Sunday, October 21, 2007

Tosh moved theology up a notch, says Canon Ernle Gordon

By Basil Walters Sunday Observer staff reporter waltersb@jamaicaobserver.com
Sunday, October 21, 2007

Outspoken and controversial Anglican priest, Rev Canon Ernle Gordon, said the late Rastafarian reggae star Peter Tosh improved theology through his radical music. "What Peter Tosh has done for theology is to move it up a notch," Canon Gordon told a well-attended symposium last Tuesday at the University of the West Indies where the life and works of the slain Reggae icon were discussed.

The symposium, one of several activities mounted last week in memory of Tosh, who would have turned 63 on Friday, also heard presentations from Tosh's former manager, Herbie Miller, close associates Desmond Shakespeare, a rap-session on the creation of Tosh's music between the singer's former band members Sly Dunbar and Mickey Chung, as well as former minister of finance Dr Omar Davies and promoter Worrell King.
The significance of Tosh's band - Word, Sound and Power - was explicitly defined and articulated by all speakers, but it was Gordon's presentation, the shortest in duration, that was the most commanding.

Comparing Tosh, who was shot dead on Friday, September 11, 1987 by three gunmen who invaded his Plymouth Avenue home in Barbican, St Andrew, with 18th century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Gordon began by looking at four aspects of Tosh's colourful personality that are embedded in his music.
"You have to understand Peter Tosh in four ways," said Gordon, the rector of St Mary's Anglican Church. His philosophy, his subjective spirituality, his theology and his anthropology, and their link. Within Hegel's philosophy, when you link music with lyrics and poetry, you ascend to a higher level of consciousness. Now, when Hegel said that hundreds of years ago, Peter Tosh wasn't born yet. But if you listen to Peter Tosh. there is a link between philosophy, epistemology and theology. Your anthology in terms of your being, epistemology and your ethics, peace and justice."

A staunch defender of Liberation Theology, Canon Gordon reminded the audience, "I used to critique the American-type Christianity and nobody listened to me, now we're having problems. I think Peter Tosh brought out the whole idea of our identity. going to theology, the music was the medium."

In an obvious reference to one of Tosh's biting social commentary songs, Equal Rights, Canon Gordon said, "When he went to church and everybody wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die, it is the truth, it's a fact. He has three points of philosophy. He moved from five-senses spirituality to a multi-sensored spirituality."
Added Gordon: "There is a chorus that the blood of Jesus will make you whiter than snow. It is impossible for the blood of Jesus to make you whiter than snow. There is no such thing."
Tosh, the priest said, criticised that, "and he was right. Because we have a problem with our identity, yuh nuh. And our dependency syndrome. Anything outside is pure."

He said that Tosh had an understanding of the planter-class "....how he used words like Germany as 'germsmeny', Kingston as 'killsome', managers as 'damagers', system as 'shitstym'. In other words, he looked at the plantation system as one that imposed, cursed and actually accommodated."

Turning to the subject of theology, Gordon said, "As a theologian, Peter Tosh helped us to move the unconscious to the conscious. And he looked at the whole idea of identity crisis and the theology in terms of our self-perception, self-dignity, self-confrontation, self-awareness. And that is why he quoted one of the psalms which says that you born in sin and shaped in inequity.

"This born in sin and shaped in inequity, Tosh said no. You have been made in His (God's) image and therefore you are very good. And therefore he helped Caribbean theology, the theology of consciousness that we moved from unreality to reality. And so he interpreted our hymns in terms of creation theology."
According to Gordon, creation theology accepts women as equal. "Creation theology doesn't say that the hurricane came to destroy you. So you have to understand the gift of Peter Tosh to Liberation Theology and the theology of exploration and transformation."

Gordon also described Tosh as an anthropologist, saying "he looked at the self-definition of the Jamaican people and also the self-confrontation of the Jamaican people. And there can be no peace without justice. This is inherent Liberation Theology. There had to be some confrontation at a point in time to have peace. And therefore, the whole idea of your history is part of your theology and your anthropology. If you have no history, you have no destiny. It is history that is going to move your understanding of your destiny.

"So without your history, you'll never understand your being. Who you are, what you are, what you like to be. Peter Tosh in Equal Rights, Arise Black Man, Mama Africa, No Nuclear War, Get Up Stand Up, all of these are part of the anthropology. They give you a sense of who you are. So what I'm saying is that as Hegel said, when you combine music with poetry, you have moved from five-sensory spirituality .then you will get justice and peace and equal rights. And so what Peter has done for theology is to move it up a notch."

The symposium, put on by the Department of Government and King of Kings Promotion, was also attended by some of the children and grandchildren of Peter Tosh, and saw performances from Andrew Tosh and Bushman, both of whom were scheduled to perform on Friday night's Tribute to Peter Tosh concert at Independence Park, Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland.
Other artistes billed for the free event were Steele from Canada, Luciano, Etana, Edi Fitzroy, Dez I Boyd, Jah Mason, Mackie Conscious, Ginjah, Everton Blendah and Leroy Sibbles.


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