Archive for the ‘Jeremiah the prophet’ Category

Call For The Weeping Women

Friday, January 11th, 2008

We’ll get to the third installment of “Voice Lessons” another day.

The story of Washington, DC mother, Banita Jacks, 33, murdering her four children (ages 17- 6) and being found by U.S. Marshals holed up in the house with their decomposing bodies has me in a fit this morning. Banita Jacks told investigators that her four daughters were possessed by demons and died in their sleep. I will spare you the details on how each child was actually killed. In fact, a few lines into this blog post and I’m deleting everything I was about to write and concur with others that it’s obvious Banita Jacks is mentally ill and needs professional help. I’ll even pass right now also on pointing the finger on all that went wrong in this case (e.g., the police, school officials, the child welfare agencies, the children’s dead-beat dads, the family that filled the courtroom at Jacks’ arraignment).

I need to get something else off my chest and out of my spirit at this moment. 

But before I do, let me once again reach for that moving passage from the book of Jeremiah that helps to call women to their senses.

Consider now! Call for the wailing women to come; send for the most skillful of them.
Let them come out quickly and wail over us till our eyes overflow with tears
and water streams from our eyelids.
The sound of wailing is heard from Zion;
How ruined we are! How great is our shame! (Jeremiah 9:18-19)

Listen up.

As many of you know I spend a lot of energy here on this blog coaxing women to tap into their inner strength and to step up and speak up. I try as best as I can to support women, uplift women, defend women, give voice to women, both those from our past and those struggling today.  (And I have made my share of enemies, both male and female, for being passionate about issues impacting women.) Like others I think the time has come for us to wake up and stop the media’s whoring of our daughters and to stop sitting idly by why others write us off as ignorant and insignificant. I write here on this blog unashamedly from a black woman’s perspective, knowing full well how much black women, and other women of color in this society, are loathed. I am unapologetically a woman of faith, shaped and formed in the belly of the Protestant Christian tradition, for better and for worst. I believe women of faith have surrendered their voices to the men whom they’ve allowed to occupy the seats of power in their traditions, and that we have sinned against God, ourselves, our children, the world, and even our men, in doing so.

But none of this means I am unaware that women are just as capable as men of evil. None of this means I don’t know that black women are not perfect. I am fully unaware that some women are crazy, plain and simple. Some women are downright sick. Sexism, racism, and neither classism can be be blamed for all our sicknesses. Some women shouldn’t have babies, shouldn’t be allowed to raise children (even those they gave birth to), nor should some women be allowed near children.

Let me put it plainly: not all black mothers are saints.

I ain’t finished, but I’m through for now. I’ll close with one of my favorite mourning scenes found in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.

Ignoring tradition, Pilate bursts through the church door of her granddaughter’s funeral shouting “Mercy!” and begins walking toward Hagar’s coffin, shaking her head as if that will help the reality of Hagar’s death not be real. Reba, Hagar’s mother and Pilate’s daughter, joins the older woman at the coffin singing “Mercy” in a call and response ritual that everyone in attendance joins in.

In the Darkness. Mercy
In the morning. Mercy
On my knees now.
Mercy. Mercy. Mercy. Mercy.

At the close of the ceremony, Pilate identifies Hagar as her baby girl, repeating the words for all the attendees. In the end, Pilate proclaims loudly to the heavens and everyone in attendance, “And she was loved.”

Lord, let it be that Brittany, 17, Tatianna, 11, N’Kiah, 6, and Aja, 4 were loved by someone in that family and knew it.

Mother-Father God

Monday, October 29th, 2007

After speaking in Washington, DC this weekend at a religious ceremony where folks talked a lot about “Spirit” and there was constant reference to “Mother-Father God,” on the plane back home a biblical passage came to mind as I sat processing the experience:

“We will not listen to what you say in the name of the LORD. Rather will we continue doing what we had proposed; we will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and pour out libations to her, as we and our fathers, our kings and princes have done in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem. Then we had enough food to eat and we were well off; we suffered no misfortune. But since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out libations to her, we are in need of everything and are being destroyed by the sword and by hunger” (Jeremiah 44:18-19).

Evidently the women of Jerusalem had minds of their own. They disagreed with Jeremiah and other prophets and had their own explanations for why Jerusalem, the city of David, the dwelling place of the Most High, had been invaded by the Babylonians and was now in ruins. Enough with belief in this one, male god, YHWH. The world was out of balance. The goddess will not be ignored. There are times when a female god, a goddess, is what’s needed.

I never gave much thought to goddesses until a few years ago. Correction: I gave lots of thought to goddesses when I was working on a doctorate and had to study and write about them in order to understand the history of ancient Near Eastern religions in general, and the history of biblical religion in particular. I studied the literature on goddesses, but I didn’t think about them, if that makes sense. Did the ancient Hebrews once include one or more goddesses in official or unofficial worship? Probably. Did the move toward a monotheistic religion by the Hebrews around the 8th century b.c.e, with its belief in one, supreme, male deity lead to a rejection of the feminine divine? Most likely.

And then one summer I picked up Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon and read it. The scales fell off. I understood what the fuss was all about. Mists is a retelling of the King Arthur legend(s) from the point of view of the women characters, most notably Morgaine who has to defend her indigenous matriarchal religious heritage against impossible odds. Bradley’s novel managed to do what volumes of scholarly tomes could not. I understood what was missing in my faith and what had been lost in centuries of attempts by Judeo-Christian tradition to stamp out all vestiges of any belief in the feminine divine. I understood why in lots of societies, then and now, goddesses are often connected with agricultural societies – where the earth, Mother Earth, is a very strong focus.

After Mists came Anita Diamant’s fictional retelling of Genesis 34, the story of Dinah the daughter of Jacob in her book The Red Tent. Diamant breathed life into the religious traditions of the women back in the biblical past, showing how and why a pantheon of goddesses like Gula, goddess of healing, Taweret, goddess of maternity and childbirth, and Innana, the Great Mother and the Queen of Heaven brought comfort and strength to everyday women. Who else but a goddess could understand and empathize with the prayer of a woman in hard labor when she prays to make it through alive and with a healthy baby?

Even those of us who consider ourselves enlightened and deep, and do not believe in a literally masculine God, who are quick to say that God is Spirit and is neither male nor female, there can still be lots of internal fears and struggles around celebrating the female side of the divine. Somehow even for those of us who are quick to speak up for the equality of men and women, there’s inner turmoil over fully accepting goddess images, because our culture is so steeped in the concept of the one male God.

We say that our god is neither male nor female, but then we proceed to speak of God as male. What we mean when we say that God is neither male nor female is that God is definitely not female.

Yeah, yeah, yeah…Jeremiah and the other prophets made a big fuss about goddess and polytheistic worship. But the women of Jeremiah’s day had a point. The pain of childbirth, the mystery of sexuality, the ambiguity of gender roles – there’s just some things you wanna talk over with your mother and trust her to understand.

Called To Be A Prophet

Monday, October 1st, 2007

I grew up believing that some people had the gift. They could see into your heart. Prophets are what they were called in the church of my youth. Prophets had a special anointing from God that allowed them to perceive your private lusts, sense your darkest secrets, know your deepest hopes, and discern what the future held for you. Prophets were rare individuals who preached once or twice a year at our church’s revivals. They traveled under the title of evangelist or revivalist, but their appeal rested upon their prophetic gifts. After an hour or so of preaching about salvation, sanctification, predestination, or something on that order, the evangelist would switch from being a preacher to being a prophet. After all, a revivalist wasn’t fit to be heard if his word wasn’t backed up with signs and wonders. He had either to heal someone or predict someone’s future, or both. (Women weren’t prophets in my church. No one questioned why not. Not even me back then.)

It wasn’t until I went to seminary that I discovered that the prophets who came through my church weren’t prophets after all. They certainly weren’t prophets according to mainline Christian circles (e.g., baptist, methodist, presbyterian, lutheran). Prophets, according to this tradition, take a particular stance toward issues of justice and peace, stances that typically make them a threat to the status quo. Think Martin Luther King, Jr. Think Nat Turner. Mainline traditions look to the example of the Old Testament to argue that prophets are folks at odds with the dominant culture. They are called to unmask powers, critique social ills, remind government and individuals of their responsibility to the poor and downtrodden. At the same time true prophets find language that helps audiences imagine an alternative future and new ways of living in community with each other. Hardly anyone qualifies in modern times to be a prophet according to mainliners.

Have there been any prophets in recent years? I think so. I remember years ago when I was in seminary hearing the late Tom Skinner preach and sitting there spellbound and convinced that I was in the presence of a prophet on the order of John the Baptist. I haven’t met any prophets lately, unfortunately. But just because I don’t know any prophets doesn’t make them any less real today. After all, the prophets of old (e.g., Jeremiah, Isaiah, Amos, Ezekiel, and Habbakkuk) were pariahs and fugitives and not celebrities, despite the image of prophet we carry around in our head today from watching television.

Did I mention that I was always being called to the front of the church when prophets came to my church to preach? No surprise there, huh? And I always got up when I was called out even when I had my doubts about the prophet. I went just in case. I believed God spoke through prophets– not always, not all of them, but enough to warrant, if you’re around one claiming to be a prophet, getting up and going to check out what he or she has to say. Just in case. Even now, despite all I know, and despite what I’ve seen of fake prophets, bishops, and apostles, I still believe that certain people have the gift. They see more than the rest of us.

Finally, while I don’t know if there are any prophets around today, I do believe that there are prophetic moments each of us is called to. From time to time, now and then, here and there, you find yourself in situations where you are called upon to be a prophetic voice. To speak truth to power. To speak up on behalf of someone with no voice. To risk your comfort and safety for a higher good. To tell the hard truth despite the cost. And when you do just that, you know it had to have been God, the anointing, a calling, for you to have done what you did– because if you were in your right mind, if it were left up to you, you would have kept silent and left it to someone else. But something got a hold on you.

War: What is it Good For?

Friday, May 25th, 2007

I have this ritual in the morning.

The radio next to the bed comes on at 6:30am, but I must wake fast enough to hit the snooze button before the NPR announcer, in his round-up of today’s headline news, has a chance to announce the day’s total of U.S. soldiers killed in bomb attacks. I must wake up, but I don’t want to know. I can’t face hearing so soon that more innocent men and women, both U.S. soldiers and Iraqi people, have perished. I could change the time I wake up, you say, or change the radio channel so that I wake to local traffic alerts or news about the weather, but then I’d feel like one of those willfully ignorant Americans that I’m always railing against. I want to know the news. I will not be indifferent to the freedoms our young soldiers provide. I must stay abreast of all that’s going on. I just can’t bear hearing the tally. Lord help.

But there’s no avoiding the truth. Democrats dropped a provision ordering troops home from Iraq beginning this fall and helped Congress pass on yesterday a revised $120 billion spending bill, providing $95 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through September. By voting more money for Bush’s war, the Congress granted permission to a president who has no plan, for a cause he can’t explain, at a cost that none of us can count, to keep our sons and daughters indeterminately in this war.

Decades ago politicians, especially U.S. presidents, were expected to have spent some time serving their country in one of the branches of the armed services. The elite enrolled their sons in the military as a rite-of-passage into manhood with the hope that the discipline and contacts their young scions made during their tour of duty would provide them a platform for future careers as leaders in the areas of business or politics. Times have changed. Virtually none of the members of this Congress has children serving in the military, and few of the newer members sworn into Congress have any first-hand knowledge of combat. Ours is a generation of policy makers who, in large part, hail from a class of soccer-dads and soccer-moms where the very words ‘boot camp’ are pejorative, conjuring up the image of a camp where ‘troubled youths at risk” are sent. It’s easy to vote to leave young people fighting in Iraq on your behalf when none of them come from your neighborhoods, and their parents aren’t anyone you’re likely to encounter on the golf course or at your favorite posh spa.

While my paternal grandfather was a veteran, none of the men from my immediate family serve in this war. But there are men, young black men, from my church who do serve in various branches of the military and whose names we keep on the prayer list.

In a part of the book of Jeremiah where we are supposed to find comfort, we find these words by the prophet spoken in the wake of war:

A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted,
because her children are no more.
(Jer. 31:15)

Did I mention that there are many mornings when I don’t reach the snooze button in time? The announcer comes on, “A bomb went off in Bagdad killing…”