Archive for July, 2007

Yeah, He’s Cute: But Can He Fight?

Monday, July 30th, 2007

Polls indicate that in South Carolina, a crucial primary state where voters say race plays an important role in how they will vote, Hillary Clinton enjoys a 14 point lead over Barack Obama. Clinton enjoys a significant edge over Obama even among blacks. You wouldn’t know it, however, by the black women that I talk to.

One friend caught me the other day with some “Hillary for President” buttons in my purse. “What are those for?” she asked disdainfully. “I just came from a meeting with a couple of Hillary’s campaign people,” I said, “and they handed me these before the meeting ended.” She changed the subject. I politely stuffed the buttons back down into my purse.

“So, you would choose a white woman over a black man?” another woman asked point blank when I talked about my reservations about Obama. “Well, let’s just say that he doesn’t automatically get my vote just because he’s black.” I said. I think my wireless server went down, but I’m not sure. Our IM conversation ended.

But here’s how I know that my friends who otherwise hang on to my every word have not been paying much attention to me lately. After hosting one of my infamous after-church Sunday brunches the other weekend at my home, which consisted of mostly women, I noticed that no one had bothered to take one of the “Hillary for President” buttons I’d left dumped on my dining room table.

“Now you know black women love themselves some black men” is the way a young woman graduate student explained it to me. By that, I take it she means: Obama’s got charisma. He’s articulate. He’s smart. Above all, he’s good looking, that is, if you go for his kind of good looks (I don’t, but many black women, and evidently a whole lot of white women, do). She’s probably right. Early in his run for the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama’s pollsters discovered that women loved Obama, especially nice church ladies who like personalities more than politics and who definitely don’t like political arguments.

If I believed charisma, good looks, and speaking well enough to make my Baptist aunt in Atlanta burst with pride were enough to change the direction of this country I’d vote for Barack Obama in a heartbeat. But they are not enough. At least I don’t think so. And even though my suspicions are that when my aunt talks about being proud to see a black man have a chance at the White House and when Obama talks about what it means to him to be black, the two of them are not talking about the same thing, I still support his run for office and secretly root for Obama despite my better judgment. After all, whatever Obama’s feelings are about being black, he’s certainly blacker than any one else running for president.

But for the mess we’re in here in this country, it’s going to take someone with a lot more going for themselves to change the direction of America. It’s not enough to be handsome. We need someone with high level foreign policy experience to get this country out of Iraq in one piece. Charisma won’t cut it. It will take a skilled leader, someone who knows where the skeletons are buried and how to rattle them, to persuade this Congress to get off its butt and stand up to health care lobbyists and pass a universal health care plan that covers all citizens.

I was as proud as my auntie as I sat listening to Obama repond and jostle last week during the YouTube Presidential debate in South Carolina. But, so what? Congress is full of demagogues. We need someone who can take on the Republicans when the race gets nasty and dirty, someone who’s had experience in a dog fight (no disrespect to Michael Vick intended). Someone who’s had her arse kicked by the Republicans in the past and has learned from it. An experienced woman with something to prove fits the bill for president just perfect.

Now, will you take one of these buttons?

Joshua ‘em

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

From time to time God has to remind me.

Especially on days when I’m fretting about what’s gonna happen to the next generation when my generation is gone. It seems that a week doesn’t go by when I don’t stomp around and complain about young people. Lazy, self-absorbed, demanding, loud, pierced, half-clad, tattooed, and overstimulated. Loyal to no one and nothing: not to jobs, family, community, church, country, not even race. Individuals, is what they insist they are. Hmmmph.

In the pulpit I refer to them as the “Joshua Generation” (those born roughly between 1977-1995). When I’m out of the pulpit I call them something else. But never mind that.

If they are the “Joshua Generation,” then I suppose that makes me and their parents, godparents, and aunts and uncles, the “Moses Generation.” We’ve carried them as far as we can on our backs. It’s time for them to stand on their feet and walk the rest of the way on their own. They’ve got to figure out on their own how to cross the Jordan. We, the Moses generation, are probably gonna die in the wilderness before things improve.

The Joshua Generation doesn’t know much about struggle and sacrifice. They grow weary of hearing about slavery and desegregation. Try to make them feel guilty about their privileges and you’ll fail. Whatever. For them accessories are not ties, watches, necklaces, or scarves. Accessories are iPods, iPhones, BlackBerrys, laptops–and these expensive accessories are like extra limbs. Relationships are what you create over Facebook. But don’t be fooled. Joshua’em are a “needy” bunch. You gotta tell them over and over how great they are, or they’ll fall apart. They feel entitled to be happy, successful, rich, taken care of, and to have everything they want –in a hurry. Commitment? Forget it. There are two kinds of friends in this world: friends with benefits and friends without benefits.

But I did say earlier that from time to time God has to remind me.

Imagine the humility and joy I felt the other night as I stayed up visiting the websites of young women like Gina McCauley and Faye Anderson to name just two women, who know how to use the power of the Internet to promote social change. They are tough, smart, and ambitious. Did I mention that they are tireless? This month they have taken on a behemoth corporate giant like BET/Viacom (and its advertisers) to protest its images of black people. (It worked with Imus, didn’t it?)

Using the power of citizen journalism, these young women (in tandemn with some righteous young men) are protesting BET/Viacom’s decision to shoot “Hot Ghetto Mess,” an upcoming show (based on a populare website of the same name) that captures black people in degrading poses and acting socially out-rageous.

Black women and children are the easiest targets of a show like “Hot Ghetto Mess”, especially poor, uneducated women and children (not exclusively, but most often). As horrified as others by some of the behavior depicted on the show, these women argue, however, that the show encourages black people to turn their videocameras against other black people they look down upon and view as contemptible. (Visit their blogs, Moses ‘em, to see what the fuss over “How Ghetto Mess” is all about.)

No charismatic leaders standing up and telling Joshua ‘em how to get to the Promised Land. No marching. No sit-ins. No freedom songs. Their movement is fueled by the power of technology and virtual relationships. And fire in the belly. Freedom fighters take on a whole different meaning when you apply it to the Joshua Generation.
They’ve certainly managed to convince me, from the Moses generation, to take my medication and tune in to the show’s premier tonight– God help me– to see what advertisers are backing the show so that I can join them in their march…excuse me, their fight.)

Women like Gina and Faye expect to be listened to. They expect results. They won’t be ignored. They will figure things out for themselves. It’s our fault. We created them. We told them that they have the power to be and do anything they want. And, bless their hearts, they believed us.

All of which reminds me of God’s promise, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with Joshua.”

Through The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

I take my wig off today to Tammy Faye who died this weekend from cancer. The story of the rise and fall of her ministry, tied as it was to her former husband Jim Bakker, is one I’ve often used over the years as a case-study for women who attend my leadership seminars. Whenever I want to talk to women about what it means to live in a man’s shadow, why it’s important to own your own gifts as a woman, and what it takes to rebuild your ministry and career after a divorce or public downfall, I have turned to the example of Tammy Faye. For those of you who only know her as the cherubic faced, mascara clad other half of the couple at the heart of the PTL scandal, go out and buy the fascinating documentary of her rise and climb back into the spotlight, Through the Eyes of Tammy Faye.

Love her or hate her that Tammy Faye was one gutsy broad. What otherwise vain woman do you know knowing that her death was only hours away, looking ghoulishly emaciated and barely able to talk, would ask to show her face on national television? But that’s what Tammy Faye did. After battling cancer for 11 years and eventually losing, she asked her friend Larry King last week for the opportunity to appear on his show to say goodbye to her fans and friends one last time. She would die a few days later. To see the clip last Thursday of her appearance on “Larry King Live” was to cringe. Dressed in red, Tammy Faye was barely recognizable but for her signature darkly made up eyes, make-up which for years had made her the butt of jokes on late night talk shows. But you had to admire Tammy Faye as she looked into the camera and struggled gallantly to speak and to swallow for the last time before everyone. She was hours away from dying and knew it. But Tammy Faye was determined to go out on her own terms. She was down to only 65 pounds, which King rightly said had to be at the moment all heart.

The initials PTL (”Praise the Lord” ministry) have come to stand for all that was wrong with televangelism, namely scandals of the sex and money kind. Jim Bakker’s transgression with former church secretary Jessica Hahn ended in scandal and a prison sentence, the end of the $100 million dollar empire he and his wife had built together, as well as the end, ostensibly, of Tammy Faye’s career in the spotlight. But the woman was resilient, even if she was also a bit sad. To watch the documentary of her struggle to resurrect herself from her husband’s ruins and reinvent herself is both heartening and heartbreaking. You have to admire the woman’s determination to extract herself from her ex-husband’s shadow and build a life for herself based on her own talents; you have to admire her resilience and indomitable faith in God despite one rejection after another; and finally you have to admire her refusal to show bitterness toward those she felt ultimately responsible for PTL’s demise (namely Jerry Falwell). You would be wise to recognize also Tammy Faye’s life as a cautionary tale to every woman who’s ever devoted herself to her husband’s vision –in the name of the Lord.

I can’t say that I admired Tammy Faye. I didn’t. But I did and do have a lot of respect for the woman – despite all the shaking of the head I did whenever I saw her on television. I always stopped whatever I was doing around the house to observe her. Behind the pounds of make-up, the frothy, air-brain image of Christian faith and femininity she frequently exuded, there was something about Tammy Faye that I recognized. Even in her last interview there on “Larry King Live” where she sat a shell of her former self. Decimated by inoperable cancer. Confident that she was going straight to heaven upon death. Caricature of a caricature. “I know that woman,” I would say everytime I saw her. I’ve seen her before. That woman hiding behind the mask. That will. That steely determination. That fire. The insatiable need to be loved. That simple faith.

If I Had Known Then…

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

Are there moments when you’ve wished you could go back to the woman you were 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago? I have. I think often about the woman I was in my 20’s and 30’s.

Sometimes it’s good to sit down and write a letter to your younger self. Tell your younger self what you wish you’d known then but didn’t.

Mind you, I don’t miss being twentysomething and thirtysomething. Reliving those years does not interest me. Spare me all that drama. Being the age I am now suits me just fine. I like the woman I’ve become. But I do wish sometimes that I could go back and bless myself with the love and confidence I desperately longed for back then. I was wracked with anxiety in my twenties, and there were lots of reasons for that. But if I’d known then what I know now I could have spared myself all the recriminations I heaped on myself. I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself for so long.

From time to time I write, edit, and rewrite letters to my twentysomething year old self.

Dear Renita,

I see you standing on a crowded #3 subway train in Manhattan clutching the strap, trying to hold on as the train jerks and lurches, trying not to fall over into the lap of the man sitting just beneath you. You’re on your way to lose your job, but also to find your soul. Hold on. You’re trying with everything in you to stand there with poise, trying not to jerk and lurch with the train, but it’s hard. So hard.

Appearing sturdy is important to you. You’re afraid someone will figure out that you’re really scared and unstable. You’re trying to stay on your feet, but you have so few models for doing so. You’re watching others to see how it’s done. How do I tell you that years from now others will be watching you to see how it’s done? And you’ll have to tell them about all the lurches and jerks that threw you across the train and bore you to where you are today.

You don’t believe this right now. You will be fine. You will find your way. You will figure things out for yourself, some things anyway. The things that matter. As for the other things, you’ll learn to live with the mystery. You’ll be glad for this season of unknowing that nearly drove you mad. You will figure out how to make good use of the moodiness, the melancholy, the musings that fill you. What feels like a curse and character flaws right now, you’ll come to embrace as God’s gifts to you. You won’t be so quick one day to surrender them for the promise of love.

And, oh, by the way, you’ll figure out a way to live with the jealous lovers in your life, although you’ll never be able to satisfy either: the church, the academy, your writing, and your desperate need for quiet. You will find out that contrary to what others say, faith and doubt can coexist together in the heart and become useful companions.

What you don’t figure out, you’ll learn to accept as part of the journey.

So hold on, if you can. But know this: it’s alright if you fall down. You’ll get back up again.