large garden, sower and seeds….

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I concede my ignorance. Had I not seen a large poster on my recent visit to Rome, it would have passed me by that 2015 is the year of soils (UN)! I am happy that I came across that massive poster as I think we continue to overuse, exploit and take for granted ‘soil’. In our desire to feed our avaricious and insatiable appetites with all sorts of foods (more than we need), in and out of season, we do so at the cost of ‘soil’. Soil is the heart and soul of mother earth and we cannot survive without it! It is not insignificant that humans are represented as created from ‘soil’ (earth). Our DSCN2711existence cannot be apart from the earth

On a very recent journey back to my land and place of birth for the funeral of my father, all of my siblings (located in various parts of the world) were shocked at the pollution and degradation of the environment we used to call home, while at the same time delighting in some of the sweetest produce and fruits we have not tasted for a long time. But these came from deeper in the interior of the land. For the soil in our former community has been largely spent as a result of sugar and rice cultivation without proper rotation and piles of plastic garbage clogging up the canals and waterways.

Soil is crucial to our food production: but more than that: soil is critical to our well-being including protection from climate change and flood. What are we doing to look after it? It would be reasonable to deduce that both in Guyana and the UK we take soil for granted and treat in primarily utilitarian and degrading ways. We need to have a conversion of heart about ‘soil’ and our relationship with it. Are you aware that only 15% of land globally is suitable for growing food and that it is a non-renewable source and that it takes 1000 years for 1cm of topsoil to form?

How we steward our soils well is also a spiritual and moral matter. But, let us not be daunted by the interconnections between and complexity of issues. Let us see these as reasons to locate faith and faithfulness as demanding us to act in small ways. Perhaps we may wish to consider (as others are already doing) the ground or space right before you, working from there, to gather as a community and grow healthy food and vegetables thereby encouraging a reconnection with soil and earth. This may seem small: but the conversion necessary will come from these small acts rippling out in multiple directions, causing waves.

Forget doctrines and ecclesial propriety: faith is a gift to savour and eaten together and this may be why a table is central to our life together! Perhaps in re-reading that story of seeds falling on a variety of soil we should not dismiss the possibility that life may thrive in the toughest of soils carried by the tiniest of seeds and seeded by the impossible possibility.

© Jagessar April 19, 2015

beyond words…..

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…..pause
grow silent
hear the whispers
wisdom fluttering
feather-like and alert
ready to spring a surprise
no – not the words
the silence
around, between, within them.
Look beyond
the external conversation
words and non-verbal signals
Beyond Wordsor the internal dialogue
the one battling in the head
can you see
the interior conversation?
the one happening
at the core of our being
the flickering of hope
sharp, bright, illuminating
the divine abyss?
Conversation is more than words
mind the silence around them
not vacuous spaces to be filled
but springboard for
opening hearts and minds
to receive the whisper.
What is to be said and heard
may need no words
a listening presence will
break open
possibilities beyond words…

©jagessar March 15, 2015

an unhealthy obsession….

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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 Abundant Lifeobsession 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

pencil power – the contradictions

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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 craftyrepresent 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