Friday 24 February 2023

Ash Wednesday as I participated

Learning a new focus of trust

This week has been one of the interesting contrasts in how to maintain focus in an environment of distractions, some harmful and others hopefully more beneficial. One thing I had decided was to be more participatory in this season of the church calendar, and this I mean, the Church of England – Anglican Communion arrangement.

I probably could have given some heed to doing something for Shrove Tuesday, I had the flour, and I could have made pancakes, yet I was exhausted and drawn away in thought and reminiscences that were quite unprofitable and redolent of interactions with seemingly sincere but quite unreliable people. Eventually, I find I can step away from the situation to reflect on how in words of the old hymnal, Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus, ‘the arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own’, or that of any other too.

An eerie feeling of compounding disappointment and dejection seeks to occupy your thoughts and reins for which despondency intends to feed you the tears of apparent helplessness, yet you cannot relent for the hope that abounds and the love of God you are striving to understand and learning to believe beyond platitude and the scribed to experience.

A mortal in eternal purpose

The Lenten season is ushered in with Ash Wednesday and I had some excitement about attending the church service which was termed the Holy Eucharist with the Imposition of Ashes. It is one tradition I have never before participated in. When I told my mum about it earlier today, she thought it was a purely Roman Catholic tradition, I guess there are many areas where Roman Catholic and Anglican conventions overlap or are shared.

It was a solemn meeting in a medium capacity seating for that time in the afternoon. The highlight was The Imposition of the Ashes, wherein, the congregation files to the front before the ministers to have the sign of the cross in ashes placed on their foreheads. With the words said:

Remember that you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.
Turn away from sin,
and be faithful to Christ.

Taken from the second clause in the verse of Genesis 3:19, “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

Quite a moment of spiritual recognition and an almost trembling appreciation of our humble mortality in the context of an eternal dispensation. I do wonder if it would have felt more poignant if that was said in Latin, “Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.”

Intention for guidance and direction

After that, we then participated in the Breaking of the Bread signifying the work of redemption and the new covenant in Jesus Christ as our gathering ended quietly apart from music from the majestic Stoller Organ.

This period of Lent would be used to help attuned one’s spirit to the witness and the voice of the human spirit, given the direction of the Holy Spirit, away from distractions, distortions, noise, and confusion that can so easily leave one unsure of purpose, direction, peace, and guidance.

On the question of spirituality, I am learning that it is more an individual experience than identification with creed, church, or denomination. Where you are blessed is where you should be.

Thursday 23 February 2023

Autism: Do you see what I see?

Taken at Woolworths in Rosebank, Johannesburg - February 2019.

It was not spelt right

Look at the picture above and have you noticed something? This is a regular conversation I have with Brian when he comments about my ability to see things others do not see. In my own view, I am left quite surprised it is not that obvious.

I cannot tell how it is that I see things in patterns, especially when it comes to words, there is an expected order and when things are seemingly not in that order, I notice. That is not to say I do not commit the same mistakes. What I have written and what I perceive is there could be two different things. It comes with the territory.

However, the number of times I have heard people say, “It’s only you that would see that.”, would suggest there is something, a gift or some irregularity that I possess demonstrated in these observations I cannot seem to keep to myself.

Sensory observations out of pattern

It was only two Sundays ago when in our church Sung Eucharist pamphlet where the credits for the hymns were written, the year of birth and death of one of the credited showed he had lived for 165 years. Who reads that? Well, I do and I noticed before I showed it to the dean after the service.

Yet, it is not just patterns in words, I sometimes hear sounds out of place even if my hearing is not that keen and for someone who has a lazy eye, the keenness of my vision along with the inability to use stereo vision to judge distance and speed is quite interesting. It just seems anything that is out of place jumps out to me.

I sometimes wonder if I should ignore these things, then, these observations can make for interesting documentation or conversation. I love the sight of the unusual, the irregular, the strange, the abnormal, the distinct, or maybe, the invisible to others. Somewhere on that spectrum of autism, the strange is just quite normal. It is the way we see our world.

Did you see it?

If you did not see what was strange about the picture above, Brian swears I saw it within a minute of getting to the restaurant and trying to place an order. My Instagram post about it appears below:

Autism: Where my order is another's disorder

The order of disorder

When I returned home from a month’s holiday to a fresh home, my friend who was my house-sitter in my time away had cleaned up, new sheets on my, the bathroom quite spick and span, my kitchen and the stove hub sparkling, not a sight of dirt anywhere, but sadly, due to my apparent reaction, none of which was verbalised though inadvertently acted out, I lost our friendship.

I recall when I owned a place in Amsterdam that many loved to visit, I had a cleaner, not because the apartment needed cleaning up, but because he seemed to know where to put things that were out of place, I would return to an ordered place with a good idea of where everything is, it is my home, I am comfortable after that visit.

Just leave it there

There is probably a reason why I do not employ cleaners, I lived in a house in Ipswich over 30 years ago. The landlord had arranged for his cleaner to visit every fortnight to do up the place completely unbeknownst to me.

When I got back to where I thought was my home, I noticed from the moment I walked in, I had to run out to speak to my neighbours, things were not where I had left them and the house was rearranged to the landlord’s pattern without my input, I might as well have been in a strange hotel room.

I like order, yet, my disorder is some sort of order in itself, it is my comfort zone, much as it can be unusual and strange. I guess many may not understand why this useful act of ordering is upsetting for me.

I was in a strange place

When I got home in August, within the apparent order was a subtle displacement, things were not where I left them or things were not replaced when used. With my dangerously keen eye for detail where it does not matter to others, I began to see too many things were not where I put them, in the space of an hour of my arrival, I felt I was not in my own home because I did not know where things were.

A few days later, I had to call my friend over to show me where he had put three laptops away for safekeeping. I rarely ever have guests in my home and definitely no parties, my friend does have friends and strangers over, in certain videos he has recorded at my place, I had to be told it happened in my home.

I guess through a series of meetings in the two weeks after my arrival, my friend decided I was hostile, ungrateful, and maybe even nasty, so he cut all contact with me until he needed to collect an important document two months later. Not once did he discuss with me how he felt, I was hurt and implacable when we met. I still think he is a friend, maybe someday we would resolve things.

Coming to an understanding

However, there is an issue that reveals itself in my mannerisms and attitudes, some of which I will write about eventually. However, I am writing this because my best friend called me last week after having watched a programme on television, the night before. He was not sure of how to broach the subject, he then said, there were many things he saw on the programme that made him think that was familiar and it was ‘our Akin’.

For myself, I know I have been somewhere on the autistic spectrum, not necessarily evident or serious, but significant enough to be noticed by others besides the apparent upset I have when my disorder is reordered. I guess even those quirks were somewhat masked by me from my house-sitter friend who lived with me for 6 months, some 4 years ago. I suppose there is no easy way to help people understand that some strange things related to the lower spectrum of autism attend to a part of my personality.

It is no excuse and not essentially a bad thing, I work on a lot of things of adaptation and integration, even if some of my quirks leave me looking so totally out of place. I have learnt to be comfortable in my own skin whilst aiming to be the best person I can be. This is the first of some of the writings I hope to publish about living with low-spectrum autism.

Tuesday 14 February 2023

My Funny Valentine Is You

My Only Valentine

You are my sunny and funny valentine,
Indeed everything beautiful and mine,
To daily see your broad lovely smile,
Even though we are apart for quite a while,
You is (sic) something I wish for as I dream,
Of the many ways we work as a team.

When I am weak and frail, a night nurse,
At times of lack, you bring a big purse,
Willing and wholesomely my great support,
Your words to my ears heal all hurt,
In your, I have found love indescribable,
And the happiness with you is incomparable.

To My Funny Valentine, you cried with joy,
Without a long bushy beard remain a boy,
With clippers a fortnight you shift and change,
Yet as a man, you come with what a range,
We strive and thrive in all kinds of weather,
To become more and beyond the whether.

Grateful, I am to have you by my side,
Thankful to watch you in your stride,
Never did I know I needed such a man,
You must know I am your greatest fan,
Once again, Happy Valentine my darling,
You are with love and kisses, everything.

Friday 10 February 2023

Never maltreat a child

I heard a child speaking

I spoke to a child this morning, and I listened to what she had to say. She was staying with a couple, her guardians far away from home, the male was her relation (a distant uncle, perhaps) and the female, was the wife of her relation. She had to do chores around the house apart from being a hawker of goods in the streets around where she lived.

One day, she counted out change from the trading purse in the sight of her uncle and then put the purse away. Her uncle then pilfered the purse which left the child accused of theft. The wife had already been wicked to her ward and could not be convinced that the girl did nothing wrong.

Saving the child from brutality

The culprit however in trying to deflect blame from himself punished the child for hours even as the child insisted she did nothing wrong. Reprieve came with an intervention from the neighbours who concluded that if the girl had been pleading innocence for over 6 hours, it was unlikely she had done anything wrong. The sadism of her guardians was just unrelenting.

Many acts committed against the child sometimes left her within the breath of death, and after that punishment, she could not attend school for two weeks, that was the severity and barbarity of their actions, such people should have ended up in jail for the brutalisation and battering of a child.

When her guardians were transferred to another city, another relation refused to allow them to take their ward with them, there was every indication they would do worse to her. Her new guardians had a kinder man (another distant uncle) and a possibly tolerable but nasty wife, maybe, a case of just jumping from the fire into the frying pan. If you’ve been to hell, any other place will present a modicum of comfort.

Maltreatment displaces honour

There was nothing to honour or celebrate about the first set of guardians when they passed on, the evil they had done would live in the memory of this child and be told in stories to which I became the audience today.

Of the second set of guardians, she was so totally distraught when he was brought back to our village in a coffin, but she did not arrive on time for the internment. That his legs were tied together with a string in the coffin only spoke to who his wife was in character and much else.

If anything, you should never maltreat a child regardless of what you might want to achieve, to violate an innocent child is considered the most heinous thing to do, especially if you are responsible for them and they look to you for guardianship, protection, guidance, and if not love, at least a sense of care and consideration of their vulnerable humanity.

A child never forgets

That child is an octogenarian who has had a successful professional career, is retired and is still involved in her community, a mother and grandmother, apart from being a mother to many more she has schooled, taught, mentored, and guided.

The child remembers quite respectfully and fondly those who treated her well, but the recent death of a younger sibling of the first guardian’s wife triggered the memories of the manifest evil meted out to her.

They might well have been forgiven; the forgetting part is more difficult. Even when Jesus said we should forgive seventy times seven times, it would suggest you need to be able to count to know how much has been forgiven. 

It is not that these issues occupy our minds or our lives, but for stories to be told as they happened, the memory recreates the narrative that we must not forget how people treated us even if out of love we release them to attend to the consequences of their actions, by provenance, intervention, or some other means of fate or opportunity.

A child never forgets even if the child has children of children of children. Do not mistreat or maltreat a child.

Wednesday 8 February 2023

The Bible to read, to hear, to see

My religion and spirituality

My spiritual journey through life has been exemplified in life-affirming and life-defining experiences from childhood that has ranged from terror to exhilaration, infirmity to wellness, adversity to prosperity, empowered by the force of hope, that helps the growth of faith and love. Another way to say this is I know a broad spectrum of the human experience from insufficiency to sufficiency in numerous facets of life.

Underpinning all this is my Christian beliefs and faith with foundations that bear the weight of what has become my story. Influenced by syncretic, African-initiated, Anglican, and Pentecostal inclinations, the former two are more by inducement when I had little agency, the third represents the faith of my fathers, whilst the last is one of determination and choice that has a history of almost four decades.

All this against and in accommodation with my sexuality presents an opportunity rather than a challenge that has been profitable to my health and well-being in spirit, soul, and body. I would be the first to say, for the trauma and experiences that have pitted sexuality against religion, some have been wounded, damaged, ostracised, or worse. My disposition leans more towards the pragmatic than the dogmatic.

For the reading and hearing

For my Bible Study, I once had many hardcover bibles before I found the ease of running multiple versions and translations on my PC, and then on all devices, laptops, tablets, and phones included. My preferred Bible Study tool is the e-Sword with an interface that accommodates, bibles [70 world languages (mostly free), 45 free English versions & 20 premium English versions]  commentaries [a few world languages, 35 free English & 23 premium English], and dictionaries [16 free English & 3 premium English].

Online, you can go for Bible Gateway or Bible Hub which is essentially free, both of which also sport versions and languages. Another bonus with e-Sword is that it has a built-in audio playback for the baseline King James Version (KJV), whilst other audio versions can be downloaded free or purchased from another website. The product licences are lifetime perpetual licenses, as I have products, I bought 15 years ago that are still valid as long as you can remember the email address you used for purchasing the associated modules.

I do have the propensity to use more audio content nowadays, I even remember having the gospels in audio playing back and I had the immersive experience of thinking I was just around the corner from where I was. Indeed, reading and meditating on scripture is a wholesome activity, however, I note that “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Rom 10:17 KJV)

From seeing to believing better

There is the added value of an audio-visual experience, for instance, to get a good idea of how Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross in a modern and relatable way, The Passion of the Christ (2004) film was a very good depiction, as it made the words jump off the pages to present a palpable revelation of what the crucifixion entailed.

Obviously, I have seen many gospel dramas from chronological scripts to subject matter indicative plays, usually tightly aligned to the text and not essentially helping with a deeper understanding of the gospel. They are useful and there are many such on Amazon Prime, but I have always thought the subject could be tackled better.

Into Samaria for a good drink

Then, yesterday evening as I was scrolling through Facebook, I came upon a short trailer that dealt with Jesus meeting with the woman at the well in Samaria, as narrated in the Gospel according to St John 4:1-41. After the conversation, the woman returned to her city to announce that the man she had just met told her everything she had ever done, the passage only has where Jesus said she had had 5 husbands and the one she was with was not her husband.

What I saw took an artistic licence and made it a relatable human story broadening the context to show how she could not obtain a divorce from her last marriage, why she was alone at the well and made an attempt at naming her first two husbands with the experiences that greeted those marriages. Together, you gained a better understanding of what then seemed like gospel in precis.

More to netting fish

I soon found out that it was The Chosen (TV series) taking aspects of the gospel narrative with Jesus Christ at the centre along with backstories and contextualisation, in the third series and available on YouTube, Angel Studios app (downloadable to tablet, mobile, or SMART TV), Amazon Prime, NetFlix, and other streaming services, for free with frequent nagging screens to pay it forward.

When I began watching the episodes, and this can be a spoiler, the backstory to when Jesus stepped on Simon’s boat to preach to the crowds on the shore, before asking him to launch the nets into the deep that all the boats were fully laden with fish and then he asked the fishermen to follow him suggested Simon was heavily indebted to the taxman with the risk of losing both his home and his boat.

In desperation and frustration he was in league with the Romans to shop poachers fishing during the Sabbath, then the whole night we went fishing, joined with other fishermen and caught no fish all night. The incredulity of a stranger asking him to cast his net in the daytime from his experience of fishing was daunting, then having caught the fish, Zebedee who lost his two sons to discipleship was not left bereft.

Zebedee sold off the fish to pay off all their debts and would have had enough to hire extra hands. That detail was not present in the gospel.

Choose The Chosen

The Chosen fleshes out the narrative and I think it redounds to understanding the gospel better. Yes, there were many times I cried in sympathy and was touched by how the gospel came to life. Luke 5:1-11 (NIV)

In my view, e-Sword and The Chosen come highly recommended, there might just be that revelation that blows your mind. 

Monday 6 February 2023

Thought Picnic: If only we knew the truth

A runaway train at speed

We can so soon be carried away with the media frenzy and the dimensions of how a situation is portrayed, and this along with the commentariat spawns a world of imponderables and the utterly incredible.

Sadly, this is rarely within the context of the event or representative of the truth, but once sensationalism has grasped a story by the scruff of the neck, it runs away at such speed that the truth probably has no chance of catching up and correcting the impression made.

A moment to regret

Sometimes, the principals in the story in a moment of indiscretion, a lapse in judgment, or a poor choice of words with a microphone jabbing at their lips inform a sceptical audience of their intentions only to have opprobrium heaped upon them. By consequence, their causes and mission sometimes suffer irreparable damage, even as reputational risk is heightened.

There was a news story way back in 1987 that became the hallmark of a rather distinguished career that was quite impactful for another two decades. Between a kind of desperation to achieve for the good of the many and for a renowned public speaker, words that attracted derision over praise became a negative by which the person now deceased is remembered by the wider world.

The benefit of the good

In my own opinion, I strive to believe in the best of people and understand that they have faults and failings that do not necessarily make them nasty and irredeemable people. An old saying I learnt from a preacher over 30 years ago, feeds my inclination to ‘have as much sense as an old cow, eat the hay and leave the baling wire.’

This is what allows me to engage with people I may not totally agree with, yet the same people have gems of wisdom and knowledge that can be quite profitable to me. However, having absorbed the stench of the prevailing news story which had become a controversial and trenchant part of his biography I never researched any further but took it at face value of the reportage.

If only we knew

In listening to a message today, I caught a portion where the event was related by a witness with insight into the motives, intentions, and rationale of the person in question. You then realise for every story that gets told about you, there is probably little that could be done to arrest the juggernaut careering down the steep incline of gossipy and salacious interest. Some battles like that cannot be won, but you should not for the noise abandon your determination and purpose.

I put it down to a moment of human weakness and an unscripted poor choice of words. If everyone knew, they might have been forgiven. Then again, when a story has grown hairy and swift legs, it is unlikely the truth would be allowed to get in the way of a story about to breast the tape of notoriety, ignominy, and obloquy. Selah!

Thursday 2 February 2023

Dick van Galen Last - Remembered!

A friendship cherished

It is the nature of friendship and the things that you remember of people who have contributed to recognising the beauty of knowing and sharing their lives. It seems like an age, for it is 13 years to the day that my dear friend Dick van Galen Last passed on.

A tall and skinny Dutchman, wise in experience, affable in temperament, a polyglot and gatherer of people from all the corners of the earth. An erudite archivist that specialised in world war history, especially where the imperialists and colonisers enlisted the colonies in the wars.

It was a chance meeting in Paris in 1997 that began our friendship and from then we maintained contact, he in Amsterdam whilst I was resident in London. When I moved to the Netherlands in 2000, he was my host and he helped me settle down as I found my feet.

He was a wonderful cook and we regularly had soirees at his home in the North of Amsterdam. In so many ways, he was such a great help, someone I could call on for advice and other things. For his 50th birthday, we met up at Café Beaubourg in Paris for brunch. There are so many memories to recall.

A meeting vivid

We last saw each other when he came to visit me, a week after I was discharged from the hospital on Friday, the 16th of October 2009. We were to go for a meal, but I was too frail to go out, we just sat and chatted in my living room over tea and biscuits.

There was the occasional phone call, even as he was rushing to finish his PhD thesis. Just after Christmas, he first informed me that he had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, we shared the same oncologist, and we even thought our chemotherapy schedules would land us in the same treatment room.

A few weeks later in the New Year, he defended his PhD, witnessed by friends who said they could see strength and spirit ebb out of him during his viva voce. I could not attend as it was just two days after my penultimate chemotherapy session, I just did not have the strength.

A death announced

Then, it was the Wednesday morning on the 3rd of February 2010 that I received a phone call, the caller ID for Dick gave me the thought to congratulate him on his PhD defence, but it was Ousmane, his lodger on the phone, Ousmane came to clean my apartment every fortnight. He was bearing news, rather shocking news, Dick had passed on the day before.

I am glad Ousmane took one decision in consideration of Dick, he refused that Dick be taken to the morgue, and so, Dick was dressed up and laid on his bed for all of us his friends to visit and pay our respects, even as funeral arrangements were made and friends were coming in from other countries to attend the obsequies.

He was interred on the 8th of February, just 2 days short of his 58th birthday after a well-attended service. I could not attend the interment itself because I needed to attend what eventually became my last session of chemotherapy. Even with the apparent passage of time, the thoughts still feel fresh and raw. In all, I remember quite fondly, my one true Dutch friend, Dick van Galen Last. Rest in peace.

Some memories

Blog - Dick

Blog - Dick: As he lay

Blog - Seeing Dick Off

Blog - Remembering Dick van Galen Last

Blog - There was only one Dick

Blog - Dick van Galen Last - A Decade On

In the skein of the lifted

Finding your flock of safety

To be blessed with neighbours,
With whom to share the labours,
When fallen by the wayside,
A Samaritan to turn the tide.

Even as you blindly stumble,
Not to be left in a crumble,
It is the joy of our humanity,
To be present to bear infirmity.

Though we might be careless,
That we find ourselves in darkness,
The struggle becomes a blight,
From which we find no flight.

There is a willing helper able,
To address where you’re unable,
We are never left utterly disabled,
To perish as the lost or fabled.

In the skein of the lifted,
We are quite fully assisted,
Living with no fear of the downturn,
As they crowd with you to return.

As you pray for not yourself alone,
And for those with whom you’re known,
That no day of trouble comes,
To which every one succumbs.

When we all band together,
Whatever be the weather,
We know no one with ever fall,
As we lift the weak to stand tall.

Then I asked ChatGPT to work on the poem, “Please, refine the poem in the context of how we support each other in times of trouble. Do not change the tone and minimise the editing the prose. The first line is the title.” Which one is the original and the revision by ChatGPT?

Supporting Each Other

Blessed are we with neighbours,
Sharing life's labours,
When we fall by the wayside,
A helping hand to turn the tide.

In moments of uncertainty,
We find solace in community,
It's the beauty of our humanity,
To be there in times of infirmity.

Though we may stumble in the dark,
We are never left alone to mark,
A willing heart is always near,
To ease our burdens, wipe away our tear.

In the arms of those who care,
We find strength, we find repair,
Living without fear of the storm,
Together we weather every form.

We pray for each other and ourselves,
For a life without troubles and woes,
And with each other's help and love,
We rise above and stand above.

Together we form a strong flock,
No one left to bear the burden alone,
As we lift and support one another,
No burden too great, no challenge too tall.

NB: The collective noun for a group of wildfowl or geese in flight is a skein, when geese are on the ground, they are a gaggle, and in water, they are a wedge.

Wednesday 1 February 2023

Thought Picnic: Contemplating in silence

In the grip of meditation

Silence is a world of intrigue where emotion can find refuge and pain is only registered where no one else can see or feel it. The mind churns with thoughts tumbling in chaotic turbulence as the conflict of reason and bafflement wages war within.

You have questions for which the answers seem to be at the lips but the form of words that makes utterance intelligible fails to find expression. Sometimes, you launch into glossolalia in a fervent cry from the core of your reins as you take your sheer humanity to the place of succouring divinity.

You begin to write a Psalm of your own situation like David did, so many times; this is where I am, but I know that even though it seems bleak and hopeless, goodness and mercy follow me, all the days of my life. That is the story I will tell as my mouth gets filled with testimonies of wonder, even my countenance exhibits the glow of brilliance that greets the dawning of a new day.