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

God-talk that smells…..

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“Never underestimate the power of smell!” I never gave the comment much thought until a few of my students and Gold Medalcolleagues 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

carols, reality and birthing new life

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Should a visitor from Mars arrive at this time of the usual Christmas fervour they would be unlikely to grasp that the birth of Jesus was a political intervention. The messages and sound-bites bombarding our ears are that of some nice and cosy domestic event/gathering: a bit of charity for those less fortunate, some religion perhaps and hardly anything about socio-political connections! One would think that this would be an ideal time for the launching of ??????????both a report and project on “truth and lies about migration and asylum”, “the impact of our so-called economic pruning” or even more important “about the root and systemic causes for homelessness and poverty in this rich nation”. Instead, we (the Church) are out carol singing, collecting parcels and blankets for the homeless, drinking mulled wine, bombarding each other with tons of Christmas cards and overeating at our many Christmas parties.

Now, these are all important but they all contribute to us missing the political nature of the Christmas story and the reality of the challenges around us! The Christmas story is anything but closing our doors and gates and forgetting the world around and outside us! It is concerned with how political and economic realities – bad policies – impact on ordinary lives – and the way things and lives can be transformed for good. So as we sing familiar carols, read familiar Scriptures and do familiar things, let us remember….

It came upon the midnight clear…indeed it was midnight for me when I awoke and wondered about all the commercialised nonsense luring me to get ready for Christmas – from gifts to food to gadgets to fairy-tale discounts. So to ensure that the “glorious song of old” packed a punch and meaning, I am attempting to do a few things this Christmas and during the holidays. I am desperately avoiding the crass materialism and the consumerist seduction of ‘babylon’ – by some radical scaling back. In fact my mantra is: save 100% by buying nothing! I am contributing zilch to the god of consumerism and economic growth. I refuse to be fooled or conned by fairy-tale bargains. I am going to focus on others by considering a gift for someone other than my close and familiar circle. I will be making our Christmas meal very simple, memorable and enjoyable – taking an active part in the cooking and putting conversation and ‘slow’ in the process. And believe it or not I will be switching off all my electronic gadgets (on Christmas and boxing-day), spending more time sitting around our dining space or table in conversation! I realise this is going to be a massive challenge but I am up for it!

O Little Town of Bethlehem…Most of us dream of stillness and quiet in this madhouse of frenzied activity. Mortals no longer wish to sleep so that angels may keep watch! It is so busy and we are so much running from place to place that we will most likely miss the angel’s song and the good news around us of positive actions trying to make a difference in the lives of those who are lonely, displaced, terrorised, lost, anxious and despairing…. Of course stillness and quiet may be a luxury when towns like Bethlehem are run over by tyrants who erect walls and borders!

Away in a manger…may be soothing to put baby Jesus to sleep but those desperately trying to cross from Calais can hardly find a crib to lay their bare heads and tired bodies. All they can see around them are more wired and higher fences daily rising; immigration policies and discourses intoxicated and drunk from the viagra of fear and creating a hostile environment. The stars, when they are out offer light for the children of God to find their way around, huddled like the shepherds around their fires. They are waiting for angels to bring glad tidings of great joy as every truck that roll pass offer shelter and carriage to an unknown land of milk and honey, as well as capture, return and even death.

And in desperation, nights are everything but silent and holy…What a joke! Silence and stillness have been forced to migrate and are currently crossing and re-crossing borders where it is still possible to find a home. Perhaps, in the many stables around the corners of the dead one may still find quiet and peace. But even there in our trans-global world one cannot escape the noise of our wired reality as capitalism seeks out new market and potential worshippers. Yet, all is not lost: salvation and hope do take the form of birthing new lives and they may yet live to rise out of the penury

So, fear not…is a welcome interjection at a time of trauma, displacement and when the world around us – perhaps someone’s homeland – is engulfed in warring flames and reduced to rubble, fleeing – with death, loss and insecurity all around. It is small comfort to learn that there are others in the make-shift camp of tents they have arrived at who have lost their childhood and are now grown adults there – with no place to call home, no room in any inn (as their bare and bleeding bony knuckles tell) Can we understand the fear that grabbed their troubled minds as they too contemplate how desperately they need a saviour or two? Will that prince of peace – this great Desire of Nations – be able to actually bring peace or at least an open gate?

Go tell it on the mountains…well we don’t have to tell a thing: just look at us or the bodies littering the fields, the mountain paths, under the rubble, trapped and buried under the weight of the wrecks lying on the sea-beds of the Mediterranean. The mountain range and the ocean are our friends, offering refugee, shelter and help from crazy killers in the name of religion and peace. They know our pain, absorb and drink up the blood of lives lost and lives birthed, receive our cries and echoes, and offer hope when all else seems lost – when the world forgets us, when media stories caricature us, and when moral beings refuse to rescue or even make way, make way to receive us.

But the mountains and seas also offer a different story about us: stories of crossing and re-crossing; stories of despair, anxiety, fear and weakness – of lives transfigured into goodness, ingenuity, friendship and courage to overcome. Yes, stories of hope birthed in spite of the harsh realities. And we will still sing and paint and dance and tell stories of mothers, fathers, children, wise people, friends, lovers, courageous wanderers, lives lost, hope sprouting forth, and of a God who cares enough to act in decisive ways to overthrow the agents of death.

© jagessar [words and image] December 2014

Waiting for what?

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Allow me to release some of my WAITING thoughts. I am St. Anancy, the Caribbean trickster/subvert. I weave a Caliban-esque web and spin wayward discourses. As a child of alter-native talk, I am your post-colonial orphan, a border I am Realcrosser – third-space nomad – dweller at the crossroads – a citizen of multiple limbo somersaults – and a negotiator of the state of in-between-ness. Ambivalence is my other name. I love to obscure as much as I reveal. So listen well as I spin my take on waiting. I am waiting for nothing, anything, something, everything – all at the same time

Most of the advent language and imagery terrify me. I cringe at the overuse and abuse of light and darkness. I am Anancy the dark one and my people are the heathens, from that place of total darkness in need of Shining Bright Light. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light! Those who live in darkness and embody darkness need light! The fact is: our shade has always been a problem – with people of a lighter-hue clearly being privileged over those of a heavier one. My terror is compounded by the ritual humiliation me and my tribes have to face day in and day out: subtly and overtly reinforced by the very use of that kind of language and its internalisation in the psyche of the lighter-hue tribes. At such reading my receptors do a blip and long pause – kind associated with what is done when indecent/swearing language is used on BBC!

BESIDES: the imagery of the season from readings, liturgies and lyrics of those “holy than other hymns” that dropped out of the mouth of God ring in fortress-like notions of empire: Lord of Might; Thrones shall rest; King of Kings – Make Way, Make Way; He who Shall by Right all the Nations Possess; Everlasting Seat; The Race that long in darkness pined have seen a Glorious Light; His power increasing shall Spread; Him shall all the Tribes of Earth Obey; The Lord Makes Bare his Arms Through all the Earth Abroad. Such was the wine of intoxication that some nations drunk and [modern day ones drink] and then reasoned their God-given right to shackle and lockdown the rest as uncivilized non-human beings. Scripture, theology, liturgy, lyrics, empire and kingdom conspired aboard the holy boat of Christianity. Today priests of the empire drop freedom leaflets and hand-outs for the natives, then bomb the living daylights out of them. Has the heart of God become sluggish? Stir up the power of your Love, O God and Come. Come, Lover of the wretched of the dead corners of the earth!

Believe it or not I am eager for Jesus to return. I have a few troubling questions waiting for an answer. They are lying like splinters at the tip of my tongue ready to be rolled off. For example How come a people of faith who adore and lavish the “child” of Christmas: with canticles of love, joy and hope of “Unto us a Child is born”; Peace Bearer, O Holy Child; He smiles within his cradle – A babe with face so bright; Infant holy, Infant lowly…. have down the ages, exploited and excluded children from most of the life of their community – relegating them to the margins? We are so exploitative that we need “Child Protection” policies to protect our children from our selves. Why have we missed your insight? Should children become like adults to enter your garden? Or should adults become like children (grow up) to stand a leaf of hope for a place in your garden? Is your garden /world one where children are the measure rather than measuring up to adults?

And when all those nice people who got taken by “your light” came to my part of the world, for our land, under the guise of bringing that light to us [even though we already had a lot of lights over there] – some actually realised that we heathens were/are “religious” people. Some even got interested and taken by our religiosity – but that superior mind-set prevailed in a kind of paternalism that saw us as under-developed children: childish, emotional and effeminate and they and their ways as the superior intellectual, cultured, macho and reasoned adults. Holy Child, Infant Lowly – what a joke!

Who are you Jesus? Your impressive genealogy counters the ridiculous notion of a “purist” identity: Galilee, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and God knows where! Are you a hybrid Jesus? Is that why you were very comfortable in traversing and transgressing the worlds of nationality, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, culture and class? Is that why the purists nailed you to the tree? Did they get it wrong: In YOU there is male and female, slave and free, Gentile and Jew, black and white, north and south, east and west – all at the same time! WOW!

You see, Jesus, I wonder whether this ideology of purism is linked to another –ism: the notion of mono-theism: one God, one Race; one Nation; one People; one Sex; one Sexual Orientation, one Colour. I am amazed how the trappings of MONO-theism pervade the minds of people across all walks of life. There is great fear of the notion of diversity and hybridity: the heterogeneous “Other” is a terrifying prospect. Not surprising that in the discursive act of “othering” us – we are lumped into neat homogenous categories: an epistemological device for guaranteeing the hegemony of the dominant group that does the naming!

I am Anancy, the web weaver, a hybrid cosmopolitan. I love creative disorder. Like those learned visitors who sought to worship the Child – I may be off course by quite a few miles. But I am WAIT-ing for: no-thing, any-thing, some-thing, every-thing – all at the same time. There is certainly a THING here. And I can feel/hear the faint beat of music far off: music in the wilderness – murmurings of the stars. magic in the air; an ugly, withered, charcoal-burnt stump – a shameful vulnerable thing of wicked judgement is waiting to take the shape of our hope!

jagessar © November 2014


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bush, vine or green grass

Tangled (2)creolised perhaps?
in this mixing-up
purity has lost
its crafty intentions
bloody red
springing up
of divinity
from human clutch clinics


© jagessar (words and image)

the myth of securing a better future…

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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 Disrupting safe theologyinvolved, 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