Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tears For Haiti

Tears For Haiti

I cry tears for Haiti
Shaken to its core
Caught in destruction
As the world stands
Witness to the horror

So much suffering in Haiti
Lifeless bodies in the street
The little children look
Alone in desperation
No shelter from the heat

There is lamenting in Haiti
No place to bury the dead
Families don't know whether
Their missing have been
Packed into a truck bed

Mwen kriye pou Ayiti
Non, m' pa konprann...
Poukisa Ayiti soufri?
Ala traka pou yon malere
O JAH, ki sa ki te fè sa?
Sak pase konsa?...

I weep for Toussaint’s children
Buried in the ruble of Port-au-Prince
Oh Lord, where are your footprints?
Pou pase moun Pòroprens...

I pray for the soul of a nation
Oh JAH, lift up every Haitian
O Ayiti, pa enkyete nou...
JAH JAH... Li pa t'ap lage nou

(c) 2010

Livicated to the many thousands of victims of the Haiti Earthquake on Tuesday, January 12, 2010.

"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'” - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we celebrate the life of Dr. King, please remember his words. Do all that you can to give a helping hand to our neighbors, brothers, and sisters in Haiti during this time of crisis.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Of My Family

Much of life can be taken for granted. I suppose that it is part of some survival mechanism within us to make sure that we don’t freeze-up and over think what is going on around us. It doesn’t take a whole lot of actual thinking to go about your normal life. In fact, I would say that many people do not think at all... or at least in the way that I believe is true awareness. This true awareness comes to some more often than others, yet nobody I’ve know is constantly aware 100% of the time, no matter their exposure or experience. It is easy to take for granted having somewhere to live and sleep, something to wear, something to eat. It is easy to take your health and safety for granted. It is so easy to take your family for granted... family is the foundation to our very lives. H.I.M. Haile Selassie I once said, “when a solid foundation is laid, if the mason is able and his materials good, a strong house can be built.

There are all kinds of families with all kinds of people in them. I have been so blessed to have a family that loves me and supports me. I really came to reflect upon this during the holiday season that just recently passed. It was the first time in some years that all of us were together again at the same time, my parents, my brothers, and myself. I felt like a youth again, enjoying the company of everyone and feeling good about life. It was the feeling that all too often got tucked away in my daily life, but when I took the time to meditate on it, it was overwhelmingly strong. As His Majesty would have put it, I grew up in a strong house.

My parents have always been there for me, even throughout the ordeals I put them through or the foolish choices that I have made. They have patiently watched me grow, and endured some of the unexpected twists and turns that my own journey has taken, perhaps far from their imagined outcome for me. They also have encouraged me when I have done well and achieved some success in life, being supportive. Finally, they have been there when I suffered, whether it was from physical injury or heartbreak. I’d like to think that all people have parents like this, but I know that when compared to so many, I am very fortunate. When I was growing up, all of us would sit down to a meal together every evening, even though my parents worked hard all day. We always had plenty to eat, we always had the comforts of a home. We always had what we needed, and more often than not we had what we wanted. I can’t imagine life without them, I can’t imagine not seeing them, not visiting with them and eating together, not sharing words, or thoughts, or time with them. No matter how old I become, I will always be their son, I will always be indebted to them for the love and comfort they have given me throughout my life. I hope that someday when I start my own family and become a parent, that I can share the same with my own children.

My younger brothers and I were best friends growing up. We all had our own friends of course, but at the end of the day all you had was each other. Being together during these past holidays, we could each recall the little things we enjoyed and had in common, or the different things that we would do when we were younger... things that nobody else would find any interest in at all. Although I am the oldest, they have taught me a lot in their own right. One has recently returned from the Peace Corps after two years of service, the other is working hard and being a progressive person. Both of them in their mid-twenties, I can remember when my 4 or 6 years of seniority used to give me some real or imagined pre-eminence. Now, we are all within the same life-stage, sharing some of the same experiences and the same aspirations. Our journeys thus far have shaped us into three different people as we’ve grown and branched out, but our roots are all intertwined. As with my parents, I can’t imagine what I would do without them. Since we’ve all grown up, we don’t see each other as often, but I always know that they’re there and that love is shared.

Along with my immediate family, I think of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, all of whom are loving and kind people. I only have one grandparent left, my paternal grandmother, but I was lucky to know every one of them and share special times with each of them. Grandparents are a special force in your life, and I remember how much I loved them all, and of course I still love my Grandma. For my grandparents that lived close to me, they were like my second-set of parents; I learned life from a different perspective and from generations apart from my own. When they passed on, I can remember the grief I felt, and seeing the grief of my parents, always the strong pillars of my youth. One cannot replace family. Yet I know that they live on in our hearts and our minds. The loss of loved ones is something we all must inevitably face, and I suppose that sometimes it is the elderly members of our family that prepare us for that. I also think of the rest of my extended family as a way to learn socialization. For instance, I rarely see many of my cousins and we are often very far apart in terms of tastes and understandings, but they are family still, and you learn to appreciate them and overcome differences of opinion or lifestyle.

I think also of those that you make family. I have some special friends that I would consider my brothers and sisters, and fatherly or motherly mentors. These people are just as important to me as my own blood relations, because you share a special bond with them forged through individual experience. Friends come and go, but like Proverbs 18:24 says, “...there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” I am very thankful for this family of mine as well the one I was born into and I love them both. I have learned so much from this adopted family of mine. We might have different native cultures, different skin colors, different traditions, but through all of that we have become tethered to each other in a very mystical way. For some who may come from a shattered family, or those who may have never known their family, this family-of-choice may be the only one that they have. Indeed, an adopted family is family.

Finally, there is the human family... universal and all-encompassing. These thoughts about my own family have been on my mind for a few weeks, but by the time I began to write them down, a terrible tragedy has happened in Haiti. I cannot but help to be fully conscious of that in my reasoning here. No matter where we come from, what we look like, what language we speak, what religion we practice, we are all one human family, one blood. When I see and hear of the suffering happening to the Haitian people after the earthquake, my heart breaks and my soul cries. Loved ones dead and missing... the bodies of parents, children, friends... strewn about on the streets of Port-au-Prince. Possibly losing everyone you know and love, all at once... an entire nation in the depths of destruction. I cannot fathom it. I remember when my brother was living in New Orleans and attending school there when Hurricane Katrina hit. How worried my family and I were, how it pained my parents especially. Feeling that uncertainty, and looking now at this disaster strikes the core of my being.

When you see this suffering in Haiti, as a human-being, I feel one is compelled to reach out, to save one another, to love one another. I think there is uniqueness to this human family of ours, one that distinguishes us from the rest of God’s creatures... our empathy, or common humanity. The power that we have when we exhibit love, the power that can build a strong immediate family and extended family, is the same power to build our human family. How good and how pleasant it would be to see us live together as one. To love one another, to take care of one another, to learn from one another. Unfortunately it takes tragedy to bring us together (as is often the case in our own families) and usually when the storm calms, people tend to forget the suffering (again, as in our families). I pray that we take time to remember not only the Haitians, but all of our fellow humans suffering at this very moment. Most of all we must put some love into action, because real love is an active and lively love. A father or mother telling their child that they love them does not compensate for their actions and the showing of love. This holds true for humanity.

Family... it is the special bond that unites us. The intimacy of our own parents, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, and children prepares us to love everyone. The family is our first schoolroom, and hopefully it is a place where we can fondly remember the lessons of life that we can further build upon. It offers a time of joy, of learning, of comfort, and sometimes pain. I know this was the case for me, but I know that it is not the case for others. Many have not had this “solid foundation” in their families for whatever reason. I also know that my family and all that I have could be gone in an instant. So I am eternally grateful to the Almighty for giving me such a family, on every level, and I dare not take it for granted. Being mindful of the blessings that I have received, I hope that one day I can use the same solid foundation to build my own house and extend that very same love I have experienced to my own children and their children... passing forward the legacy I've inherited since the time of creation. Thank you to my Mom and Dad, my brothers, my grandparents, all my relatives, my friends... and every man and woman on this earth. I love all of you.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Melkam Lidet!

For many people, January 1st marks the end of the holiday season… unless you count the Super Bowl, which is usually at the end of the month or the beginning of February. The festivities are over, normalcy returns, and people settle back into their regular routines. It almost seems like there is nothing exciting to look forward to. So, the date of January 7th doesn’t even appear as a blip on the radar. To most it is simply another day. To Ethiopians however, it is Christmas Day. Many Rastafari, especially those who follow Ethiopian Orthodox traditions, also recognize this holiday as an important celebration of their faith.

Since the time I started to sight up Rastafari, I came to recognize “Lidet”, or the “Birth of Iyesus Kristos (Jesus Christ)” as the true Christmas. When trodding the road of a Rastaman, one approaches things in a more conscious and spiritual fashion. Looking through those spectacles at the so-called Christmas holiday that is celebrated in most of the world, it is not too difficult to see why someone such as a Rastafarian may question the authenticity and true purpose of the occasion. Today, it is a secular holiday more than anything else, often times stripped of even its own origins. For example, “Xmas” replaces Christ-mass, “Christ’s festival”, commemorating the birth of Jesus. The originally noble idea of exchanging gifts becomes perverted as the main focus, rampant with consumerism and commercialization. Debauchery replaces devout thanksgiving and reflection. Images of Santa Claus, Christmas trees, reindeer, and talking snowmen replace the image of the Christ. All of this may seem trivial, especially to the more religious followers of Christmas who spend their time in church and praying at nativity scenes, but if you dig deep enough one might question whether or not the Western Churches themselves have hijacked the celebration of the Christ’s birth.

In Ancient Rome, Christianity became the Empire’s official religion in the late 4th century A.D., thanks to the efforts of Constantine and his successor Theodosius. Long after Christ’s lifetime, it can be argued that adopting Christianity was a political maneuver for the decaying Roman Empire. By this time classic paganism was out of fashion, and Christianity seemed to be the proper fit, especially with a growing population of Gentile converts. The history of the process is much longer and more complex than I describe here, but to put it simply, Rome adopts, hijacks, or even creates the Christian religion as we understand it today, and establishes the Catholic Church and therefore all the churches succeeding from it… even down to the most fundamentalist non-denominational church. Where does Christmas fit in on all of this? …Conveniently, on December 25th, a pagan Roman festival and the date of the winter solstice. It is almost without any doubt that Jesus the Christ was not born on December 25th, it was chosen in order to replace one festival with another, merely changing the person it was intended for. Ironically, in our secular world the paganism of Santa Claus and the other popular Christmas motifs have replaced the Christ that the Romans presented.

Ethiopia, the cradle of humanity, and the ancient land described in the Scriptures themselves, offers the alternative to this “paganism” of the Western Christmas. Ethiopia’s special history is like no other in the world. This history stretches back to the dawn of time and before recorded history, but some of it is described in the Kebra Negast, or “Glory of Kings”. The ancient text shares how Ethiopians are descendants of Israelite tribes who came to Ethiopia with Menelik I, son of King Solomon of Israel and Makeda or the Queen of Sheba, from which His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I is the 225th descendant of this royal lineage. For thousands of years thereafter, Beta Israel, or the “House of Israel”, practiced ancient Hebraic customs found in the Old Testament. The connection to ancient Israel is so strong that Ethiopians to this day claim to have the Ark of the Covenant. When Christianity began to spread out from the Holy Land, one of the first places it reached was Ethiopia. According to history, Christianity existed in Ethiopia by 330 A.D., decades before Rome officially became Christianized. This unique brand of Christianity, coupled with the Hebraic history of Ethiopia, created a Messianic faith, closest to that found in the Bible, in Ancient Israel, and in the life of… Iyesus Kristos. This is why not only Ethiopian Orthodox Christians celebrate Lidet, but also the Rastafari people.

The way Ethiopia celebrates Lidet, or Genna as it is also known, is in stark contrast to that of Western Christmas. On the day before Lidet, people fast all day. Once this is done, they dress in their traditional clothing and attend mass. The people carry candles and join the priests who dress in their turbans and robes (the inspiration for the Bobo Ashanti Rastas) while carrying crosses and embroided umbrellas in solemn processions to their churches. The aroma of oils and incense fill the air, the sound of chanting and prayers. Traditionally, gifts are not exchanged, there are no Christmas trees, and there are no meaningless decorations. Ethiopian Christians have a large feast with family members in celebration of the Birth of Iyesus Kristos, and children play a ball game that legend says the shepherds played when they heard of Iyesus’ birth. Twelve days after Lidet, Timkat, the celebration of Iyesus Kristos’ baptism is celebrated, with more solemn processions accompanied by the sound of priests playing their sistrums along with the rhythmic taping of their makamiya prayer-sticks. It is a beautiful reflection of an ancient moment in time, in a land where the people are historically and actively Christian.

Ye-Genna Be'al, “The Christmas Holiday”, of Ethiopia is a Christmas of spiritual significance, religious observance, feasting and time with family. This is why, as a Rastaman, I observe Lidet in my heart. I give thanks for the coming of I&I Lord and Savior, Iyesus Kristos, offering prayers to the Most High! I give thanks with a purpose! This is not to say that I did not spend time with my family celebrating and rejoicing on December 25th. To me, I don’t really see that day as the True Christ-mass, but I give thanks to JAH still, and I spend precious time with loved ones. Fortunately, my family is not driven by the Babylon concept of Xmas and so I am comfortable celebrating with them, because it is a senseless and backwards thing to try and change a traditional day around. Instead, it is about changing the heart around. Even the King of Kings, Haile Selassie I, addressed Christian Americans on December 25th, sending them well wishes on this “blessed day for mankind”. In an interview on another Christ-mass Day, H.I.M. Haile Selassie I said that, "The birth of Our Lord is a joyous family event" and that "…The birth of Christ is celebrated all over the world. When I say the whole world it does not mean that all people would observe it in the same manner". So, who better to follow in this time than King Selassie I? His wise words reveal to me that even though Lidet represents Roots Christianity, the intentions and love of the heart are what really celebrate Iyesus Kristos, be that on December 25th or January 7th.

Give thanks to the Lord and Savior Iyesus Kristos, Yeshua Ha'Mashiach, for unto I&I a child is born and unto I&I a Son is given! Give thanks also to Haile Selassie I, Defender of the Faith, and Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah! Blessed be this day, Lebrhane Lidetu!, “Light of the Birth of the Lord Jesus Christ”. Melkam Lidet! Melkam Ye-Genna Be’al! Blessed Christ-mass to all!