I no be gentleman like that…

I’ve been listening to a lot of Fela Kuti‘s music recently. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, he was a Nigerian musician/activist, vehemently opposed to his country’s military rule, serving it up in a delicious musical soup known as Afrobeat. Think Miles Davis meets Sly Stone, served on a bed of West African Hi-Life at its most danceable. Usually, I have to wait a week or two for his albums to ship from the US or Germany, but when we visited Nottingham, I bought a few of his albums on vinyl from their branch of Rough Trade. It was good to be able to buy them and take them home straight away.

One of them was his early-70’s classic Gentleman – the title track being a 14-minute attack on the effects colonial attitudes were having on Nigerian men: etiquette in particular.

According to Kuti, when a gentleman is invited to eat, he eats only as much as is considered polite. When someone causes trouble, a gentleman does not react. End result: “you go suffer, you go quench”. Fela also has a go at the fashions imposed on said gentlemen, which is effectively the “full Sinatra”: jacket, shirt, tie, trousers, socks, shoes and hat. While that makes sense in the temperate climes of northern Europe, the city of Lagos is just north of the Equator: it gets HOT! These gentleman sweat, faint and “smell like shit”. Never one to mince his words was ol’ Fela!

Most of what I get from Kuti’s music is a first-hand account of life in 1970’s Nigeria, under the brutal military regime. Some of his rants against colonialism take a little getting used to, mostly because I am part of that British culture that sought to impose itself on Nigeria, but one can still gain a sense of empathy by listening to Fela’s point of view. Gentleman, on the other hand, conveys a message that extends its influence across time and across continents: it’s not always appropriate to impose one’s culture onto another, regardless of whether it’s perceived as more superior or “civilised”.

Even more than forty years after the album was released, in a country several thousands of miles away, the words ring particularly true to me. There’s still this prevalent thought that the suit is the epitome of style for men, ascribing such traits as smart, professional, capable, successful and trustworthy upon the wearer. I’ve even read a few comments on-line stating that wearing a suit indicates a man is showing respect to the company they’re in. Without diving back into the “me vs. the church” narrative I’ve written about recently, I do recall getting more than a couple of dirty looks when I led the music group one Remembrance Sunday dressed in jeans.

I absolutely detest wearing suits and I only have one in my wardrobe which has only ever been worn for my brother’s wedding over a year ago. I wear them so infrequently, paying fair whack for a tailored suit doesn’t make sense, but I’ve got such a funny shape, the cheaper off-the-rack suits either look too big or too snug. They’re bulky, stifling andworst of all, I don’t feel right. Compare these two pictures, taken only a month or so apart:

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The real me. Earphones in, as per usual.
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Me… fully suited and looking like I belong on a Tory campaign leaflet… ewww!

 

In a suit, I don’t feel smart or professional or even all that respectful… there is not a single, formal bone in my body, and looking so formal just makes me feel fake! My past experience with other suit-wearing gentlemen also leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth: the pushy sales-people that won’t take no for an answer, the managers more concerned with their career than the welfare of their staff, the politicians who talk to their constituents like they’re common idiots (unless, of course, you voted for them – here’s looking at you, Christopher Pincher) – I guess I don’t want to be associated with that kind of crowd either.

 

If such behaviour is common of these so-called “gentlemen” then, as Fela says, “I no be gentleman at all

Worshipping nothing

Following on from yesterday’s post, one quote I read online stated that if you don’t worship God, you worship everything “worldly” instead.

I can’t see how that is possible.

I don’t worship anything the way I’ve seen Christians worship. If to worship means to devote, then nothing permeates every aspect of my life in the same way faith permeates through a Christian. I have my own core beliefs and behaviours, but they are transient, evolving and adapting as I learn. I love music, and listen to at least some every day, but I am by no means devoted to it and appreciate it in the same way a Christian would. You could say I’m devoted to my family, but while they are a very significant and central part of my life, my family is self-sufficient enough to allow me time to help whoever’s need is greater.

During my church-going days, “worship” was also described as “acknowledgement of worth or worthiness”, but something’s worth is only relevant to the individual evaluating it. To me, the only area where God evidently exists is within the pages of a piece of ancient literature. On that scale, God is of no more worth to me than, say, Harry Potter: just major characters in a series of best-selling books.

So, by that logic, do I still give God his worth, or is worship nothing without slavish devotion? If God is the personification of perfection, why would he be so narcissistic as to want such sycophantic behaviour from us, and why would God be so jealous as to demand a monopoly on our attention?

Theology is so confusing!

The Neal Morse Dichotomy

I was debating whether to post this here or on my music-based blog (shameless plug), but as it’s of a more personal nature, I think it belongs here.

During our weekend away, we had a brief walk around the nearby town of Oswestry and browsed through a handful of charity shops. In one of them, they had no less than 3 CDs by Neal Morse: Testimony, One and ?, and I bought all three.

Before I carry on: a little bit of background. Neal Morse was the founder of and chief songwriter for Spock’s Beard, an American Prog Rock quintet. He was also one quarter of Transatlantic, a Prog supergroup who, in 2000 and 2001, had released two awesomely epic albums: SMPTe and Bridge Across Forever. By 2002, I was quite well-versed in Neal’s works, and his latest album with Spock’s Beard, Snow, I still rate among his best. Shortly after that album was released, Neal announced he had become a Born-again Christian, and was leaving both Spock’s Beard and Transatlantic to concentrate on more spiritual music.

By the time I’d started going to church a few years later, the three aforementioned albums had already been released, and they kind-of became my soundtrack to those times, although Testimony didn’t get played much due to it’s length and intensity.

Looking back, it seems as if my appreciation of his music increased the frustrations I felt whilst playing in and leading the church’s music group – here was someone who allowed himself to be inspired by all areas of his faith, and yet there we were playing contemporary songs that carried the same old sycophantic themes. I felt we could do much better – we could use our talents to inspire and enlighten – but there was always a strong sense of resistance coming from the more established and experienced members of the group. I was, in effect, the younger new guy with all these new ideas – I should have just known my place and shut the fuck up.

Today, my spiritual life is a lot different to what it was back then and, while the music on these albums still makes excellent listening, I’m finding the lyrical themes incredibly difficult – especially on One, which analyses one’s relationship with God. The album paints a somewhat bleak picture of those who have distanced themselves from the faith:

The mind got large, beyond it’s station
Took full charge of his destination
Became a God of his own creation
Everything was his

— from “The Man’s Gone”, Track 2 of One (2004)

The image of someone wandering alone, without a god to guide them, is prevalent – implying that life is meaningless without God, or that a life not devoted to God is a life devoted to sin. I find it rather difficult to process the dichotomy between the individual and the collective – the thought of being part of “one mind”, and having all our senses surrounded by some kind of “God filter” is rather scary to me now, having worked hard over the past two years to try and reconnect with my true self rather than the faux-Christian I once was. Sin, to me, was never analogous to evil – it was a combination of your natural imperfection, inexperience and ignorance (in short, nobody’s perfect) – and the Christian interpretation of sin that I was taught smothers all of that with a liberal amount of guilt and shame. Education and practice, not repentance and apology.

I don’t know – perhaps, if you’re looking for a meaning to your life, God is something of an easy answer as it comes with clear instructions on how to obtain that ultimate prize in the afterlife. Without the God filter on, my head works harder to interpret, analyse and reflect on experiences.

It’s not easy, but it’s by no means bleak or lonely either.

It is what you make it.

If skirts are “girly”, explain Game of Thrones!

I’ve just come back from my weekend away, just outside a small town called Gobowen nestled on the Welsh borders, and it’s actually a good thing my wife had forgotten about her “challenge”. We only seemed to get about an hour of warm sunshine each day, and that was over breakfast; the rest of the time was rather cold and overcast, so even going out in a pair of shorts would have been a bit daft.

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Ian Glen as Ser Jorah Mormont

We usually bring a DVD box set with us and, this time, we brought Season 6 of Game of Thrones. As we were watching, I noticed one thing: most of the major male characters wear skirts. Even the High Sparrow, played by lauded Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce, wears a dress… kind-of. Okay, they’re almost always over trousers, and accompanied by a rather kick-arse sword, but they’re skirts nonetheless. It’s one of the most popular TV shows in the world when you add up all those who subscribe via Cable/Satellite services and those who obtain pirated downloads – could all this exposure be helping to unravel the whole skirts = feminine ethos?

Or do we have to become a Kings Guard, or sign our life away to the Night’s Watch, before we’re allowed such freedom?

A Man in a Skirt on Beauty

This is a brilliant article that analyses the concept of ‘beauty’ from a different angle to how it’s perceived in the western world.

The comparisons to the animal kingdom are pretty interesting. Women carry with them the means to ensure the survival of our species – something so critical yet so often taken for granted – and still we place upon them all this additional pressure to look aesthetically attractive. It almost sounds like complete laziness on the man’s part. I think it should be down to us men to do the ‘nest-building’ by providing security and stability – not just financially and environmentally, but emotionally too. Beauty’s only skin deep, after all.

A Man in a Skirt

Beauty! What is it? According to ancient philosophers Beauty is transcendental, a quality like Truth and Goodness that runs through to the core of being. A quality that transcends being. Plato said that where we find one of the transcendentals then we find them all. Where we find Beauty, we also find Truth and Goodness and where we find Truth we find Beauty and Goodness. Beauty is not subjective. What we find beautiful is. It’s the same with Truth. Truth is Truth but ‘the truth’ is something that we have fought over for too long. My truth is better than your truth and I’ll die trying to prove it!

Beauty is the subject of many myths and stories, because like Truth and Goodness we are deeply programmed to seek it out and recognise it when we see it. The problems arise when we disagree about what we see. The revelation…

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I’ve been mad for ****ing years…

With our weekend away approaching, and my wife’s challenge along with it, I’ve been psyching myself up and trying to find attire that works for me. I’d recently gotten hold of a khaki-green cargo skirt which I find incredibly comfortable and shouldn’t draw much attention. I think it goes brilliantly with my dark grey Pink Floyd t-shirt, and found myself changing into that after work every day last week. I think that shirt will be the perfect accompaniment when I next step out – having the words PINK FLOYD in large letters, plus their iconic prism artwork, plastered across my chest should deflect any interest in the lower half.

And if anyone says I’m mad for wearing a skirt, it also gives me the perfect response:

I’ve always been mad, I know I’ve been mad like the most of us have.

(That’s one of the opening lines from Dark Side of the Moon, by the way.)

I really do need to get some more band shirts – those I bought from concerts back in my younger days have since become redundant, either faded through repeated washes or outgrown through too many ales and pies. I’ve got my Steven Wilson Hand. Cannot. Erase. shirt somewhere, but haven’t seen it in a few months.

Hmmm… will wearing a skirt impair one’s “prog-cred”? Interesting. I shall have to conduct an experiment!

Rant in B-sharp: Interfering Wowsers

Last night, in the few minutes between getting into bed and falling asleep, one question wafted into my mind:

Why do some people believe it’s okay to interfere in, criticise or control the lives and choices of others?

In Australia and New Zealand, they have a brilliant word for such people: wowsers. People so prim, proper and moralistic, they suck the fun out of everything. People so easily-offended, freedom of choice and freedom of expression is a scary prospect to them.

Thinking about it further got me more than a little wound up. I’ve been on the receiving end of a fair share of criticism over the years from people who saw themselves on the moral or cultural high ground and saw it as their right to pass comment on others. Therefore, this post may get rather ranty, a bit sarcastic and perhaps a little satirical too. We all need to vent sometimes.

I’d been watching a video on the sexual double standard. If you’re not already familiar with the term, it’s where having many sexual partners is regarded negatively for women, but virtuous for men. From what I gathered, it’s an anachronistic and conservative throwback to the days before contraceptives, where promiscuous women were seen as potential harbingers of venereal diseases… so don’t go there! As such, a woman with no, or few, previous sexual partners was seen as appropriate; however, a man with a similar history must have something seriously wrong with him. How on earth is this still relevant today, and what right do we have to criticise others for what they get up to in the bedroom anyway? If you’re happy and healthy, who cares?!

The same goes for those who believe conversion therapy works, and either encourage, pressure or force their friends or family members to undergo such treatment. What’s the matter? Is the shame of having a gay person in the family so bad that you’ll gladly chip away at your loved ones’ mind through extreme, Clockwork Orange-style therapies; just so you can sleep a little easier? I’m sorry, but if you’re only willing to say “I love you” after you’ve had their nuts wired to a car battery, then you’re the one who needs to seek help.

And while we’re on the subject, stop lobbying your representatives in Government to legally remove the rights of others based on your personal religious views. The same goes for international religious lobby groups too. If you want the freedom to practice your religion without discrimination, then keep your nose out of civic affairsFreedom of religion is a universal human right, as is freedom of conscience, which applies to all and not just your little collective. Freedom from offence is not a human right… so put the placard down and move along.

And finally, here’s a list of a few more things people publicly criticise others for that really pisses me off:

  • Their physical appearance.
  • Their wardrobe choices. There’s a reason Trinny and Susannah aren’t on the air anymore.
  • Their gender identity. Is that stranger over there confusing you because they don’t look quite right? If I were you, I’d go home and take a couple of paracetamol if thinking is making your head hurt.
  • Their diet. Are you a doctor or a nutritionist? No? Then shut up!
  • Their political beliefs. There is no right and wrong on the political spectrum – contribute to the debate or go back to your right-wing safe space on the Daily Mail forums!
  • Their mental health. No, we can’t just “cheer up” or “snap out of it”.
  • Their possessions. Am I making you late for work by not driving a faster car? Sue me.
  • Their personal tastes. I quite liked Pink Floyd’s Endless River. Deal with it.
  • Their accent. I’m sick of hearing how disliked or “unattractive” the West Midlands accent is, or how it makes us sound unintelligent! Yow can bugger off, arroight!

Rant over.

How the Broadchurch finale got me thinking about sexism in print

If you’ve been following the ITV crime drama Broadchurch and haven’t seen last night’s finale, you might want to come back to this post later once you’ve watched it. Alternatively, close your eyes and scroll past the next paragraph. There may be spoilers ahead!

For the benefit of those who weren’t following the show, or are in countries where it’s not shown, the third series centred around a rape investigation, and in the finale, it was revealed that the rapist was a 16 year-old boy, groomed and pressured into the act by an older male who had committed several unreported rapes previously. In his police interview, the older male, Leo, explained his motivations in the most blasé manner imaginable: “it’s just sex”. The scene cut to the steps outside of the police station where DS Miller was sitting, distraught at what she’d heard in the interview. Her colleague, DI Hardy, in his usual bitter, Scottish tones, explained “we’re not all like that – he’s an abomination”.

While it is a fictional crime drama, it’s not without its realism. I will admit that, after watching the finale, it sickened me a little to think that there will be men out there with similar attitudes – that men are just a slave to their sexual urges, motivated by feelings of power and domination, and a woman’s body is a mere plaything to be used as they see fit. Okay, such people are a very tiny minority, but where do they get such attitudes from?

I watched one YouTube video presented by the late Christopher Hitchens disassembling the ten commandments, who took aim at the commandment against coveting your neighbour’s ox, ass or wife – noting that a man’s wife was mere chattel and of similar value to his livestock (he also noted that this was the only one of the ten that condemned one’s thoughts rather than one’s actions). Obviously, this command was handed down to a culture many years and many miles from our own, but the devaluation of women is still an issue today despite many significant progressions.

Today’s media aren’t exactly blameless. You only have to look at the likes of Page 3, lad’s mags and other such publications to find examples of where women have been reduced to such base levels, all in the name of marketing. I don’t read such publications myself, and I’m not against any woman who appears in such magazines of her own free will, but my main concern is for their readers and their interpretations. Yes, the female body is a beautiful thing, in all shapes and forms, but where do we draw the line between the harmless and the harmful?

Let’s say, for example, in the centre pages of a magazine is a photo of a Size Zero model (Size 4 in UK), clad only in underwear, draped over the bonnet of Lamborghini supercar. Of course, the marketing department want you to believe that if you were to drive one of these cars, you could attract a woman of similarly-desirable aesthetics. Looking and admiring in a complementary way is okay – no harm done to anybody. Concern for her health and welfare, even better. Shaming her for her chosen profession – not exactly helpful. If you start seeing this picture as a minimum standard for all women to follow, and it’s affecting your relationships, that’s when attitudes start to cross the line into objectification and obsession.

The attitudes towards men in such publications is also somewhat questionable – at their core, are men are just hyper-masculine alpha meatbags, interested only in sex, sport, cars and booze? Imagine if everyone’s expectation of the opposite sex was defined by such magazines?

One article published in the Telegraph opined that men have evolved to become more feminine as a result of increasing female influence. Men and women in relationships are no longer the separate entities of “provider” and “home-maker” from recent history, but a co-operative unit. There will be a few that see this as progressively emasculating, taking away the status associated with the man’s traditional role, but fail to see the real-world positives that an equal partnership brings. Relationships are more open, tolerant and, for want of a better word, cooler: when both husband and wife share the load, tempers between them are less likely to become heated.

I strongly believe that, once men stop resisting their feminine side, and stop criticising or shaming the “feminine” traits in other men, we will start seeing a reduction in sexist attitudes and behaviours.

By all means, admire the beauty of the female body, drool over the sleek and aerodynamic curves of the Ferrari, cheer on your local football team and have a few lagers afterwards if that is what genuinely interests you… just don’t forget the difference between fantasy and reality.

OPINION | Rangzeb Hussain | “Go back home, Paki! This is England!” was my EDL welcome

A really interesting post from one who witnessed the EDL rally in Birmingham last weekend. It makes me laugh how these so-called “brave patriots” will surround an harmless woman en masse, intimidating and threatening her… and for what? What crime is she guilty of? The overwhelming majority of Muslims condemn and abhor extremism and violence – if these eejits opened their mouths to ask questions and engage discussion rather than hurl abuse, they’ll find more in common than they realise.

I Am Birmingham

A member of the English Defence League (EDL) in BIrmingham on Saturday 8th April (Photograph: Rangzeb Hussain) A member of the English Defence League (EDL) in Birmingham on Saturday 8th April (Photograph: Rangzeb Hussain)

THUGS. That is what we are dealing with.

THUGS. Our world is being brutalized by the violence and ignorance of narrow-minded THUGS.

Today, in my home town, I experienced the hatred and intimidation of THUGS.

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Losing My Religion Part II: Dealing with the last big trigger

Although such a thing doesn’t happen as much as it used to, whenever my mood takes a significant dip, Captain Paranoia burrows deep into my long-term memory, resurfacing with a handful of mental images I believed were long-forgotten. Stupid things I’ve said or done, mistakes I’ve made, chances I’ve wasted and any number of past regrets. When the Captain returns from the depths, he always says “Do you remember these? You were soooooo stupid back then! What on earth were you thinking?! You want to learn about who you really are? Well there you go. That’s you in a nutshell: complete and total idiot… and once an idiot, always an idiot!

It’s getting easier to ignore the Captain, but sometimes the painful reminders don’t come from him.

Trying to distance myself from, or come to terms with, my time in the church is still a major hurdle because the triggers are all the more real. I’m still, technically-speaking, a member of the church. I’m still on the electoral roll (not that I’ve been to an AGM in five years), and the Standing Order still goes out every month in my name for tax purposes. Even small things can trigger bad memories – earlier, when I saw a Phatfish CD in a local charity shop, it reminded me of the many times I was required to lead the music group in yet another rendition of This is My Worship. That’s another thing – in my head, I’m well and truly done with the music group, but I’ve never officially left. It just feels like a loose end I don’t want to tie up.

One thing I’ve managed to avoid so far is a face-to-face confrontation. I’ve seen a few members around, and have exchanged a pleasantry or two with them, but there are some members who I hope I never bump into. They will ask the one question I don’t want to be asked: why don’t you come to church any more? In their eyes, I’ve just gotten a little lost and they can help me find my way back to the right path. All it takes is an invitation to the Alpha course… or to Back to Church Sunday… or to one of the more “fun” services… or, better yet, to a social. Something to ease me back onto the path of salvation by showing me that church, and church members, aren’t always dull and dreary.

They assume my faith is intact but my relationship with the church needs a bit of a bandage, and a little pastoral care will soon fix that. It’s not that simple. I’d woken up to realise that my faith was always paper-thin, and I was merely trying to convince others that it wasn’t. My path is no longer the Christian path: they mostly run parallel with each other, and occasionally merge, but I simply cannot let myself sleep-walk through the rest of my life. For me, living equals learning, and you can’t learn anything with a centuries-old book filtering what you see.

Most importantly, though: I’m not going to try and change your path – please don’t try to change mine.