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I had a conversation recently with a friend, and we talked at length about the fact that the nature of religion , especially Christianity, appears to be rapidly changing in our post-modern world. It’s no longer ‘cool’ to have a very definite set of beliefs that suggest that you have a monopoly on truth. Young people of our generation are becoming increasingly disenchanted with dogma, meaningless tradition, and religion that focuses more on prohibition rather than liberation. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Within my particular denomination there seems to be a shift in certain quarters from focusing on the beliefs that make us different from other branches of Christianity, some of which are seen redundant, irrelevant and even downright wrong, to a seemingly more inclusive approach. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get bogged down  in conversations about religion, politics and society with labels such as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ which often serve little purpose outside of allowing us to keep our ears closed to  the other side. So instead of defending a ‘side’or writing a list of criticisms of complaints, which, let’s face it we’re all good at doing, especially me – I wanted to write about some of the unique things I love about my church. They aren’t in order of importance, they’re just random snapshots of what I love about my faith:

1) Our focus on the Bible

I’m pretty sure I learnt a knock off version of Harvard referencing  system age 5, just from growing up Adventist. It was never enough for me to believe something just because I felt like it was true or it sounded like it was good.  It was never enough for my parents or a pastor to tell me something was wrong or right based on their childhood or a tradition that had been passed down to them. I would ask “Is it in the Bible? Where? Is that in the right historical context?”. And as I got older, that led to me questioning some of the traditions inside my own church and really digging deep to make sure that when I did make a decision in my late teens to actually join the church, that I believed in all the doctrines. Growing up Adventist taught me to take theology seriously and believe that God wasn’t content to just give me a rule book and leave me to it. He wanted me to engage, to ask questions, to understand the history and sociology, but most of all, to come to know and love Him through its study.

2)The health message

If you’re not Adventist, you’ll be wondering what that is – if you’re Adventist you’ve heard the phrase a million times. Adventists are known for their focus on health and a happy lifestyle, and many of us follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. I’ve recently made a commitment to stick 100% to a full plant based diet and I feel great for it. Not only has it given me a sense of achievement,  the discipline required to stay away from my occasional halloumi binges has extended to other areas of life – spiritually, physically and mentally. I love the fact that our ‘health message’ isn’t just about food, but encompasses a total state of well being. Taking time out each week to observe a day of rest, being physically active, getting enough sleep and most importantly, having trust in a power greater than myself give me a sense of well being that I’m incredibly grateful for.

I wish that more of us who are Adventists would try and experience the benefits that come from our health message especially as everyone else now seems to get that eating clean isn’t a chore when it’s done right!

3) Our commitment to social justice

I’ve never been someone who is content to believe that God wanted us to be so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good. In fact, I tend to believe that the more heavenly minded you are, the mor earthly good you will be. One of things I love about being Adventist is that we’re often encouraged to believe that as individuals we can bring a small taste the kingdom of God to earth in the way we live our lives.The network of charities, hospitals and educational institutions run by the church always remind me that I’m not here to live for myself. My talents and my gifts are given to me to share with humanity and to offer whatever portion of peace and joy that I can to the people I interact with. Fighting against injustice, poverty, ignorance, and suffering are not jobs that I can leave to God – he’s given me my own job to do no matter how small, in reflecting his fight against these things.

4) The emphasis on lifestyle standards.

Being a teenager and an Adventist wasn’t the easiest thing. Before I developed a genuine relationship with God for myself, there was often a feeling of irritation. Why did I have to dress differently from other people? Why were my parents so strict about the things I could and couldn’t watch on TV? Why was it so bad to listen to 50 Cent? (I’m revealing my age aren’t I?) Why did I have to be so…different from everyone else? I was fed up of saying no to going certain places. I was fed up of being out the loop of everyone else’s favourite TV show or music video. I was fed up of not having sex.I just wanted to be normal.

As I grew to actually value my relationship with God I understood more and more why what I watched, what I read, where I went, who I slept or didn’t sleep with shaped the kind of person I became. And at times when I struggled a lot with these standards, I saw how I changed into a person that I didn’t particularly like and that my relationship with a God I had come to love and trust, suffered. I know now more than ever that my standards aren’t about arbitrary rules to control how I live but rather daily decisions about how I want the trajectory of my life to go. I realise that in order to be truly happy I have to be consistent in what I do publicly and behind closed doors and that that only comes from consistency in the outwardly little things I do every day.

I am glad that the youth of my church are not content to be stagnant in doing things the way they were done before for the sake of it. I want us though, to ensure that we are not afraid to be different. That our change isn’t powered by being molded by the unrelenting pressure of a secular postmodern world that paints Biblical faith as primitive, restrictive and embarrassing or a modern Christianity that is offended by any denomination that does not subscribe to a one size ecumenicalism. Now is not the time for cowardice or shrinking. We have a faith that can bring light and love and hope to so many. Find out who and whose you are, and live it!

What do you love about your faith?

 

 

period meme

I remember in Year 5, everyone’s parents got a letter in the post. It was something along the lines of:

“Dear Mr and Mrs Girlwiththafro,

As part of the St Jude the Fields personal development lessons, we will be screening a short video on sexual health and reproduction called “The Facts of Life”. Please return the slip attached to the letter below to indicate whether or not you are happy for your child to attend….”.

My Mum being who she is had already given me her own version of “The Facts of Life” at least a year earlier and so I sat smugly through the video, content in my 10 year old mind that I was EXTREMELY mature and aware. The video to my recollection was a fairly benign animation and I don’t remember much, apart from that I was completely unprepared for the ensuing carnage that puberty would bring.

Things they don’t tell you about periods:

1)It’s more blood than you think.

So we know the average woman doesn’t actually lose that much blood, it’s actually really the lining of your uterus shedding. Who cares? It’s red. We’ve all had that awful feeling of standing up after a lecture, date or dinner party and feeling the sudden gush between your legs as your period  has suddenly decided it’s had a nice break, but now it’s time to get back to work. If you’re lucky, you’re prepared and you’ve got a pad, a tampon, or a mooncup to catch the evidence of the slaughter. If you’re unlucky, you’ve just ruined a pair of Boux Avenue polyester knickers. Again.

2) It can smell.

No, it’s not the back of a meat market, just Anna at the other end of the office isn’t changing her pad as frequently as she should. There’s a distinctive and rather gross smell that can associated with period-ing, especially if you use pads (MOONCUPS GUYS, MOONCUPS). The worst bit about the smell is that really, most of us don’t want everyone to know we’re bleeding. Again. Period smell is like a Honda Civic blaring old school garage music through Lewisham High Street at midday. You can’t miss it.

3) The pain is comparable to childbirth.

I’ve never, and may never give birth, but no one can convince me that the period pain I had in 2008 wasn’t as bad a childbirth. I was literally on the verge of taking a kitchen knife, carving my own uterus out, and then just lying there as I bled to death. It would have been a perfectly reasonable response. No one tells you that there are actual women, women all around us who have eventually had to have their wombs removed because their periods were so heavy and the pain is so bad. Nope, they just say “Isn’t it wonderful, you’re becoming a woman!!!”

4) Your hormones can literally ruin life.

I know women who just before their period, practically sink into depression. I’m not joking – lack of motivation, suicidal ideation, unable to perform normal day to day tasks. Some women go on oral contraception just so that their month isn’t at the mercy of their fluctuating hormones. I used to scoff at women who kept claiming that their PMS was the cause of their once monthly erratic behaviour – but now I’m more sympathetic. Recently I found myself sitting on my bed, eating popcorn, crying hysterically, then as it dawned on me that my period was starting in two days, laughing hysterically. Madness I tell you, madness.

5) You’re expected to just get on with it.

If you think everyone will be sympathetic to the fact that your womb is playing squash in your pelvis, and disintegrating through your vagina, think again. Your new boyfriend will be sympathetic for the first 4 months and then after that, he’ll disinterestedly bring you an Ibuprofen and a hot water bottle and go back to watching the football. Your colleagues at work might well be more caring, but it’s really just luck of the draw. Even if your period pain is worse than Mike Tyson repeatedly biting at your ear, no one is going to take kindly to you taking a day off every.single.month.

6) You can have great periods.

So I’ve spent a few hundred words trashing them, but for some lucky women, it’s possible to actually have great periods. I’ve started trying to be more grateful when my period comes. If you have regular, relatively pain free periods, be thankful! Many women don’t get that chance and it’s probably a sign that you’re healthy and your body is working exactly how it should. In fact, for some women changing their eating habits, losing weight and getting better sleep can actually transform their entire menstrual cycle. So if, you’re having bad periods, don’t give up, see your doctor, do your research, and see if there are things you can do to have a happier period. Every month you’re reminded (not so gently?) of the fact that you can bring new life into the world! Isn’t that kind of amazing? No? Ok.

Have I left anything out? What do they not tell you about periods when you’re younger?

 

obama mic

As Obama enters the final hours of his 2 terms as president of the United States, social media, news outlets and  facebook feeds are buzzing. Many are heartbroken – they beleieve their country has traded in an articulate, outwardly progressive, intelligent man for someone who embodies an entirely opposing and distasteful set of values. They are fearful for the future.

People generally fall into two main camps with Obama. They love him or they hate him. A few fall into a more nuanced approach . Various marginalised communities measure his Presidency on what his policies specifically did for their community. In the African-American community, several community ‘leaders’ have been outspoken about the fact that Barack did not specifically target the black community with his policies or create any tangible change for them. Indeed, it’s arguable that black people in America and across the world are equally if not more disenfranchised, downtrodden and disrespected post Obama’s presidency as they were before it.

I speak as somewhat of an outsider being Jamaican-British and I acknowledge that it’s a lot easier for me to have an admittedly more impartial, but potentially less accurate analysis as someone who is largely  affected indirectly by American politics.  I will  hesistantly say though,  that I believe anyone who expected Obama to create any real change for the black community was somewhat delusional. Obama, despite the historicity, despite the tears and moments of pride, despite the cute family pictures and swaggalicious YouTube videos, is a politician. Western politicians, especially at senior levels of government, rarely get there by being completely radical and challenging privilege and power. They get there by acquiescing to it. They might appear, like Trump, to say radical things, but they will almost always either be part of or have to acquiesce to a capitalist white supremacist power structure. It doesn’t matter if they fist bump their constituents or tell them they’re building a massive wall to keep out the rapey Mexicans. At some point they will have to make a choice to play the game.

Obama, as the countries first black president had to be even more careful than any of his predecessors that he was playing the game correctly. He was bound by processes of power that meant that half of his congress had values that despite their protestations were  at least partially rooted in maintaining inequality and upholding white male privilege. He had the burden of not only failing himself, but failing the community. There was a burden of collective blackness that whether or not Barack Obama acknowledged, history would force him to carry. Most importantly, he did not win the election on a mandate of black power – the main groups who voted for him were liberal whites. Undoubtedly, black man and women galvanised around him, but the harsh reality is that a community with very  little economic power has very little political power.

I’m not excusing Obama.  He arguably did more for the LGBTQ community than he did directly for the black community. I agree with every analysis that suggests that he didn’t do enough about police brutality or reverse America’s legacy of destructive foreign policy or dismantle a cruel prison industrial compex. He wasn’t enough. I don’t know that America’s first black president was ever really going to be able to play the game and win if he was publicly seen to be considering the needs of his community as paramount in a country where a significant proportion of the population are deeply prejudiced. Simply put, it was never gonna happen.

Real change has rarely come from the top down, but from the bottom up. It’s the people at the bottom who don’t have enough power and privilege  to be  constrained by the courts and the congresses that can push till the top is forced to look down at them for fear of toppling over. It’s the people who have less to lose that often risk everything to try to change their existence. Desperation is often the fuel that changes societies, not comfort. We, black, white, poor, female , other were never going to find a saviour in Obama because had he had been the radical change you were looking for, he wouldn’t have made it that far.

I remember when Obama got elected for the second time. I watched my Dad, a jamaican man who had come to this country in the 1960’s, walked through the streets of Wolverhampton and had rubbish thrown at his head, stand in the corner of my living room and watch as Obama and his family walked out to a crowd of cheering peooe. I saw the emotion on his face. I saw my Mum’s smile when Michelle Obama spoke. And despite being my usual cynical self, I couldn’t deny the messure of pride and relief when I saw the first family. Entirely black, entirely seemingly in love with each other. Secretly, I wanted my own Obama – or at least what he respresented.

The enduring image from his presidency that I will remember is one of a little black boy touching the President’s head as he bent over in the Oval office. He just wanted to know that the President had the same hair he did. We will never know the countless number of black children across the world who were too young to understand the effects of foreign and domestic policy, but old enough to remember that yes, they can. They can be President. And despite the morality or immoralities of the Obama Presidency, that is in itself significant and enduring.

That’s what Obama’s Presidency meant to me. Not a  departure from neo-liberal values, not a politician that I put my faith and trust in, and certainly not someone who was going to usher in a new dawn of equality or progress.

The Bible says ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God, the things that are God’s. There are some things that belong to the power  structures of this world. Absolute truth, equity , justice, and complete freedom are not those things.Once we recognise that, we can accept Obama for what he was as well as what he wasn’t.

 

 

 

noy into you

Yesterday, I was watching a conversation online about Christian dating, and one of the men mentioned that feminism and the rise of feminism has made it increasingly difficult for men to be leaders in their homes. While I agreed with him to an extent, it got me thinking about how the word ‘feminist’ gets used in Christian culture, particularly in more conservative circles.

I’ve stated before that I don’t choose to identify as feminist but despite this, I’ve been called a feminist several times. The word is often lobbied jokingly by Christian men at me in any discussion about sexism but the undertone is always the same. It’s an undertone of dismissal and disapproval.

Essentially, calling a woman a feminist in any conversation about how Christian culture, church organisation  or congregations participate and encourage unhealthy and derogatory attitudes or behaviours towards women is an easy way to shut down conversation and encourage others to label the person as a ‘liberal’ or ‘heathen’. It’s an easy way to prevent someone from bringing any concerns to the table. It’s an easy (and often sexist and patronising) way to suggest that a woman has been ‘brainwashed’ by popular culture and is clearly spending more time reading Germaine Greer than her Bible.

Instead of being committed to the truth as taught in the Bible, a lot of Christian men are committed to wordly power structures that give them license to exercise the leadership that Jesus calls them to with little of the servanthood he embodies.

This is why a substantial amount of white  Christian men could find themselves voting and supporting a man who boasts about grabbing women’s genitals and has had several sexual assault claims against him. This is why pastors in positions of power within our church can take advantage sexually of female members and are excused by the majority male leadership of our churches. This is why the rate of spousal abuse and domestic violence are pretty much the same in evangelical circles as outside.

There appears to be a concerted effort in some Christian circles to abjectly deny that there IS a problem in Christian circles with gender bias and sexism. It’s a lot easier to write off any attempts to address these issues as ‘feminism creeping into the church’ than it is to actually interrogate how the church as well secular society have strayed from the Biblical ideal of male-female relationships.

Yes, the Biblical view of men and women is distinct and often at odds with what modern liberal media espouse in many aspects and I don’t expect some feminists reading this to be entirely happy with what I believe, but that doesn’t mean that our own practices have been perfect. Why do we find it hard to believe that Christian culture, which historically has subjugated and demeaned people for centuries on the basis of race, would still have a perfect practise when it comes to gender? Why would we even for a minute, in arrogance think that it is impossible for us to have also gone wrong when it comes to our treatment of women? The civil rights movement of the 60’s not only changed the world, but changed the church. We acknowledge that the impact of this could only have been positive in the ways that it caused the church to take a look at racial injustice within its ranks. We still have a long way to go with addressing racism within the church. Is it not then possible, that the feminist movement although imperfect in many ways, could allow us to examine the injustices of sexism within the church?

But it’s not about feminism.

Tenuous claims of protecting the faith against feminism is just your excuse for continuing and excusing behaviour that has no grounding in the principles of your faith, but rather the sexism you’ve been taught-  which unfortunately extends across religion and culture. I’m not talking about gender roles and whether the man should be the head of his household. I’m talking about you sleeping with 10 women but viewing a woman in church who has slept with 10 men as ‘loose’. I’m talking about women who have been taken advantage of sexually by pastors who command power in congregations where a significant proportion of women are single and lonely being labelled as ‘Jezebels’ who have ’caused God’s anointed to stray’. I’m talking about women getting disfellowshipped for pregnancies out of wedlock but Pastors who sleep with congregants simply getting moved to another district. I’m talking about women paying the majority of the churches tithe but being underrepresented in decision making processes. None of these things can be excused by any Bible text.

I’ve heard people say that as a church we should be committed to spreading the good news of Jesus rather than tackling minor issues like sexism within the church. While I agree that as Christian individuals and a community that the gospel is our priority,  the idea that other ‘minor’ issues will just sort themselves out without any concerted effort is extremely naive. We have had centuries of preaching the gospel without any real attempts to address these issues. The results of this has been that we’ve had people become Christians and then worship at segregated churches. We’ve had people become Christians and also suffer sexual abuse at the hands of a church deacon. We only have to look back at the history of 1000 years of preaching the gospel to understand that sometimes, specific problems need to be specifically addressed. Most importantly because these problems actually are a specific hindrance in our attempts to reflect Christ to the world.

So next time you start to use the word ‘feminist’ to shut down conversation, chuck that word out of your vocabulary. Instead, ask what you have been told to ask. Which is – is it Biblical, is it true, is it good, does it reflect Jesus? And whether it’s feminist or not, if the answer is ‘Yes’, then it deserves to be listened to.

 

 

fried chicken

 

I have to commend myself on my progress in my continuing quest towards enlightenment. 3 years ago at the tender age of 23  when I first started writing this blog,  I would have had a very different initial response to a viral video of a young black man taste testing fried chicken from various KFC imitation outlets.It would have been something along the lines of..“*rolls eyes* Yet again mainstream media picking up on every negative stereotype about black people, why has this idiot decided to go cavorting around London sampling wings and Fanta – can’t he find himself some kind of gainful employment and stop embarrassing us?

3 years later, my response is somewhat different.

For those of you who haven’t the foggiest idea what I’m on about, Elijah Quashie is rumored to be 23 (he will neither confirm or deny his age, perhaps he’s worried that taste testing Sam’s in air max’s  will be seen as juvenile?) and has  in the space of a week morphed into an internet sensation with his witty take on the quality of chicken, chips  and burgers in London’s many fast food shops. His youtube series the Pengest Munch shows Quashie, presumably filmed by one of his friends (man dem) sampling chicken from a different shop in each episode and rating their food offerings out of 5.

He is obviously charming, funny (‘burger sauce was a myth’)  and rather charismatic, not to mention innovative – he states that he was inspired by the ‘bald guy from Masterchef’, questioning why Greg Wallace’s opinion on food held any more gravitas than anyone elses, which inspired him to start his own series.

I’ve heard a bit of murmuring on the interwebs about the series promoting the same old tired stereotype about black people liking fried chicken and also a negative portrayal of young black men as lacking aspiration. Additionally, in a recent interview with ITV the chicken connoisseur perhaps performed the ultimate  negative stereotype – the interview ended with him pulling  gun fingers. In the past I would have probably agreed that not only was it embarrassing, but irresponsible on his part.

I’m not so sure anymore.

In fact,  I think that he said something particularly profound during the interview which was that he made the web series for people who eat like him, talk like him and live in his area. This wasn’t made for white mainstream consumption. Unlike some members of the black middle class who are forever obsessed with how they are perceived by the white mainstream and how the actions of inner city or working class (not necessarily mutually exclusive) black people reflect negatively on the race as a whole, Quashie’s  (initial) attitude completely ignored the white gaze. His initial audience was never the mainstream. He was making content for ‘his’ people. And ‘his’ people, are inner city, mainly black,  young people.

While I agree that mainstream media is a lot quicker to broadcast and give a platform for media that conforms to the same repetitive stereotypes of blackness, I would also argue that ‘educated’ black people often place the burden on black people of other backgrounds to carry the weight of how the race is perceived and in turn burden themselves by being embarrassed when in their eyes, the portrayal isn’t positive enough. Unfortunately, positive often means holding middle class white culture as aspirational,.Part of being black in a white supremacist society is that we  will all  be viewed via the lens of negative stereotypes – it’s inescapable. Part of living freely though,  has to be trying to live as unburdened as possible by these stereotypes. It’s exhausting to pretend to not like things you do like just for the sake of not conforming to stereotypes. A lot of young black people in inner city London do seem to like fried chicken. Weirdly enough, so do the white and Asian kids. I’m probably more concerned about what the quantity of deep fried wings is doing to Elijah’s arteries than I am to what it’s doing to reaffirm the stereotype about us and chicken.

A more important conversation that needs to be had is why inner city areas seem to be flooded with these cheap chicken shops and why healthy food is so overpriced and often scarce in these areas. It’s not true that young black people don’t care about their health.  A lot of young black people go to the gym, work out and aspire to look like an ‘Instagram baddie’ complete with flat abs and a rear end created by a million squats. They aren’t completely immune to the clean eating, soaked quinoa, fitness trend just because they live in Peckham. (I’m not even sure if Peckham counts as a black area anymore). When Caribbeans and Africans first came to this country, there weren’t an abundance of chicken shops and we definitely don’t own or start up most of them. The demand for this food isn’t really organic, the market has been created. I would love to see more conversation being generated about public health and health education and what we can do to create a more positive behaviours towards food in inner city areas.

In essence, there is room for more than one type of blackness and we need to let go of the idea that all aspects of inner city culture that other people might look down on are ’embarrassing’. The truth is, that like any culture, there are aspects that are negative and appropriately draw criticism. The truth is  that aspects of these inner city cultures are often co-opted, reworked and marketed to the mainstream without credit being given to the originators. The truth is that white people rarely feel embarrassed by what another totally unrelated white person does and we shouldn’t either. The truth is that Elijah Quashie is probably just living his truth. Which is that he likes fried chicken, and has eaten enough to be considered an expert. The truth is that as a vegetarian and health advocate, I’d rather he ate a lentil burger with a side of kale, but in all honesty, they probably don’t taste as…..well, peng.