Archive for October, 2007

I’m Wearing Red Today

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

I’m wearing red today like I promised because I wanted to show my solidarity with women and men everywhere who are committed to standing up to violence against women and speaking out to what’s beginning to feel like open season against women of color.

I’m wearing red today like I promised because I am outraged at hearing that just within this summer alone a mentally challenged woman was tortured and raped in West Virginia, a mother was forced to perform a sex act on her son at Dunbar Village in West Palm Beach, Fla, a young woman in Chicago named Nailah was murdered and her murderer has not been found, a song like “Superman that Hoe” is playing in the ears of our children, a young actress named Keke Palmer (of Akeelah and the Bee) was refused a record deal because her mom Sharon refused the record label’s efforts to turn her daughter into a porn star.

I’m wearing red today like I promised because “every 3 minutes a woman is beaten every five minutes a woman is raped/every ten minutes a lil girl is molested.”

I’m wearing red today like I promised in memory of my maternal and paternal grandmothers, Marie Brown Weems and Lou Willie Clark Baker, who, died as a result of violence. The official cause of death for my paternal grandmother, Marie Brown Weems, was tuberculosis. The unofficial cause was from a body and spirit weakened by the slaps and beatings my grandfather gave her when he came home drunk and broke. My mother’s mother, Lou Willie Clark Baker, died from a gunshot wound intended for one of her sons.

I’m wearing red today like I promised because while my heart goes out to Evangelist Juanita Bynum for all the hurt and heartbreak she’s endured as a result of her husband beating her in that Atlanta parking lot, she is not the new face of domestic violence. That spot is already taken. There’s a woman who’s lover just smacked her for the first time sometime while I was typing this post.

I’m wearing red today like I promised to support the work of My Sister’s Keeper up in Boston who this week have brought women from various tribal regions in Sudan together there in Boston to discuss ways they can put aside tribal differences and come together to help find a solution to the civil war in their country and to put an end to women being rape as an act of war.

I’m wearing red today like I promised because I remember the red shoes my father bought me from K-Mart when I was four years old which I loved vociferously even though they were too small and hurt my feet. Red shoes have been a weakness of mine ever since.

I’m wearing red today like I promised because when I walk into church tonight to teach the bible study class on “Bynum and the Bible” I want the women to know that I mean business.

I’m wearing red today like I promised because red is the color of power and boldness.

I’m wearing red today like I promised because I’ve never seen a woman who didn’t look good in red!

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.

It’s Your Sex Life

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

This post can’t be long because I’m here in Hilton Head, South Carolina this morning at The Black Church Institute on HIV/AIDS conference on “Building The Capacity of the Believer to Serve!” It’s a great conference with lots of information about the ways faith based institutions and their leaders can better step up to the plate and respond to the crisis of HIV/AIDS in our communities. After conducting a workshop last night for women only on the topic “In Love and In Trouble: Sex and Black Women in the Church” I had planned on getting on a plane this morning and returning home. But I changed my plans. I’ve got stay around longer so I can face the truth. I knew we were facing a crisis. I didn’t know we were facing an epidemic.

You do know the statistics, don’t you?

HIV related complications is the second leading cause of deaths in the black community.

Did you know that in 2004:

50% of those infected in America are black, compared to 30% white and 18% latino?

55% of those newly infected with the virus live in the south, compared to 29% in the northeast, 11% in the west?

70% of the new cases among teens were among black teens?

67% of new infections among women were among black women?

78% of black women infected got it from having sex with men, compared to 19% who got it from drug use?

A young Spelman College student cried and spoke on a panel yesterday about contracting HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer. “My boyfriend of two years and I thought we were being careful” she said wiping her eyes. Did you know that 80% of women in this country will have HPV by the time they reach 50 years old?

We are the only ethnic group in the US that has not seen a turn around in our infection rates. Why? When it comes to black women, we don’t make our men wear condoms. We don’t talk things out with our partners. Our teens have not been sat down and made aware of the consequences of their at risk sexual behavior. We’ve got to do a better job of getting the word out. AIDS is not curable, but it is preventable. The number one way to prevent AIDS, and other STDs, is to refrain from having sex. The second most effective way is to make sure you use condoms when you have sex. Wrap it up. Wrap it up. Wrap it up.

AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases is our modern day leprosy. In the time of Jesus there was no medical treatment for leprosy. Since it is very contagious, lepers were forced to live apart in social isolation. They were supposed to shout, “Unclean, Unclean” whenever they approached a crowd. The only comfort lepers had was to seek the company of other lepers. Leper colonies were sad places in which to live, estranged and away from family and friends. Several times in the gospels Jesus was moved by the plight of lepers and healed them. Healing began, however, with compassion.

I lost a stepbrother to AIDS back in the 80s. He was a drug addict. I lost my best friend from high school to the disease, James Lemons, to AIDS many years ago. He was gay. I have a very close relative who is living with the disease today. He is a very close relative. Chances are that there are other family members, members of my church, close friends battling the disease who’ve never said a word because of the stigma the disease carries in the black community. Perhaps you too have family and friends living with the disease who have not shared their sickness with you. Perhaps your lover or spouse has something to tell you.

Let’s talk.

Girl, Put Your Records On

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Never fails. I’m driving and a song from my past comes on the radio, and 4 minutes and 17 seconds later I don’t remember how I got to where I am. I don’t remember stopping at any stop lights. I don’t remember changing lanes. Certain songs come on the radio and I’m 15 years old again, or 25 years old, or 35 years old again. Back when emotions were high and passions ran deep in my life. “The decades of a thousand agonies” is the only way to describe those years for me. Back when every decision was agonizing. Every new love felt like forever. Every heartbreak felt like death. Music has the power to define the times.

I still hear the Wilson Pickett record that was playing when the DJ came on to announce that Dr. King had just been killed in Memphis. There’s the James Cleveland eight track I played over and over for inspiration the night before I preached my first sermon. Whatever happened to that jazz cassette tape I listened to while preparing for my graduate exams? And let’s not forget the medley of songs friends and I stayed up burning on CD all night so we could play them at the funeral of a friend who’d died from AIDS. I remember. Oh God, I remember.

We all have our list of favorites. Favorite songs that kidnap us and hurl us back in time. Back to happier times. Back to sadder times. That’s the power of music, I suppose. The folks who create commercials and movies are great at exploiting music to make audiences pay attention and care about things they’d rather not think about.

Did I mention that I bought myself one of those little Ipod contraptions a few years back so I can hear my favorite songs when and where I want? There are the songs I play when I wanna dance and shake my…well, you know. There are the songs I listen to on the airplane to calm my nerves. There are the ones I blast through my house when I’ve hit a block in the writing. And those I turn to when I can’t pray. Of course, certain ones are right for when I need a good cry. It probably doesn’t surprise anyone who reads my blog often to know that most of my favorite songs are from the 60s, 70s and 80s, and a few from the 90s. (Hey, those were my formative years. Thank you very much. It’s all downhill from here.) Still, there’s that occasional moment when a contemporary song comes on the radio that gets my attention, takes my breath away, and leaves me begging my daughter to write down the words for me. The songs on my Ipod change from month to month, depending upon what’s going on in my life. But there are those stored in my memory that spring up inside at the oddest moments. Stirring up emotions. I hear them in my mind, and I’m the girl or woman I was once. Rewind. Scratch. Remember.

My Top Gospel Inspirational Songs This Month

James Cleveland “Lord, Do It For Me…”
Mississippi Mass Choir “Your Grace and Mercy”
Rance Allen “That Would Be Good Enough For Me”
Clark Sisters “You Brought the Sunshine”
Mahalia Jackson “Move on Up A Little Higher”
Edwin Hawkins “To My Father’s House”

My Top Soul Sounds This Month

Aretha Franklin, “Don’t Play That Song…”
Aretha Franklin, “Natural Woman”
Curtis Mayfield, “It’s Alright”
Temptations, “Just My Imagination”
Ella Fitzgerald, “Miss Otis Regrets”
Christopher Cross, “Sailing”
Oleta Adams, “I Just Had To Hear Your Voice”
Emotions, “Don’t Ask My Neighbors”
Mitty Collier, “I Had A Talk with My Man Last Night”
Lalah Hathaway, “When Your Life Was Low…”
Kool & The Gang, “Get Down on It”
Otis Redding, “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”
Denise Williams, “Silly”
Michael Jackson, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”

Ooooo…..ooooo…just one more….

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, “Wake Up Everybody”

(Pssst. Don’t tell her. I just stepped into my daughter’s room and looked up the music on her computer to see whether we belong to the same planet when it comes to music. Not. “ay baby baby” by Hurricane Chris? Never heard of either. “25 Reasons” by someone name Nivea? Never heard of neither. “Beautiful Liar” by Beyonce? Heard of her, but never heard of the song. “Crank Dat Soulja Boy” by Soulja Boy. Wonder what that’s about.)