One size does not fit all


Thursday, May 10, 2018

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In the Roman Catholic Church, today is the feast of the ascension, commemorating the day when Jesus Christ ascended into heaven (Acts 1:10). In Jamaica, the church celebrates the feast on the Sunday following Ascension Thursday.

The next major feast day will be Pentecost (Acts 2:1-12), which will be celebrated this year on May 20. It was at Pentecost that the Holy Spirit came down on the disciples and they began to speak in foreign tongues.

In all of our observances we learn that one size does not fit all, whether in shoes and clothing on the one hand, or in biblical or secular history and sociology on the other. I have always been one to seek solutions to our problems but to do so one has to look at root causes.

While the devout men from every race under heaven who were meeting in Jerusalem marvelled at ordinary Jews speaking in foreign tongues on the day of Pentecost, others sneered saying that they were drunk. Simon Peter explained to the crowds that the men were not drunk as, firstly, it was only 9:00 AM when the bars were not yet opened (Acts 2:13).

Peter went on to say that it occurred so as to fulfil the prophecy of Joel that in the last days God will pour out his spirit to dwell among men (Acts 2:14-21). In other words not everyone that speaks in a language not understood is drunk. One size does not fit all.

In response to my column of May 3, 2018, 'Columbus, education and Jamaica today', someone wrote dismissively of victimology while referring to me as a “so-called historian” for linking Henry Morgan and the pirates to our culture of crime, violence and almost non-existent family life in Jamaica.

The point was made last week by more than one commenter that Barbados and the Bahamas also had a history of piracy. But neither Barbados nor the Bahamas ever had a pirate appointed as governor of those former colonies. In Jamaica, the pirates became estate owners, the sole voters — as only large landowners could vote in those days. And they became the legislators. This is the big difference between Jamaica on the one hand, and Barbados, the Bahamas and Australia that was settled by convicts on the other. So, again, one size does not fit all.

To understand either the Bible or history one has to understand context in terms of the era, which includes the definition of words at the time under review. For example, biblical references to the last days do not mean that the world will end in a few days' time. The last days are the days after the ascension of Jesus Christ. Note that the descent of the Holy Spirit was to fulfil a prophecy that spoke to what would happen in the “last days” of which speaking in tongues at Pentecost was a manifestation.

For the last 27 years I have done voluntary guidance counselling at my alma mater, Jamaica College (JC), one day a week. Two years ago a first former asked me, a man in my 60s, if we were allowed to keep our smartphones while in school. How surprised he was when I explained to him as patiently as I could that I did not hear about smartphones until I was in my 50s and that I did not own a cellphone until I was in my late 40s.

Also, by the standards of the era when I was at JC in the 1960s, the school had a lot of phones — although there were exactly five landline phones in the entire school, four of them really being extensions of two phone lines. The fifth telephone was a call box (pay phone) for the students who had to insert a three-pence coin (pronounced 'thruppance' in English and 'chruppance' in patois). Individual staff members in residence had their private phones, but I do not include those as school phones.

A child who thinks that life from eternity was always the same due to a limited understanding of history is understandable. But too many adults also think that all history happened in modern times. In terms of understanding history, one size does not fit all.

Should we compare Singapore with Jamaica just because we both received political independence around the same time in the 1960s? A great deal more of our very different histories should be researched before making conclusions. Another example is that all races were slaves at some time in history, but not all forms of slavery were the same.

Returning to the subject of pirates and slaves, it is one thing for the descendants of pirates to lead nations after the correct education has been put in place. The Bahamas and Barbados and the descendants of the convicts in Australia became civic leaders after being straightened out by education. In our case, the pirates became leaders and the education system clearly did not include sufficient family and character education in its absence due to the emphasis on breeding slaves rather than families during slavery. Again, one size does not fit all.

Just as on the day of Pentecost, when some believed that all language not understood could only come from drunkards, all nations that had piracy and slavery are not the same. While the politicians have exacerbated the problem of crime and violence, piracy created the problem.

We are also in the month of May, which the Roman Catholic Church celebrates as the month of Mary. The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive a child (Luke 1:26-31). But when Joseph saw her pregnant he planned a divorce, but an angel told him in a dream that the child has been conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-20).

While 99.99 per cent of all women need a man to produce a pregnancy (even genetic engineering, which in Roman Catholic teaching is sinful), it was not so in the case of the Blessed Virgin Mary. One size does not fit all.

Michael Burke is a research consultant, historian and current affairs analyst. Send comments to the Observer or




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