Acts of Terror – An Encounter with Reverend Al Miller

| January 9, 2012 | 0 Comments

Rev. Al Miller


“In relation to Mrs Portia Simpson Miller’s recently revealed personal position that sexual orientation is a non-issue for her when considering Cabinet ministers and that she is more concerned with ability, Rev Al Miller had this to say: “I am seriously concerned about that, because it is saying that moral values become secondary to ability to perform… That kind of approach would be difficult for Christians to support because character and integrity take precedence over ability.”

An excerpt from Brian J Welsh’s letter to the Editor. Jamaica Observer, January 3, 2012, Nonsensical, Rev Miller

 

When the rooster crowed in the neighbor’s yard next door, I got up, washed my face and looked through the small wooden louvered window in the bathroom at the gray sky that was the day breaking through night’s darkness. This time was sacred for me, just before things got busy, before the children started heading out to school, when everyone one was still in bed or just getting out of it. I knew she was warm then and I wanted to enter her.  I placed one leg, then another over the barbed wire fence at the back of the house and steadied myself on the ledge of the gully that ran along the backside of Clarence’s yard. Cautiously, I walked along the edge, holding on to each fence post so as not to fall into the green slimy water running through the gully. When the fence ended, I took the gravel road with its deep pot holes to the dirt one that ran through the “captured land”, spotted with its houses put together as though from pieces of different jigsaw puzzles, all aspiring to paint a unique picture of home. Emaciated dogs lifted their heads, wanting to bark, but at that hour they left me alone, for they too were just rousing themselves from sleep.  Soon the dirt road turned to sand beneath my feet. I took off my slippers, put them in my hand and walked slowly, feeling the grains filling the spaces between my toes. Inside I was smiling. I had done it. It was now just the sea and me and I cooed inwardly.

Just yesterday I had been in Kingston willing myself to re-live what up until then had been manufactured fears of how my life could have been had I stayed in Jamaica.

It had come to bump when John called on Tuesday morning.

“Pastor Al wants to talk to you,” he announced easily. A light smile could be heard in his voice as was his custom even under the most difficult of circumstances. Whether or not he knew what Pastor had on his mind was not clear. I did not ask but I had my suspicions. Suspicions are funny things, they often come with the promise of thrill or  mystery but  as they come to pass prove to be little but self orchestrated prophecy of the mind born in fear. Such was the nature of my suspicion so I emboldened myself. I was ready, but nervous – the roost had been cold and I could hear the old birds gathering.

“When?”  I asked.

“This afternoon at 1:00 pm.”

With that, I was summoned to the Pastor Al’s office.

The Sunday morning before, fresh from the beach at Paggie, I had stood in T-shirt and jeans near the pulpit in John’s church giving the congregation a taste of the curriculum I would facilitate at the Men’s Summit the following Thursday evening.  I must have seemed an oddity standing there with my dreadlocks just about touching my shoulders, my un-kempt beard and talking what must have seemed like mumbo-jumbo to the minds of the good Christian folk gathered for the 10 o’clock service. Since my time as a youth leader at the Open Bible Pentecostal church in Kingston, 22 years earlier, I had not been in or near a pulpit and never thought I would ever be seen in a full-gospel church again. My trip to church on Sunday and the Summit in which I was to present had been a surprising detour in my six-month long escape to Jamaica.

John had run into me in Kingston while I was on a get-away from Port Maria. I had been staying with my longtime friend.  He and I had sung in a school choir together but I had not seen him since I first left Jamaica. Excited on hearing all the training I had done around personal leadership and community transformation in New York, he eagerly invited me to help facilitate the Jamaica Men’s Summit he was working on.

Even though it was being held at his church, “Jamaican men from all walks of life would be there,” he said. Finally, it seemed Jamaican men were coming together to talk about who we are and where can we go together.

“Are you sure?” I asked dumbfounded.

“Yeah man!”  His eyes were bright with possibility.

And his church and its political activist Pastor would be bringing them together. How could I refuse?

But after the first meeting with the men of the church who were to lead small groups during my presentation, it was clear this was a Christian Men’s Summit. The brothers sat with me for hours at night, vetting my presentation against their understanding of Biblical doctrine and re-wording my outline and handouts to make sure that the process I was to present was not new age cultism. It was not. It was ancient wisdom and their bible verses confirmed it; they were pleased.

Slowly it began to dawn on me that I was to be the Lord’s messenger. Surely John had heard the rumors. How could he not have?  True, I had left Jamaica many years ago and had returned infrequently to the island – but still man, news like that was hot and we Jamaicans cannot resist passing on such information freely. Nonetheless, with the ease of my acquired American positive outlook, I proceeded. But after 17 years in Harlem,  I was a New Yorker and  on high alert. This after all was Jamaica.

There is a line from an advertisement campaign for my country: Jamaica, Jamaica, so good you have to say it twice. I say it twice too. Once for its beauty and passion and the second time for its ugliness and in-humanity. But this is not unusual — most things are this way. We are known as a strong people but that same strength that we use to nurture the weak can be murderous when our world-view is threatened. Our boundlessness can take us to the end of the earth but it is that same sense of limitlessness that has created a country of outlaws and made-up rules.

Jamaica to me was like a mother who you fear could one day kill you or a lover you never understood yet whose love you must have.  But when you come from a place, spend the first twenty-four years of your life there and uproot yourself so suddenly, there is hole.  In my youthful infatuation with America, there was no time made for good-byes and genuine reflection before leaving,  no time for grieving, for setting aside dreams or having things nicely packaged.

The year of the summit,  the pull of this unfinished business re-surfaced as a feeling of disparate experiences with no unifying theme to tie them together. Plus, I felt I owed my country something for it had given me a good education for free.

I had told my friends in New York that I had to go because my life and sanity depended on it. I passed a contingent death sentence on myself:  be in Jamaica for half of the year, or else. It was 2001. I was 42 years old and had no plans about what I was going to do there. I just knew I had to be there physically, to shift my center of gravity in the hope that the world could occur differently. Going I thought would win me a reprieve — give me more years of life I told myself. But the truth was I had to see it and try to understand it all before I became too old, before  my wits were no longer sharp. It was now or never.

So my encounter with Pastor Al is the kind of thing that happens when one has no plans . All the  irreconcilables on the balance sheet of one’s psyche – fears, guilt and displacement,  re-present themselves for resolution in the form of a dilemma.

 

“Shawn, I hear you are a homosexual.” Pastor Al treaded carefully like a lawyer cross-examining his own witness, which he had asked the judge to declare hostile. He needed the information to support his case. Care was appropriate for any other approach would have drawn my unabated anger. Heat in the mind can make one quixotic and things could turn deadly. So I willed myself to be cool. He was a man caught between his heart and his head and he had a church full of men ready to ascend to the Summit in two days. A man in such a situation can prove to be an unruly beast. I had sympathy for him but I had my own choices to make. Do I cut my losses and run back to America or ride the rough seas of homophobia that had made the thought of living in Jamaica unbearable? Either way, I was headed for the rocks. This was my dilemma. The rumor mill had touched him and he too had to make his decision.

 

The Dagara people in West Africa tell a story to illustrate the essence of dilemma. A man leaves the village to go hunting, returns to see his village being washed away in a river that had overflowed in a storm. In the rushing water he sees the hands of his mother and his wife, reaching out to him. Who does he pull out first, for saving one will mean the other will drown. How would he live with himself whatever his choice? The man sits on the banks of the river and wails.

So I sat there listened to Pastor Al, and wailed inwardly, for the heat was strong.

Finally, I said, “Is that right?” I responded as though spoken by the voice of another.

“Is this true?” he asked. I did not respond. To respond affirmatively would give him too easy an out; it would remove from him the heat of paradox, the venom of complexity that allows for beauty to flourish in this world.

“Pastor” I said, “you have a decision to make and how you make that decision is something that you have to live with. You can make it out of fear or out of love. You get to decide and whatever decision you make, I will be fine with it.”

I don’t know if his decision was made out of fear or love. I don’t find it useful to inquire into such things. I left him to his notion of God to deal with him.  On Wednesday, I showed up in his office and went through with him the curriculum I had prepared. I attended the Summit on Thursday and busied myself in the background passing notes up to him as he facilitated the curriculum I had prepared. He did a good job; without my flair of course,but hey.

There was no “thank you,” no acknowledgment of the work done. No conversation. We don’t speak about such complex things. The knotted cords between abused and abuser does not yield to language. Once seen, the knot must be severed swiftly.

 

Early the next day I returned to Port Maria and my beloved. I slipped into her gently. First, I walked to the water’s edge and let her skirt of small waves run over my toes. They came to me as though to greet a friend they have missed. I walked in further, slowly. I was always amazed at her warmth, this time of morning. Then, I dived in smoothly, went under deeply, and felt myself encased, suspended in the warmth of her belly. One cannot plan for this. This too was one the missing pieces of my knowing that I had come home to remember.

After my swim, I walked along the beach, hailing up the fishermen as they began to gear themselves up for the day at sea. Other bathers could be seen dotting the sea, taking their morning baths; soon the runners would come out and start jogging the length of the beach. This signaled my time to leave. But before I left, I stopped by Church. Church was a Rasta man who had a shop on the beach. His brown locks bleached by seawater, was rolled into a heavy crown around his head. Church greeted me with a smile.

“Rastaman, what’s up man?” I greeted him.

“Me deh yah, everything blessed still, u know.” He was not the one to complain. “De man come fe him morning swim eh? You wan something fe drink?” he asked, handing me a bottle of tropical fruit punch. I took it knowing that it would later appear on the tab I had with him. “You no see dem a bomb-up America man? Plane just crash inna the top a de World Trade Center a New York.” He said it and shook his head. I was still in my own world, reborn and standing there in the glare of the morning sun. Those crazy Americans, no doubt someone flew a private plane over the city and ran into one of the towers – always drama. I waived him off.

“Go turn on you tv and tek a look,” he insisted. Unhurried, I walked home taking the same path. By now the dogs had realigned their senses and had become vicious. I took up a stone with one hand to signal to them that I would not be moved.

At the door of the house Clarence greeted me. “Massa you no see what a gwan a foreign?”

 

For others in another part of the world, rivers were running wild.

 

Olubode Shawn Brown

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