Archive for July, 2008

What Highly Creative Women Know: Part II

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

It is our creative potential that is the image of God.

Whether we are writing, or cooking, or singing, or gardening, or absorbed in an experiment there in the lab, during the time of creativity, we are open to a wider world, where words are clearer, chords sharper, colors brighter, and new angles on old problems come to mind with ease.

As a writer and as someone who preaches, there is a moment that you get to in the writing, or in the preaching, where the words flow on their own, as though they have a mind of their own. You are no longer in control. You are and you’re not in charge. Another force has stepped in. They are your words, but they are smarter and wiser than anything you could have come up with on your own.  You don’t have to be a writer to experience this force. Great cooks are possessed by a spirit of their own also. (What we call the Holy Ghost in church circles. LOL) You know intuitively without having to taste the dish you’re cooking that a dash of this or a smidgen of that will have people coming back and asking for seconds. The same applies to creative business types. Where others see sure failure, you see – with some modifications to the design– how the project can be turned into one of success

You are in a zone. The creative zone. Where you glimpse a wider world and touch the outskirts of Transcendence. Tapping into your creative side does that. You get a sense of what it’s like to live beyond your limitations.

We’re all born with a creative side from birth. It’s a birthright from God, and it’s not given just to poets and dancers. Each of us is born with a little artist in us. It’s what it means to be created in the image of God. It explains why we are drawn to certain colors, laugh the way we do, and do things the way we do them. There’s this potential within us to tap into a force that is larger than ourselves to do extraordinary things. Somewhere in growing up, however, we are talked out of our creativity. We become sensible.  The creative side goes underground. Worst, it gets misdirected. Rechanneled.

One of my all time favorite lines comes from one of my all time favorite writers, Toni Morrison. Morrison is always writing about creative women, it seems to me, in her novels, especially women who are creative but have little to no outlet for their creativity. ”Artist without art form” is how she describes women like the unconventional Sula Peace in the novel Sula. Sula’s community regards her as evil, bewitched, and a loose woman.  But what Sula really is is a smart, gifted, woman with a razor sharp mind who lacks direction and discipline. And as such, she is a woman who is dangerous to herself and to all those  she loves.

“In a way, her strangeness, her naivete, her craving for the other half of her equation was the consequence of an idle imagination. Had she paints, or clay or knew the discipline of the dance, or strings: had she anything to engage her tremendous curiosity and her gift for metaphor, she might have exchanged the restlessness and preoccupation with whim for an activity that provided her with all she yearned for And like any artist with no art form, [Sula] became dangerous.”

Everytime I read that line from Sula  my mind drifts off to all the girls and women I know who have no creative outlets. Those who never wondered what their minds were capable of beyond remembering the names of old lovers. Those who never learned what else their bodies could do other than to give birth to babies. Those who were never told that their hands were capable of something beyond the mundane tasks of surviving. Without art they have no imagination and are forced to believe in their own limitations. Bereft of any other form for releasing the pent up physical energy inside, they substitute art for screwing, passion for lust. The only zone they know about, if they are lucky, and the one they are a slave to, is sexual ecstasy. It will take years for them to figure out just how counterfeit that is. Sweet, but shortlived.

MissyI had the pleasure of attending two spoken word poetry jam sessions over the past couple weeks. (Lord have mercy on my old soul.) While men dominated the mike for the most part, it was good to see the few young women who came up, take the mike, and strut their floetry. Tattoes on the neck. Rings in the belly button and seared into their tongues. But there they were. Honing their craft. Finding their voice. Speaking their minds.  Expressing themselves. Giving birth to unknown sides of themselves. Trying to find their zones. I felt like a dinosaur. A sister from another planet. I could barely understand a word. But I felt the Spirit. And I saw it. Yet another face of God.

What Highly Creative Women Know: Part I

Monday, July 28th, 2008

Here I was ready to sit down and share with all of you here on the blog a new inspiration of mine, a business I’ve been dreaming about lately, and I haven’t been able to write a thing from all the distractions.that have bombarded me in the last two hours.  Emails. Phone calls. Knocks at the door. Each one of them urgent. 

Perhaps God is trying to tell me something.

Don’t waste your energy on the dream, Renita. Don’t bother writing about it, and getting your hopes up (or those of your readers) because it’s not in your future. Move on.

Finish what you’ve started. You always have these creative outbursts and run off on tangents when you’re behind on other deadlines.

my fairyOr, perhaps I’m being tested here in the infancy stage of the inspiration to see how much I want it and if I can stay the course. If I can’t ignore the email notices on my computer, I probably don’t have the stamina it takes to stick with a business.

Or, if you’re like me, perhaps this new burst of enthusiasm is not about what you and I think it’s about. After all,  we’ve never been short on ideas. We are creative, and creative types are always dreaming and making connections and finding inspiration. We are creative and smart enough to do lots of things. We could do anything we put our mind to. We have what it takes to be a writer and minister today, and a clothes designer and restaurant owner tomorrow – with a little retooling. That’s the way that it is with creative types. That’s the way that it is with creative types who are also driven. But do we want really want to change the course of our lives?

A better route to take perhaps is to use this new surge of adrenaline to take off on this other project to do what we’re supposed to be doing right now. After all, creativity is creativity. Meaning that creativity is a spirit that shows up and has the power to fuel all areas of your life.

Ask yourself: Exactly what about this new idea that inspires you? What did you fall in love with and why?

Could it be that what you’re taken with is the idea of being taken with something? It’s like falling in love with falling in love. You had a new idea and you missed having a new idea. You stumbled on a new passion, and you missed what it feels like to feel passion.

So, what are you saying to me? That I’m not in love? That this is not my calling? That this is not what I’m supposed to be doing? That this is not God?

I’m saying nothing of the sort. I’m just saying that just because you feel something doesn’t mean you have to do something right now. Sit with the inspiration for awhile. Bask in it. Let it renew you. Let it fill you with dreams. Let it cause a secret (perhaps, even naughty) smile break out on your face as you go about your day.

If it’s a good fit, something you’re supposed to do, something worth pursuing, something God says yes to, the Universe will take it from here. Soon enough, but not too soon, there will be other signs. “Yes” signs. (If you look hard, you’ll notice the “No” signs when they present themselves too. )

You don’t have to rush off and start tearing up your old life to accommodate the new. Some things will fall apart on their own. Others will do so with little pain to all involved. That’s one way you know it’s Divine.

For now it is enough that you are awake. Conscious. Inspired. Listening for God.

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 So, those of you who are creative types, or those who want to be more creative, what frustrates you most, where do you find inspiration, and how do you move from inspiration to implementation?  Better yet, what do you struggle with as a woman who is creative or longs to be creative. I plan to write all this week about women and creativity (and the Creator who is the source of all creation) and look forward to answering some of your questions.

Soledad, CNN, and What Do You Black Women Want Anyway?

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

And you thought what?

That just because Soledad O’Brien was hosting the “Black Women and the Family” discussion last night on CNN there would be a more well-rounded discussion about black women?

That Soledad O’Brien and CNN would give a balance view of what it means to be a Black woman in America, that along with discussing the many issues facing us as Black women in America CNN would balance the story with tales of our strengths, joys, triumphs, successes, achievements against the odds, and the sources of our pride as Black women in America.

That just because Barack Obama is the presumptive Democratic nominee, and that because this country is well on its way to having a smart, thoughtful Black woman in the White House as First Lady, that the image of Black women as broke down, overweight, angry and unloved, single, unwed mothers would recede into the background?  women of faith

That the media would be honest and say that the many issues we face in our community is not solely of our own doing, that much of it is the result of what happens when a people live for centuries under the weight of racist and sexist public policies.  

That the hope and enthusiasm many non-Black Americans say Obama’s run for presidency inspire in them would spill over into how those same Americans think and feel about Black people as a whole?

That just because you and I are educated, employed, pay taxes, and are reasonably sane that they are not talking about us?

That if CNN and the rest of the media knew better it would do better?

That your ancestors were wrong, and that unlike them you don’t need a community of faith to help restore your heart with hope and to revive your faith after hearing from both NBC “African American Women: Where They Stand” and  CNN “Blacks in America” that life sucks for Black women.

Think again.
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Okay, so after reading the universal complaints of Brown women in blogosphere about the mediocre job CNN did with the “Black Women and the Family” segment last night, let me see if I can push us beyond complaints to a little more analysis.

Do we think this is a deliberate attempt on the part of the media to make black women out to be embattled and embittered?

Is it possible that Soledad and others think that they’re helping us by calling attention to the challenges facing black women so as to evoke sympathy and perhaps prod policy makers to commit to solutions?

So what are we missing? What is CNN missing? Is there no pleasing us?, asks someone like Soledad O’Brien. What do Black Women want from the media?

Women Steering the Titanic

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

HinesCongratulations to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AMEZ) for finally waking up and electing recently its first female bishop, the Rev. Mildred “Bonnie” Hines of Los Angeles. That is, I think congratulations are in order. But is it? Is it really an honor to be elected to head a church that’s dying from irrelevance? I ask this as someone ordained a minister over twenty years ago in a church with an illustrous history but an equally lacklustre present. The church that ordained me, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was once a church of fiery abolitionists and reformers like Richard Allen, Daniel Payne, Henry Highland Garnet and Jarena Lee, Frances Watkins Harper and Rosa Parks, but has become in the last century a church of leaders no one hears from when discussing the state of Black America and no one notices is absent from around the table.  

For those of you who are post-Christian, post-institutional religion, post-church, and those of you who are post-hip and find talk about women being elected bishops far less sexy to talk about Michelle Obama, Juanita Bynum, and Sex and the City, I ask you to indulge me today. After all, despite all the things I mouth off about here on this blog I really am a religion scholar and an ordained minister. Today I’m thinking out loud about denominationalism. I’ll lose most of you, but those of us who pay close attention to the intersection of religion and culture have a few things to talk about in light of this recent church election. 

Of course, the rest of you could stand a lesson, or two, in church history.   

For example, I’m always stunned to run into otherwise smart women who know next to nothing about church history. Especially women born and bred in the Baptist church. “Baptist is a denomination, not a religion,” I have to tell my Baptist audiences from time to time. God is not Baptist. I repeat. God. is. Not. Baptist. Many people assume that Baptists got their name straight from the Bible and John the Baptist. This is not the case. Like most religious groups, Baptists were named by their opponents. The name comes from the Baptist practice of immersion as opposed to sprinkling or pouring water on new converts which was the practice at the dominant church (the Church of England) at the time.

And for those of you who are clueless about black Methodism. Here’s a Cliffnotes lesson you can keep in your purse.

The AME Church was the first of three historically black denominations to be created when In 1787, Richard Allen and other black Methodists walked out of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia to protest their treatment by whites. Allen later helped establish the African Methodist Episcopal Church and became its first bishop. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was organized in 1796 by blacks protesting discrimination at John Street Methodist Church in New York City. The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (originally the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church) was created in 1870 as the result of an agreement between white and black members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. McKenzie

It wasn’t until 1960 that women were ordained fully to the ministry in the AME church. 

Most folks think Vashti McKenzie became the first black woman bishop when the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest black denomination, elected her in 2000. But that is not so. That honor goes to Rev. Leontine T. C. Kelley who was elected bishop in the United Methodist Church in 1984. But it was the Episcopal Church’s election of Barbara Harris bishop in 1989 which was truly historic. KellyThe Episcopal Church is part of the worldwide Anglican communion that grew out of the Church of England. Barbara Harris’s election was special because she was the first woman elected bishop in a church that traces its origins all the way back to the 16th English Reformation when Henry VIII rejected the authority of the Pope because he wanted to divorce and remarry, broke with Rome, and formed the Church of England in 1534. Never mind the fact the church he founded kept with most of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.  What mattered was the king got to put away Katharine and marry Anne. What this all means is that all our roots go back to the Catholic Church, because the Church of England (later the Anglican Church, which in the U.S. became the Episcopal Church) was not significantly different from the Catholic Church.

Now hold on to your weave for this bit of history lesson. Harris

Jesus, like most reformers, did not set out to start a new religion. He was hoping to reform his beloved Jewish faith. Likewise reformers John and Charles Wesley did not set out to break away from their beloved Church of England. But the church would not reform.  They were eventually booted out, and began what was called the Methodist movement. Likewise the Baptist church was started by those who wanted to purify the Church of England of all traces of Roman Catholicism, beginning with baptizing by immersion rather than sprinkling or pouring. During all this time it was men who was at the helm of the church and women who were doing all the praying and tithing.  

With all the pomp and grandiloquence in 1984 that marks such ceremonies, the AME bishop responsible for ordaining me laid his hands on my head back then and declared over me and some ten others kneeling at the altar waiting to be ordained, “The Lord pour upon thee the Holy Ghost for the office and work of an itinerant elder in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands.” (Not only is God not Baptist, neither does God speak 17th century King James English which black church folks associate with all things holy and divine. ) Ministers in the Methodist tradition are ordained into an itinerant system that was ideally suited for reaching the isolated populations spread out across the vast 18th century American frontier.  Itinerant means journeying. Think of the Methodist itinerant minister and the image that comes to mind is of the circuit preacher riding her horse from town to town, over fields, through marshes, around forests, across rivers, and through brush arbors to bring the word of God to the people.

Women who entered the ministry over twenty years ago when I was ordained  endured the mocks and jeers of family, friends, and male ministers in order to be ordained and had nothing to look forward to but assignments to a string of some of the smallest, poorest, and most difficult charges in the conference. We didn’t even know how to imagine the possibility in our life time of a woman becoming bishop. I avoided the itinerant pastor’s life of moving from church to church that many of my sisters accepted and chose to teach instead. But I could not avoid the itinerant inner journey. 

Certainly this itinerant journey as a woman in ministry has been filled with unexpected bumps and lurches, twists and turns. And while it remains unclear how things are going to turn out, the one thing that will stand out about this century is the strides women have made in puncturing the glass ceiling of their denominations.

Historians claim, however, that mainline denominationalism will not survive past the century. Charismatic, neo-Pentecostalism has changed the landscape and attracted too many members away, leaving mainline churches mired in internal power struggles and gasping for relevance and identity.  The Church Universal that Jesus talked about in Matthew 16:18 may be, and is indeed, inviolable and indestructible, but the denominations we humans create are not. Denominations and their traditions have to be continually reimagined and reconfigured  in light of the changing times in which they find themselves.

With no disrespect meant to the women themselves who have worked hard for a chance to lead, I do find myself wondering sometimes whether elevating women to the captain quarters these days is too little, too late? Bringing women up from mopping the deck to trying their hands at the helm at this point in the church’s history is a little like inviting galley hands to the lavish main quarters for a game of musical chairs when below the boat has already begun to break up and has started its slow, but inevitable, sink into the sea.