On Pentecostalism…

Some of my more memorable passages in Binyavanga Wainana’s witty, somewhat self deprecating if irreverent memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place relate to his early contact with Pentecostalism whilst growing up in Kenya. In one of those he describes his mother’s desire one Sunday morning to attend a church and how they end up in one that is unmistakable Pentecostal:

The heat and light are blinding and people are jumping up and down and singing what sounds to me like voices from an accordion. It smells of sweat and goats.
We sit. All hot and in Sunday sweaters and collars and vaseline under the hot iron roof, and people spit and start and this is because we are frying, not because God is here.

The picture is one of chaos and disorder:

People are dressed in wild robes: orange Peter Pan collars, neon blues and golds and yellows. People reach into bras and pockets and purses and take out notes and envelopes and throw them in the moving dancing collection baskets. A crescendo is reached after we have given money, and people are writhing and shouting in the heat. Words are flowing from their lips like porridge, in no language I know, but in a clear coherent pitch. Each person has her or his own tongue

The contrast offered is one between this garish mix of colour and energy and the more sedate, introspective one he is more used to from the Catholic Church:

The Catholic church I know is all about having to kneel and stand when everybody else kneels and stands, and crossing and singing with eyebrows up to show earnestness before God, and open-mouth dignity to receive the bread.

In my experience, being a non-dancing member of a (Nigerian) Pentecostal church can be painfully odd at times. There have been days, often first (thanksgiving) Sundays of the month, where the thought of having to face yet another gruelling marathon  of excited dancing, loud music and the incessant admonition to those of who stand ram-rod straight to ‘dance for the glor of God’ has left me petrified to the extent that I have justed stayed at home. This after many many years of rolling in those circles. I suppose people coming into contact with it for the first time are excused whatever shocks they get then.

The Friday Read: Mixed Matches

A few days late but an interesting read nonetheless. Denise Morris explores inter-racial dating and marriage from a biblical worldview over at Boundless.org. Parts One, Two and Three explore her experiences in growing up as a child from a mixed marriage, the pseudo-biblical objections people may have and offers a useful summation:

Will choosing to date someone outside of your race make your life more difficult? Hopefully not, but it could. If it does, remember that the father of lies still has a grip on humanity. He will until the day Christ returns to put him in his place. Are the potential difficulties of an interracial relationship worth it? Of course they are if it’s the person God has prepared for you. Most importantly, all of us are precious in his sight — red, yellow, black and white — and every shade in between.

Even though in many ways my various reservations are being pared down to the bare essentials, I still suspect that going inter racial is (yet) a bridge too far – the rationale being the significant cultural differences (which are not insurmountable) and the perception that they are often marriages of convenience rather than for love. It’s only 2012 though, 2015 might see me singing from a different song sheet..

The line about red, yellow, black and white reminded me of a song [YouTube] from children’s church back in the day.

The Friday Read: Self and The City

From Project Syndicate:

Urbanization is blamed for a wide variety of modern social ills, ranging from crime and incivility to alienation and anomie. But, by infusing us with their unique spirit and identity, our cities may, in fact, help to empower humanity to face the most difficult challenges of the twenty-first century.

What ‘unique spirit and identity’ might Lagos infuse us with?

Forgotten milestones, unexpected positives and 2012 reading

Amidst the bedlam that was a return to work after almost three weeks away, I completely forgot the small matter of having passed the second-year anniversary of my starting at my current job.  The lads at HR though were not exactly keen to let me forget ; and I was suitably reminded via a letter in my home post box advising me of my eligibility to enrol on the company enhanced pension plan. Bar a few moments of drudgery,  it has never really felt like I have been stuck out here for the past two years, even though I’ve twice come close to leaving; once to Nigeria, and the other time to our biggest competitor across town.

For one, the two lasses I have had to share Room 3.26  with for all of a year and a half –  the Irish drinkard-swearer  Si and her not quite prim and proper Glasweigian side kick –  have provided me with invaluable insights into the minds of women. Having to over hear conversations about repairing broken nails, spray tans, weight watcher points, trips to the hair dresser and excited squeals over scoring a pair of Louboutins for 900 pounds is about as mind numbing as it can get. Thankfully, these conversations have not segued into the murky waters of bikini waxes and other more quintessentially feminine matters, yet. My timely offshore trips and a six month period spent working at a different site appear to have helped maintain my sanity.  I suppose in some dark, murky parallel universe out there, some inertial frame exists within which there are positives to all these. If in 2015, that all Nigerian chic decides that her bedside prattle will consist in its entirely of the highs and lows of the not all together trivial pursuit of getting a broken nail fixed, I suspect that I will merely smile smugly to myself and zone out, thankful that between a feisty Irish lass and her side kick I have heard it all.

Mid way through January I am two books to the good and a good way through the third. A re-reading of Jeffrey Archer’s Shall We Tell the President was quickly followed by Drew Dyck’s Generation Ex-Christian, an evangelical’s attempt to unpack the reasons why 80% of children reared in church disengage by the time they turn 29 [I appear to be a classic ‘drifter’ by the way –  adult PK, single and firmly in the throes of a cognitive dissonance I seem unable to escape. 😦 ]  Mid way through Binyanvanga Wainaina’s One Day I Will Write About This Place, I am increasingly enthralled by the self deprecating wit which he pens this memoir – but then since Open City and  The Sense of an Ending I have been on a one man crusade to devour everything written that explores the conflation of memory and reflection that is a well written memoir.

I am hoping that my reading will cover a lot more genres this year  – worldviews both Christian and secular, memoir, business, the usual fiction and which ever book wins the Booker this year. Given the way my year in books has started off, it might yet be a good one.

#16 – The Sense of an Ending

I finally completed Julian Barnes’ 2011 Man Booker Prize winning book – The Sense of an Ending. Considering I felt both previous Booker Prize winners I read earlier in the year – The Finkler Question and Midnight’s Children were not easy reads, I was pleasantly surprised to find I liked this one. In addition to it being ‘readable’ [and that was the subject of a furore which threatened to engulf this year’s awards] I suspect I liked it because it explored the conflation of memory and reflection, a genre of books I’ve been drawn to since I read Teju Cole’s Open City.

My favourite passage is a reflection on time and how it paints the past in a different, less sure light.

… how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them.

Time … give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical..

Arthur Ashe on God and religion

Arthur Ashe’s moving memoir ‘Days of Grace’ ends with a heartfelt letter to his (then) six year old daughter Camera in which he unpacks all the things he suspects his illness will deny him the opportunity of telling her in future. Covering a range of categories from the importance of family, racial discrimination, loss, marriage, money and even faith, it reads like a distillation of many years of living and learning. The section where he talks about faith and religion reads like a primer for a balanced,  liberal, yet essentially Judeo-Christian worldview. Excerpts below:

…have faith in God. Do not be tempted either by pleasures and material possessions, or by the claims of science and smart thinkers, into believing that religion is obsolete and that the worship of God is somehow beneath you. Spiritual nourishment is as important as physical nourishment, or as intellectual nourishment. The religion you choose is not as important as a fundamental faith in God.

… Beyond the different dogma must be the sense of yourself as created by God for a purpose, and as being under God’s law at all.

… Be ruled by that rule called golden; do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Do not beg God for favours. Instead, ask God for the wisdom to know what is right, what God wants and the will to do it.

A profile of the man and his wife’s thoughts on losing him in ’93.

What I have been reading [Sept]

Slightly better September again – but I have fallen a lot more behind (5 books behind the plan according to the goodreads widget). Most of my reading is currently being done off my kindle which makes it marginally easier to read too. So here goes:

  1. Hell’s Corner – David Baldacci: Bought after stumbling on an ad on TV (the dangers of daytime TV I guess). Interesting read, especially given my long hiatus from reading spy-y books.
  2. Paradise – Toni Morrison:  My first Toni Morrison book. Loved the attention to detail – one I intend to re-read.
  3. Another Country – James Baldwin: Bought this off the Kindle store on an impulse. It does seem like I am being drawn to the books I read in my youth all over again…

What I have been reading

Thanks to lulls here and there –  as opposed to the fast pace at which April, May and June went by – I managed to do a bit of reading:

  • Salman Rushdie’s – Midnight’s Children (1981 Booker Prize winner, 1993 Booker of Bookers Winner &  2008 The Best of the Booker Winner): I read this one mainly on the go, off a hand held device which probably affected my enjoyment of the book. I did think it was a laborious read at times.  It might be a thing I have for Booker winners, as I didn’t exactly enjoy my reading of The Finkler Question either earlier in the year.
  • Ian McEwan’s – On Chesil Beach (2007 Booker prize shortlisted): Good read, if only for its description of 1960s England, before the advent of the pill and the mainstream-ing of contraceptives.
  • Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz (2006 New York Times Bestseller): An engaging read on Christianity, and how it is meant to be a passionate relationship not based on stultifying rules. The section on being addicted to solitude hit too close to home too… Definitely one I should re-read at a more leisurely pace.
  • Haruki Murakami’s After Dark: Seven hours one Tokyo night… Part real life,  part dream.

Beating the flu, conversations over lunch and a question of faith…

I finally beat my bout of the flu. Two days off work away from the cesspool of infection and re-infection – and a strong smelling concoction served up by my friend O – proved the final sucker punch that knocked out the few remaining colonies of the bug I picked up. I still do not consider myself at 100% fit, but at least it has become possible to settle into a close approximation of my old routines even though a slight headache remains.

For lunch today, I meet up with two new friends – A Pakistani Catholic and an Iranian Muslim. We were introduced by a mutual friend at a professional meeting and we got to share and enjoy each other’s company. As a concession to our halal eating friend, we have lunch at one of the smaller Pakistani eateries in town. Inevitably our conversation drifts to the recent events in the Arab world which have culminated in a de facto civil war in Libya. Interestingly, their conviction is that the West (quote America and Britain) are somehow complicit in the popular uprisings. I take the position that the uprisings can’t have done the West any favours what with changing balances of power and corridors of influence in those countries. The Iranian counters that the West has a history of meddling, and recommends that I seek out Philip Agee’s CIA diary as an expose of the capabilities of the CIA. I make a mental note to chase down a copy for my education.

An interesting subtext to our discussion is the subject of faith. Our Pakistani friend, like me, has lapsed into a nominal notion of faith and religion – more a cultural marker than a defining idea for life. Our Iranian friend though sees more than a notional value in faith – he argues that morality and faith are inextricably linked and that absolute standards of good and evil under-gird morality. Matters of faith are not high on my agenda just now,  but these are matters that I really need to engage over the next few months. After all one needs some form of moral compass I would think.

My reading this year is evolving as I go along. I’ve finally dived into Teju Cole’s Open City and as I expected it has delivered meditative prose much in the vein of his other offering Every day is for the Thief. His attention to little details about the city, and quotidian events which would otherwise escape the average person are qualities that have made me a firm fan of his; disciplines which I am trying to acquire over the course of this year. Two other new books arrived in the two days I was knocked out – both by Dave Eggers – A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and Zeitoun. I can only hope I get the time to read them.