy corp-o-crats, to lament the scandalous inequalities between those who have and those who do not have, to mourn the loss of compassion and care as we refuse to offer sanctuary to vulnerable strangers and to stir sleeping people to rise up (resurrect) in rebellion against policies that rob many of their dignity and basic human rights.
And be prepared – the ‘beast’ will not only turn on you with the laws of their pencil or pen, but with the might of the machinery of ‘homeland-security’!
©jagessar – words and image january 18, 2015
“Never underestimate the power of smell!” I never gave the comment much thought until a few of my students and colleagues started to respond to the smell of my aftershave. My colleagues even wondered if this (the smell) was one of the reasons why I had a high take up on the two modules I enjoyed teaching. Of course, in both modules, I deployed opportunities to use as many of the ‘senses’ in the teaching and learning. Maybe it was the culinary delights as part of the sessions and the smell of incense rising like morning-time prayers that drew them. But seriously, can smell really play a part in teaching and learning and the shaping of our theological discourse – at least the mood and the content of our conversations?
Now while my lingering aftershave was a good conversation point, it was only later that I gave more thought on how smells do shape our moods, behaviour and decisions – though in reality we take the sense of smell for granted. This taking for granted is certainly the case for members of the Reformed family, given that we largely dumped the smells and bells of medieval Christianity from our ecclesial life. At least within the Reformed/Protestant family, I would suspect that the sense of smell had no chance at all! One may safely deduce that anything to do with “senses” would have been too transgressing.
I wonder what a “theology of smell” would look like or more correctly smell like! Perhaps, I need to pay closer attention to our Border terrier (Lucky) with his renowned ability and sensitivity to smells. Besides squirrels, cats and pee, he can smell our every move – especially when it comes to food!
Maybe I am not giving my uniquely shaped nose the credit it deserves. According to a number of recent researches (The New Scientist) our noses are exquisitely sensitive instruments that guide us (more than we think) in surprising ways. And I am not referring here to all you “nosey ones”! It may be that one of the reasons we have not given enough attention to smell (our noses and the olfactory stimuli) is because we have invested too much in the other senses – especially vision and hearing.
Christmas just gone, while making Guyanese Pepper-pot and Ackee and Saltfish for my family, I suddenly felt very homesick, drawn to all sorts of nostalgic Christmas time experiences in Guyana, Jamaica and the Caribbean. And the mood lingered on with me into the New Year. Can it be that the familiar scent of cassareep, ackee and salt-fish with some distinctive Caribbean herbs aroused memories and created my nostalgia? I am certainly a convert to the view that smells (subtle and overt) can change my mood, behaviour and the choices that I make – without me even realising it.
Our noses are more sensitive and sharper than we think with an amazing ability to distinguish smells. Besides, the way we are wired means that there is link between smell and how/what we think – how we process things. No wonder all those eager to sell us some product or service know fully well the power of smell – from brewing coffee to a hint of some familiar wafting aroma – to both increase sales and encourage positive responses to a variety a situations.
But back to the matter of a theology of smell with a plea for us to invest in resourcing our noses to develop our smell capacity: our noses and our sense of smell will continue to work overtime to make us who we are. As good memory evokers, perhaps our noses may help us to smell or sniff our way through and transcend some of the theological impasse and polarised positions we find ourselves in.
Certainly, I am going to now re-read that story of the woman’s anointing of Jesus’ feet with an expensive perfume that probably lingered on for weeks! And I shall be giving some more consideration around the smell of the middle-eastern kitchen, given Jesus’ proclivity towards meal and people’s kitchens, and the influence this had on Jesus’ mood and conversations. Can it be that his insight about “unless you become like a child…” was actually a plea about paying closer attention to our sense of smell as these would often transport us back to the past and into a future?
Can you smell the subtexts and subversion?
© jagessar january 2015
bush, vine or green grass
in this mixing-up
purity has lost
its crafty intentions
from human clutch clinics
© jagessar (words and image)
While the race to see which nation can drop more bombs to “degrade” and eradicate the elusive and brutal ISIL gang continue to dazzle us across our media screens and the deadly Ebola virus seems to only now make news and touch our consciousness when there are western victims involved, here in the UK the Tory Party at its recently concluded Convention in Birmingham has launched their agenda to win our hearts and votes with their strapline of “securing a better future”. One can be excused for being cynical about any suggestion from governments about securing anything given, our track record for creating more insecurity, fear and for selfish motivations. The ordinary punters on the streets in Britain forced-fed with a staple diet of fear be it about Europe, muslims, terrorists, migrants, deadly diseases from geographical corners of the dead continue to grumble but largely looking on zombie-like having so internalised the “keep calm mantra” and “don’t panic” mantra.
So what about the Tory’s promise of securing a better future? Well readers can make up their own minds but in a nutshell (with a warning that you should read the speeches and presentations yourself), here are just a few of the promises:
- that rulings by the European Court of Human Rights would be ignored with the pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act – to be replaced by a new British bill of rights (re-crafted in the image of the Tories).
- that there would restrictions on the freedom of movement within the EU at any renegotiation plans before a suggested referendum in 2017.
- dealing with “fiscal drag” by announcing the threshold at which the 40% tax rate is paid would be raised, bringing fairness to tax (yes, this is no joke!)
- that there will be more cuts (a further 3% amounting to £7bn) most likely to affect the public sector (one wonders whether the notion of fairness would be deployed here!)
- that of more anti-terror laws – for instance to ban non-violent extremists from television and protests which raises a bundle of questions on the freedom of speech and democracy
Are you starting to feel more secure, if you are British and living in the UK?
Welcome to our new world of fear, fences and fibs. In the meantime, you may or may not have noticed that the soundtrack (not the political sound-bites!!) accompanying the Tory Party’s autumn conference was from a band called the killers. This, of course, is intended to make us all feel secure, especially the chorus “I’ve got soul” probably intended to whip up our enthusiasm.
The reality is that it takes a lot of searching among the rubble and rubbish to find any soul. And speaking of rubble, rubbish and soul, I was delighted to read George Monbiot’s observation on how “the humanitarian argument” advanced in our recent parliamentary debate raises serious questions as to the limit of where next governmenst would consider dropping their deadly and expensive bombs. As he noted: “the humanitarian argument…if consistently applied, could be used to flatten the entire Middle East and west Asia. By this means you could end all human suffering, liberating the people of these regions from the vale of tears in which they live”. Evil will be wiped out “by the destroying angels of the west”.
It is strange what our ‘air-shows by ‘boys with destructive toys’ are doing, not the least to galvanise and bring together rival and disparate groups of ‘marauding terror agents’ (also boys with toys). What are we actually perpetuating in the name of peace? When will the next ‘so called moderate group’ which we arm turn the weapons we have provided them upon us? What lessons have we learned? It seems that we have either lost the ability to learn and/or are unteachable. Whatever has become of our moral conscience in this never ending theatre of errors and tragedy?
Jagessar October 3rd, 2014