If you have never visited the Caribbean island of Jamaica, you have my permission to put that on your bucket list immediately. I may be a little biased since I spent the majority of my first twenty-five years of life on the island, but even after you factor in any ‘alleged’ bias; it is still one of the best places you could visit, especially if you go with a Jamaican, or go to visit a Jamaican.
Most tourists visit just for the WARM tropical climate, or the WARM, clearwaters of the Caribbean Sea, in brilliant shades of blues and greens, or the beautiful WARM beaches, stretching for miles of powdery white sand, or the perpetually lush, green vegetation, or delicious fast food sold in colorful, creatively-decorated shacks along roadsides; all of that you can find on a myriad of other tropical islands…well maybe not the food shacks…those are definitely unusual.
On your visit to Jamaica however, you must promise to make every effort to get to know the people, because it is very possible that after God made my people, He broke the mold…on purpose.
Recently I watched a documentary on the history of the slave trade and learned that ship captains headed to America would often drop off their most troublesome slaves on the island of Jamaica…hmmmmmm…you think?! Jamaica had one of the highest instances of slave uprisings of any Caribbean island, and long before slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire, large numbers of slaves were continually escaping up into the mountainous interior of the island. They established large, self-sufficient, and well-armed communities of people called Maroons, whose resourcefulness and guerilla- warfare tactics gave the British soldiers and plantation-owners fits!
Then, as now, Jamaicans are a fiercely independent people, who feel no compulsion to remain subservient to any status quo that at best makes no sense, or at worst is a travesty. We are notoriously authentic, so what you see is what you get…at least 99.999% of the time. While we may have our own unique brand of mental health issues, they are rarely rooted in “hiding our true feelings”, “suffering in silence”, or “pretending to be someone I am not”. As a matter of fact, if you do not want to hear the truth about something; your life, friends, or an outfit you are wearing…do not ask a Jamaican.
When I moved to the United States just over twenty-four years, my culture shock had little to do with the way of life, the food, or even the weather at the beaches in northern California…(though I am still a little traumatized by that!). Instead, it was primarily a reaction triggered when people were always so nice, so polite, and so friendly in the way they treated you…just before they stabbed you in the back. The lack of authenticity so deeply ingrained in the way people behaved in almost every relationship, even among the Christians, made me confused, depressed and desperately homesick for my crazy, loud, cantankerous, but always ‘keeping it real’ Jamaican people.
Today I have dual citizenship because I love my adopted country as much as I love the island where I was born, and was excessively proud the day I watched my son take the oath to defend these United States of America, “from all enemies, foreign and domestic”, as a member of the Army National Guard.
Over years I have met people born here who could move to Jamaica tomorrow and fit right in because they have the authenticity thing down pat. However, I find that I still struggle to walk the fine line between an inherent desire to practice authenticity, and the reality that always ‘keeping it real’ is too often ineffective and counter-productive in this culture, to our detriment.
It is comforting that the word ‘truth’ is so frequently used to describe the character and essence of every member of the Godhead. The Holy Spirit is described as “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:1, 15:26 and 16:13), Jesus is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) and told us He is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6), and Moses wrote about God, the Father,
“He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice; a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He.” Deuteronomy 32:4 (italics mine)
The Bible itself is irrefutable evidence that God ‘keeps it real’, because if His intention was solely to win our acceptance and approval, He would have left out things that ‘god-wannabes’ might find offensive, and ‘fudged’ the truth on some things He left in there.
In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul was adamant that unity, growth and maturity in relationships among Christians begin with “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15)
“Therefore, rejecting all falsity, and being done now with it, let everyone express the truth with his neighbor, for we are all parts of one body and members of one another” Ephesians 4:25, Amplified Bible
So here’s the thing, practicing authenticity is risky and takes courage, but where there is not authenticity, there is not love…certainly not the kind of love we need to survive and thrive in Christian community.
“Rather, let our lives lovingly express truth (in all things, speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly). Enfolded in love, let us grow up in every way and in all things unto Him Who is the Head, (even) Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One). Ephesians 4: 15 Amplified Bible.
In her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection”, Brené Brown quotes E. E. Cummings:
“To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself – means to fight the hardest battle which any human can fight – and never stop fighting.”
So go ahead; start planning your trip to Jamaica, and every day of life have the courage to show up and be real; make the conscious choice to practice authenticity and …just keep living the thing.