When I was at school, sometimes the teachers used to point out examples of historical personages that perhaps we should try and emulate in our own lives. Well, one of these examples was David Livingstone, and it was only when, much later in life, I read his biography I discovered, for example, that when he was in Africa, far from whole nations flocking to the cross, he only ever made one convert to Christianity, and that person lapsed. He blamed various things about this, and one of them was that the language that he thought he had to use was ambiguous, and some of those words from his notebooks I've used in this poem called 'Fundamentals'


Brethren, I know that many of you have come here today
because your Chief has promised any non-attender
that he will stake him out, drive tent-pegs through his anus
and sell his wives and children to the Portuguese.
As far as possible, I want you to put that from your minds.
Today, I want to talk to you about the Christian God.

In many respects, our Christian God is not like your God.
His name, for example, is not also our word for rain.
Neither does it have for us the connotation ‘sexual intercourse’.
And although I call him ‘holy’ (we call Him ‘Him’, not ‘It’,
even though we know He is not a man and certainly not a woman)
I do not mean, as you do, that He is fat like a healthy cow.

Let me make this clear. When I say ‘God is good, God is everywhere’,
it is not because He is exceptionally fat. ‘God loves you’
does not mean what warriors do to spear-carriers on campaign.
It means He feels for you like your mother or your father –
yes I know Chuma loved a son he bought like warriors
love spear-carriers on campaign – that’s Sin and it comes later.

From today, I want you to remember just three simple things:
our God is different from your God, our God is better than your God
and my wife doesn’t like it when you watch her go to the toilet.
Grasp them and you have grasped the fundamentals of salvation.
Baptisms start at sundown but before then, as arranged,
how to strip, clean and re-sight a bolt-action Martini-Henry.

from The Bradford Count (Bloodaxe Books, 1991), © Ian Duhig 1991, used by permission of the author.

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