Archive for the ‘single mothers’ Category

They Don’t Call It “The Old Ship of Zion” For Nothing

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Sorry I haven’t been able to blog much this week. I’ve been swinging from the chandelier, going from one deadline to the next. I’ve had to do something I haven’t done in while. Study. Research. Read what the experts are saying.I have to do a presentation next week on leadership in the 21st century Black Church and decided that it’ll probably be wise not to depend upon anecdotes with this crowd but look at what experts are saying.

Here’s what blogging has taught me, however. Folks like to talk a lot about the Black church, especially its miserable failures. The sexism and heterosexism it espouses. The flawed politics of its preachers. The crazy antics and moral lapses of ministers. The obscene amount of money churches pour into building grand edifices. All of this is true. And I’ve done my share of criticizing. Even though I’m a minister I’ve even let people air their grievances against the church here on the blog and have sat by and allowed a few to leave comments boasting about how evolved they are for not needing church and for not going. Talk about evolved? I’m evolved for permitting this dribble and not bothering to challenge it. But, hey, I’m evolved.

In preparation for the presentation I’m giving next week I thought I’d share some interesting insights and findings by experts on what church means to many others.

America’s 65,000 African American churches are the most valuable institutional assets that exist in low-income minority communities.

Poor people live among poor people. They don’t limited contact with people who are not poor, or with institutions or organizations that serve as bridges into a broader world beyond the poverty they see every day. The church is the one bridging organization found in high poverty neighborhoods that through programming and Sunday worship routinely bring together the poor and not-so-poor, the poor and the middle class, and the poor and the upper-middle class. Outside of the school where they attend, the church is the one place where poor children are likely to see and routinely interact with people who have achieved a modicum of success and who can talk to them about what it takes to escape poverty.

What separates lower-income and higher-income families and individuals is their ability to access services. For many lower-income families the Black church is the first place they turn to for advice and referral on where and how to access the complex world of social services available to them.

Black men who are religiously involved, in this case we’re talking about Christian men, are more likely to be more sensitive husbands, more attentive fathers, and the kind of men who tend to ponder about the ethical and moral implications of certain choices.

Most youth in low income neighborhood have rarely witnessed marriages that have lasted 10, 15, 20 or more years. Long term marriages are unheard of in the families of lots of today’s youth. Where they are most likely to encounter in-tact family life, and see men involved in the lives of their families, is in the Black church.

People can live with the conflict, stress, disappointment, losses, setbacks, and broken promises that come with living in family. What people cannot live without is the hope that things can and will get better, and the hope that there is a way out. What the church offers people is hope, the belief that things can and will get better, and in the case of the Black church skills for improving one’s life.

Strengthening the safety nets around children so that they can have a chance at growing up and becoming productive citizens has long been an important part of the work of the Black church and its members. 

So, maybe you, Reader, are one of those who find yourself fed up at times with the Black church. Perhaps you are even affluent enough to be able to thumb your nose up at the church and choose the Style section of the newspaper on Sunday as your devotional reading.  It must be nice. There are others, however, who lack your (and my) advantages. They need the Black church and need to be in relationship with those like you (and me) who are well off enough that we can spend time reading blogs.

And quiet as it’s kept, you (and I) need those folks. We need to be reminded that the world is larger than us and that attending church is not just about our listening tastes. It’s also about showing up, being accountable, being available to those who need to see evidence that what God has done for you God can and will do the same thing for them.

Because I Said So…

Friday, December 12th, 2008

A friend in New York sent me this YouTube video because I’d just complained to her earlier in the day about the teenager that lives in my house. Before clicking on the video I’d just had to call the teenager in my house into the room and remind her that when she calls to say that she’s on her way home, I expect her to be on her way home and not stopping off to eat with friends and afterwards dropping by the store to pick up something, and then on her way home.

“Get that look off your face when I’m talking to you!” I’d just yelled at the teenager in my house before turning back to the computer.  “Jesus, Mary and Martha” I muttered under my breath the way my Aunt Dora would do when one of us children did something idiotic (which was often).

Back to the video. It’s titled “Mom’s Song” and is for Mother’s everywhere. Special thanks to the Mom in the video. I fell out my chair laughing while watching it. Jesus, Mary and Martha. I feel better already.

Daddy’s Girl

Friday, June 15th, 2007

Although I’ve spent the greater part of my life as a writer, a minister, a scholar, and a thinking woman fighting patriarchy, even I do not believe that fathers are expendable. Neither do I believe that fathers are replaceable, not even by two good mothers. That nearly 60% of black babies born in this country are born to single mothers should make us all pause. Have we come to think of fathers as superfluous to their children’s development? I hope not. While I am the first to believe in tracking down deadbeat dads and making them take financial responsibility for the children they begat, children need their fathers in other ways as well.

“Tell me about your father.”
This simple request has enough voltage to reduce grown, intelligent, successful women to wailing, snotty-nose, stammering girls. Summoning memories of silent, withdrawn, disapproving, detached, overprotective, authoritative, punitive, abusive, lustful, or absent fathers is difficult enough. But coming to grips with the possibility as a woman that your childhood experiences of your father are even now influencing your reality — your reactions to your mate, your self-confidence, your sense of safety, your eating habits, your career ambitions, your notion of God the Father– why, that’s shocking revelation to most women. Bring up the topic of my father and I withdraw from the conversation.

The English novelist Virginia Woolf wrote once that women think back through their mothers. If that’s true, then what fathers give their daughters, perhaps, is the confidence to envision and fight for a new future for themselves. A father offers his daughter a model of authority, responsibility, and decision-making that will help when the time comes for her to tap into her own power and stand up to the stereotypes and assumptions others harbor about women like her.

Most of us admit that we hardly knew what to expect of the men who passed in and out of our lives, if at all, bearing the title “Daddy.” We figured out from their detached reserve, their dark moods, and their extended absences to be grateful for whatever attention they directed our way. Fortunately, not all women report having painful memories of their relationship with their fathers. Many can actually recall fathers who were affectionate, loving, open, sensitive, caring, stable, patient, supportive, dependable, someone who took an active role in rearing them. A large number remember fondly their role as the favored daughter in the family, affectionately dubbed by their fathers as “Daddy’s girl.”

The night my father lay dying in a hospital bed and I sat trying to comfort him (and myself) by reading random passages from the Bible, a strange thing happened. The nurse had turned the television around to face my father during one of her many visits to the room, for no apparent reason, except that God had used her to do it. God intervened that night through the lyrics to a song playing softly on the television. Above the din of my mumbling Scripture, the sound of Luther Vandross’ hauntingly beautiful song to his own father, “Dance with my Father” seeped into the hospital room. Luther soulfully recalls memories of his father dancing with his mother, of his father frolicking with him, carrying him to bed, his father’s unexpected death, and eventually pleads with God to let his father return for one last encore with him– or, better yet, with his mother. It was just what I needed to make peace with the man breathing shallowly before me.

Sometimes the only hope a Daddy’s girl has for growing up, letting her father go, and living beyond the wounds her father inflicted upon her is to accept her father for the man he was and release him from the man she fantasized him being but never was.

What Your Mother Didn’t Tell You: Part One

Monday, May 7th, 2007

Last year when I spoke at her church she came up to me afterwards to say that when she grows up she wants to be a writer, minister, and scholar like myself. This year when I return to her church I look around hoping to catch a glimpse of the fifteen year old young girl with the gold extensions in her hair and pretty dimples. When I don’t see her, I lean over and ask someone about her. “She had a baby a few weeks ago.” Eventually I think to close my mouth and decide against probing further. It’s not like I was born yesterday.

Yesterday, in the 60s to be exact, the percentage of black babies born to single mothers was somewhere around 22%. Today we’re to take heart that out-of-wedlock births have declined in recent years. After spiking to 70% in the 1994, out-of-wedlock births among African Americans have declined to 60% thanks in part to the dubious welfare reforms of 1996.

But it’s not like I was born yesterday. Lots of girls became pregnant when I was in high school. Of course, the odds were slim that those same girls would go on to have two, three, four and more babies outside marriage – certainly not by different men. Their family and the community wouldn’t stand for it.

One of my former students writes this morning to tell me that she won’t be graduating from law school this May as planned because she’s seven months pregnant. (She includes one of those annoying smiley face icons with her announcement.) “Although we’re moving to be closer to my Mom, the truth is that the baby’s daddy and I haven’t decided if and when we’re going to marry” she adds. (Another smiley face.)

It’s not like I was born yesterday.

Having come to consciousness right around the time the women’s movement was at its peak, shacking with your boyfriend was a radically sensible option. It was a way to save money. It was a way to give the two of time to get to know each other better. Heck, it was just fun. Or so we thought.

“But when I was a child I thought like a child, I understood like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became a [woman], I put away childish things” (I Cor. 13:11).

Got a complaint about domestic abuse? Got a complaint about child support? Got a complaint that he’s stolen all the money in the checking account and spent it on drugs? Got a complaint about his medical, health, and insurance benefits being due to you (and not his other baby mama)? Stand before a judge, policeman, or creditor as a man’s wife and stand before a judge, policeman, or creditor as a man’s live-in girlfriend or his fiance, or his baby’s mama, and see how you are treated.

It’s not romantic, but it’s a fact: Marriage is not simply about romance and commitment. Marriage is also about economic rights, legal recognition, and, a respect for the traditions of one’s community. Pretty elusive, meaningless stuff when you’re in your 20s, but stuff that comes to mean a lot – and can mean the difference between living and dying –5, 10, 20 years down the road when life and circumstances change.

Is it our fault? Are we to blame for our daughter’s predicament? Did we fail to tell them something? They are the ones born yesterday, not us.