Theron Shaw gives his take on my soon to be released EP The Gospel of Romance project. I was a privilege to have him not only because he is, in my opinion, a virtuoso, but also because he was a former lecturer of mine at COSTAATT
My parents’ marriage didn’t work out – my mother and father divorced when I was around ten years old. I am now aware as an adult that my mother was advised, by persons in the church community, to stay in the marriage relationship despite the fact that it was abusive on many different levels. Today, I am thankful that she didn’t as the storyline of my life would have been very different.
This preamble of my blog is crucial information to the content of this piece. You see, at that time (and it still happens today) divorcees and their children were treated as lepers and outcasts: kept on the outskirts of the community, given what some may consider non-important ministry during service and treated as “less than saints”.
Allow me to share with you one of the most devastating memories I have of our life at that time. It was one of the few occasions that we as children were allowed to see my mother’s pain, allowed to see her wounded. Things were always tight financially and around that time our roof badly needed repairs. My mother approached the church, for some sheets of roofing that were lying around unoccupied on the church compound to assist with repairs to our home. The person responsible for the roofing sheets said to my mother “There are no free lunches in life.” Needless to say, we did not receive the sheets.
As I peruse the scripture, I notice that God was very much concerned about social justice and those who were disenfranchised by the circumstances of life. Some of these are Malachi 3:5, Deuteronomy 15 and James 1:27, just to list a few.
The Israelites were commanded to seek after the welfare of each member of their society. This was not an option. Deuteronomy 15:7 and 8 says”…do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your poor brother. Rather be open-handed and freely lend him whatever he needs.” There was a concern for every member of the community. The statement that the fellow church member made to my mother years aback has to some degree haunted me since then as it is in direct contradiction to the statues God has given. The sense of community and collective responsibility to the less fortunate is crucial to the growth and prosperity of the church community (James 1:27, Micah 6:8). We can sing songs of deliverance, claim and decree and declare in our worship but if we are not obedient to God’s word, how can the church experience genuine, godly success and blessing? (1 Cor 13)
I thank God that my mother was a fighter; she was resilient, determined and faithful to God. Things may have turned out very different for us as a family if she wasn’t. My sisters and I have not, by the grace of God, followed the script written for us by society as children of a broken home with a single-parent divorced mother. As a family we strive to be intentional in our support and encouragement of each other as we celebrate our successes and failures in the different stages and milestones of life. We love tangibly.
It is my earnest prayer that we the church do some introspection and with the Spirit’s enablement, intentionally and lovingly meet the needs of those around us and become the community that God intended.
Excuse me as I wipe my mouth, I just eat ah food. My sweet “blue” food notes and curried “grays” have satisfied my hunger…till…my appetite growls again. Until I allow the acid to burn the lining called my conscience.
Then I eat a food again. This time a little heavier, left-hand dumplings with some “greens” and some sliced “reds” on the side please, and to wash it down how about a tall beastly cold “50”.
But how long before the acid burns all my conscience away, then, the ulcers one by one appear. Slowly, I cringe at first, bending over in pain. Maybe it was the dumplings, maybe the curried “grays” or the sweet “blues”. I’m… not cer..tain but it pains.
I’ve lost it my birthright, my good name, my character, my conscience eaten away by the food. Food that should have strengthen me, developed my muscles, food has become my poison.
Must I eat ah food? oh yes! but not all food must be eaten.
I recently visited the airport to see a friend off. While he was checking in I looked out through the glass wall into a well-manicured garden. I soon recognized that there weren’t any visible weeds. This then got me to thinking, what exactly is a weed?
A quick check of the dictionary revealed several things to me – some more poignant than others. A weed is
- A wild plant growing where it isn’t wanted
- An undesirable plant in a particular situation or in the wrong place
- A plant that is not valued where it is growing.
I thought to myself that any plant can be a weed if it is growing where it is not wanted and valued. Imagine a rose growing in a tomato field. The rose doesn’t belong there it is not wanted, it is out of place. It might be beautiful to look at but it is a weed. Think about a grapevine growing in a rose garden. Getting in between the branches and the thorns… a sticky situation.
The beautiful scenery I saw caused me to reflect on my life. Are there weeds in my life? Maybe there are beautiful traits that are out of place or undesirable. Or maybe there are attractive things that are adding no value to my well-being or progress.
My wife often tells me that I am too patient. Is she right? Yes, she is. Now, don’t get me wrong, patience is a good thing but used incorrectly or in the wrong place, it becomes undesirable and like a weed. Being overly patient when you should be acting is just as bad as acting when you should be patient.
Since then I have been doing some self-evaluation. What weeds am I allowing to grow in my life? There may be good things that no longer serve a purpose for where I am heading or habits that need breaking and removal.
Whatever it is, as beautiful as the garden may be in your life anything that doesn’t fit, or doesn’t serve a purpose, or is uncultivated is a weed.
I shook my purse, dug deep in my pocket
One, two, three, four, five, sense.
Is that making any sense?
How can I live on five sense? Is that even possible?
I’ve done it all my life, but, thinking about it, five sense isn’t much.
I went shopping with my five sense,
I saw my favorite fruit
But I could only watch, five sense can’t buy squat.
Seeing is no fun when you can’t buy.
A five sense budget is, a crime!
The aroma tickles my nose, while passing the bakery mmmmm,
The sign said $10 a loaf,
I smell melting butter, I smell melting cheese
But my nose deceives me
Five sense can’t buy these!
I feel like a captive
Five sense living keeps me bound
Can’t get ahead in living,
Even with opportunities around
Is there another sense to acquire?
A sixth, without seeing death?
Currency, purchasing power, bargaining with confidence
I need a sixth sense
A seventh sense! An eighth sense!
A ninth sense! A tenth sense!
Getting me closer to a dollar, Got me some power!
More than my pocket can hold.
Can’t live on five sense
On my knees…I get my sixth sense
I stand tall, brave, bold…
Written by Stephen John
Published S2J2 Publishings
I recently read this quotation by Anne Lamont: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
Anne’s quote reminded me of a book my dear mother lent me titled, Pulling Your Own Strings by Wayne W. Dyer (if you get a chance you should read it). Basically, it was about taking charge of your life, and owning the things that happen/ed to you and being strong enough to maintain your individualism.
That book really gave me a boost of self-belief and a new outlook on life. Before then, I was putting off many things I desired to do because I feared the opinions of others, I feared being rejected, I feared success – at times, failure.
One of my issues was the fact that I often wondered if in any way I was responsible for another person’s response or lack thereof. After reading that book I realised that I am only responsible for my behaviour. Being responsible for my behaviour does not give me license to be a donkey and to treat others badly without consequence, but I began to slowly release myself from that bondage. It is liberating, so freeing to let yourself free of the ‘responsibility’ of and for the behaviour of others.
I have been doing some deep soul-searching and facing some demons in my closet. It is not a onetime event, but I have come to the conclusion that for me to find myself, I had to make some personal adjustments. Here are a few things I did:
- I had to face the fact that I am in control of myself-
I am not in control of anybody else. Every day I get the chance to choose how I think, how I respond, what I say and how I feel about people and circumstances around me. Life will throw many things at me, but in the mix are good as well as many unpleasant things. My outlook depends on my choice. The people close to me, and those who do not know me well may choose to ascribe some dubious meaning to my responses. I had to own up to the fact that I cannot control their decisions and perceptions: and it was liberating.
- I had to recognise that I was naïve-
I was and to some degree still am naïve to many things. I tend to be overly trusting and always trying to think the best of people. I would be honest, truthful and trusting only to be betrayed. As we say here in Trinidad and Tobago, “All skin teeth is not a smile”, which means that not everyone that smiles with you is a friend. My solution, I became more protective of my peace of mind, I guarded the space between my ears and my spirit. It was an extremely difficult thing for me to do. One person even mentioned “you real different now”, as I went through the process. I decided that in order for me to stop being taken advantage of, I had to do something for Stephen. I still struggle with being naïve this, but this realisation also caused me to acknowledge that there are some people who are just downright nasty and wicked and they should be avoided at all cost, in order to maintain my peace of mind.
3.I had to realise people seek after their own interest first:
I remember helping others so much that I would even put off important personal things. At a single phone call, I would commit to perform at multiple events on the same day. I would be most present to help others, because my perception was, “that’s what people do”. Then as time went by I recognised that when the tables turned, I was left empty and in need. Those who said they were “down with you”, would walk out on me when most needed. It did not feel good, and it left me devastated and depressed. I realised that I was disposable to them and what I thought was mutual was really one-sided. So, I had to pull back a bit and take the time to reassess my priorities and some relationships. Saying no to requests and seeing about myself, is not selfish, in fact, it is necessary for me to be healthy. So now I have become better at serving others, without destroying myself in the process. I set boundaries as to what I will and will not allow.
I am becoming better at pulling my own strings. It was uncomfortable at first, because there will be some who find you different from before and less easy to manipulate, but it is all for the better. I will end this post with these two quotes: one of my own and another from the book Pulling Your Own Strings.
“The moment you stop allowing someone to emotionally, spiritually, financially and physically manipulate you – that’s the moment they start to verbalise all the things that are wrong about you. Not that those things weren’t there before, it is just that they lost the power to control you.” Stephen John
Everything that exists in the universe does so independently of my opinion (Pulling Your Own Strings, Wayne W. Dyer).
And darkness was over the face of the deep,
Steep places where scary things hide.
Am I afraid of the dark, or the things that hide inside?
In the darkness of night, my mind runs wild.
Making false things appear real,
Making trees look like men, the wind sounds like a hurricane,
Footsteps become a stampede
In the darkness of my mind.
Under my bed where the monsters live
Mostly at night when the lights slowly go dim
There’s no lamp-light bright enough to chase them away.
Afraid to let my pinky-toe hang over the edge,
Edges where darkness creeps, seeks another victim.
Victims, living in fear, crippled by the abyss of darkness in the mind.
Dark thoughts, fear thoughts, near thoughts, far thoughts
Holding you, choking you, stifling!!!
Afraid she might say, No! Afraid he might leave,
Afraid to leave the comfort of familiar.
Afraid of the outcome, afraid of success,
Afraid that happiness might cause others to regret…
To fret, to think of you less,
To judge you by the result of their failed conquest
Projecting fear of darkness upon you.
In the quiet darkness of the mind
Afraid of the sounds in the dark
Voices shouting, Yes! Voices shouting, No!
Shouting STOP!!! Shouting GO!
Afraid of the pictures you were taught to see
One-sided, lopsided, uneven, misguided.
Voices screaming at you from within their darkness
But alas! A spark, in the distance, in this dark
An idea, a light, a thought so bright that I run without fear
Catching the updraft, gaining momentum
I take flight, I escape, living light
Living in light
Written by Stephen John
Copyright S2J2 Publishings
Cages, a space where we imprison things we fear.
A space where danger lurks and we can admire its beauty,
From a distance…
From afar off I stare, from afar off I am amazed
Marveling in the hues of colour, in the strength of the captured.
Locked in and chained
Restrained from running free, from flying high
Birds can’t fly free anymore
I’ve clipped their wings so I can gaze at their splendor
While they sing the song of freedom, redemption song.
From a dead tree trunk wishing for green leaves.
Orange and black stripes lurking on the forest floor
Now anesthetized by metal bars and bullet proof glass
Hear me Roar!
Hear me growl, feeding on piece of dead horses instead of hunting
But is it a game that we cage that which is beautiful
Because we are fearful?
We put minds in the cage of education systems
Restraining thought because we fear, we may be wrong
Wrong about origins, wrong about religion, wrong about being right
Wrong about our conclusions.
Minds with music, minds with art,
Minds with supple flexible bodies
Making silhouettes with moonlight.
Minds held back, minds in binds
Don’t question this don’t question that.
Stay in line, march in time
March like everyone else till we’re all blind; walking with cages on our minds.
As we admire the hues and possible plumes of each other
Fearing the beauty of another
Why put minds in cages?
When curiosity is beauty
Exploring the expansiveness beyond the lock and key
Beauty in mental boxes
Beauty in captivity
The systems and traditions we’ve put
To cage our true beauty
Be free, be free.
Published S2J2 Publishings
Sticking under my shoe, making me so uneasy.
Getting in my sock, just have to get it out.
Pebbles in my pigeon peas…crunch!!!
Stumping my toe…ouch!!!
One more pebble causes the well to overflow
One more pebble to block that leaking hole.
You can avoid a boulder it’s easy to spot
Pebbles… steups…they’re little spots, that
Get in everything, gosh they’re everywhere
Some smooth, some sharp, some round and kinda square.
Smaller than my imagination, yet big enough to stop my engine abrupt!
Smaller than my foot but, if I step too hard then I howl with pain and it’s now bigger than I suspected.
Small you think you are,
Small is good. Small can see the big picture more than any boulder would…could…admit.
Small beginnings don’t frown on them, small things observe them close.
Pebbles can do boulder feats if we just look.
Copyright S2J2 Publishings 2013