In The Beginning…

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I have a bit of a conundrum. My wife made the observation that I tend to over think things and end up not doing anything at all at the end of the day. In her words, I think things to death. So as part of my corrective therapy, I’ve gotten into the habit of jumping head first then judging distance on my way down. Unfortunately, there is no prescription for my self-medication so I applied this technique indiscriminately to most of my life. I honestly believed I was making progress until my beautiful wife made yet another observation. She brought to my attention the fact that I had just rushed into posting onto this blog without giving my prospective readers context and background as to the purpose and history of my scribbles. She said I should have put more thought into it before just putting a hatchet to it and swinging away like an inconsiderate Neanderthal. Proverbs 18 Verse 22 says “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour from the lord.” Amen to that. So following my wife’s firm urging, I have taken this opportunity to time travel and explain the birth and intentions of this blog.

The strange days started some eight years ago. Being on the precipice of 30 and not having much to show for my life I was suffering from a serious case of insomnia. After several nights of drifting in and out of consciousness I got into the practice of watching late night news shows with the volume off while doing the voice overs myself. I know this was an absurd activity for a moderately educated man such as myself to engage in but I proudly owned that inanity. I could have picked up a good book or studied the business section of my local news paper, but I didn’t because I couldn’t. To the uninitiated, when you suffer from insomnia you’re not asleep and you’re not awake either. Days blend into each other, colours bleed to grey and everything just sounds like a dim humming sound in your head. Your brain is too busy trying to distinguish the real from the imagined and is performing with dismal efficiency at that. Logical thinking is far too much to ask for.

One particular night after giving George Bush the Mickey Mouse voice-over treatment during some press event on CNN, I started surfing through channels. I came across a documentary about the great continent of Africa on one of the Discovery or National Geographic channels. As is synonymous with such “award winning” coverage about Africa, I was bombarded with visuals of child soldiers, emaciated livestock, charred landscapes and shabby dressed child brides walking ridiculous distances just to get water, food or their children immunised. The next scene jumped to a smartly dressed bespectacled Caucasian man in a navy blue dinner jacket. He had a graph behind him with different continents depicted by different coloured lines. For some reason the African line was lower than all the others and in shocking red. The man had an intense look about him as if he was trying to convey some deep truth or vast reflection. My curiosity was tickled so I turned up the volume. I was just in time to hear him say “…and according to the U.N. report and the South African Institute of Race Relations, the average life expectancy in Southern Africa is pegged at 52 years for women and 51 years for men. This means that I at 55 years of age would be considered one of the elders in an average African village setting. As Africa looks to the future is it plausible with such a truncated life expectancy to…” I switched the volume off in mid-sentence as my attention was directed to trying to figure out if the silhouette of Idi Amin that had just appeared on my ceiling was real or just another figment of my imagination.

Though I felt that little “African village setting” quip of his was tasteless I started thinking about what the man in the box said. 51 years? I was turning 30 in the few months that followed. I started taking stock of my life and came to some discomforting realisations. I, having been born in the tail end of 1980 and depending on which study you ascribe to, just barely fell into the millennial bracket. A generation, also known as Generation Me or the Boomerang generation, that is characterised by social scientists as narcissistic, fame obsessed, individualistic and bursting with a sense of entitlement and instant gratification while plagued with delusions of gradure. In the same vein, millennials are also described as tech savvy and socially conscious. It was these descriptions that I once viewed as positive that I now realised were the cause of what I now call my Great Undoing.

In those months before my thirtieth birthday I was living in a little matchbox with my then girlfriend and now wife Lynnett. I had a job that put food on the table and paid the rent but barely little else. True to my millennial instant gratification birthright, I wrote the business plan for my hospitality consultancy business when I was 24 during my first year of management training. I was going to be the youngest general manager in the history of the company I was with in the following two years and I would make more than enough money to holiday in the Seychelles and watch Wimbledon from the bleachers by 30. That’s how a 20th century man rolled. So after i quit my job, some friends and I started our business in our home country of Zimbabwe and it failed spectacularly. So Lynnett and I moved to South Africa in search of the famed “Greener pastures”. It seems they were more elusive than anyone had let on. Every morning I would get up praying for a good day that didn’t come. My days at work were filled with drifting aimlessly from one monotonous task to the other. When done I would then commence with interminable loop of drunk people falling on YouTube, checking on the seemingly spectacular well-travelled lives of old classmates on Facebook and checking out the latest thumb wars on Twitter. I had no real friends apart from those I sporadically communicated with on the WhatsApp groups so I would check on them too. Then after knocking off work would begin the long commute back home where Lynnett would greet me with a continually fading smile and prepare dinner. We would trade complaints about our respective idiotic bosses and lazy workmates then go to sleep and the cycle would repeat the following day.

That short episode I had with the smartly dressed bespectacled Caucasian man in a navy blue dinner jacket and his statistics brought to the fore my impending mortality. Of course these statistics were in no way written in blood and cast in stone but they were a sharp reality check. That night, with the silhouette of something between Idi Amin or Oprah Winfrey dancing on my ceiling I decided to take stock of what I had gained through my 30 steps of travel and in some way plot the remaining 21 steps. I looked around the bedroom and found an old journal in which I had made the last entry in March of 2006. I wanted to write a concise evaluation of past events and actions. I sought to come up with succinct 10 or 20-point plan on how I was going to dig Lynnette and I out of the financial pit we were in to a life akin to my peers on Facebook. I wanted to plan and layout specific time frames and evaluation criteria to measure progress. Nothing came. For a whole hour I sat there willing my brain into action but nothing came. That is when I realised that even my mental aptitudes had begun to wither as well. I used to be able to write intelligent and well thought out text but right then all I could come up with was “dear diary.” I put the journal down, switched off the light and went to bed with a huge lump in my throat.

The following night instead of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or news voice-overs I engaged in an introspective exercise to try and decide what exactly had led me to this disillusioned and lost point.  I came from the “Never let them see you bleed” school of life. I was taught that a man never shows emotion or vulnerability. I decided however to let my defenses down and tap into that closed off closet of emotions. As I began to write the words and emotions flowed out at a rate that both frightened and excited me. I felt the dark cloud that had hovered over me begin to dissipate and rays of sunshine peered through. Babies don’t sleep as well as I did that night and every other night that followed. I had found my therapy. I began to research issues that affected men and I realised that I was not alone in my quest for purpose and meaning as a man. I realised that I was the product of a male culture that taught men that a fat bank account and sexual conquests were the mainstay of living a masculine life. However, I got to find out that gratification from such sexual encounters was transitory and they didn’t provide perpetual fulfillment. Western contemporary pop psychology had adopted a politically correct and feminist agenda and men are being firmly encouraged to disparage their own masculinity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for female emancipation and progression. I however had a problem when masculinity became a euphemism for misogyny and and feminism a euphemism for anti-men. Words like toxic masculinity, mansplaining and patriarchy were banded about and I, to coin the American phrase, was drinking the Kool-Aid.

Now as a father of two boys I decided to get my mind right and not only educate myself into discovering my true purpose but to raise well-adjusted and resolute men who would never be ashamed of their manhood simply because that was the trend. Beyond the secular constructs of what it means to find purpose, I never really asked what God’s purpose for me as a man was. So I did. Now as Facebook and Twitter were my undoing then, I believe my faith and the bible will be the foundation of my reconstruction. So as an extension of my journal scribblings that I kept to myself, I started this blog to share experiences, thoughts, feelings and hopefully come out the other end a more well-rounded individual.

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The Quickening (Part 2)

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In Part 1, I had turned my back on my erstwhile mentor and her sect of “believers”. Instead of rediscovering my faith with another group, I found myself discovering the pleasures of alcohol, drugs and sex. My then girlfriend was just as sexually adventurous as I was and wasn’t opposed to the occasional drug induced blackout. She gave me a novel by Max Simon Ehrlich called The Cult to read that had a more profound effect on me than it should have. I started researching “religious organisations” like The Heaven’s Gate, Jim Jones and the People’s Temple, The movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God in Uganda and Aum Shinrikyo in Japan. I further researched other mythologies such as Greek, Roman, and African Religions and saw unnerving similarities between them all. With the prevalence of megachurches and celebrity pastors, I realised Christianity and organised religion was nothing more than a vehicle for megalomaniacs to milk the weak minded and exercise their “God Complexes.” I even went as far as likening the Bible to the novelisation of the 1980 film “Clash of the Titans”. I called myself an atheist and was proud of it. I actively sought out religious nuts just to crush their beliefs in debate backed by science and even passages from their own bible. My girlfriend backed me throughout my rants and atheistic stance until one summer when she “found god”. It had something to do with a tragedy in her family and a wise youth pastor from their local church. Honestly I wasn’t listening at the time. I was too consumed with disgust that a person who I believed was woke and enlightened like me would be suckered into believing in fairy tales all over again. We called it quits when she kept trying to bring me “into the light”. I had plotted a new path for my life and it didn’t include some white bearded old man with a throne in the clouds.

Life continued after college and so did my path. I was reacquainted with Lynnett during my first year after graduation. We had dated in high school and the adult her impressed me with her raw intellect and exceedingly low tolerance for rhetoric. She was a believer but not devout enough to turn down a good drink. She called herself a baby Christian and yearned for a deeper understanding of the Christian faith. She kept speaking of “an encounter” she prayed to have. At the time, I never really understood what she was on about but simply went along because I loved her. I softened my position, in front of her anyway, just so we could get along. She’d invite me to attend church with her, and I would go along just to make her happy. Most times I would simply zone out and day dream throughout the services. We moved to South Africa and she managed to secure lucrative employment but the story was not as remarkable for me. I sent out job applications but none garnered favourable responses. For close to a year, we relied on her salary and for some reason her faith grew. She stopped drinking and started a veracious prayer regime. We were barely surviving hand to mouth and there she was believing that we were part of some grand plan by an omnipotent spirit in the sky who would eventually reveal the deeper truth within our suffering. It made no sense to me.

In this haze of confusion, we discovered that we were pregnant. Our little bundle of joy was born frail into an unforgiving world. We fought through two months until I finally received a break and finally got a job. Half way through my first day at my long a waited job, I received a phone call from my wife. She was hysterical and her voice was drenched in tears. But I got the message. Our little man had been restless all night and the morning was no better. My wife had finally managed to settle him down and decided to sing him a lullaby. Her face was the last thing he ever saw as he drifted off into eternal sleep. This only reaffirmed my assertion that there was no grand design by an all knowing God or supreme being. There was no God. If there was, then he was indeed the cruel flesh eating Spirit of my high school priest. What loving God would finally give a man the means to cater for his family with one hand and take away a third of that family with the other hand on the same day? I thought this would finally sound the death knell for my wife’s idiotic beliefs, but this tragic event however, had the opposite effect. She immersed herself deeper into her bible and prayer.

After the tears and heartache, we lived through the wrecks of our lives and began to gather what was left. When we finally felt that sanity had prevailed within both of us, we began trying for another child. For three years we tried. Doctors confirmed that there was nothing amiss with either one of us and it was just a matter of timing. I drank all manner of concoctions highly recommended by uncles, friends, grandparents and strangers that were meant to boost my virility. My inexplicable wife however, stuck to praying to her imaginary friend. Besides the foul potions I consumed in copious amounts, what annoyed me the most during this period was my wife’s prayers. I’d listen to her ramble on during our bedtime prayers about how much I needed to feel “His” presence in my life. She prayed for me more than she did for herself. After what seemed like an eternity of having my bowels scrubbed clean by nondescript dried roots, rust powders and what I could’ve sworn was a cockroach milkshake, we fell pregnant again. Lynnett attributed it to the almighty blessing us but I still believed it was yet another process of science stimulated by conducive conditions.

I was at home alone one afternoon flipping through channels on the TV. For some reason I found myself thinking of our unborn child and a profound dread came over me. What if the same fate that befell our first son was to befall the second. What if the forces of the universe decided to conspire against us as they did before and claim our child to maintain whatever cosmic balance? All of a sudden, I felt my chest tighten and my heart started bouncing against my rib cage. I tried to stand but a bizarre numbness possessed my legs and fingers and the room began spinning. I felt myself being pulled to my knees and the first words that came to my mouth were “Please God”. At that moment, I didn’t look to the rationalisations of science to explain the events and dispel my insecurities. My lips took a life of their own and I began praying. But the words were not for my life, which at that time I believed was in imminent peril, but for that of my child. I remembered how the deities I had studied were all moved to action by a subject’s sacrifice and offering. All I thought to give at that time was my life. As I knelt there sweat pouring out of every orifice with my hand clutched to my chest, a bizarre wave of peace and calm swept over me. Right then, that’s when I felt it. It was like a thousand butterflies engaged in an aerial ballet inside my chest. Then a gentle push and mild shuffling. Not violent or in aid of some escape but simply to signify presence. Then I felt the voice of Jesus rather than heard it. It was in these three words, “It is done”. It was as if I had waited my whole life up until that moment just to hear those three words. It was at that moment with my face drenched in tears and sweat, that I rededicated my life to Jesus Christ and began searching to reignite that fire I had as a child.

I would later be told by the academic and educated in human anatomy that what I experienced was a “garden variety” panic attack that yoga, deep breathing or herbal medicine could’ve easily cured. But what I experienced can never be quantified into words or expressed in any academic text. Now, blessed with the gift if hindsight, I realise that I was never really an atheist. What I practiced was antitheism. It wasn’t enough for me to dismiss the existence of God but I had to bastardise the scriptures as well. I actively sought out conflict with believers not just to crush them in debate but to recruit them over to my side of the fence. Though I presented my dismissal of faith as a product of consistent disillusionment with Christianity and its practitioners, deep down I knew the real reason. I simply needed a justification for enjoying and exceedingly indulging my sinful lifestyle. I felt the only way I could engage in acts of indiscriminate debauchery with a clear conscience was if there was no moral yard stick standing against it. In deepest recesses of my essence I believe I knew God existed and even during my period of raging atheism/antitheism I still found myself praying before I ate sometimes. Today my wife and I have a healthy and extremely adventurous son who also has a burley rugby player for a little brother. The journey hasn’t been easy and I still find the “old me” trying to claw back and at times he gets in a few good punches. It’s an ongoing fight. But knowing that I have this life growing inside of me each day that I feed and nurture, keeps me buoyant. And like Steve Harvey said “He ain’t through with me yet”.

 

 

The Quickening (Part 1)

Sketch001Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry the VIII of England, experienced a significant event on the 27th of May 1537. After many months of a difficult pregnancy she finally experienced what was confirmation of the cause of all her labours. She felt the first kicks of the life growing inside her womb. The momentous event was announced to much pomp and fanfare countrywide which even spread to the English strongholds across the channel. Festivities and celebratory wine flowed in waves to all aristocracy and peasants alike. In Oxford a sermon was delivered where blessings were showered upon the expectant mother and with thanks to the Almighty, the child was said to have “…quickened in the mother’s womb”. This event then popularised the practically significant and philosophical turning point in a woman’s pregnancy. My Quickening was without celebration or libation but was a deeply emotional occasion.

The word “Quickening” is derived from the root word “quick” which in old English originally meant “living” or “alive”. Historically, the quickening was at times said to be the start of the custody of “individual life” by the foetus. However, to do my story justice I feel I have to start from the beginning. I was born and raised in Zimbabwe to a devout Anglican family. My paternal grandparents were Anglicans and so were my Maternal grandparents. This was bred into my parents, so it stood to reason that I, as soon as I was born, would be initiated into the Anglican faith by way of baptism. The same followed for my younger brother. Every Sunday our sweet mother would dress us up in our flawlessly pressed “Sunday Best” and trek off to the St Paul’s Anglican Church. I loved it. I revelled in the holy pageantry of it all and I honestly believed Jesus was just as excited sitting right next to me each time. I marvelled at the impeccably robed priest with his entourage of impeccably robed altar boys shrouded in a haze of incense smoke. Though I knew some of them outside of their sanctified roles, once they donned their clerical garments they became mystical emissaries of the heavens. One of the strongest influences I had during these formative years was my Aunt Milcah. She introduced me to an illustrative book called “My Book of Bible Stories”. She brought it to life when she read it to me and painted pictures so vivid I could make myself part of the landscape. When Monday came round I couldn’t wait to share the swashbuckling tales of Moses, David, Samson and many other biblical heroes I would’ve learnt about the previous day from Aunty Milcah and in Sunday school.

When high school and puberty rolled around I felt that excitement and fire slowly die down to something like a smoking amber. I attended a Catholic boarding school where we attended mass every Sunday Morning and Wednesday Evenings. This was a time of rebellion and questioning authority and convention. The first sign of trouble for me was when I and my family had to lie, to the school authorities, since I was baptised in the Anglican Church, that I was Catholic in order for me to get a place for my studies at this school. If our awesome God loved all his children as we had been taught in Sunday School, then why did I have to lie that I belonged to a particular flock just to be accepted? The school had two Christian student clubs, Young Christian Students (YCS) and Christian Life Group (CLG), this is when the second warning sign flashed in my face. Firstly, membership to these groups was strictly by invitation. You could only come to worship and fellowship with other children of God if they saw you as worthy to join their cabal. In addition, apparently, these two groups were rivals and you couldn’t be a member of one if you were already a member of the other. I was privileged enough to be invited into YCS through a strong recommendation from my cousin who had a lot of “juice” with the upper leadership of the club. During our weekly club meetings, we’d devise intricate and increasingly unsettling plans to subvert the status and activities of CLG. They in turn did the same. The word of God was discussed with minimal attention only if and when we had exhausted all avenues of sabotage for our nemesis. All we ever did was act holy and regurgitate pious sounding platitudes on que.

Besides the shenanigans of the adolescent student body which could be chalked up to the stupidity of youth, I felt the school religious structure itself offered very little in the way of spiritual growth and development. During the weekly masses, a student body of 567 would gather in the main hall because our chapel was so small it only sat a total of 40. We would sing the same hymns week after week and repeated the catechism until the words became nothing more than empty air. The priest would stand in front of the nonchalant juvenile congregation breathing fire and spitting molten lava about the mortal perils of living an ungodly life. I guess it was his experience that young minds such as ours needed to be frightened into the straight and narrow. He portrayed the gentle and benevolent God of Sunday school as a terrifying deity with and insatiable appetite for the flesh of little evil doers. This depiction only made me look at all I had previously believed in a comical light.

College is when I can surely say the dying cinders of my faith were totally extinguished by a what I then called reality. As opposed to the two “Christian” clubs we had in high school, college had a myriad of different ones. However, some common threads ran through all of them. The same elements of exclusivity and politicking for membership pervaded even with these so called mature Christian groups. It was like campaign season every weekend. Instead of jobs, universal health care and housing, these parties promised exam passes and an eventual eternal worry free life of luxury with “Their” respective God once one joined them. On almost every Saturday a particular group would have its posters advertising an all-night prayer session plastered in the students’ common areas right next to DJ Lionheart’s Summer Bash and a 2 for 1 Cider special at The Maze Night club. I joined one such group through the urging of a classmate who was synonymous with abruptly breaking into hymn and preaching. She was the archetypical Super-Christian whose lips knew no profanity and heart held no malice. She carried around a pocket bible which she was quick whip out and indiscriminately quote from in the event that she came across a member of the “unsaved”. She introduced me to her kindred souls and right from the beginning I felt out of place. I received twisted and disappointed looks whenever I didn’t know the music of a particular gospel artist or professed to have never spoken in tongues. I ended up being that socially awkward out of town relative at a family gathering that everyone had to be nice to simply because their parents demanded it. The straw that broke the camel’s back however was when my Super-Christian mentor was caught by a lecturer’s wife in a middle of some sexual Olympics with her husband. And to put icing on the cake she took some pictures to immortalise the event forever on social media. Upon that, I closed the door on her and her sect of religious zealots. Yes, they had become zealots in my mind.

My journey into the Abyss continues in Part 2. Please join me then and lets continue to walk this path together.