So it's all over. "Dudus" Christopher Coke is in jail in New York. A terrible chapter in the history of my country has come to an end. Embarrassed abroad and terrified at home, many Jamaicans breathed a sigh of relief when he was held in the company of a popular preacher - which has spawned a great deal of controversy - and whisked away to the USA within 24 hours. Even with the World Cup arriving at the exciting " sudden death" rounds, this was the big news in my country this week. Will he " sing" and implicate high ranking politicians, businessmen, policemen, and other professionals, who many are convinced have been part of his " team" which helped him to become the top ranking don in Jamaica, and allegedly an extraordinarily rich man, is now the big talking point? Will the officials in the USA negotiate some kind of plea bargain or will he serve a life sentence for the crimes that he is alleged to have committed? Or, having entered a not guilty plea, will he be exonerated and flown back to Jamaica a hero? Only time will tell, but in the meanwhile he has a lot of time to ponder deeply on his future, and his past, as he is kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours per day.
What now of the lessons that we in Jamaica need to learn from this sordid affair? How did so much evil flourish in our nation right before our very eyes? How could people consort so readily with evil, to the extent where an entire community almost became slaves to this man? And not only them but other persons of high standing in the society, all lusting after the power and money that he could dispense from his, ill gotten gains at best, and if we are to believe the allegations, perhaps blood stained at worse? How could they so readily, knowing the narrative 'by heart ', as we are a people who know the Bible well, even if disobedient to its principles, literally and metaphorically chose ' Barabbas over Jesus" all over again?
From the response of the criminal underworld, the men who came to Tivoli, and died for him, and the others who took on the might of the state, this man had influence all over Jamaica. Could he then have much to answer for, in the murder of over 700 Jamaicans prior to his arrest? Could he then, with the help of high ranking persons, be partly responsible for my country having one of the highest murder rates in the world, with devastating consequences for our image abroad, for grieving families at home and the for the economic stagnation wrought by the consequences of high levels of crime and violence?
With his departure, and with many of the other dons being held in jail on account of the state of emergency in our capital city and a near by parish St. Catherine, and with the murder rate significantly down, do we have chance now to rid our country of the gun culture. With its many and varied negative effects on the minds of our people, and replace it with a culture of respect for human life and human dignity. Respect for the value of hard work, love for neighbour, respect for the wisdom and " having paid their dues" of the elderly? Can we once again inculcate in the minds of our people, an innate desire to protect the women and children, a desire to seek justice for the disadvantaged, and a determination to see our once proud people flourish again?
Perhaps this is asking too much too soon, but these are the issues and questions which many would like to see publicly debated and acted upon. This is the bigger picture. Not just the selection of a new leader or the election of a new party. Not just the technical political and economic issues of campaign financing, the seizing of assets of criminals and the passing of crime bills, as undoubtedly important as they are. Not just the cleansing of the police force of rogue elements, not just the need for the PSOJ ( The Private Sector) to cleanse their house also, or for the media to be more vigilant and objective and to be accorded more protection by the state and provided with more access to information, as important as those issues are. But the bigger picture is the opportunity to bring peace into the souls of warring men and women, to bring peace into communities and to restore national pride so that we at home can join with other overseas to begin to restore our country once again.
In the midst of this listening to the cries of the world and my people, the Lord led me to read an opening section of a old book ( which I had read before) by a well known Christian author, John Stott, entitled " The Contemporary Christian - an urgent plea for double listening. And the following section caught my attention:
" How can we develop a Christian mind which is both shaped by the truths of historic, biblical Christianity, and acquainted with the realities of the contemporary world. How can we relate the Word to the world, understanding the world in the light of the Word, and even understanding the Word in the light of the world? We begin with a double refusal. We refuse to become either so absorbed into the world, that we escape into it and fail to let is confront the world, or become so absorbed into the world, that we conform to it and fail to subject it to the judgment of the Word. Escapism and conformity are opposite mistakes, but neither is the Christian option.
In place of this double refusal we are called to double listening. It is a truism to say that we have to listen to the Word of God, except perhaps that we need to listen to him more expectantly and humbly, ready for him to confront us with a disturbing, uninvited word. It is less welcome to be told that we must also listen to the world. For the voices of our contemporaries may take the form of the shrill and strident protest. They are also querulous, now appealing, now aggressive in tone. There is also the anguished cry cries of those who are suffering, and the pain, doubt, anger, alienation and even despair of those who are estranged from God. I am not suggesting that we listen to God and to our fellow human beings in the same way or with the same degree of deference. We listen to the Word with humble reverence, anxious to understand it, and resolved to to believe and and obey what we come to understand. We listen to the world with critical alertness, anxious to understand it too, and resolved not to necessarily to believe and obey it, but to sympathize with it and to seek grace to discover how the gospel relates to it."
The second thing that I was led to do was to reflect on some words from three meditations from another author Christ Tiegen.
" Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus". 2 Timothy2:3
Life as a Christian isn't easy. Actually, life is not easy for anyone. But if we thought that becoming a Christian was going to make for smooth sailing, we were wrong. We've encountered
rough waters, and land is not in sight. We are in this for the long haul.......Sometimes we grow faint, and sometimes we just want to give up. Life is hard , and the reality of God's promises sometimes seems very distant. We struggle to keep going. Or at least to keep going faithfully.........that's hard to remember in a microwave society, where the other coast of the continent is only a few hours away, where a thirty second traffic light is excruciatingly long, and where a dinner will be ready in ten minutes. But discipleship? No, that's hard. It's long. It's not for the faint of heart.............................
So Paul reminds his protege ( Timothy) that there is grace to keep going. He never tells Timothy that grace will make things easy, and oh, how we wish he did. But he doesn't. Grace sustains, but it does not simplify. It doesn't tell us to relax; it gives us strength. It urges endurance rather more than it gives miraculous escape. But when it's all we have it's more than enough.
Finally I was led, again, to spend some time reflecting on the words and messages of a well known hymn in the Anglican tradition. And which to my great joy we sang in church this morning.
Thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown,
When thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem's home was there found no room
For thy holy Nativity;
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus;
There is room in my heart for thee
Heaven's arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming thy royal degree;
But in lowly birth didst thou come to earth,
And in great humility:
O come to my heart......
The foes found rest, and the bird has its nest
In the shade of the cedar tree;
But thy couch was the sod, O thou Son of God,
By the desert of Galilee:
O come to my heart.........
Thou camest O Lord, with the living word
That should set thy people free;
But with mocking scorn and with crown of thorn
They bore thee to Calvary:
O come to my heart........
When the heavens shall ring, and the angels sing,
At thy coming to victory,
Let thy voice call me home, saying, ' Yet
there is room,
There is room at my side for thee:
O come to my heart Lord Jesus
There is room in my heart for thee.
So what do we make of all this call to listen to this Dudus inhabited world and to listen to God. This double listening about which John Stott writes so eloquently. A young female priest caused quite a stir in my church last week during a very passionately delivered sermon. Essentially, she pleaded for us in the church to familiarize ourselves with the " conversations" taking place in the society, about which we know very little and understand less. And she cited, for example, the influence of Vibes Kartel ( a popular dance hall artist) on the young and not so young, and how that kind of conversation is destroying the nation, right in front of our very eyes, and we are quite prepared to come to church regularly, but less willing to go out and help to confront that kind of debilitating life style with God's Word and our Spirit directed deeds. Many applauded, but she cautioned them that she was not so much interested in the applause, but in our coming with her and others to help to teach and share and provide good example to those in the inner cities where we have missions.
The reality is that for Jamaica to change, we who are sent by the same God, who left His throne in great humility to come and dwell among men, because of sin, a great evil, we too must be prepared also to be sent to challenge evil wherever it abounds. Whether in the minds of those in Tivoli where Dudus had his stronghold, in the Parliament, in the upper echelons of the business world, the media, in the entertainment sector and in the Security Forces. Wherever. Without fear. We must be prepared to be sent without any personal private agendas, to those where evil has caused people to live in abject poverty, in squalor and in great deprivation. Where injustice abounds and where people have fallen " prey" to all kinds of wild animals". Wherever disease reigns, wherever ignorance flourishes, and where people have rejected the living Word that would make them free, and elected to opt for Barabbas and " bear Jesus to Calvary all over again with mocking scorn" in the choices they make.
Finally for Jamaica to change, we must accept that we will be in this thing for the long haul, and seek for grace to sustain us, as the road will be rocky, and therefore discipleship is not for the faint hearted. But we know that one day, the God who sent us, will set this country free, whether in our lifetime or not, it matters not, only that in the end He receives all the honor and glory and praise. As He only is worthy of our devotion, as He alone in great humility and with love that passeth all human understanding, died for us on the Cross of Calvary to set us free from the enslavement to sin and death and call us to everlasting life.
O come to my heart Lord Jesus, there sis so much room in my heart for thee.
If people know this truth and still call for Dudus or Barabbas over Jesus, then only judgment awaits them. And if we know this truth, that can set people free, and keep quiet and praise the Lord in church only, then judgment awaits us too, as we have listened neither to God nor to a suffering and confused world. And that's a great evil and a terrible sin.