Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Christmas story: a true Jamaican tale?

I don't want anyone reading this to think that I am being irreverent. But once again when I heard the Bible readings that explain the birth of Jesus (see Matthew chapter 1, verses 18-25), I have to say to myself what really was going on in Nazareth? When I attended church this morning with my wife and her family in Nassau, The Bahamas, I saw the Christmas story in a whole new light after I had spent much of the past year in Jamaica.

Here we have a story that is all about a prevalent way of life in Jamaica and is much in discussion. Joseph is engaged to Mary and before they can get hitched, she tells him that she is pregnant. But wait. Joseph has never had sex with Mary. So who is the father of the child and how can she keep telling Joseph that she is still a virgin? What kind of nonsense she trying to lay on the man? She says that the real daddy is someone called the Holy Spirit. "O'Lee Sperrin? He from foreign?" would have been a good reaction from Jo'. "He know you having his child? He going to marry you? Wha' happen to our engagement? What about the trust? Man, I don't know if I can deal with all this. We ain't married yet and trying to make a fool of me?" These would have been a reasonable set of questions from most men when presented with this "sit-u-a-tion".

In Jamaica, that would be a classic situation of Joseph having to recognize that he was going to be the daddy of a "jacket" and that his wife-to-be had "given him bun". In Jamaican slang a "jacket" is a child raised by a man who is not his/her father, and "bun" is to get cheated on [as well as to smoke] (see Jamaican slang dictionary): for example, "She giim bun ka 'im bun whole heap a herb" [She cheated on him because he smokes a ganja all the time]. (There is another complex and separate issue about the warped thinking that would lead a woman to seek to punish her man by getting pregnant by another man.)

Now Joseph was surely a man of extraordinary understanding. He heard out his fiancee and decided that this story sounded alright to him and that he should still go ahead and marry the girl. He did not feel the need to blast her, kick her out, cut her up or shoot her. He calmly took this news and said "You know what? I can live with this." I must admit that I have always found this story so amazing. Not just the "immaculate conception" but also the reaction of the man who was possibly cuckolded. But having been brought up a Christian it has been a part of the faith that you have to take as it's written in "the good book".

The story is one that plays out occasionally in the modern Caribbean. Jesus turned out to be a good man despite his very odd arrival in the world. His parents raised him as a couple and ensured that he never felt any stigma about his daddy not being his true father. He did got through some trying times, including learning that his father was in fact called "God, the Holy Spirit". Then to confuse the boy more, he heard that God also went by the sobriquet "The Father" (he was some kind of Don?). But weirdest of all God also wanted to be called "The Son" even though everyone knew that Jesus was the son (some kind of schizophrenia going on here?). Jesus had his run-ins with the law but never had to do much time for his "crimes"; he also had lots of issues with almost everyone in authority. Sure, he embarrassed his parents on more than a few occasions. There are a lot of places that bore the mark of his anger and more than a few buildings barred their doors to him. But he managed to fall in with a good crowd and many of them realised that he was someone who could lead them to be more than the wayward bunch that they seemed headed to be. In the end he did more than enough to make all three of his parents proud.

However too few of the Caribbean's young men seem ready to carry themselves like Joseph and work to become like Jesus? I don't think that today's youths need to be Christians to get themselves off a bad path. But they need to recognize that a story from Christian teachings has characters with whom they can truly relate. It's too easy to say that the young men who are today's villains are victims of a bad start to life and a harsh environment. It takes much more than a bad start to ruin a life. It takes more than a series of bad events to ruin a life. There are enough examples of people coming from starts that are so bad that you wonder how they survived; and many have overcome devastating upsets during their lives to still make themselves good and great in terms of what they do that is positive for themselves and for others.

We love easy excuses but need to work more to reject them for what they are. You have to be prepared to work your way through problems for successes to last. You can't make your life better by making other people's lives worse. If as a child you do not get good guidance from adults you will go astray. If adults do not help young people understand the meaning of limits youths will go beyond reasonable bounds. No child can raise itself, and whatever a child becomes--good or bad--it has been with consent and support (or lack of) from adults.

Have a blessed day.

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