Category Archives: identity

Two thoughts on conversion.

From Scot McKnight:

for some, conversion is like a birth certificate whilst for others it is like a driver’s license. For the first, the ultimate question is “what do I need to do to get to heaven?” For the second, the question is “how do I love God?” For the first, the concern is a moment. For the second, the concern is a life.

A personal reflection on the novel ‘Jubilee’, by Shelly Harris

Another novel picked for our book club, and this one is the best so far.

Jubilee, a first novel by British/South African author Shelly Harris, is the story of two photographs. The first, taken during a street party for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977. A seemingly idyllic picture which represents the growing multiculturalism of the UK at the time. The residents of Cherry gardens, adults and children, sit each side of a long table adorned with patriotic tablecloths, Union Flags, coronation chicken, and all sorts of other goodies. Satish is from an Indian descent family, recently displaced from Uganda by Idi Amin, the first non-white family on that street. He is joined in the photo by  the other 8-14 year-olds who live on this middle class street, with a few of the parents further in the background. One moment which looked so idyllic snapped in a photo which quickly went viral and became famous (in the pre-internet sense), but a moment which hid the true realities of the day. This was a day in which the racism that had sat hidden under the surface suddenly burst into the open, and scarred Satish and some of the others for life.

Fast forward 30 years and one of the children in the photo is trying to organise a reunion photo, in the same place, in similar positions, and by the same photographer. the problem is that Satish, now a successful cardiologist, really doesn’t want to remember that day, and the photo really won’t work without him.

I had expected to find this novel interesting, given it’s subject matter, but I hadn’t expected it to touch some aspects of my childhood too. I am mixed race, brought up in a very non-ethnically diverse middle class town in the north-east in the 1980s. My father is from London, and is white (pink in the sun); my mother is from Mauritius. Ethnically, Mauritius is very diverse and, with the island having no native population, comprises almost every skin tone there is. My mother is French-Mauritian, descended from some of the earliest European settlers but who have mixed in with everyone else from India, Africa and Madagascar, so her skin tone is Indian but her bone structure is more European. That makes me olive-skinned in the winter, and nicely tanned in the summer. I don’t really burn in the sun. So, not very ethnically different, but different enough.

That said,  thinking back to my primary school, I can only think of one other none white person in my class. She was Sun-Ye, and her parents owned the first Chinese take-away in the town. I didn’t really know her well so I can’t comment on how she found the experience of being in a minority, but I found my first and middle school years quite difficult with similar taunts that Satish had to endure in the book. Thankfully I never got it as bad as him and by the time I moved to secondary school – a different one to those in my primary and middle schools, all of these stopped.  Here are a couple of passages that really struck me:

Firstly, one about friendship. Cai is Satish’s best friend on the street and the Chandlers are older boys who live a few doors down.

The Chandlers were an anomaly in Cherry Gardens: looks cannons, lads who edged just the wrong side of all the indulgent terms which make bearable the behaviour of children. They were not mischievous, or quite a handful, they even surpassed that merry catch-all, boys will be boys… Of Satish himself, they were contemptuous, not because of the things he did – there was nothing he could learn here, nothing he could modify which would change their attitude, but because of what he was. He tried not to be around much when they were present. Yet Cai adored the Chandlers, braving their quixotic moods, thrilled just to be in their presence. He didn’t seem overly concerned about their attitude to Satish either. ‘They’re just having a laugh,’ Cai would tell thin. ‘Don’t take it so seriously’. (p120)

Cai was not a true friend. Ditching him at school or in front of the older boys he wanted to impress. What would they think if he was seen with Satish? I remember quite clearly being aware of one friend at school, Nicholas, who would never join in with the taunting. He was a good kid and sometimes he got the teasing with me. Sadly he moved away to a different school at about the age of eight and I didn’t see him again. There was another friend who I used to hang around with too, but his attitude was much like Cai’s, happy to spend time with the different-coloured boy when there was no-one much around, but who joined in with the others so that he wouldn’t be targeted too. At middle school, Nick’s place was taken by Richard, who lived round the corner and who was in another class. Again a thoroughly good friend.

Although it remained unpleasant, after a while I became a bit numb to the use of the term ‘Paki’ against me. It was the nickname that I didn’t like. A few times my parents had been on at the teachers to stop it, but nothing had really come of it and that had just put the name back on the map for some of the kids. Here’s a passage from earlier in the book, again about the Chandler brothers.

At first, Paul [Chandler] had called him ‘Diarrhoea’ -  a little skid mark on the whiteness of Bourne Heath. they Stephen, the younger and brighter of the two, came up with ‘Splatish’, and the pun had stuck for a long white, lingering until it was finally neutralised. In that since it was like ‘Paki’, a term used so frequently in the daily hustle of the playground that Satish had been mystified when his casual mention of the term had seen his dad barrelling in to the Head’s office to complain. This tactless intervention, which threatened so much of the painstaking work Satish had done to shore himself up socially, would not be allowed to happen again. His job was to parry the blows, or absorb them. He didn’t need a protector. (p57-8)

Age 10, middle school, I had become completely used to the term ‘Paki’ as a nickname and was just biding my time before leaving to go to an independent senior school elsewhere. One break time whilst playing football on the school field, a female teacher who was the form tutor for a different class heard some of the kids calling me that and decided to do something about it. My first reaction was ‘Oh no, it’s ok’ whilst internally thinking ‘please don’t rock the boat’. Fortunately, she thought it wasn’t ok and she managed to stop it. I don’t know what she did and I can’t even remember her name. I can remember which classroom she taught in but that’s about it. Somehow, in the space of a week or so, people had stopped calling me ‘Paki’. I am very grateful to her, whoever she is. About six months later I moved to a new school, and not once did anyone use a racist term against me.

So, reading this book has taken me on a personal recollection of aspects of my early years. These are some things that I hadn’t thought about for ages and which, in some ways, are still a little painful. It’s made me appreciate the good people who were around at the time – the friendship of Nick and Richard, and the efforts of the nameless teacher. Having also grown up and become a Christian, my identity is no longer based on what others think of me or my abilities. In this regard, I’m content and now very happy to have a skin tone that tans!

Shelly Harris clearly understands what it is to grow up in a very small minority, and she has been very astute in observing and recording the details in her novel. She is clearly a great people-watcher as well and manages to get inside the thoughts, emotions and irrationalities of a character. Jubilee is very well written to boot. She takes the main character back to face that horrendous day, and in a round about route to face up to them and move on. The book ends with a staging of the new photo and a regrinding of the central character.

Thoroughly recommended. 9/10

How to ruin your marriage on TV: The moment of truth

What does it mean to be good? I’m look at that question in a sermon this weekend and I came across this video from a gameshow about four years ago.

The Moment of Truth is an American gameshow which forces candidates to admit to the truth or lose the money. Contestants are connected to a lie detector and then subjected to a series of ever more personal questions. After each correct answer, they win the next amount of money. At any point before a question is asked, they can take the money and run. However, if they answer a question and the polygraph determines that they are not telling the truth, they lose it all.

This is disturbing viewing.

Given the choice between saving her marriage and winning the money, she chooses the money. I don’t want to dwell on judging her as we don’t know the ins and outs of her situation, although it is evident that her actions are certainly questionable.

It’s the very last question that I find intriguing. “Do you think that you’re a good person?” This question comes after she has already admitted to stealing from her employers, marrying someone whilst being in love with someone else, having an extra-marital affair whilst married to this person, and admitting that she would leave him and end her marriage for her ex-boyfriend. All this whilst her husband, sister, parents and millions of viewers look on. In effect she has destroyed her marriage in order to progress in the gameshow.

Then the final question: “Do you think you’re a good person?”. She answers ‘Yes’. The polygraph says ‘No’. Although she’d like to believe it, and I’m sure that she wants to be, deep down she knows that she isn’t. It leads us to ask what her definition of ‘good person’ is, and how does she fit it?

And that answer lost her the money. Both marriage and money gone.

Now, before we get incredulous that she thinks she’s a good person, let’s think again.

We are looking at the question of goodness from the incident when the rich young ruler approaches Jesus (Luke 18:18-30). The young ruler called Jesus ‘good’. Jesus replies ‘why do you call me good? No-one is good except God alone’. The ruler thought he was good, and by comparison to many he was. He was able to say that he’d kept the commandments. However, Jesus then redefines the notion of good not in terms of rules kept, but in terms of God’s goodness. ‘Follow me’ is the instruction – the One who is good. In the end the rich man couldn’t leave his money, lifestyle and possessions in order to do that. “It is impossible” he says, “for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven”. But he goes on “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

I think there’s a hint of this lady, and of the rich man in me. I want to be good by doing the right thing. I might like to admit that I think I’m a good person on the inside, yet when I put my life under scrutiny, especially in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, I can’t. But what is impossible with man is possible with God.

You can watch the majority of the show below: Parts 2, 3, 4, and the ending. Mark Wahlburg, the presenter, looks uncomfortable throughout. It is a show that makes you want to cry inside.

part 2:

part 3:

part 4:

Just the final question:

Is Disney’s Cars discriminatory?

It’s Five minute Friday again!

GO:

In our household we have a two-and-a-half  year-old. He likes cars. Any sort of vehicle in fact, so long as it has wheels. And, of course, he loves the Cars 2 movie that we got him for Christmas on DVD. I liked it too, except for the fact that it is often on two or three times a week.

If you haven’t seen the movie (and you should, it’s fun), the Cars 2 world is one in which the world is inhabited by vehicles, not humans – they are characters in themselves, who talk, think, make friendships and go on adventures. It was pure genius from Disney to put eyes on vehicles, if you ask my opinion.

Anyway, the thing about this world is that each car is a specific kind of vehicle. Some are tow trucks, some are race cars, some are Fiat 500s, others are forklifts trucks etc. It struck me the other day whilst watching the scene at the airport, that these characters are born to do a particular thing. The tow truck cannot be a race car. The airport baggage van cannot be an MPV. They are stuck inhabiting the metal body that they have been given, with all it’s benefits and limitations.

Isn’t this discriminatory? Well, no. We are commonly told that ‘you can be whatever you want to be, if you only put your mind to it?’. But this simply isn’t true. Each one of us is born with particular aptitudes, talents and a particular character. Yes, some things can be learned with practice, but for example, given my eye-foot co-ordination, there is no way I was going to be a premiership footballer. Similarly my poor eyesight (genetically passed down to me) prevents me from being a fighter pilot. There are some things which are simply not open to all of us.

Yet God has given us particular skills and talents – the Bible calls these gifts. Surely, then, the point of life is to find out what these are and start doing them for God. Using these gifts helps us find the place where we fit and will therefore be most fulfilled.

So, in the end, our world is a bit like the world of cars. I’m not going to be a race car. I should embrace that and find out who I am.

STOP.

9 minutes. better than last week.

Are some things more important to us than God?

Tim Keller has challenged me this morning with the final chapter of his book, Counterfeit Gods. He asserts that all of us have idols, and the task of being a Christian is to continually plunge new depths in you heart to uncover those idols. Idols, once uprooted quickly grow back. One of the questions he suggests to help discern those idols are these: What do you end up thinking or daydreaming about when there are no other constraints on your thoughts? When there isn’t a pressing problem or issue, what occupied your mind and gives you internal comfort? These can most likely point to your idols.

Why do we fail to love of keep promises or live unselfishly?… the specific answer in any actual circumstance is that there is something you feel you must have to be happy, something that is more important to your hear that God himself. We should no like unless we first had made something – human approval, reputation, power over others, financial advantage – more important and valuable to our hearts that the grace and favor of God. The secret to change is to identify and dismantle the counterfeit gods of your heart.

Barnsley defender Bobby Hassell on his faith.

Barnsley defender Bobby Hassell talks about his Christian faith with Inspire magazine. He became a Christian in 2009 after saying that he felt empty inside, despite a good marriage and football career.

I started praying again [after about 5 years] and reading the Bible again, and six weeks later I told God that if he was real I wanted him to be a part of my life. Two days later the chaplain came into the club and said he was doing a Bible study and I went. I began to understand Jesus and realised that being a Christian isn’t about having a boring life but about living life and living it abundantly, as Jesus said. I had sudden peace come over me and I can’t explain the joy and freedom I felt.

I have always had a horrendous temper and everyone thought I would end up in prison when I was younger. But that aggression went instantly – it had to have been God.”

What is your most prized possession?

I would probably say that’s my Bible. It’s important to me because I’m very religious. I believe that you have to pray, as well as work hard, in order to get what you want in life. When I was growing up, I prayed every morning and night – and I still do that today.

Daniel Sturridge, Chelsea forward, speaking to Match magazine (30/01/12)