January 2007

“Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].” Romans 12: 2 (Amplified Bible).

So what do I believe now in relation to my religion and culture and where do I go from here? First, I believe that God is revealing to me that He is deeper than culture. He is greater than the effects of Eurocentric society or ideology. He is more complete than my Afrocentric worldview. If I allow Him (for we all do have free choice), He can take me deeper in my relationship with Him…. beyond my cultural boundaries which are limiting…. THAT I MADE LIMITING! Although my cultural heritage has been instrumental in defining the person I am, I now feel that I allowed it in certain ways to impeded my spiritual growth. I am not clear on exactly all the dynamics of how and I don’t have all the answers at this point on why. But I will walk by faith. I am hopeful that all will be revealed in time as I am still a work in progress…. and God loves me. I am being transformed spiritaully. I know it. I can feel it. I have dedicated myself to the process. 

Second, God is also revealing to me that “faith without works is dead”. He initially saved me and is now transforming me, preparing me for a particular purpose. I am sure of this as I am sure of anything: “God blesses us so that we can bless others”. Another life changing event for me was the death of my partner on Friday 05 May 2006 (who as I have discussed in previous posts was shot and killed while questioning 2 drug dealers). Unfortunately or fortunately, I was out of town on another assigment that day. I know that if I was there on that day, it’s more than likely I would have been with him at that moment and I could have been the one killed. I have come to accept the fact (after much soul-searching and questioning), that God destined for me to be away. Out of harms way. So that I could fulfil His purpose. So what is this purpose he has for me? To be honest I don’t know at this moment, but my attitude is “prepare and send me Lord” to whatever and wherever it is. So I am laying a foundation by committing myself to three initial tasks: 

1.     A daily devotional where I will read the entire Bible in a year;

2.      Studying “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren: a 40-day spiritual journey to discover God’s purpose for my life;

3.      Reading “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It” by Rev. Jim Wallis.

Finally, is there a cultural aspect in how we view and worship God? Of course there is…. NO DOUBT! The sermon at my church on Sunday was entitled; “The Church That I See”, referring to the Pastor’s vision for our church. Interestingly enough, he began the sermon with a 5-minute video clip featuring the end portion of the Rev. Martin Luther King “I have a Dream Speech”. As I listened God directed me to look around and observe the congregation. I saw White people, Black people, Brown people, Orientals, East Indians, Arabs, Africans, West Indians, men, women, young and old, ALL WORSHIPPING TOGETHER IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH! And God then said to me: “This is the way heaven will look like”. I understood then that this was God’s culture! It is all-inclusive and expansive, regardless of who you are and/or where you come from! My mind went to Malcolm X and the profound effect worshipping with Muslims of different colours and races had on him when he went on his pilgrimage to Mecca. He stated in a letter to his wife: “…. this pilgrimage has forced me to re-arrange much of my thought patterns, and toss aside some of my previous conclusions….” The fourth point of the Pastor’s messages was that he saw “an increasingly multi-cultural” church. Let me end with the Bible verse he gave to reference this point. It comes from Paul’s letter to the members of the church in Ephesus, that were experiencing cultural and religious tensions among the Gentiles and the Jews: 

14For He is [Himself] our peace (our bond of unity and harmony). He has made us both [Jew and Gentile] one [body], and has broken down (destroyed, abolished) the hostile dividing wall between us, 19Therefore you are no longer outsiders (exiles, migrants, and aliens, excluded from the rights of citizens), but you now share citizenship with the saints (God’s own people, consecrated and set apart for Himself); and you belong to God’s [own] household. 20You are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus Himself the chief Cornerstone. 21In Him the whole structure is joined (bound, welded) together harmoniously, and it continues to rise (grow, increase) into a holy temple in the Lord [a sanctuary dedicated, consecrated, and sacred to the presence of the Lord]. 22In Him [and in fellowship with one another] you yourselves also are being built up [into this structure] with the rest, to form a fixed abode (dwelling place) of God in (by, through) the Spirit.” Ephesians 2: 14, 19-22 (Amplified Bible).            

“The two main Maroon groups were the Trelawny Town or Leeward Maroons – led by Cudjoe – and the Windward Maroons – led by Queen Nanny and later by Quao. The Maroons were skilled hunters and warriors and, hard as they tried, the British Army could not control or defeat them. They  fought against slavery and for Jamaican independence from the British. Many of them were deported in 1796 to Nova Scotia Canada and eventually to Sierra Leone. To this day, the Maroons in Jamaica are to a large extent autonomous and separate from Jamaican culture.

Although my Christian beliefs today are strong, my walk with God over the years has been up and down, but He is forever faithful and I know I am alive and blessed due to Him. It is also important to acknowledge that my “whole” being has been shaped by cultural, political and intellectual factors as well as my spirituality. I didn’t grow up in heaven. I don’t currently live in paradise. I therefore cannot discount the experiences, both positive and negative, that those of African descent in Jamaica, Canada, North America, South America, Europe, Australia, Africa etc. have encountered. Not only in the past but also today! AND not only within society at large, but more specifically within Christianity! I am also refering to my own personal experiences!  

The result of these experiences have fostered in me a worldview, where although I am a Christian, culturally, ideologically, socially and politically, I acknowledge my African heritage. As I state in the title of this blog, I am an Afrocentric Pentecostal. Now I know that Paul writes in Galatians 3: 28: “There is Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ”. Noble words no doubt, but the reality of the practice of Christianity by those of European descent, when it comes to those of us of African descent, in some ways makes those words hypocritical at best, if not hollow at the very least…. (I also acknowledge the mistreatment of Native Americans and other people of color around the world and throughout history, as well as the mistreatment of “us” by the practitioners of Islam!).

So along with developing my relationship with God, I also reaffirmed, embraced and continuously studied African, African-American, Black history and culture. Two events were instrumental in shaping my metamorphosis as an Afrocentric Pentecostal. The first was reading “A Black Theology of Liberation” by James H. Cone. It opened my eyes that the Eurocentric ideology and practice of the Christianity of my Grandparents and Mother wasn’t the only way. In fact for those of us of African descent, it was both counter-productive and oppressive. History itself has provided uncompromising and convicting evidence of that fact. The second was God fulfilling a promise He made to me. Psalms 37:4 states: “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” I reminded God of this promise and that it was the desire of my heart” to make a pilgrimage to West Africa, to see my ancestral home. In 1997, He fulfilled this promise and I was able to visit the Kormance region of Ghana where historically, this was the region where African slaves were stolen and transplanted to Jamaica. At that moment I was overcome by “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) within my soul (I could even say, “ my spirit”). I had this overwhelming sense that I had fulfilled the “desires of the heart” of my ancestors (whose blood flowed through my own heart), by bringing their spirits back home. A home they had “desired” to return to like Kunta Kinte in Roots. I was able to stand in the slave castle where my ancestors stood. In the actual cells, before they were taken through “the door of no return”. Standing there touched me spiritually in a way words cannot describe.

Both of these events initiated a transformation in how I viewed the society I lived in and how I practiced my religion, and therefore my relationship with God. I made one very significant decision based on these experiences. I made a conscious decision that I would only be a member of a Caribbean/African based church and that my Pastor had to be Black. In my mind, ONLY a spiritual leader who was of African descent could truly understand and appreciate what I go through daily, in my Christian walk as a Man of African descent in this Eurocentric society. In my mind, ONLY a spiritual leader who was of African descent could guide and advise me adequately for my own spiritual benefit. In my spirit, I was content with this decision. I had no issue with visiting churches led by white Pastors and even being blessed by their message. Actually white Pastors and Evangelists periodically came to preach in the Black church where I was a member and I had no problem with that. But as far as I was concerned, they didn’t have the capacity to spiritually lead me, a Man of African descent on a continual basis. This was my way of thinking for approximately 10 years.

For various personal reasons, in the Fall of 2005, I left the Black church where I was a member for about 6 years and started attending a church lead by a white Pastor. The main reason I will reveal though was that I needed a spiritual revival. No church is perfect but I had reached a point in my walk with God, in my relationship with Him, where I needed more spiritually than culturally, and I wasn’t getting that at the church I was attending. I could have found another Black led church and I actually visited a few. But I asked God to lead me to a place where He wanted me to be and he led me there. At the time I thought “hmmmm… what is going on here”? Why would God lead me here?” Although the church’s congregation was primarily white, it had a substantial culturally mixed congregation for that city. However the longer I attended there, the racial/cultural makeup of the congregation, as well as the fact that the church was led by a white Pastor, became less relevant to me. I thoroughly enjoyed the church and it was meeting my spiritual needs. A consequence of worshiping there was that it slowly started another process of transformation within me; in how I viewed God and the world at large (more on that in the last installment).   

This year I moved to a new city and God once again led me to a church led by a white Pastor. My wife and I visted a number of churches when we got here, some led by Black Pastors, some weren’t even Pentecostal. However, God led me again to a Pentecostal church led by a white Pastor. The congregation is very mixed culturally, represented by over 85 different cultures (according to the church’s website). I must add that one would be hard pressed to state definitely that numerically the congregation is mostly “white”. I have observed from my very limited time there, that the church makes an obvious and sincere effort to be welcoming to everyone and involve other cultures in all aspects of the church, WITHOUT BEING PATRONIZING! Most importantly, my wife and I are feel that our spiritual needs are being met and this is a place of worship where we can grow in our relationship with God.

“When the British invaded Jamaica in 1655, a large number of Africans who had been enslaved by the Spanish colonists escaped into the hilly, mountains regions of the island to live a life free from slavery, joining those who had previously escaped from the Spanish. They came to be known as the Maroons.”

Tafari aka Bygbaby left an interesting comment on my post “The Reason for the Season & why I don’t celebrate Kwanzaa”. What got me thinking were the beginning sentences of his comment Although I am Christian, I have a love hate relationship with the religion as a proud descendant of Africans, related to the slave trade & how Christianity was used against our people. I will admit that my feeling on this developed over the last 2-3 years as I am coming out of a white oriented matrix.” I totally relate to his polarized “love-hate” emotions about Christianity as I went through the same inner conflicts myself. In lots of ways (but not totally), I have come to resolve many of the issues and practices (both past and present) I had with those who call themselves Christians, both white and Black.

Since I have decided to dedicate myself to spiritual growth this year, his comments got me reflecting on what is it that I truly believe now in relation to my religion and culture, and how did I get here. I see the importance of charting this course before I push on, as I believe it is vital to understand where you came from to truly know where you are now, and then to point you to the correct path on your destination. So I will post 3 articles on my spiritual and cultural journey. The Past, The Present and The Future.     

The Past

“Over time the Maroons came to control large areas of the Jamaican interior and they would often move down from the hills to raid the plantations. They were very organised and knew the country well. Because of this additional run-away slaves joined them.” 

In my formative years in Jamaica, I was brought up an Anglican by my maternal Grandparents. They were what you would definitely term “God-fearing” and they instilled in me a knowledge of God, the importance of reading my Bible and the power of prayer. Although they strictly nurtured my early Christian development, I was nevertheless curious about other religions and philosophy and in my early teens a cousin of mine introduced me to the Baha’i religion. I followed that for a short while but my Grandparents, particularly my Grandmother steered my back onto the Christian path. I wasn’t overtly coerced into renouncing the Baha’I faith. My Grandmother was subtler than that now that I look back on it. She encouraged me to attend a Pentecostal summer bible school that year (although she was a strict Anglican, but her church did not have summer bible school). Before I knew it I had lost interest in Baha’i and was back into the church!

When I came to Canada, my Mother sent my sisters and I to a Baptist church, which we attended for a few years, although she wasn’t interested in church or Christianity for that matter. This would change 180 degrees for her with the death of my Grandmother, and she then became a devout Christian and a member of a Free Presbyterian Church. By this time I was getting into my late teens, the whole church thing, the Bible and God held less significance for me. I had reached the stage where girls, going to parties and hanging out became more important, or a better word would be “exciting”, than going to church 2-3 times a week! Sunday morning service; Sunday evening service; Tuesday prayer meeting and Bible study; Friday Young Peoples’ Fellowship! Naaaw I wasn’t feeling it at all!

So from about 19yrs. to about 25yrs. old, I didn’t go to church at all and considered myself somewhat of an atheist. In University I majored in Political Science and Economics with a minor in Philosophy. A significant event at this time was my joining the African-Caribbean Students Union, as this started my political activism and cultural awakening, which went hand in hand. Although there weren’t any African/Black culture or history courses offered, I did take a course in African Politics. In my spare time, when I wasn’t researching and writing papers or studying for exams, I read various books on African history and culture which I found interesting and not at all “foreign” to me, since I had a foundation in British, African and Jamaican history from my early schooling in Jamaica. I studied Islam for a period of time as I had a close Muslim friend while in university.

Then something happened to bring me back into the church. My cousin invited me to his church. That was it. I wasn’t going through anything dramatic or traumatic at the time. My life was good enough and I was having lots of fun. I didn’t have an overwhelming feeling during that period that my life needed some purpose or that I was in need of direction. I went to his church, which was Pentecostal, heard a message about salvation through Christ and having a personal relationship with God, which I had heard all of my church life. However that day, when the Pastor made the alter-call, I walked up to the front to accept Christ as my Saviour. BAM! That was approximately 23 years ago.